Kareena Kapoor Khan is cinema royalty. And not just because of the family she was born into. Because for Kareena, her clarity of purpose was always to create a legacy for herself. The 42-year-old actor speaks to Bazaar India Editor Nandini Bhalla about her career spanning over two decades, mastering the art of staying relevant, and how she has evolved as a person.
Nandini Bhalla: Kareena, what was it like growing up in a family of such famous, talented actors?
Kareena Kapoor Khan: Given that my entire family has been in the film business, I feel blessed to have grown up with such legendary actors and filmmakers at home—including my parents and my sister. I remember when I was three- or four-years-old, my grandfather would regale us with stories of the films he was working on. It used to be so exciting to receive that firsthand information. By the time I grew up, my parents had stopped working in films, so Karisma (Kapoor) was my biggest inspiration—I used to visit the set when she was shooting. I've had the actual honour and pleasure of watching Salman and Lolo (Karisma) and Govinda dance. I watched that energy come alive. I think that's what I fell in love with. Honestly, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from them. Acting is in my DNA, and it was my dream to become an actor for as long as I can remember. I feel like I couldn’t have done anything else...I eat, breathe, and sleep films.
NB: When you look back, do you think about doing anything differently?
KKK: I don't like to find faults... And I don't regret any of the decisions I have made. Everyone has their own journey, and this is my destiny...the way my life and career panned out. I firmly believe in destiny. Whatever is meant to happen, will happen...and if something is not in your destiny, no matter how much you try, it won’t materialise. So I always look back and smile, because I am proud of my journey. I don’t have time for regrets.
NB: Are there any of your own films that are extra-special for you?
KKK: There are a lot of films that I consider special, either because of the script or because I got a chance to work with some wonderful filmmakers. At the age of 22, I worked in a film called Chameli (2003), which was very brave in myopinion, as no-one at the time would have directed or worked in a film like that. I truly believe that Chameli was a turning point in my career.
NB: Kareena, what, according to you, does it mean to be a star?
KKK: I don't consider myself a star. When you look up in the sky, you see so many stars...zillions...one can't even count. I believe everyone is special, and I think today, everyone wants to be known as an actor...not a star. That is the new standard of cinema as it should be, you know? One is a star when they have established themselves as a great actor. In my own family, I have seen Shammi (Kapoor) uncle, Shashi Kapoor, and Rishi Kapoor...who were some of the finest actors. So, for me, it was always about being a good actor rather than being just a ‘star’.
NB: You've always been know to speak your mind. Has that ever gotten you in trouble?
KKK: I have been a part of the industry for 23 years...so I have mastered the art! I have certainly learned from my mistakes, so I am a pro now. Now I know exactly what's going on. In this industry, if you don't pick yourself up and learn quickly, you won't go very far. Now I am a completely different person—I am happy that I have evolved as a person. It is important, both professionally and personally.
NB: Would you say that you have become calmer over the years?
KKK: Of course. Now I don't have the time or the energy to waste on a lot of things. In my late teens...even 20s for that matter, I was too caught up with so much going on in my life. But then the transition happened. And, today, I am in a space where I want to relax and live my life exactly the way I want to. I started working at 17, and I'm 42 today. Today, it takes a lot to rattle me. And even if I get rattled, I quickly forget about it.
NB: I feel that strong, powerful women rarely talk about where they went wrong, which is really where the true learnings come from. Are there any lessons that you learnt along the way?
KKK: When I was younger, I’d throw caution to the wind. I didn’t care about what I was doing or what the consequences would be. But to be honest, I don’t regret that either. Today, I am more grounded. However, a decade or so ago, there was a lot of competition, and people were constantly pitted against each other. And it wasn’t personal, but today, if someone tries to instigate me, I will always be on the top of the situation.
NB: Do you read the comments on your Instagram feed?
KKK: I don’t. Because I joined the app so late, I have been able to cultivate a very organic following. I try to keep it as real as possible, because I talk about my life in general and my family. I don’t share a lot...just enough, so my followers know the real me.
NB: Is it important for your to share your authentic self with your fans?
KKK: In a world where everyone is trying to one-up each other, I think it is fun for an actor to be real. And at this stage in my life, I would not want to project myself as someone I am not. I have been there and done that, you know?
NB: Women are often told that if they just try a little harder, they will achieve this almost-mythical ‘work-life balance’. Have you managed to find this balance?
KKK: I don’t think there is a formula to achieving work-life balance, there’s no secret to it. It is up to you to decide what you will or won't do. I want to be able to say no to the things that I don’t want to do, because I don't feel like leaving my kids alone or because I don't want to be seen at some awards show. I want to be able to choose—because I'd rather sit at home with my husband and watch a show or have a glass of wine. That’s one of the biggest changes I have gone through, personally. It is up to me to strike a work-life balance.
NB: It's the fine art of saying no...
KKK: Yes, the fine art of saying no...because I'd rather be with my family, my kids, or my friends.
NB: Do you think that Bollywood is finally changing its approach to ageism?
KKK: I think so. You have to wear your age proudly. Today, women have become brave. For female actors, the biggest taboo was to get married...but now your marital status doesn't affect your career. Filmmakers are now taking risks and willing to work on off-beat scripts, and give different people a chance. In the end, it is all about feeling and looking confident.
NB: You are someone with this innate confidence. Where does it come from? It is like that dialogue from Jab We Met (2007): ‘Main apni favourite hoon' (I am my own favourite).
KKK: At that time, when I shot that scene, I didn't know it would become so popular. Looking back, I think it encouraged women to believe in themselves and take charge of their lives. But I am clear about what I am good at and not good at, and I am honest about it. So I guess my confidence comes from that, you know? I have a lot of clarity now as compared to when I was in my 20s—I am more sensible, and my mind is less foggy. And this clarity helps me make sound decisions for myself, my kids...everything.
NB: How beautiful! And do you plan to make your boys watch your film?
KKK: No, not really... They are six- and two-years-old. The older one (Taimur Ali Khan Pataudi) is busy with Star Wars—he is obsessed with it. And the younger one (Jehangir Ali Khan Pataudi) is just a baby. But I think Taimur has watched bits of Saif's work...he just adores his father.
NB: Tell me, Kareena, what roles truly matter to you now?
KKK: Being a part of a big-ticket film is not the most important thing for me right now, because going to work obviously means leaving the kids behind. For instance, Saif is working in Amritsar right now, so I'm at home with the kids. And then he will be back in March, and I'll go out to work. So we literally take turns to be with the kids. So taking on a project today means it has to be worth my time. It has to be work I truly enjoy doing.
NB: What are you looking forward to in this coming year; what are you most excited about?
KKK: I am excited about the decisions and choices I have made of late. And I want to continue doing so. I will keep going on holidays because life is a choice...it is like a holiday. Don't take it too seriously. Everyone is rushing and everybody is so busy that we forget to live in the moment.
Photographs by Sasha Jairam, Styling by Divyak D'Souza