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Mind over mood

Mind over mood

Among the many things she is today, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja is also one of the honest voices in tinseltown. Ahead of the release of her new film, The Zoya Factor, she maps her personal and professional journey

By Khalid Mohamed

Published: Fri 20 Sep 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 20 Sep 2019, 2:00 AM

Her score's 18 films in 12 years. And come this month-end, she'll be hitting her 19th run with The Zoya Factor, a romedy that straddles the corporate advertising and the cricket worlds.
As Zoya Singh Solanki, Sonam Kapoor - by the sheer chance of being at the right place at the right time - turns out to be the lucky mascot for the Indian cricket team, captained by a self-absorbed sort essayed by Mammootty Jr, better known as Dulquer Salmaan. Adapted from a bestselling novel, far too simplistically categorised as chicklit, this is Sonam's first release after last year's ticklish Veere Di Wedding.
Kickstarting her career as an assistant director - which can be a grind - to Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Black (2005), she debuted few years later in his film Saawariya, a stylised musical that met with a mixed response. Clearly, though, two stars were born as soon as its premiere was over - Sonam and Ranbir Kapoor. Subsequently, of her career-best performances, I'd count Delhi-6 (2009), Raanjhanaa (2013), Khoobsurat (2014) and Neerja (2016), which fetched her the Filmfare Critics' Award and a special jury prize at the National Awards, followed by a restrained act in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019).
Going by the name of Sonam K. Ahuja since her wedding on May 8, 2018, to fashion entrepreneur Anand Ahuja, I wonder if she has the pre-release jitters about The Zoya Factor. After all, every actor goes through anxiety pangs, primarily about their film's intakes at the box office and next, judgements pronounced by the ever-growing tribe of reviewers. There's a discernible edge of vulnerability about her naturally right now. Steeling herself, she's been shouldering the film's promotional campaign, especially on Instagram, where she has a staggering count of 21.5 million followers.
Concurrently, she doesn't hold back when it comes to commenting on political and social issues - be it on the proposed felling of nearly 3,000 trees at Mumbai's Aarey Milk Colony or answering nasty trolls on her statement to the BBC Asian News Service vis-à-vis the nullification of Article 370 on Jammu and Kashmir.
She had stated, "It's heartbreaking to see where the situation has landed right now and I'm very patriotic. for me, it's better to keep quiet and let this pass because even this too shall pass. I think our countries were one country 70 years ago, and the fact that there is so much divisive politics at play is really heartbreaking." Gratifyingly, a major section of the media rushed to defend her against the trolls.
Unlike most of her peers, Sonam is no shrinking violet when it comes to speaking her mind out loud. Being politically correct is not her agenda in show business, which thrives on the safer option of being diplomatic (read: sheer apathy). Intelligent and well-read - among her favourite books are Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, Leon Uris' Exodus and J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. At the same time, she has become an epitome of high fashion.
A tough call that, since the twain of glamour and seriousness of purpose rarely meet. In Sonam's case, they do.
Now, whenever I've attempted to interview her, there's been a hairpin bend ahead. Since I've known her ever since she was a toddler, the first of the three children of Sunita and Anil Kapoor, she's been embarrassed, saying, "But uncle, I feel strange talking to you formally." Still, I insist on knowing what it means to be a Bollywood actor today, to which she responds, "Today, being a celebrity isn't about being ivory-towered, it's about being interactive."
"At one point, I was fed up of being branded as a fashion diva who couldn't act. Such prejudices did affect my self-esteem. Frankly, I have even gone through a spell of depression but then saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Although I can be harsh on myself, I saw that as an actor, I have evolved with time. If an actor doesn't grow, he or she becomes extinct. And I know I will grow further because it's written in my kundali (horoscope)," she elaborates.
Hang on! Evolution is feasible by deeds and achievements rather than by what's ordained, isn't it? "No two ways about that," she ripostes. "Above all, I'd like to think of myself as a rational person. And I'm more than aware that I'm not a teenager anymore. I can't prance around the countryside in a pair of skin-tight jeans. So, I'm longing to play the role of a real-life painter, an artist, or someone like Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Or a character like Rosie, which Waheeda Rehman played so brilliantly in Guide (1965)."
Besides selecting her next roles with acumen, she's been writing short stories, has developed concepts for three film scripts and nurtures a desire to turn director when she's sure of graduating to the commanding spot behind the camera. And how will she know when she's ready? To that she laughs, "Hopefully, that'll be a part of my natural growth. What else can I say? All I know is in the process, I hope to become as principled and honest as my mother, and as confident as my dad. They have always been my role models."
In recent months, she's been globe-trotting with her husband Anand Ahuja, taking in art exhibitions and getting herself a stack of books. She shuttles between her family home at the Juhu-Vile Parle enclave, London and New Delhi, where her in-laws are based.
The most striking point about Sonam K. Ahuja is that I've never seen her aimless or on a downcurve. Like the smiling toddler she was, she's a big, happy girl now, untouched by the those two corrupting elements called fame and fortune.

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