She dazzles you in Refugee, Asoka, Jab We Met, Chameli and Talaash with her incandescence. From the sassy streetwalker in Sudhir Mishra’s Chameli to the Muslim riot victim in Govind Nihlani’s Dev to the crusading journalist in Prakash Jha’s Satyagraha to the confused millennial in Veere De Wedding… Yes, Kareena Kapoor, give or take the Khan, has come a long way.
I’ve known Kareena better than almost anyone else… But then, I don’t think anyone can really ‘know’ Kareena fully. Certainly not Kareena herself. Her attitude to life and career always swings between I-don’t-care and I-live-and-die-for–what-I-believe-in. There’s never a middle path, never a chance of finding a balance between those two extremes.
Daughter of caprice and the wizard of whimsy, Kareena goes completely by what her heart tells her. In the process if she ends up looking somewhat contradictory in her conduct, then so be it. Kareena doesn’t care. She lives for the moment and crams all her intensity into it, not sparing a single thought for what’s gone and what’s waiting around the corner.
I think I was the first journalist Kareena ever spoke to. Right after the release of her first film Refugee, I remember running into this spunky naturally beautiful girl who told me she always wants to be simple and Indian in movies, like she was in Refugee.
The impact that Kareena made in her debut film remains unequalled by anything any other newcomers made.
During a private conversation the icon himself, Amitabh Bachchan had called her “ethereal”. She laughed nervously. “That’s what I want to be. I’ve watched the films of Meena Kumari and Madhubala and those are my role-models… I feel very awkward doing the things that today’s heroines are required to…”
She had just begun shooting for her second film Ajnabee where she was required to be sensuous. And Kareena was dying a thousand deaths. “I can’t do all this!” she grumbled throughout the making of the film.
Barely a year after Refugee she was transformed into a captivating centrespread queen in Satish Kaushik’s Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai and later Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.
The makeover from the simple salwar-kameez –clad girl in Refugee to the pouty seductress Poo in K3G was startling… and complete.
Kareena’s priorities had transformed completely. “I realise I can’t be paid what I am for being draped from head to toe. I’ve to be glamorous and seductive. That’s what being a saleable heroine of today is all about,” she confided in me.
So it was, goodbye Meena Kumari, hello Britney Spears… And never mind if Spears erupted much after Poo.
During the making of K3G, it was clear to all who the queen on the sets was. Not Kajol, not even the Bachchans… it was Kareena who was pampered silly by the Johars. It was as though everyone saw she was the superstar in the making. Somehow the commercial success never really happened. But it didn’t stop her rapid climb to being a youth icon.
“I must be the only actress in the world whose brand equity increases every time I give a flop,” she laughed with that don’t-care-a-damn toss of her hair which makes her such a favourite among the generation that believes in self regard being the highest form of creativity.
Somewhere down the line her headstrong attitude cost her dearly. She lost big banner films like Karan Johar. She said no to the offer to do Kal Ho Na Ho because, according to her, she was being offered peanuts. She also said no to Deepa Mehta and Rituparno Ghosh’s offer to do Water and Raincoat after saying 'yes'.
“Right now it isn’t time for me to do too many of these offbeat films. I did Chameli, and that’s enough,” she said with a toss of her stubborn head.
I immediately recalled her response to Deepa Mehta’s Water when it came to her right after Refugee. She was shooting for Subhash Ghai’s Yaadein in Rajasthan when the script arrived. “I can’t do this,” she mock-quivered. “Shabana Azmi would chew me alive.”
Of course, she wasn’t bothered by Shabana’s performance. From the start Kareena is the most confident and arrogant performer in Bollywood. Even for the most complicated scene she needs no rehearsal. Joking and giggling till the last second she switches on her instinctive powerhouse performing abilities like a water-tap.
Her moodiness is legendary. But she never carries her temper to the sets. Kareena is a performer much ahead of her times. She’s a princess in demeanour and royalty at heart. Her bearing and her behaviour convey the arrogance of aristocracy. It was these qualities that prompted Sanjay Leela Bhansali to cast her as the passionate warrior-courtesan Mastani in Sanjay Bhansali’s historical love story Bajirao Mastani.
I am not very sure any longer if the film can be made with Kareena in the cast. With characteristic impetuosity she went and signed two other films with her Bajirao co-star Salman Khan. It finished off the novelty and enigma of the pair that Sanjay Leela Bhansali had so carefully planned for his ambitious historical career.
The larger picture has never mattered to her. She always jumps into the short run and sacrifices the trek for the sprint.
I remember how excited she was after watching Bhansali’s Devdas. “I HAVE to be in his next picture, no matter what. We were born to work together,” she vowed.
I’ve seen Kareena in love. And now she’s happily married.
There are many images of Kareena Kapoor ethereal presence that flit across my mind. But the one that I cherish most vividly is not from a movie. It’s my first meeting with Kareena. There she was, looking like a vision, her billion-dollar face scrubbed of all makeup, waiting for me at the airport . When she saw me she rushed across the parking area outside the arrival lounge with a big bunch of the most beautiful yellow roses, as scores of bystanders stood and stared.
At that moment Kareena made me feel like a star. Thank you, Kareena, for that unforgettable welcome. And happy birthday!
Image source: SpotboyE archvie