MUMBAI—Over a decade has passed since Sonam Kapoor made her debut in “Saawariya.” A clash was averted between her mentor filmmaker Sanjay Bhansali’s newest film “Padmaavat” and her “Pad Man” when the latter’s filmmakers willingly moved ahead. This makes Kapoor refuse to discuss any clash with Deepika Padukone again after “Saawariya” clashed against “Om Shanti Om” in 2007.
Otherwise, the bubbly actress, who is gung-ho about her career after “Neerja” in 2016, decided to come clean on her new film and career, albeit in a quick way as she had a flight to catch a couple of hours later.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: R. Balki, your director, tells me that you are the only character who did not exist in the actual story of Arunachalam.
A: Yes, but my character in “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” was also fictional! Actually, the spirit of “Pad Man” is inspired by Arunachalam and his story. We asked him if it was okay to change a lot of things, including the location and community, and tell his story. So all characters are fictitious in a way. Actually, I am glad filmmakers making stories like these like to cast me in their films! Whenever you are a part of a story that advocates some change in thought or action, I think that it is important to be a part of the film.
Q: You have had no releases after “Neerja.”
A: Yes! And I am now having four more films back to back – my home production “Veerey Di Wedding,” the Sanjay Dutt biopic, “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga” with dad (Anil Kapoor) and Rajkummar Rao and “The Zoya Factor,” which is also a story with a real base. I think of the role I have, and what inspires me to be a better artist, and do films of which I will be proud.
I am really inspired by what India as a country stands for – its different people, culture, stories…so I like to play a Zoya from Benares, a princess from Rajasthan as in “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo,” a city girl or Neerja…these are all rooted, modern Indian girls. Though I am from a high-class precinct, I think I am a grounded girl, and I love stories that in their qualities resonate with audiences.
Q: But don’t you think such message films work only if there is a big star?
A: Look, Indians do lead difficult lives unlike those from a rich country. When you go to watch a film, you need to experience joy and get uplifted for the money you spend. If a combination of stars and a good story provides that, what is wrong?
If stars like Akshay Kumar and Aamir Khan are using their stardom to tell good stories, well, why not? When I did a film like “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo,” I knew it would have a phenomenal reach. So the same people who saw me in it and liked how I looked and what I did would say, “Oh, she is the one who is starring in this new film “Neerja.” Let’s go and watch that film too.” Today, “Neerja” as the biggest hit of 2016 in terms of return of investment has opened the doors for financiers to put money into such films.
Q: R. Madhvani in “Neerja” and R. Balki in “Pad Man” – both are ad filmmakers. Do you see any difference between them, or between them and other directors?
A: A filmmaker is a filmmaker is a filmmaker, whether he is making a 30-second ad film or a three-hour feature. He has to connect with his story to the audience. I have had a number of brilliant directors who are all “Addies” as we call them – Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Shashanka Ghosh – they are all from that field.
Q: As a Mumbai girl, what do you think of the issue shown in “Pad Man?”
A: I was shocked to know that only 12 percent of women in India have access to sanitary napkins and mental hygiene! For a population of 1.6 billion, of which about half are women, this is scary! Most women use awful stuff like ash, mud, leaves, dirty rags – there is no awareness. Many are not allowed to live in the same house, use the same toilets – if they exist! – or utensils! They are treated like untouchables, apart from the religious aspects. I mean, if such a woman makes pickles, why should it be different? But they cannot enter the kitchen.
Q: How was your upbringing in this regard?
A: I am very lucky and grateful – it was very progressive and beautiful. I was never made to think there was something wrong with me because I was a girl, or because I got periods or because I was an actress. I was sent to one of the finest schools – Arya Vidya Mandir – where things were the same and where we even had sex education. After that, I went to one of the best colleges abroad.
Q: What would be your message to those who still may not be able to go watch “Pad Man” together as a family?
A: I would tell them that at the end of the day, it is also a love story, of a man who is so much in love with his wife that he wants to make her life better. Here was an extraordinary man who really loved his wife – that is the crux of the film – that he finally created napkins costing a mere Rs. 2, because though he was an uneducated man, he hated seeing her use a cloth he would not even use to clean his bicycle!
Whatever good we do in this world, whatever extraordinary creativity or achievements are seen, are always driven and inspired by some manifestation of love – love for your wife, husband, family, work or country – anything.
Q: What about the use of code-words by women like chum, I am down, Happy Birthday and so on as they cannot use the word “periods?”
A: I think code-words do not matter, as long as you are comfortable and not ashamed of talking about your periods. When I first got my periods, I was 15, and most of my friends had already got them long before, so I was actually relieved because I was thinking something was wrong with me, and that’s what I went and told my mother!