At the pinnacle of her career, Kareena Kapoor Khan reining in her workaholic impulse and embracing life beyond Bollywood—laced with ski trips to Switzerland, blue cheese and more art than her walls can hold. Matt Daniels meets the newly-minted free spirit.
‘The Floral Issue’ with cover star Kareena Kapoor Khan is an exclusive ‘art meets fashion’ Vogue India collaboration. Artist duo Jiten Thukral & Sumir Tagra’s recent exhibition at Mumbai’s Famous Studios, where the cover shoot took place, included a series of large hand-painted canvases. The artists’ intricate inventions adorn Kareena Kapoor Khan in the issue.
Kareena has just returned from her annual holiday in Gstaad. “Strictly après-skiing,” she jokes. It is an occasion, she says, to indulge her twin vices of wine and cheese. “Blue cheese. It’s better than any other vice, that’s for sure.”
She has nearly two months before she starts shooting for her next film. It is Rohit Shetty’s Singham 2, “a full-on commercial potboiler.” There’s always plenty of commercial work to tide her over. But Kareena has a radically different agenda: “Spending time with my family, my husband, my friends, people I love, reading, travelling and reading great scripts.”
Radical, that is, for an actor who has worked nonstop for 14 years. The compulsion drove her to take roles she candidly admits to having “walked through.” No longer. “I’m picking and choosing what I want to do. If something great doesn’t come my way, it’s fine,” she says. This is her new mantra: It’s fine. “Earlier I would be afraid to say no, and I would probably do films for friends. But this year, it’s different.”
“I’m lucky to have someone like Saif,” she says. “He’s very worldly wise. He would rather go on a holiday alone than go to a Bollywood party.”
“In fact, I think Saif is the only actor I know who has the ability to switch off from a Bollywood circle. And that’s part of what attracts me to him.” (Though they met on the sets of Tashan in 2007 and married in October 2012, she can still gush like a newlywed.)
Having been all about the scene since her late teens, she is, in many ways, like an adolescent newly exposed to the world. “I’m exploring other avenues,” she says. “I love travelling. I want to travel to new places.”
Thanks again to Saif, she has a newfound appreciation for art. “We both love art, but it’s more him,” she says. “He has got a keen eye for art from around the world. In fact, these [she gestures toward the frames and canvases not only lining the walls but propped up on easels, shelves and floors] are just a few paintings. Our house is small, but we’re moving into a bigger space in September. That one will have some amazing art up on the walls. He gets it from his mum; my mother-in-law is also an art collector.”
The regard in which the Hindi film industry holds its actresses echoes attitudes toward women in India at large. The simplest measure of the fact is their compensation. Though Kareena currently holds the title of the highest paid actress, “a difference of several zeroes,” she says, separates her and Salman Khan. Still, she is reported to have earned as much as rupees eight crore from 2013’s Heroine. Her take from the Rohit Shetty blockbuster will likely be as large. Then ads and endorsements round out the bottom line. The greater difficulty for actresses is the duration of their careers, she points out. Not only are they undervalued, but they are discarded in their prime. “They have this perception that not many actresses can work more than 10 years in Bollywood.”
While male actors well into their forties cavort in college dramas, roles for actresses in their thirties, let alone beyond, are hard to come by. “It’s not like in Hollywood, where you’re Meryl Streep and you’re 60 and you still get your career’s best roles. But, hopefully, if there is talent and filmmakers who believe in you, there’s always a chance,” she says. “It’s a dream to be doing [a film like] The Devil Wears Prada at 55. I don’t know if that’s possible in India; I mean… we are moving, there are baby steps being taken.”
Emotional twists and turns have given her career meaning as well. “I’ve made some stupid decisions, but that’s all a part of the journey,” she says. “My success wouldn’t be as meaningful if I didn’t have a patch in my career between 2004 and 2006, which weren’t great years,” she concedes. A series of flops preceded the critical hit of Omkara (2006), her breakout role in Jab We Met (2007) and the crowd-pleasing lunacy of 3 Idiots (2009), each of which garnered her Filmfare nominations and one Best Actress award.
“But those three years [the lean ones] were so important to me. It gave me that passion and that fire, it kept it alive somehow: failure.”
Unlike the Bebo of old, she has learned to savour the moment. “It’s like what you feel when you open a great bottle of wine and you’re sitting with your friends and you talk. Why get to the top if you can’t enjoy it?”
Check out the behind the scenes video: