They seem an unlikely pair. She’s the film industry’s fashion diva, the giggly young thing no one can get enough of. He’s the multi-talented embodiment of modern urban India, the quirky young man who’s stormed the country. She’s bubbly. He broods. She believes in love in all its rosy splendour. He thinks love has many shades of grey… Could actress Sonam Kapoor and actor and director Farhan Akhtar, get more different?
Yet, soon, they’ll be working in a love story together, a film called Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Do Sonam and Farhan share any chemistry at all? Here’s a shoot and interviews that bare all.
‘Unconventional’ and ‘edgy’ are the words most often used whenever the director and actor is discussed
Sleek director, groovy singer and a very unconventional actor. Plus good looks and a great sense of humour. You seem to be Bollywood’s latest sex symbol...
Really? I got it finally? Wow! I have been dying for this position. This is it! Can’t ask for anything more in this life! (Laughs) What do you expect me to say to this? I don’t know whether to be embarrassed or laugh. I don’t know how people take all these titles – ‘sex symbol’, ‘lover boy’ etc – seriously. I couldn’t face my friends for nearly a week after a magazine came out with a piece naming me one of the sexiest dads in India. They couldn’t stop laughing. And I couldn’t have been more embarrassed.
Oh, come on! You really want us to believe that you are unaware of the sex symbol tag or don’t care?
No, I am not saying that. I think it is important to be aware but not be affected by it. Honestly, I appreciate it. It feels great, thank you very much. But then what? I can’t sit and think about it. So I don’t take it seriously or get ‘chakaoed’ by it.
Is that why we’ve never seen you as a filmi ‘lover boy’?
The love story genre is my least favourite. I can’t handle the good lover boy type of character. I’d never pick it. I find it boring.
So you make your characters’ love stories quirky…
True. But isn’t that nice? And more than nice, that is what really connects with the audience. A certain quirkiness always makes a love story more interesting, more edgy. In Don 2, there is a strong undercurrent between the lead characters, Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra. While they both hate each other, they can’t deny the chemistry between them. She hates him, he is running away from her, yet they have this strange attraction. They have a history, she fell in love with the same face earlier on. So that odd feeling keeps coming back. They can’t move on. And it’s only human not to be able to move on. That is the strangeness of a love story. And that is something that excites me.
This edginess also spills over to the characters you play. In Rock On!!, Kartik calling Kartik, Luck By Chance and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, every character you played was full of insecurities – nothing like a quintessential hero. Was that a conscious decision?
I haven’t been fanatically looking for such roles, but yes, I guess in some ways I tend to pick roles that are not unidimensional. Also thankfully, the definition of a ‘quintessential hero’ has changed today. Now I don’t have to sing five songs or be holier than thou to be a hero. I can have my shades of grey and yet be accepted. Even the heroine is not the same. She is no longer the ‘pure’ woman who faints at the idea of sex. And she doesn’t change from a hippie to sari-clad the minute she falls in love. For me, it’s far more real.
But we are still so skeptical about going all out with modern love.
See, while we are experimentative and all that, we still live in a social milieu that is conservative in a lot of senses. We are culturally in a protected environment. So we pass the censor board but it’s the others in society we play safe with. All filmmakers know that finally, the only thing that works is what people say about your film.
Which is the most sensual scene you’ve ever seen in a film?
The immediate recall is of course the feather scene between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam. But the other very dramatic scene that could easily have gone wrong but was so perfect, is the kiss between Rani and Amitabh in Black.
Among all your films as an actor, which character do you relate to most?
Undoubtedly, Imraan in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. I feel Zoya (Akhtar) and Reema (Kagti) wrote that character based entirely on me. He wrote poetry but does not share it – like me. He’s witty and has a nutty sense of humour – like me. He’s social but not the most extrovert in nature – again, like me. Imraan’s character was like a blueprint of the real me.
Imraan’s character was fighting his inner demons vis-à-vis his relationship with his father. Does that match too?
(Smiles) Someone actually pointed this out to me – that all my characters in films I have directed and acted in, have been looking for acceptance from their fathers. All. In some way or the other. That could be a subconscious impression in my head that comes across in stories I tell or characters I play.
Do you think that the way you view man-woman relationships is also a manifestation of perhaps a not-so-perfect marriage between your parents?
Could be. My parents got divorced when my sister Zoya and I were very young. But we weren’t young enough not to understand what was happening. So both my parents made efforts to make sure they were there when we needed them and the lines of communication were always open. We were also kept away from hurtful things, but we knew it wasn’t the ‘regular’ way of life.
While we weren’t used to having dad around all the time because in the ’70s he was a very busy man, we knew there was a point when he stopped living with us. So while a lot is not visible, on a subconscious level, the effects are there for sure. And they do come out one way or the other. It also makes you conscious of how you handle various situations with your own children.
