Today, she is considered a proficient actress who can excel when she gets a meaty role. Sonam Kapoor, daughter of Anil Kapoor, is also a fashionista and style icon to reckon with. But does all this translate into a top level star? We have to find answers to this rather tangy question.
The first stumbling block in Sonam’s career was her general outlook towards the medium that had made her father Anil Kapoor what he is: a big star. A neighbor now connected with films recalls how she would have a snooty attitude towards Hindi films and always boast that she would only watch Hollywood cinema. Now, this is not really the right foundation an actress should have to be up there.
All this, especially when her father was making cinema like his South remakes as well as Tezaab, Judaai, No Entry and so on clearly did not augur well for someone who had entered the world of Hindi films as an actress in the times of Deepika Padukone (who made her debut on the same day with Om Shanti Om), Katrina Kaif, Vidya Balan and, later, Anushka Sharma.
To be fair, Sonam never wanted to be an actress, and so took off to Singapore where she studied theater and arts—her second distancing from the medium that was to be her lifeline. She came back with the idea of becoming a director, and began assisting Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Black. She then thought of becoming an actress and got her break. Ironically, in the year her debut film collapsed, her father’s Welcome became a huge hit.
And this probably led to her third ‘mistake’—a programmed lack of judgment in selecting scripts and projects. A seemingly good role in the confused second film she did, Delhi-6(2009), was her next calamity. Her third film, I Hate Luv Storys (2010) was a modest success—her first, yet far from being a hit. Sonam’s next, Aisha the same year, was a pretentious and labored home production comedy that was instantly junked.
As an actress, Sonam has been proficient from film one under the redoubtable Bhansali, so we saw no ascent in such misadventures—an important alternative when commercial success eludes. We would like to think that Sonam survived the cataclysmic score of five major flops in her first five years due to her interesting persona rather than due to nepotism! For the next three films were such disasters that even big star-sons had been wiped out due to similar movies in the past—Thank You, Mausam and Players.
Thank You, an ensemble-cast comedy, was directed by Anees Bazmee, who had helmed papa Anil’s two blockbusters No Entry and Welcome. Sonam would have been lost in a crowd here even had the film worked, but since we have not been privy to have read the first narration; we can say that it was just pure bad luck that she had accepted this first of her multi-heroine movies.
Going by track-records, however, Sonam should have nixed the screwball script of Abbas-Mustan’s Players, since she should have watched the Hollywood classic The Italian Job, on which this film was officially based. Add the fact that her role was secondary to Bipasha Basu’s and it now seemed that she was desperate to make the commercial grade.
In between these two films was the somnambulistic Mausam, directed by someone who looked down on mainstream Hindi cinema and wanted to give the audience something “higher” —Pankaj Kapur. It was destined to bomb.
Strokes of luck
Sonam’s sixth year began with the tepid success of Raanjhanaa. It was a good role, that of a Muslim girl maturing and coming of age, but despite Aanand L. Rai’s stewardship, her performance ended up more than a little fake. But since sometimes films resonate despite (or due to) their quirks, Sonam even gained some appreciation for her schoolgirl-to-woman act.
In the same year, Sonam came up with a charming, if miniscule, turn as Milkha Singh’s beloved in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, which emerged as a 100 crore hit. To work to that level despite the absence of a superstar was even then a rarity, and the critical acclaim the film got finally cemented Sonam’s career as a dependable actress who could shine if and when the film did.
But Sonam’s inherent flair for choosing roles over the complete film was a two-pronged thing: it could go right—or woefully wrong. And usually it went the second way! Up next was what Rishi Kapoor now calls a “rotten” film—Yash Raj Films’ Bewakoofiyaan. Off and on, in his early days, Rishi Kapoor had also had a supercilious attitude that led to a wrong choice of mainstream films, but this time, the actor who played Sonam’s dad, found with the wisdom of hindsight that there was a huge difference in the narration and the final outcome.
However, as he was a star character artiste by this time, it mattered little to him, but Sonam clocked up one more box-office zero and a coquettish, mechanical turn. Things did not improve when the next two Sonam-centric outings, home production Khoobsurat(the remake of sorts of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s 1980 classic spelt Khubsoorat that had starred Sonam’s acting and style icon Rekha) and the con-caper Dolly Ki Doli fell flat, though to be fair, both Khoobsurat and Sonam in it deserved a better deal.
And when Sonam herself was no A-lister, she could not have A-lister heroes if she had the pivotal roles. And this absence of a star was taking its toll. Inside unconfirmed buzz says that dad Anil requested close friend Salman Khan to do a film
with her, and after Deepika Padukone nixed the script of Sooraj R. Barjatya’s 2015 Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, Sonam came in.
Whatever the truth, being a part of the film did help Sonam undo the sustained damage. Her role as the princess, half-baked as best, came under criticism, but as the Americans would say, “What the heck! The girl just got to work in a 200 crore-plus film opposite the Numero Uno guy!”
Sonam had always been into social causes, keeping attention focussed on her consistent throughout her low phase, and her character of a socially active princess went with that image, adding to the benefit she got from the success of the film.
Eight years after her debut, then, Sonam got a turn in her fortunes in Diwali (both Saawariya and Prem Ratan… were Diwali releases). In actual fact, however, the change in her luck had happened in September 2014, just before her saucy turn in Khoobsurat, when Ram Madhvani and Fox Star Studios (also the force behind Prem Ratan…), had already signed Sonam for the bio-pic Neerja.
When this film released in February 2016, Sonam finally entered the realm of actresses who counted, even if they were not big names. Not only did the film do very well on merit, but it showed that Sonam could carry a terrific film on her slender shoulders.
After this, Sonam has become doubly careful. She has had no release since, and her only forthcoming assignments are Akshay Kumar’s home production, her third biopic—Padman, and her home production that again promises entertainment—Veerey Di Wedding. The former sees her as a social worker again, and has the force of R. Balki’s talent behind it. The second movie is a daring girl-bonding film that will hopefully work.
After all, even stars have to depend on their stars, and right now, Sonam seems to be steadily moving upwards.