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‘My struggle has not been for (work) opportunities, my struggle has been for respect,’ says Janhvi Kapoor sounding soft and vulnerable yet firm.

Daughter of the late legendary actress Sridevi and film producer Boney Kapoor, Janhvi may have had a dream entry into Bolywood with well known production house, Karan Johar’s Dharma Production launching her with Dhadak, in 2018. But it also quickly turned the spotlight on her attracting bouquets and brickbats in equal measure.

Not unlike many star kids Janhvi has had to deal with her life being scrutinised – and discussed – in detail on social media even as she finds it difficult to shrug off the nepotism tag that has been haunting her ever since she stepped into the industry four years ago.

‘I didn’t have to go through the struggle that many do to get work and recognition,’ she admits, ‘but now that I have got this opportunity, I better work hard to make it worthwhile for myself and for the audiences. This [the roles she has essayed recently] is just the beginning; I want to do a lot more. I want to be focussed on work and not the noise.’

Clearly, Janhvi’s’s choice of films in the last two to three years has been carefully thought through. She was recently seen in a couple of survival dramas where she got to sink her teeth into the character and her earnestness towards her performances hasn’t gone unnoticed.

In her recent outing Mili, a survival thriller, produced by dad Boney Kapoor, her character is seen fighting for her life as she is trapped in a freezer. The film gave her the scope to go the whole distance as an actress. ‘For the majority of the film I have no co-actor with me. I have no dialogues, I am in an actual freezer and that was the challenge that excited me to do Mili,’ she says.

Her previous release Goodluck Jerry saw her play a drug dealer for a local drug mafia to make a quick buck. Earlier to this, for the 2020 biographical drama Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, she took up the challenge of playing an Indian Air Force pilot. ‘I think people started taking me more seriously post Good Luck Jerry and that feels nice. I felt I gave that film a lot. Through the course of shooting the film I started believing in myself as an actor. I feel a bit more confident now, I get less nervous on sets now,’ says the star, who picks up a film if the story moves her and if it feels like a challenge. ‘And also something that would be different for the audiences. After reading a script I always think about how I would react to it as a member of an audience and what is the intention of the director and the makers.’

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Looking for challenges

The young actor makes it clear that her choice of films is to make a point to herself. ‘I want to prove to myself that I deserve the opportunities I have been getting and that is the reason I have been trying to push myself when it comes to my acting,’ she says.

In some ways, Janhvi’s motto in life echoes the advice her mother Sridevi gave her.

In an interview some years ago, Sridevi while listing the life tips she would often give Janhvi, mentioned that she would regularly advice her daughter to give her best in every task she undertakes. ‘I’d tell her ‘give your 100 per cent; hard work always pays off’. she had said.

Five months before Janhvi’s big Bollywood debut, Sridevi died of a cardiac arrest in Dubai.

Janhvi cherishes that piece of advice.

‘My mother’s advice will always be on top of my mind, it will never leave me,’ she says. It is all about work… [I know I just have to] keep my head down and keep working hard. There are no shortcuts.’

Carrying the legacy of her mother forward is a responsibility, says Janhvi. ‘My family, my mom in particular got so much love and as a consequence I have also got some of that love. I now have to work doubly hard to prove that I deserve it,’ says the actress who strongly believes that an actor has to keep learning new skills to better their craft.

‘For actors the sky’s the limit. It is important to have an open mind, be more observant, get new experiences, get to know people that you are going to play on screen, read a lot, watch a lot of films, travel, better your language skills, dance skills... It helps to have a rhythm and confidence in your body. For an actor the playground to hone your skills is endless.’ Is there a lot of pressure on carrying forward the legacy?

‘The pressure that I take now is more to give my best to my work. I don’t want to take on external pressures. My relationship with cinema has always been very pure, it is a relationship with a lot of genuine deep love, so I don’t want to let any kind of noise or external forces corrupt that relationship and make it a toxic one. I am very protective of my approach towards my work,’ she says.

Has it been easy to take decisions when choosing films? ‘Look, there are perks and downsides to everything.,’ says the star. ‘The perks with my journey is that I got my foot in the door very easily. I got a great launch. The pressure and expectations have been very high, judgment has been very intense and I have been a very easy target for people to attack. But I have gotten opportunities that I don’t know if I would’ve gotten if I wasn’t in this position. I am happy where I am.’

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Love for travel

For someone who has been globe-trotting since her childhood with her parents to different locations that they were filming at, or on family trips, Janhvi says that given a chance, she would spend her entire time travelling. Her travel diary makes it clear she enjoys all destinations- from Berlin, and New York, to Las Vegas and Florence. She enjoys holidaying with family in Dubai, or in the lap of nature in Tamil Nadu, or having a boat ride in Varanasi ...But it is Florence in Italy that she says is her most favourite vacation spot.

‘Florence is my dream destination but closer home I like to spend time in Udaipur and Benares,’ says Janhvi, a light traveller who buys a lot of stuff at the holiday destination. Janhvi loves travelling with friends, ‘because it is more fun than travelling solo’. Her contemporary Sara Ali Khan is also one of her travel buddies and together they went to Kedarnath, Goa and Los Angeles, recently.

What is her take on competition in the work space?

‘I have a lot of respect and adulation for my contemporaries especially because most of them are my friends. We are all very hard working just that we are taking very different directions towards our career. We are all very secure girls and we have a lot of respect for each other. If there is any competition maybe sometimes it is for a film but at the end of the day it is the director and the producer’s choice and all you can do is do your best.

‘We have no shame in admitting when we are feeling competitive and we have no ego about celebrating each other or giving each other a pat on the back when we feel proud of each other. I was so proud of Sara when we saw her performance in Atrangi Re. I was proud of Ananya’s (Panday) performance in Gehraiyaan, ... There is so much good work out there and we get motivated by each other,’ she says.

After doing off-beat films, Janhvi hopes to do a totally commercial mainstream film in the new year, ‘where I can have some fun’. Her forthcoming films include Nitesh Tiwari directed Bawaal (opposite Varun Dhawan), and following the 2021 horror-comedy Roohi, Janhvi will reunite with Rajkummar Rao for Mr and Mrs Mahi which is produced by Karan Johar. ‘Both Bawaal and Mahi are very special to me. Bawaal also has Varun and it is so good to have a hero alongside. I just can’t wait..more than anything promoting with Varun will be easier because I will keep quiet and he can do all the talking,’ she says, laughing.

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Sibling rivalry?

With her younger sister Khushi having made her debut officially with Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies, what is the dinner table conversation like with two actors in the house?

‘The discussion more than about our films is about how do we spend more time with each other because before when I was busy and it was hectic for me Khushi would come and cater to my schedule but now since it is getting hectic for her as well we haven’t spent much time with each other and that makes me sad. We haven’t had dinner together for a long time,’ she sighs.

Janhvi feels the current scenario wherein audience expectations are rising, is a good sign. ‘It forces us to deliver better. It is a phase of realignment and it is much needed. Before we could rely with certainty on star power of some stars but now the only factor we can rely on is a good film and that has made people wake up and smell the coffee.

‘This kind of a nudge was needed for all of us to get up obviously because people’s taste has evolved as they have been watching some great content during the lockdown. I think it is really good if their expectations from our films are rising,’ she says.