HT Brunch Cover Story: Janhvi Kapoor talks about her unique inheritance, and it has nothing to do with movies
At an event last year, Janhvi Kapoor casually mentioned to a stunned audience that she had temporarily given up non-vegetarian food as part of a mannat she took in the hope of getting a role. “Kaafi sanskari ladki hoon main, mini skirt mein!” the 22-year-old actor joked. But she wasn’t really joking. The Bollywood-born daughter of the late superstar Sridevi and producer Boney Kapoor has been exploring spirituality and religion over the last year or so. It seems to bring her closer to her mother.
“Mom was always very, very religious,” says Janhvi. “And I think I have become much more religious since she passed away (Sridevi died on 24 February 2018). I somehow feel closer to her when I do things that were so much part of her.”
This becomes obvious as we start the shoot. Although we were looking at a fun shoot with a young Gen Z kid, she is in no mood for that. Instead, as soon as the camera starts clicking, she channels her inner diva, reminding us of the ultra glamorous and super-sexy Sridevi of the glitzy film magazine covers, albeit probably unintentionally. It takes us a while to get her to loosen up and go back to being the spunky 22-year-old that she is.
“I am very childish as a person but I identify more with the world values and even aesthetics of an older generation,” Jahnvi says. “I have always thought that mentally, I was born in the 1970s or 1960s.”
This dichotomy becomes more evident as the day progresses. While she is easily candid and often stunning with her maturity and poise, at times she abruptly clams up. She finds it awkward to open up about her spiritual side. “I am very religious, but talking about it makes me a bit uncomfortable,” she says. “I am a bit paranoid about coming across as ‘selling’ this side of me to promote something. I am spiritual, but quietly so.”
Climb every mountain
Whenever Janhvi travels, she heads straight for religious structures. “I love visiting churches and I think I’ve visited every mosque in Istanbul,” she says. “There is such a strong energy in these places. People go there with so much hope, faith and conviction that the vibration of these places is very different. That’s what I love, not the religion the structure was built for, and which god is worshipped there. Having said that, I have a very strong emotional connect with Balaji, much like my mom.”
On her mother’s birthday last year, Janhvi visited the Tirupati Balaji Temple. “I found out only recently that when she was working, she would climb up to Tirupati on her birthday every year. Once she got married and was busy with us, she stopped. So I decided that on her birthday I would climb to the top and pray for her.”
Janhvi sought Balaji’s blessings at Tirumala Temple before the release of her debut film, Dhadak (2018). “The first time I climbed up after we lost her, as the priests pulled open the curtain for the darshan, I started crying inconsolably. It was unlike anything I had experienced before,” the actor reveals.
Since it is her way to connect with her mom, Janhvi is not willing to cut corners. Like her mother, she did the 3,550 step climb by foot.
“I don’t think I’d ever be able to take a comfortable car ride to the temple. People stand in the queue for hours and days to reach. I know I can’t be part of that queue, but it shouldn’t be easy to get to the temple either. You have to earn the darshan,” she smiles and adds: “I know I might sound a bit phony right now, but the first few steps are really easy and exciting. It is after 200/300 steps that suddenly it becomes really tough. But then slowly you find a rhythm and the pain numbs and you keep going. Also, when you see people climbing on their knees, old people winding up the hill, people carrying babies on the climb, it puts things into perspective. It is actually a lot like life. You start off immature, then suddenly everything looks tough and then you eventually get the hang of it.”
Janhvi has fallen in love with the journey. “I found it such a therapeutic experience that now I want to go back every two months,” she smiles. In fact, the actor recently dragged along the unsuspecting director of her forthcoming film, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, on one such climb! “I don’t think he had ever visited a temple before,” she giggles. “The poor guy, his stamina is really low, but I made him climb all those steps. His face lost colour, his lips were chapped, I have a picture of him like that!”
Though Janhvi’s spiritual streak has made her the odd one out among her friends, her religious side has never been a talking point. “Now they know every Tuesday I go to Siddhivinyak, they know that if it is my birthday I’ll be climbing to some temple or spending time in Banaras by myself,” she says.
Her interest is more in spirituality than religion, though she finds religion fascinating too, thanks to an interest in history. “Religion has often been used to divide people, whereas spirituality is about loving yourself and loving others,” Janhvi says. “Religion can be easily corrupted for political gains. I read a lot about Buddhism at one point and even read Osho’s biography when I was a kid! I had heard him in an interview saying that he is ‘a spiritual playboy.’ I was fascinated by the idea. However, mom was scandalised when she caught me reading that book!”
Today, she thinks the spirituality of her childhood was an ‘acquired spirituality’. “Now I am more responsible with my spirituality,” she explains. “For instance, I don’t pray for trivial things or only for myself, but I pray for my entire family,” says Janhvi.
That statement doesn’t quite resonate with Janhvi’s mannat for a role, and she acknowledges that it does sound a bit crazy to hope to win an audition by promising to temporarily give up non-vegetarian food.
“But for me it is a psychological thing,” she laughs. “I know nothing comes easily in life and I don’t want to make things easy for myself. While taking a mannat does not mean putting myself through some big struggle, sometimes you need something extra. You can meet people, audition, work on yourself, but after a point I felt I needed something more, so I took a mannat.”
Though she knows a mannat is not a shortcut to success or a substitute for hard work, in taking mannats Janhvi is following in her mother’s footsteps. “Mom was very religious and even superstitious about certain things. She would do a lot of pujas and mannats for us and for papa’s films. I grew up seeing all that,” she says.
So, when Janhvi only enters a room with her right foot and avoids doing anything auspicious during ‘rahu kalam,’ these are just habits she has acquired over time. “It is like you see your mom wash her face before going to bed every night, and you start emulating her and then it becomes part of your own before-sleep ritual,” she explains.
While Janhvi always attended family pujas all her life, it was because attendance was compulsory, not because she was religious. Her connection to religion grew only after her mother’s death. “After last year, I very organically started to connect with this side of mom’s personality and it gave me a lot of comfort,” she says. “It makes me feel more connected with her when I pray.”
(PS: Now that she’s got the role she wanted, Janhvi’s back to non-veg food!)
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From HT Brunch, February 2, 2020
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