Drama Queen To Queen Of Drama

Nine years and 12 films later, Sonam Kapoor is fi­nally mak­ing news for her act­ing skills as much as for her sar­to­rial taste

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - by Ananya Ghosh

SSALMAN KHAN was still tick­ling Sonam Kapoor with a white feather on the hoard­ings of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo when a com­par­a­tively small-bud­get film made its way to the­atres this Fe­bru­ary. Neerja, a biopic about a 22-year-old head purser who gave her life try­ing to save 359 pas­sen­gers on board the hi­jacked Pan Am Flight 73 in 1986, was one of the most an­tic­i­pated films of the year. Neerja Bhanot’s was an in­spi­ra­tional story of an or­di­nary Bom­bay girl who dis­played ex­tra­or­di­nary courage and quick-think­ing, sav­ing pre­cious lives.

But what kept peo­ple on tenterhooks was that Neerja was be­ing played by Sonam Kapoor, who al­ways had a huge ques­tion mark loom­ing over her act­ing cre­den­tials, and who usu­ally made news for her Gaultier gowns. Most film crit­ics re­coiled in hor­ror when she’d been cast by di­rec­tor Ram Mad­hvani. But when the film hit the­atres, it took them, and the rest of us, by sur­prise. It seemed Sonam had fi­nally learned the dif­fer­ence be­tween pos­ing on the red car­pet and play­ing a char­ac­ter.

In the first few scenes, Sonam looks ev­ery bit a bub­bly 22-year-old. It is the sort of char­ac­ter she has played in al­most all her pre­vi­ous films. But about 20 min­utes in, you’ll have trou­ble re­mem­ber­ing that the girl on screen is Sonam. It is dif­fi­cult to trace the ex­act point when Anil Kapoor’s daugh­ter be­comes Rama Bhanot’s ‘Laado’. The first scene in which she makes a mark as an ac­tress is when Neerja, just re­leased from gun­point, locks her­self in the plane’s toi­let even as a ter­ror­ist beats on the door. It’s the mo­ment Neerja trans­forms from scared airhost­ess to un­wit­ting hero. The scene cuts to a flash­back with Neerja con­tem­plat­ing walk­ing out on her abu­sive hus­band. It ends with her father’s words, ask­ing her never to be scared to stand up for what is right. And Sonam sim­ply stands up and de­liv­ers. Did you think she had it in her? Nei­ther did we.

No or­di­nary task

This is Sonam’s first at­tempt at por­tray­ing an ac­tual per­son and the ac­tress says that be­ing

able to iden­tify with Neerja helped play her con­vinc­ingly. “She went to Bom­bay Scot­tish School and St Xavier’s Col­lege,” Sonam says. “She took up modelling and be­came a flight at­ten­dant. I know so many girls with a sim­i­lar back­ground. Neerja could have been any of my friends. She was the girl-next-door.” But this also made things dif­fi­cult – how do you play such an or­di­nary girl and yet make her dis­tinct on screen? “It is al­ways dif­fi­cult to play a re­al­life per­son, un­like in the case of a fic­tional char­ac­ter, where the au­di­ence has no ref­er­ence points. But in the case of Neerja, there was no crutch I could use to be­come her. She didn’t have any phys­i­cal trait that set her apart,” Sonam points out. She worked to sound like the Bom­bay-bred Neerja, hair and make-up artists sup­plied the bob and look. But Neerja was more than that. “There was a cer­tain en­ergy, a glint, a laugh­ter, a noor in her that made her stand out in the crowd,” the ac­tress ob­serves. “She had a joie de vivre. Her ide­al­ism and prin­ci­ples made her what she was.”

So, in­stead of draw­ing on stock man­ner­isms, Sonam went to the peo­ple who knew the 22-year-old – friends, fam­ily, col­leagues – to un­der­stand what made this seem­ingly or­di­nary girl do some­thing de­serv­ing of three brav­ery awards from three coun­tries in death.

The long and short of it

The shoot was wrapped up in just 31 days. But the process was in­tense and ex­haus­tive. To recre­ate what the Pan Am pas­sen­gers must have gone through in the trau­matic 16 hours they were held hostage, Mad­hvani and his crew shot the whole plane se­quence in just 12 hours. Four cam­eras joined the cast in the con­fined in­sides of a plane. The takes were long, the close-ups tight. There was lit­tle room to work with, and lit­tle room for er­ror.

Some takes would go on for two hours, Mad­hvani says. “Sonam was not only okay with putting her­self through such tax­ing con­di­tions, she also em­braced it and ex­e­cuted the scenes with fi­nesse. I of­ten say that I can push an ac­tor but the ac­tor has to land.” Sonam even hurt her­self while shoot­ing. On the 12th day, just as they wrapped up, she flew out for Cannes where she walked the red car­pet, cov­er­ing her bruises with makeup. “As an ac­tor, Sonam’s big­gest strength is that she is self-pun­ish­ing,” points out Mad­hvani. “She gets so emo­tion­ally in­volved that it af­fects her health. This is also her big­gest weak­ness.”

Mad­hvani’s favourite scene from the film is the one that comes al­most near the end. It fea­tures an ex­hausted Neerja, re­signed to the fact that the siege is out of her con­trol, tak­ing a seat to read the let­ter her boyfriend gave her just be­fore she boarded that fate­ful flight. “As she reads those lines where he asks her to marry him, she be­comes in­creas­ingly aware that she might never see him or any of her loved ones again,” Mad­hvani ex­plains. “It was an in­cred­i­bly sen­si­tive scene and re­quired a lot of con­trol. Sonam got into the skin of the char­ac­ter and I don’t think any­body else could have done so much jus­tice to the role.” Later, much af­ter the shoot, Mad­hvani’s team re­alised they needed to dub one word since the let­ter had been rewrit­ten af­ter the scene was filmed. “In­stead of just adding the word, Sonam dubbed the whole scene, putting her­self through the same emo­tional jour­ney all over again.”

For Sonam, the scene that is clos­est to her heart comes in the first half, where a flash­back shows her read­ing her es­tranged hus­band’s let­ter aloud to her mother. The few lines in­di­cate the na­ture of their brief mar­riage – a re­la­tion­ship marked by abuse, power strug­gles and lit­tle love. “What it stood for was so beau­ti­ful. This girl knows that she is right in de­cid­ing to end her re­la­tion­ship with a man who has emo­tion­ally tor­mented her from the first day of their mar­riage and writ­ten hor­ri­ble things about her to her father,” Sonam says. “Yet she is read­ing out those ugly let­ters to her mother to make her un­der­stand what the man has put her through. That stands for ev­ery mod­ern girl who knows what she is do­ing is right but needs val­i­da­tion from her loved ones, es­pe­cially her par­ents.”

Momma’s girl

The close­ness echoes in Sonam's own house­hold. By all ac­counts, Sonam, her sis­ter Rhea, her brother Harsh­vard­han and their par­ents ap­pear close-knit, much like the Bhan­ots.

But her per­for­mance cer­tainly caused some sur­prise at home. “It is a heart-break­ing but in­spir­ing story. But at the same time it is a story of a mother los­ing her daugh­ter and I knew my mom would re­spond to that part the most,” Sonam says. But, when she told her mother about her con­cern, Su­nita Kapoor, who has seen her hus­band Anil die on screen many times in the last 30 years, laughed it off. Still, when it came to watch­ing her daugh­ter fac­ing im­mi­nent death on cel­lu­loid, it was a dif­fer­ent Su­nita al­to­gether. “We had to take her home dur­ing the in­ter­val. She was too over­whelmed by then and was in no con­di­tion to sit through the se­cond

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.