An accident of birth grants a person certain privileges in life. Confidence (often bordering on cockiness) and the liberty to play their careers on their own terms are some of the luxuries bequeathed. Meet Karisma Kapoor, Bollywood's quintessential blue-blood who unwittingly ticked these boxes.
Tonight is a big night as it spells the end of her six-year sabbatical from the big screen (nine years if you disregard the release of her delayed production Mere Jeevan Saathi in 2006). With her supernatural thriller Dangerous Ishq poised to hit the silver screen, a certain amount of nervousness is expected. But, Kapoor floors you with her ambivalent and zen attitude towards it all.
"For me, acting is something that's a part of you," said Kapoor in an interview with tabloid!. She is the fifth generation actor from her illustrious clan who has entertained film buffs for more than eight decades.
While her grandfather Raj Kapoor was hailed as Indian cinema's original showman, her father Randhir Kapoor and her uncles Shashi Kapoor and the late Shammi Kapoor took the Bollywood baton to the finish line. Currently, her sister Kareena and her cousin Ranbir are star players in Bollywood.
"It's like cycling or driving you know. You may not have done it for a while, but it comes back to you," she said.
Always first to shun the term "comeback" due to its negative tones, the married actress, 37, says leaving her two children behind as she shot for her film was one of her biggest challenges.
Surprisingly, her fears didn't extend to whether she could play supermodel Sanjana convincingly or whether her onscreen charm would still appeal to viewers. Her big screen collision with newbie Arjun Kapoor (not related) and his violent love story Ishaqzaade is another aspect that's certainly not a part of Kapoor's reality.
"In my head, the doubt was more about me leaving the kids rather than actually being on the sets. It was more like: ‘I am going to miss them' and ‘Oh God, they are going to be away from me.' ‘Will they handle it all?' Also, I have full confidence in Dangerous Ishq," said Kapoor.
Perhaps this assurance can be pinned down to the fact that filmmakers have often sculpted roles keeping her in mind. Dangerous Ishq director Vikram Bhatt told tabloid! that Kapoor was the first and only choice for his Sanjana. He even had to wait long for her nod.
"I started doing this [acting] 10 years ago. There were movie parts written specifically for me like Fiza, Zubeida or Shakti… I firmly believe that if you are a good actor and you have a good script, it's always going to work. Even today."
A click at the online trailers of Dangerous Ishq might bring out the cinematic cynic. Picture this: A distraught woman (Kapoor) who embarks on a mission to find out the forces at play involved in destroying her relationship with her lover Rohan might sound familiar.
A murky kidnapping, past life-complications and a city-bred Sanjana in a village belle avatar are also thrown in for good measure. But the director and the actress are convinced that their pet project will bring something new to the table.
"We have not made a documentary. We are not telling people to believe in ghosts or in past-life regression. All we have done is make an entertaining film with a strong love story and human emotions at its core. If you believe in a Karan Arjun, Dangerous Ishq will also appeal to you," said Bhatt alluding to Shah Rukh Khan's reincarnation hit.
Suspending belief in the run-up to a Bollywood film viewing is not an unfamiliar concept. Plus, Kapoor is known for her acting prowess and may even bring some soul into Dangerous Ishq.
Since her debut in the lacklustre Prem Qaidi in 1991, with her bushy eyebrows and gawky acting, she has cleaned up good in every sense. Initially panned for her masculine looks, she proved her detractors wrong with the critically-acclaimed blockbuster Raja Hindustani playing a sensitive rich girl Aarti.
Its plot, a wealthy girl who falls in love with a poor cab driver, is as old as the hills. But Kapoor and Aamir Khan brought it alive with their splendid acting. She followed this up with a string of good roles in films such as Dil To Pagal Hai, Fiza and Zubeida.
"In Dangerous Ishq, I am not this heroine wearing short skirts, singing and dancing around trees. Sanjana has several shades — the character is unique."
She may still hold a command over Bollywood, but the ride was not always smooth. According to Kapoor, her legacy has often worked against her and her sister Kareena.
