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2011 could well be her year. Kareena Kapoor has five big-budget films with as many Khans set to release in the next six months.

2011 could well be her year. Kareena Kapoor has five big-budget films with as many Khans set to release in the next six months

As children,sisters Karisma and Kareena Kapoor loved dressing up. They would switch on the music and dance to songs made famous by Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi. “All our childhood,we have just done that,” says Kareena.

For many children born to the industry,the world of films is what defines them. The Kapoor sisters were no exceptions. “I knew nothing else. When I watched my grandfather (Raj Kapoor) and grand-uncles (Shammi and Shashi Kapoor) on screen,I would dream of the day when I would face the camera,” she says.

In the last couple of years,Kareena has become one of the industry’s most bankable actors. And there are enough indications that 2011 could well be her year. Five big-budget films with as many Khans are set to release in the next six months. She starts off opposite Salman Khan in Bodyguard,which releases this month. Lined up next for release is Shah Rukh Khan’s RA.One. She is also shooting for Agent Vinod with Saif Ali Khan,Aamir Khan’s next film with Reema Kagti and a Dharma Productions’ project with Imran Khan. If that’s not enough,count the 15 brands she endorses. She is the second actress — after Aishwarya Rai Bachchan — whose wax statue at Madame Tussauds in London will be unveiled soon. “This is the best phase of my career,and I have worked extremely hard to get here,” says the 31-year-old actor.

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What has contributed to her rise — despite having only two hits 3 Idiots and Golmaal 3,in as many years — is her staying power.

Rivals like Priyanka Chopra,Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone seem to be trailing her. Katrina and Deepika are still fighting the non-actor tag,and Priyanka’s last four successive flops have put her out of the race. Through all this,Kareena has managed to keep her friendship with the three Khans. And she never shies away from proclaiming that she’s “the best”,an oft-quoted Kareena statement.

The journey to the top,however,hasn’t been without its share of challenges and setbacks,says Kareena. When she first set foot in the industry in 2000 with JP Dutta’s Refugee,opposite Abhishek Bachchan,her surname weighed heavy. “Even before my debut film hit the theatres,there was constant speculation if I could act and match up to Karisma,” she says. She wasn’t deterred by her shaky start. Her next two films,Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai with Tusshar Kapoor and Karan Johar’s Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham turned out to be big grossers of 2001 and Kareena was termed “a talent to watch out for”. This was followed by a trail of box-office duds — Khushi,Talaash,Mujhse Dosti Karoge and Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon. “Her films may have failed,but as an actress she doesn’t fail you,” says filmmaker Imtiaz Ali,whose Jab We Met in 2007 gave her career a fresh lease of life. “She embodies everything that a Bollywood actress needs to have — she is technically sound,extremely good looking,blessed with inherent acting abilities,has the mystery and persona of an actress and has a positive mentality towards work. She is the cover girl of the film industry,” says Ali.

Kareena admits to not always having a dream run. “In 11 years,I have done many films — some extremely good ones,some very terrible ones and the rest just about okay. But every film has added to my big balloon of experience which I am holding today,” she says,adding,“I have even gained from a film like Tashan and the whole size-zero phase. I am happy people will at least remember that there was an actress who did this for a film.”

What has probably worked for Kareena are her “instincts”. “You need to follow your heart. You cannot say that this year I will do a movie with Shah Rukh and next year with Aamir. You have to just pick films as and when they come,work hard and leave the rest to your destiny.”

According to Karan Johar,“She is a natural; she has no craft,grammar or process attached to her acting. Move her from the sets of Golmaal to a Jab We Met to a Chameli on the same day and she will do just fine. It is a great sense of cinema that can keep her going.”

This attitude has remained unchanged even while working for debutant directors like Rensil D’Silva and Siddharth P Malhotra,on Kurbaan and We Are Family respectively. “I wasn’t even a film old. But Kareena had no qualms about doing what I asked her to do. She is a stress-free actress,” says Malhotra. D’Silva says,“A second take with Kareena is an indulgence. With her on the sets,you are sure to wrap up the movie sooner than you expect.”

