Bollywood royalty Kareena Kapoor Khan, who made her streaming debut with the Netflix thriller ‘Jaane Jaan’ earlier this week, remembers a time when she was written off from Hindi cinema.
“People thought my career was over when I got married. But today I have two children, and I am still saying ‘no’ to movie roles,” said Kapoor Khan in an interview with Gulf News. While this 43-year-old diva’s candid confession may shed light on the persistent issue of sexism and gender bias that female actors often encounter in the Indian entertainment industry, this actress has always thwarted established norms by staying relevant for over two decades with a mix of blockbusters and art-house films.
From her unconventional debut in director JP Dutta’s ‘Refugee (2000),’ a romance set against the India-Pakistan partition, to playing a single mother and a prime suspect in a murder investigation in her recent release ‘Jaane Jaan,’ this actress and mother of two young boys has truly mastered the art of mixing things up.
“I want to work for the next 30 years, and I do not want to put myself in any sort of box. I have never been that type of a person with any bucket list. I just want to be known as an artist who may do a movie if you come to me with a great script … I am a bit moody as an actor,” said Kapoor Khan.
She attributes the “moody” element to the fact that she has to plan “a lot of time management with my children” and accommodate multiple holidays with her family.
“But I am happy because I know that I am playing parts that will be remembered … I don’t think any actor should ever be put in any sort of box … An actor should always fly.” And soar she did. The reviews of a murder whodunit ‘Jaane Jaan,’ directed by Sujoy Ghosh and powered by potent performances from Kapoor Khan, Jaideep Ahlawat, and Vijay Varma, have been mostly superlative. But she takes fame and failure in her stride, she adds.
“I have been there, done that, and possibly seen everything, including ups and downs. I have enjoyed the stardom and remembered the times when people put you down. I have seen it all, but I don’t think 23 years are still enough to experience it all … Right now, I am going through a great phase as an actor where I am getting some good scripts.”
We believe her. But before we let her go, we had one crucial question that we are dying to know (spoiler alert).
Does the dead body that goes missing in ‘Jaane Jaan' -- a mystery of a single woman embroiled in a murder cover-up -- get discovered?
“Everyone’s asking this question, and maybe Sujoy Ghosh is desperate for a sequel … I didn’t ask, but what fun is left if a film gives you all the answers. Audiences shouldn’t be spoiled by being spoon-fed … ‘Jaane Jaan’ will push you to open your mind, and intelligent people will ask questions, and that’s why this film was made.”
While we didn’t eke out a response on that front, Kapoor Khan was game to answer all else. Excerpts from our interview with Kapoor as we talk about her OTT debut, her acting method, and more…
The reviews for ‘Jaane Jaan’ are largely positive, so you must be in a jolly mood … Have you been reading them?
I am just happy that people are enjoying this film, and now that it’s out there, it’s a film for posterity. ‘Jaane Jaan’ is just a different kind of a movie, and it has a different mood to it. It’s not your regular song and dance, run-of-the-mill stuff. It’s a brave effort on everyone’s part, and it will always be remembered for the performances.
Speaking of performances, you’re raw and real as this single mother who finds herself in a complex situation … Was it tough to pull it off?
Maya’s character was such that you couldn’t really show what she was feeling or what she was thinking, but she had to appear vulnerable. So she did what she did, but she had to get the viewers to actually feel for her. So that delicate balancing act on how much to show and what to conceal made it fun to play Maya.
Did you read Keigo Higashino’s book ‘The Devotion Of Suspect X’ before filming ‘Jaane Jaan’?
No, I didn’t read the book, but Saif [Ali Khan] has read it. Plus, this movie is an adapted version, and it’s a reflection of what is on Sujoy Ghosh’s mind. I didn’t want to get carried away by what was in the book because he had written it differently in the script.
‘Jaane Jaan’ shows your character having limited agency and that a man is your saviour. Did you push back at the narrative or question Sujoy Ghosh over it?
No, I loved the entire script when I read it. I loved everyone’s character, and I thought everybody had a side to them that was slightly dark and grey. At the same time, you feel for Vijay, Jaideep, and my character and their predicament. The script had a warm feel, and everyone had amazing parts to play. So when I read the script, I just fell in love with the entire milieu of the film and all its characters.
The scene in which you outwit the cop and feed him hot peppers and momos was a wicked one …
Yes, that momo-eating scene and that karaoke scene were a reflection of how life is. Even at your darkest and greyest moments, there could be one or two moments that are light and real. It was smart of Sujoy to incorporate those scenes in that grey world, and it underlined that even if we live in a grey world and everything is negative around you, you can still find hope. It’s one of the few times where you will see my character actually smiling.
Is there a method to your madness? You are often described as one of Bollywood’s most effortless actors?
There has never been any method to anything. I can get into the skin of any character if a director requires me to because I am a director’s actor. I can be directed by Mani Ratnam or Karan Johar or Rohit Shetty. I can work with Govind Nihilani and Hansal Mehta too. Every actor prepares differently, but I might be doing 100 different things at a time, but I am also thinking of my character. I don’t do too many workshops nor do I need to sit in a dark room before a scene; that’s not my personality. I am slightly different than that, and even if I am multi-tasking, I am still living with that character in the film that I am doing at that particular time. Call me effortless, but I have always wanted to act since I was a child. Acting has always been my passion. I have always wanted to be known as an actor first, then a star. But sometimes, films just take over, and you are known as this star. Many forget to see the artist in you. But I am really happy with the choices that I have made, be it Sujoy Ghosh’s ‘Jaane Jaan’ or Hansal Mehta’s ‘Buckingham Murders’ … Tapping the actor inside me is what I have always wanted to do.
True, and you have also embraced your age in ‘Jaane Jaan’ where your character has no qualms about being make-up free, barring that kohl-lined eye, or revealing those puffy eye-bags?
Acting can’t be about vanity, and neither can life be dictated around that. We live in an age where Instagram and filters dominate and mental health is going haywire. In such an era, it’s important that an actor represents her age and shows her scars and embraces her wrinkles. She must do these things openly. I don’t believe in filters or even Photoshop, and I am as real as real can be. And somewhere I think people appreciate me for being real … It’s a big deal to have your OTT debut on Netflix, a global platform, and be in a role where you are not bothered about how you look. If you look at actors around the world, it’s just not about the looks.
But you have been perceived as this glamorous entertainer …
It’s been such a long journey, and people have forgotten that I have acted in movies like ‘Chameli,’ ‘Refugee,’ and ‘Omkara.’ In my debut film ‘Refugee,’ I had no make-up and was keen to prove my skills as an actor. But I knew I had to balance it out. Perhaps, I am the only actor who could do a film like ‘Golmaal 3’ at the same time as ‘Omkara’. I wear that detail very proudly on my sleeve. Continuing in that same vein, I will continue to do a ‘Buckingham Murders’ along with a ‘Jaane Jaan’ along with a commercial potboiler like Rohit Shetty’s ‘Singham’ instalment.
In ‘Jaane Jaan,’ you were surrounded by spectacular talents like Jaideep Ahlawat and Vijay Varma but were you considered like this big star on the sets …
Never, you have to keep growing with spectacular artists and I just feel lucky to have got the opportunity to learn from them. It’s never about the number of years that you spent in front of the camera, it’s about how skilled you are. Their command over the craft is impressive, and they are such trained talents. I am not a trained actor, but our energies worked. We bounced off each other’s energies.