"I don't think being a part of privileged background helps. Being a part of a film family has nothing to do with it [success]. Honestly, when I was a newcomer there were so many expectations because of that legacy and body of work behind us. For a normal newcomer, we always give them a chance. With us, that didn't happen. We are just expected to know everything … We worked hard, in fact very hard to reach where we are."
But she gave it all up in a snap. In 2003, Kapoor, after a broken engagement to Abhishek Bachchan, married industrialist Sanjay Kapur and retired from the spotlight to enjoy matrimonial bliss.
"At that time, I wanted to give it all up. I wanted a family life, a home and wanted to have children. Those things were important to me. That was a good thing because it indicated that I was growing up as a person." Adding that she thoroughly enjoyed the break from films and playing mum to her two kids, Kapoor is now all set to face the arc-lights.
"I am a confident human being. I believe in myself and I was totally OK with being away from the spotlight. Now, I am at a point in my life now where I can work and I work now because it's a passion for me. No other reason."
Like they say, following your passion is often the luxury of the rich.
Kapoor's highs and lows
At 17, Karisma Kapoor made her Bollywood debut with Prem Qaidi. The film did decent box-office business, but Kapoor was panned for her looks and her acting ability. Perhaps a bit of grooming would have toned down the acerbic reactions.
She took a year-long sabbatical in 1998 before diving back into films in 1999. Four hits later — Biwi No 1, Hum Saath Saath Hai and Haseena Maan Jaayegi — she was catapulted into A-league.
Till this time, she was mostly perceived as glorified eye-candy with an impressive, toned body and fantastic dancing skills. But 2000 proved to be a turning point. Her critically-acclaimed roles in Khalid Mohammad's drama Fiza and period romance Zubeida won her accolades and a huge fan base.
This was a turbulent phase for Kapoor. With a majority of her films such as Police Officer and Nishchay turning out to be box-office disasters, it took Kapoor a couple of years to find her feet.
The silver lining during the phase in which she acted in over a dozen films came in the form of comedies Anari (1992) and Raja Babu (1994). Her onscreen rapport with Govinda sparked with Raja Babu.
Kapoor surely served her time. After five years in Bollywood and at least a dozen films to her credit, she tasted consistent box-office success. Coolie No 1, Hero No 1, Saajan Chale Sasural and Judwaa were some of her hit films during this phase. Her hit catalogue during this period was studded with films starring comedian Govinda and directed by David Dhawan.
With their onscreen camaraderie and bang-on comic moments, the Govinda-Karisma-Dhawan trio formed a lethal combination. But the awards glory shone on her when she played the lead in Raja Hindustani in 2006. The rich-poor love story was one of the biggest hits of 1996 and won her Filmfare Best Actress Award.
The year 2007 proved even luckier. Her best friend act to Shah Rukh Khan in Dil To Pagal Hai (DTPH) won her a National Award for Best Supporting Actress and Filmfare Best Supporting gong. She also did the unthinkable. With her impressive dancing skills and measured acting, she almost outshone her DTPH co-star and dancing queen Madhuri Dixit.
By now, Kapoor had become a name to reckon with. With plum projects in her kitty, she had roles written for her. Shakti: The Power in which she played a mother who gets trapped in a despotic village remains one of her strongest performances.
In 2003, after her thriller Baaz: A Bird In Danger, she took a sabbatical and turned her attention to her personal life with husband Sanjay Kapur. This year, she also played the title role in TV series Karishma: The Miracle Of Destiny. Billed as the costliest TV series, the lavish sets couldn't save the drama series from sinking into oblivion.
In 2006, Kapoor's delayed project Mere Jeevan Saathi shot in 2001 managed to get a theatrical release. The thriller in which she played a negative role didn't create much buzz.
Apart from judging the dance show Nach Baliye 4 alongside Farah Khan and Arjun Rampal plus a cameo in 2007 hit Om Shanti Om, Kapoor led an uneventful life onscreen. This year could be a different story altogether. Say hello to her comeback venture Dangerous Ishq.