INTERVIEW: Bollywood superstar Sonam Kapoor
She stars alongside Beyoncé in the latest Coldplay video. She is one of Bollywood’s highest paid actresses. She is the face of L’Oreal in India. Her father is superstar Anil Kapoor. And her soon-to-be-released movie Neerja, a biopic of the Pan Am purser killed in a terrorist attack, is being tipped to break box-office records. Oh, and she’s only 30. Can Sonam Kapoor do anything wrong?
So, Coldplay. You are in the video, alongside Beyonce, for their latest song “Hymn for the Weekend.” How was that?
Brilliant. I mean, it was work for around three hours.
What did you tell him?
I said, “Dad, imagine Elvis Presley or The Beatles, or whoever was big in your day. And then imagine you were asked to be in their video. How would you feel?”
And how did you feel?
I thought, “Wow! I can’t believe Coldplay want me to be in their video”. Do they have any idea how many tears I cried to their songs? I grew up on their music when I was at school. It was all Coldplay, U2 and Oasis for me.
Any songs in particular?
All of them, really. But I guess “Yellow” by Coldplay and “Wonderwall” by Oasis. I would jam to these songs growing up. And now I actually get to meet Chris Martin? That was an ambition realised.
Let’s talk movies. We’ve seen the trailer to Neerja, which looks great. Are you pleased with it?
Yes, it’s a great trailer…! No, seriously, of course I am pleased with the movie. I am pleased to be able to do something that is so idealistic. It’s difficult in this day and age to work with a group of people who want to put out a good product.
The woman whose life you portray, Neerja Bhanot, was just 22 when she died. Much of her family are still alive. Does that make it much harder to do a biopic?
Yes, it is much harder. Normally what we do is more creative and imaginary. This is much more of a challenge as an actor because you need to recreate something that is already in someone’s mind. But at the same time you want to put your own spin on it. So you must do what you want to do, but at the same time try and capture the soul of the human being.
What made you want to do this movie in the first place?
I really like reading biographies, because they are real stories about real people. What I liked about this one is it was an ordinary girl doing something quite extraordinary.
Did you meet Neerja’s family?
Yes. I met them two years ago before we started the movie. I had to get permission from her mother (Rama Bhanot, who died before the movie was completed). They were very supportive because they loved the script. It is a very honest portrayal of Neerja. But they were also very particular about who played the role.
So they had to approve you?
How did it work? The director, Ram Madhvani, chose you then they had to choose you?
No, I chose the director!
Were you nervous when you met the family?
Yes, seeking approval is something that makes you nervous but her mother was so kind.
Did you do lots of other research?
Of course. You can’t do a biopic without research. I don’t know what you think of Bollywood actors, but
we do work very hard, you know! I worked very hard on this movie.
Do you feel like you know Neerja?
Yes, I do now. I feel attached to her and her family as a whole. When her mother died I couldn’t stop crying. It felt like she should have seen the film. But her granddaughter told me that maybe it’s good she never saw it, or she would have to go through all that trauma again.
How did you feel when you saw the final cut?
I actually forgot it was me playing her. It’s the first time that’s happened because I was so attracted by the story. I guess maybe because it’s a real life story you forget you are in it.
After her death, Neerja became the youngest ever recipient of India’s Ashoka Chakra Award (India’s highest award for bravery). Did that add extra pressure?
No, I don’t think so. I’m constantly under pressure, that’s the way I live.
Will this movie be a game-changer for your career?
I don’t know, you never know. Maybe. I don’t think about that.
Will you be doing more biopics?
No, I need a break from all this dramatic stuff! I’m going back to comedy for a year and a half. It’s a little easier on the soul.
Do you think there will one day be a biopic of you?
I haven’t done anything special in my life yet to deserve that.
Neerja is in cinemas on February 18