x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Kareena Kapoor and the making of a heroine

The Bollywood star's latest movie, in which she plays a film actress whose fame is on the wane, is poised for success.

Kareena Kapoor in her latest film Heroine. Courtesy Rahi Communications
Kareena Kapoor in her latest film Heroine. Courtesy Rahi Communications

She's just been voted the Hottest Woman in the World for 2012 by Maxim India, she's about to get married to her sweetheart and Bollywood heart-throb Saif Ali Khan and her soon-to-be-released film has already been tipped as the latest contender in Bollywood's recent string of female-centric celluloid successes.

Kareena Kapoor has no reason to be anywhere but on cloud nine.

Dubai comes pretty close, she jokes, at the local press conference of her latest film Heroine. "I love it here in Dubai - the shopping, the food, the partying!" she says.

In keeping with the theme of the film, Kapoor made a glamorous entrance to the media meet: flying into Jebel Ali via seaplane for a press conference held aboard a yacht, along with the director Madhur Bhandarkar and Siddharth Roy Kapur, the managing director of the Bollywood production house Disney Studios UTV.

"I've always wanted to be a heroine," Kapoor says, "ever since I was a child. That's why I keep saying that I was destined to be a part of this film and I'm so happy that I am."

It was through several twists of fate that Kapoor ended up working on Heroine. Bhandarkar says he has always admired Kapoor as an actress and wanted to cast her in one of his films for a long time. He tried first in 2005 with Page 3 and again in 2008 with Fashion. Thinking that he might get "lucky the third time", he tried again in 2010 with Heroine. Kapoor declined and Bhandarkar then cast Aishwarya Rai. Rai promptly fell pregnant and abandoned the film, prompting Bhandarkar to approach Kapoor for the fourth time. This time, she said yes.

In the film, Kapoor plays Mahi Arora, a Bollywood heroine whose career is in decline.

"As a Bollywood heroine myself, of course there are many similarities that I share with the character of Mahi," says Kapoor. "But of course she is a different person. There are so many decisions she takes in the film that I wouldn't take. But, regardless of these minor differences, overall the film is very close to the real life of a Bollywood actress. Once you see the film, you will understand the differences - and the similarities - between Kareena and Mahi."

"Kareena is friendly and down-to-earth in real life," interjects Bhandarkar. "She has superbly played a character completely opposite to what she herself is like in real life. It's fantastic the way she has got under the skin of Mahi, who is very edgy and aggressive."

After films like Bodyguard and Ra.One, where the roles Kapoor was cast in didn't really give much space for moving performances, was it a conscious decision on her part to choose a film that would allow her talent to take centre stage?

"Not really," she says. "Madhur and I have always wanted to work together, but things never worked out. I am so happy that we have come together for this film. I feel I have always taken risks. And besides, this is not the first time that I am doing a film where the female character is the most important one. I did Chameli very early on in my career. And so many others, like Dev, Omkara, et cetera. I never shy away from difficult roles and I take as much risk as I can. But of course, a film where I was cast in a role that is so glamorous - being a commercial actress, how could I say no?"

When asked whether the film personifies the quintessence of the Bollywood heroine, Bhandarkar is first to speak up.

"The film is not about - or based on - one particular individual. It borrows traits from different personalities that obviously come from the Indian film industry, but it's no single person and it's definitely not the solid truth. You add the fiction and the drama in the screenplay and the dialogue, like you do in any given film."

"We have been inspired by a lot of actresses, both from Hollywood and from Bollywood," says Kapoor. "Madhur is known for showing a lot of reality in his films - much more so than a lot of other directors. He says that this film is 70 per cent true to the life of a Bollywood heroine. I can tell you he's wrong. It's much more like 80 per cent."

Heroine will be released in UAE cinemas on September 20

Director's notes

Madhur Bhandarkar gives his opinions on …

Female-centric films

I have based my whole career on this genre. Unfortunately, more people in the Indian film industry don't make women-centric cinema, though this has slightly changed in the past few years, with films like The Dirty Picture doing great at the box office. I hear other directors are also planning to make woman-centric films.

His reputation for making "dark" films

Lots of people say that I'm a very depressing filmmaker. I say, if you are OK to read it in the paper and watch it on TV, then why not on film? Media is a mirror to society.

His choice of subject for Heroine

I have got that journalist streak in me. I always want to investigate things. That's why I - as a filmmaker - choose different topics, all based on real issues. So I thought, why not make a film on the film industry? And who could illustrate the issues of the film industry better than a heroine? This film is her journey and her life. It's very contemporary and talks about the film industry's reality.

The heroine responds to critics

A svelte Kareena Kapoor has always made tongues wag. First, it was anorexia accusations in 2008 with the release of Tashan and specially the song Chaliya. Now, it's reports of excessive Photoshopping on the poster of Heroine.

"I am sure it has been Photoshopped," says Kapoor, laughing. "Every picture, every poster, every ad of any actor or actress that has ever been seen by the public, has been Photoshopped.

"It's a whole business: people get paid millions for their Photoshop skills. I don't know whether to call it a business or a con game, but everyone does it. In fact, the Heroine poster has not been Photoshopped as much as some other posters around. The figure you see in the poster is the figure you see in the Halkat Jawani song in the film. In any case, I'll go home and double check that I really am as slim as I look in the poster!"