So what’s your idea of true love?
A lot of comfort and understanding. Where being together is the only important thing. And you enjoy being together. So much that you are ready to forgive each other and be together.
What kind of women are you attracted to?
Someone who can go from a sari to a hippie! Ha ha!
Who are the women you find sexy?
Sexy, I don’t know. But attractive or beautiful is more like it. Rani (Mukherjee), a silent Kangana (Ranaut) and Saina Nehwal.
When was the last time a woman came on to you?
This very embarrassing but I had gone to a party and a lady who I know, not really well but well enough, said, “Farhan, I want to kiss you.” I realised she wasn’t joking. I just said, “Can’t help you much there,” and slipped away. I wanted to run and hide.
And how does your wife take all this?
The ‘sex symbol’ bit? She laughs!
No, the controversies that come with it.
She knows me. So there is a lot of trust. But it isn’t always easy. Adhuna is not from Mumbai. She isn’t used to random gossip like this. So I’ll be lying if I say she is okay with it all. I’m sure she feels strange but thankfully she uses her own judgement.
Have you ever needed to explain things to her?
Some time ago, there was gossip about me having an affair with one of my assistants. I would have ignored it but that poor girl had got married recently. Her parents were worried. She was naturally upset. And I was really concerned about her. So not only did I have to make Adhuna understand the situation, but also my concern for it and the girl.
Is your love story edgy too?
(Laughs) It has its share of ups and downs, but thankfully the edges aren’t too sharp. We met through common friends. She is from the UK. We dated each other off and on, finally got serious in ’99 and married in 2000. So it’s fairly simple.
Did you ever have a broken heart?
Oh yes, I did. A bad one too.
Have you ever broken anyone’s heart?
Well… not consciously. But you know me! (winks)
FARHAN ON SONAM
The hottest thing about Sonam?
Her smile. It lights up her face and her surroundings brilliantly.
Sonam as an actress...
I have seen only two of her films – Delhi 6 and Saawariya. She was good in both, I thought. But of course there is a long way to grow and she has great potential.
On a scale of 1-10, rate Sonam on her sex appeal...
I can’t. Very difficult. I just can’t...
Sonam in a Versace gown or Sonam in a Sabyasachi sari?
Sonam in a quick makeover from sari to gown! Na, actually Sonam in whatever she is comfortable in.
Though she’s never had a major hit, the actress is a Bollywood favourite – and not only for her dress sense
What does love mean to you?
I think it is a little confused. By temperament, I am not the most conventional romantic. I don’t give cards or flowers etc. On the other hand, I am a hardcore romantic. I love romances and strongly believe in love. Love stories are also my favourite genre.
Which is your favourite love story?
Wuthering Heights. It’s my all-time best. I have a fascination for this tragic, unrequited kind of love. A love which is selfless and remains unfulfilled… oooh! I am such a sucker for it. Very filmi, no? (Laughs)
Who do you think is the sexiest character in a film or book?
Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Man! He is to die for.
You are an avid reader, right?
Oh yes! I read anything and everything. Not too many people associate an actress with reading. And not too many people know that I read either. But books have been one of the biggest influences in my life. I am not a sportsperson, I don’t party unless I have to, I am really not into networking… Give me a good book and I’ll get lost in it any day.
So is this the real Sonam? Why do you hide behind the ‘fashion diva’ avatar?
Because that’s the image that Bollywood, the media, everybody has created for me. Which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy it. I love being a fashion icon. I love the fact that girls from 9 to 19 want to dress and style themselves the way I do. It is a huge high. And personally, I love to play dress up. But that has nothing to do with being a fashion icon. That is a very girl thing. Every girl wants to dress up, so do I.
And the other side of me? No one really cares. I mean, I read or do whatever, how does it matter? That has nothing to do with my public image. That I’ve worked with Peta and the breast cancer foundation for the last four years is hardly ever mentioned.
One other side of Sonam gets talked about though. The politically incorrect one!
And I am working very hard towards keeping my mouth shut from now on. I shall be a good girl and not put my foot in mouth. That is my new year resolution. I shall be propah! I come from a typical MCP Punjabi family and I have been told to behave like a good girl! Ouch! There goes my resolution. Okay, back to the ‘tag’.
Isn’t the tag a little tiresome? And restricting?
Sure it is. But ultimately it’s just a tag. You know, the industry didn’t really have a ‘fashion icon’. It was an empty space. While we had trend setters in the past like Nutan who wore high-waist pants and Sridevi who carried off big frills and plain chiffons with élan and Zeenat Aman, there was no such person in the industry recently. I guess I just fitted the bill so I filled that space.
