Just like the diamonds that she was wearing, Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor Ahuja’s sparkling, multi-faceted personality shone bright on a recent afternoon in Abu Dhabi.
As soon as we entered her beach-facing suite in the capital, we spotted her sitting in a chair wearing velvet trousers and a jacket with her vertiginous heels removed, feet tucked in and her spine ramrod straight like a ballerina ready for a day of press interactions.
The previous evening was an eventful one for the star, who jetted into Abu Dhabi to be the face of Bulgari’s latest jewellery collection ‘Jannah’, a partnership between the Italian brand and Shaikha Fatima Bint Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Inspired by the five-petal flower adorning the marble ceilings of the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the jewellery is a union of cultures and heritage, said Kapoor Ahuja.
On February 11, the Louvre Abu Dhabi played host to a star-studded jewellery launch that saw the well-heeled crowd of the UAE attend.
“It’s a great collection to be a part of because it celebrates similarities between two cultures as opposed to the differences that we have been highlighting across the world. It is the perfect time and place to talk about similarities between cultures and not differences,” said Kapoor Ahuja in an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid. The campaign saw her filming at several landmarks in Rome and Abu Dhabi.
“We have shot such a beautiful campaign and some stunning pictures that shows similarities between two cultures and not differences that we have been focusing on in this day and age … We shot in the mosque, desert and also the Spanish Steps in Rome. It’s just spectacular,” the actress said.
The daughter of Anil Kapoor takes pride in buying her own diamonds and counts emeralds as her favourite stone.
Kapoor Ahuja, who has her own fashion label Rheson with her stylist sister Rhea Kapoor, apart from being part of sneaker brand VegNonVeg and Bhane with her husband Anand Ahuja, is one of Bollywood’s most fashion-forward stars.
Excerpts from our interview with the actress who has taken over Bollywood and fashion circles on her own terms …
How did this collaboration happen?
I have worked with Bulgari before on a couple of things and I have launched one of their collections before. But here they wanted me to be the face of Jannah Collection. Her Royal Highness [Shaikha Fatima] thought I should be a part of it too … It was also amazingly sweet that a grand daughter is paying homage to her grandfather [founding father of the UAE, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan]. This collection has got such rich heritage, art and design. We have so much intolerance these days. This collection is about celebrating each other and that is something we should be proud of.
You have the hashtag #RomeToAbuDhabi in all your social media posts. Did you film in Rome and Abu Dhabi?
We have done the campaign in different parts of Rome and in different parts of Abu Dhabi. We have also shot a video commercial which launched last night.
So we shot in iconic landmarks like the Spanish Steps in Rome and at the Shaikh Zayed Mosque and Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi … Jannah is ‘jannat’ meaning paradise and it was the Jannah five-petal flower that Lucia [Bulgari’s Creative Director Lucia Silvestri] and Her Royal Highness [Shaikha Fatima] saw at a mosque.
That’s the whole centre of the collection that underlines the similarities between their cultures and heritage. The collection goes so well with Indian clothes that I wore a golden lehenga with zardosi work on it and paired it with a beautiful necklace with Jannah flowers on them on the launch night in Abu Dhabi.
Do you think ‘less is more’ applies to jewellery?
I am an Indian and so I believe ‘more is more’ when it comes to Indian jewellery. As Indians, we love our jewellery and that is a part of our heritage and culture. 90 per cent of the stones that are cut in the world are from India, most of the stones in the world are sourced from India and lots of the jewellery is made in India. So it’s a part of our heritage, culture, then we should flaunt it.
It’s also interesting you say that this collection represents tolerance, something that India and the rest of the world is struggling to achieve. But you have always been a celebrity who has used her voice for causes. Are you ever afraid of facing backlash?
I am a liberal. Any form of extremism on any side is wrong. The whole idea is to have a choice and not berate anybody for their choices.
As an artist, you have to have a certain moral compass that speaks about freedom of choice, freedom of speech and freedom to be who you are. I believe in having equality, no matter what your sex is or what strata of society you belong to. As somebody who is a public figure, I have a voice and
I have the privilege of having that voice. So, when you have that voice, it is a huge responsibility to use that voice right. I have a certain lack of self-preservation when it comes to it, but I use my voice with the right intentions.
But haven’t you mellowed down … or is it just my observation?
I don’t use my voice for things that make good copy. But I use my voice for things that matter. I don’t know if you would call that mellow, but I would call it wise. I’d rather speak for rights — like freedom of speech, expression and education. I rather speak about myself as a feminist and speak about pay disparity.
I had rather speak for LGTBQ rights. Those are the things that I want to speak about. I don’t want to speak about somebody’s dressing sense or acting capabilities. I have opinions on matters that are relevant.
It’s the women in Bollywood who have found their voices in India’s current anti-CAA political landscape. Recently, Deepika Padukone threw her weight behind Jawaharlal Nehru University student protests in Delhi. The men or the Bollywood heroes continue to maintain a stoic silence on matters of political and cultural importance in India. Why?
With men in Bollywood, they think a lot. But I feel that women are the ones who need to empower everyone. Women are the ones who are going to birth the next generation and shape their thoughts.
The importance that you give men and their opinion is insignificant. The women, their voices and their stand on issues should matter more.
Yes, you even tweeted to your new chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to look into Delhi’s pollution and he took notice too …
I shuttle between Delhi and London since I have homes there. Clearly, I am excited and everyone is excited about Kejriwal. It’s very important that we are not breathing poisonous air every day. Pollution is a big deal because we are cutting our lifespan into half by breathing toxic air. So I had to do it.
Your recent film ‘The Zoya Factor’ wasn’t received well at the box office, but was successful on a streaming release … Were you disappointed?
Dulquer [Salmaan, he lead of ‘The Zoya Factor’] is very handsome. I know it’s doing very well on the streaming platform, but I wasn’t happy with the way I performed. I feel I could have done better.
I don’t know about the film’s success, but I had fun doing the role. Although it was a fun film, it wasn’t meant for a big screen release. The producers took the wrong call… But I was proven right.
What’s next for you?
I am doing a Sujoy Ghosh film directed by Shom Makhija called ‘Blind’. It’s a thriller and we start filming soon.