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When Kareena Kapoor said no one supported Karisma Kapoor as she made her Bollywood debut: How the actor emerged as a star

Karisma Kapoor ruled the Bollywood in 1990s with her dance moves, comic timing and several performance-backed roles. Here's looking back at her formidable career so far.

karisma kapoor success journeyKarisma Kapoor has been part of the Hindi film industry for three decades now. (Photo: Instagram/Karisma Kapoor)

Karisma Kapoor was 17 when she entered Bollywood and the pressure was intense. More than dealing with push-and-shove of the Hindi film industry at a young age, she had to deal with keeping up with her surname. She was the first female Kapoor who was taking the plunge, and went against many in her family to do so. The actor, however, had made up her mind after visiting her grandfather Raj Kapoor on the sets of Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985).

“I loved the sets, camera and lights. I knew I wanted to become an actor and contribute to the family legacy. When I told my granddad, he said, ‘It’s glamourous but it’s not a bed of roses—you will have to work very hard.’” Karisma shared with Humans of Bombay in 2019.

Raj Kapoor was right. Being a Hindi film heroine in the 1990s, yet managing to carve a niche for yourself was an uphill task. Coming from a formidable film dynasty, the burden of expectations kept testing her at every step. According to her, while the longstanding legacy backed her, “it does take a whole lot of skill and talent to be the best version of yourself,” she said.

Karisma Kapoor is the eldest daughter of yesteryear stars Randhir Kapoor and Babita. (Photo: Karisma Kapoor/Instagram)

Younger sister Kareena Kapoor Khan spoke on how Karisma’s decision to enter showbiz did not get much of a support from her family. She said on Rendezvous with Simi Garewal, “There was no one who really supported her in this decision. The only one who supported and inspired her, was my mother. I’ve seen the two of them struggle from pillar to post. I’ve seen her sit up with my mother and cry, saying that she would never make it, and people would pull her down.”

Karisma made her acting debut with Prem Qaidi in 1991. Though her eventual releases like Sapne Sajan Ke, Jigar and Andaz Apna Apna were box office successes, she was reduced to a pretty damsel in distress. Even in Anari (1993), where the plot revolved around her as an over-protected sister to three brothers, she remained under the shadow of male leads, including Venkatesh Daggubati.

For the next three years, Karisma appeared in numerous hits like Suhaag, Andaz and Jeet. This phase also gave her the high point of her career – a blockbuster onscreen pairing with Govinda. Raja Babu, Coolie No.1 and Saajan Chale Sasural happened. And given Govinda’s comic timing, incredible dance moves and masala blockbusters, it didn’t take long for Karisma to emerge as one of the most commercial female stars.

But was that all that Karisma came here for? She did a song “Sexy Sexy” in Khuddar in 1994. But its lyrics left many frowning. Recalling the dance number, the actor said, “I’d worked hard and even hurt my knees for it. I was appreciated for my dance, but people thought the song was way ahead of its time—the word ‘sexy’ wasn’t common back then.”

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‘Sexy’ got replaced with ‘baby’ to pacify a section of the audience. The song was just an instance where Karisma faced the heat, more so, because she came from a film family. Her kiss in Raja Hindustani (1996) also stole the thunder from the highly successful film. Despite being touted as one of the longest kissing scenes in Bollywood, the sequence, as “gruelling” to shoot.

Karisma opened up in an interview last year. “People say, ‘oh, that kiss’ and all, but what we have gone through that shoot for three days… In Ooty, in February… we were like, kab khatam ho raha hai yeh kiss scene (when is this kiss scene getting over)!”

Luckily, Raja Hindustani also became a game-changer for Karisma. It not just got her several Best Actor awards, it also lifted Karisma from being just a pretty face, to finally discovering her acting genes. Topping it all was designer Manish Malhotra, who gave her a complete makeover. He brought back the 1960s fashion of fitted churidars with straight hair. There was no looking back for Karisma.

This was Karisma’s peak, after which her experiments with characters grew. She was no longer confined to comfortable roles. Keeping up with the barometer of a Hindi film heroine at that time, Karisma’s portrayal started getting more central to the story.

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While she was paving her own path in the 1990s, it was also the time of rise of Madhuri Dixit and Kajol. Did she feel the heat? “I was offered Dil To Pagal Hai, when no actress wanted to be cast against Madhuri Dixit. I didn’t want to shy away because ‘I thought I couldn’t do it’. I did the film and even won a National Award for it!” Karisma said.

Karisma was on fire in Dil To Pagal Hai. And I’m not referring to her fashion sense, or her nimble feet, but her electrifying screen presence at par with Madhuri. Her wardrobe in Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge and Haseena Maan Jaayegi refuses to look dated even to this day. “From then on, whenever I’ve wondered if I was capable enough—be it in my choice of films, being a single mom or in my relationships with people, I’ve never let my doubts get the better of me.”

Amid testing different waters as a commercial Bollywood actor, she signed two movies which now shine bright in her filmography – Fiza and Zubeidaa, where she played the title roles. Karisma had her moments in both the films displaying her acting chops. These two elevated her as a polished performer, getting her many awards too.

Karisma’s career was on the wane in 2000s. Though she was only in her early 30s, that was the time when age factor made all the difference for women in Bollywood. Adding to it was her decision to tie the knot with ex-husband Sanjay Kapur (2003).

She opined in an interview to IANS in 2018, that unlike her time, age is no more regarded as a parameter for one’s success. “There has been a shift in the mindset of the audiences as well. Age to me has and will always be a non-issue. Today, there are some great roles out there for everybody and gone are the days when an actor’s success was equated to how old he or she was.”

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Karisma Kapoor shared screen space with Rekha in Shyam Benegal directed Zubeidaa (2001).

Karisma might have taken a break from films by 2010s, but she stayed active with her public appearances, brand endorsements and personal friendships in Bollywood, all while being a single parent to Samaira and Kiaan. She made her acting comeback along with her digital debut in web series Mentalhood in 2020.

While she claimed she loved her comfort zone and never really missed being on the set until Mentalhood came her way, she said, “I am happy that after my efforts, people have finally taken me seriously as an actress.”

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Being part of nearly 60 films, mostly hits, Karisma continues to hold a strong slot in the 90s Bollywood as a fashionista who also managed to win the audience and critics with her dance moves, comic timing and several performance backed roles.

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First published on: 25-06-2022 at 08:06:46 am
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