Also, people are comfortable talking about fashion now. It’s something that fascinates everybody. Even this interview wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t talk about my ‘fashion icon’ status. But I really don’t mind it.
People would like to dress like you, but you don’t really wear the most affordable stuff…
True, but people have to know that most of what I wear comes to me for free. But I don’t think my ‘icon’ status is limited to my dresses. It has to do with my attitude. My individuality comes through and that is important. In an industry that is conformist in nature, I don’t conform to any rules. Regular girls identify with me. Also, I look comfortable in whatever I wear, so that makes the look sexier.
It seems a little strange that your sense of dressing is conventional. Most of your dresses cover up pretty much all!
(Laughs) I believe the more mystery about you, the better it is. I come from a conservative Punjabi family and my mum and dad have been strict in bringing us up. I truly think being sexy comes from your attitude. I wear all sorts of clothes but show only one body part at a time. I show skin of course, but tastefully. I believe in being sexy and sensual, not scantily dressed.
But you weren’t always sexy.
Of course not. I was very influenced by my books. By the age of 14, I had read all the Ayn Rands. I wasn’t glamorous in the least. In fact I was very arty… well, more on the hippie side. I went to Singapore for college and there I became more bizarre. At 16, I was on a mission to improve the world. I had two tattoos – still have them, but hate them now. Six ear piercings, one tongue and one belly piercing. I was a vegan and out to save the world. Till I came back – back home and back to my senses.
And you were overweight.
Oh! I was huge. My friends back home were stunned when they saw me. I weighed around 90 kgs. For the longest time though, I couldn’t care less. Till I got a role in Saawariya. And then I had to look good.
You lost 35 kgs to get back into shape.
I worked out like a maniac. It took two years of solid work. No sweets, no fried food, no carbs after 6 pm, dinner was only soup and chicken or fish. And unending exercises. It was a struggle.
Do you still follow the same routine?
No. I can’t. I eat like a pig now. But I work it all out. I really work hard to be the way I am. Skin, hair, body... everything. It just has to be perfect. In an industry where looks are the first benchmark and there is so much competition, one has to make the effort. You cannot afford to fail.
Talking about failure, nothing, even the fact that you’re Anil Kapoor’s daughter and a fashion diva, seems to help your films do spectacularly well at the box office.
And that makes failure a little more humiliating. In fact when rejection comes from your own people, you are far more disillusioned. I have auditioned for so many films and failed. I cried when a director who knew my dad told Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) not to cast me in Saawariya because I was fat and dark! It was so humiliating. People think I have a charmed life because I am Anil Kapoor’s daughter. And I tend to be extra nice and over-compensate so that it doesn’t look like I am using dad’s name. I am very thin-skinned. I feel bad and cry. So it just gets worse.
What of love? Failed in that ever?
(Smiles) Sure I have, and badly too. I don’t talk about it but it was very difficult. It’s very hurtful when you realise you have been putting your heart and soul into a relationship with someone who is simply leading you on. It’s difficult and heartbreaking.
When did you first fall in love?
When I was 14. He was the basketball captain at school. Of course it went nowhere. Now when I look back, I say to myself, “Dude, what were you thinking?” But then, it was serious and good fun.
What’s your idea of a perfect date?
A great film, good food and snuggling. (Laughs)
And your idea of perfect love?
A relationship where you grow together. Also, there has to be a lot of love and respect. Very essential for a healthy relationship.
Doing love stories and working in such close proximity with your co-stars, isn’t it difficult to maintain a distance?
It is tough. But one has to draw a line or everything goes haywire. I keep my distance. Also most of the stars are in committed relationships, so that becomes all the more necessary.
Who is the most romantic character you would like to play?
Rosie from Guide. She had a mystery about her. And that was the most astounding part – it was purely sensual.
Finally, who is your perfect man?
Rhett Butler (from Gone With the Wind). Tall, dark and handsome. My man needs to have oodles of self confidence. He has to stand out among all the sexy distractions that come into an actor’s life (laughs). He has to be intelligent, sharp and of course, WELL READ!
SONAM ON FARHAN
The hottest thing about Farhan?
His intelligence. Haven’t come across too many people with his kind of brightness.
Farhan’s best film?
As a director, Dil Chahta Hai. He is yet to do another like that one, and as an actor, I think Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was definitely his best performance.
On a scale of 1-10, rate Farhan on his sex appeal...
Oh! Quite high. I’ll give him an 8.
Farhan in a Versace suit or traditional Indian wear?
A Versace suit, undoubtedly.
This story appeared in the Brunch Quarterly, the new lifestyle magazine from Hindustan Times. Out on stands now.