Most directors count “spontaneity” as Kareena’s biggest strength. This made Rajkumar Hirani cast her as the only female lead in 3 Idiots. “I usually have a habit of conducting rehearsals for my actors,but she insisted on not having them as it would affect her spontaneity. She really surprised me with a couple of emotional scenes which we canned in just one take,” says Hirani.

The Kapoor girl though has often been criticised for being snobbish and haughty —and is known not to forgive or forget. If rumours are to be believed,the two actors who she will never work with are Hrithik Roshan and Abhishek Bachchan. She called John Abraham “expressionless” on Koffee With Karan. Stories abound of her professional rivalry and personal differences with actresses like Preity Zinta,Priyanka Chopra,Bipasha Basu and Deepika Padukone. For Kareena,however,making friends with the Bollywood fraternity is not something she is here for. “I am not here to make friends. I am here to work. I go to a job and I come back to my family and loved ones. There are a few acquaintances I like to meet and people I like to work with,” she says.

Coinciding with her rise as a top-billed actress has been Kareena’s emergence as a fashion diva. “I have known Kareena from the time she was nine. She has always been keen on experimenting with her looks. Be it the kohl-eyed look in Asoka to the over-the-top Pooh in Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham or the Patiala-tee look in Jab We Met,Kareena is never finicky about fittings at all,” says fashion designer Manish Malhotra.

Her fashionable avatar has got her endorsements such as Globus,Metro,Sony,Airtel and many others. Brand analyst Sridhar Ramanujan,CEO,Brand Comm,says: “She is the female equivalent of Shah Rukh Khan in the industry today and most people also consider her a pretty face. So obviously all the top brands want to cast her in order to increase brand value,” he says.

Today,Kareena is in a happy place where she gets to choose from the best. Yet,she is not complacent: there are three unfinished films in her kitty. This demands a hectic work life. “I am here to sell my talent,and I will sell it as much as I can,but I will never succumb to selling my soul.”

‘I am my own competition’

You are known to speak your mind. Has anything changed over the years?

I still speak my mind,I am still very honest. I have never hidden my relationships and I have never deliberately hurt anyone. And I think this is a very endearing quality about me.

Are you insecure about competition?

I am not. But it annoys me when I get compared to some of the new girls. I have always said and believed that I am my own competition and I have never been in the rat race. My body of work is too strong to be compared to others.

Who is your biggest support system in the industry?

It has to be my sister Karisma and my mom. Karisma has always been my support system. Her advice is very important to me and I go to her each time I am in a fix.

What about Saif?

Saif tells me only if I ask him. We don’t discuss each other’s films so much. He is the kind of guy who never imposes on me and lets me do my own thing. He is not very hot on watching my movies either,but he said he loved me in Jab We Met and 3 Idiots. He also likes me glamorous,like in Kambhakht Ishq and Tashan.

Is marriage on the cards?

It is definitely a thought. Right now,however,Saif is busy with his production house and Agent Vinod,and I am busy wrapping up my films. All in good time.

How would you describe each of the five Khans you are working with currently?

Aamir is a genius. Salman is the Rajinikanth of Bollywood. Shah Rukh is the Badshah — there are no two ways about it. Saif is the finest actor in Bollywood. From a Langda Tyagi to an urban hero in Hum Tum or Salaam Namaste,he can essay any role. Imran is the dark horse.

Out of your five films,which one do you think will bring you the awards?

I don’t know if these are award-winning films,but Bodyguard is something I am really looking forward to. Although it is a masala flick,the girl has still a lot to do in the film. And in Imran’s film,I play a Bohemian,something I had loads of fun doing.

What are your plans for the next two-three years?

One thing I am sure of is I will not do 5-6 films a year. I am so overworked,I really need to be choosier.

What has contributed to her rise — despite having only two hits 3 Idiots and Golmaal 3,in as many years — is her staying power.

What has contributed to her rise — despite having only two hits 3 Idiots and Golmaal 3,in as many years — is her staying power.

Rivals like Priyanka Chopra,Katrina Kaif and Deepika Padukone seem to be trailing her. Katrina and Deepika are still fighting the non-actor tag,and Priyanka’s last four successive flops have put her out of the race. Through all this,Kareena has managed to keep her friendship with the three Khans. And she never shies away from proclaiming that she’s “the best”,an oft-quoted Kareena statement.

The journey to the top,however,hasn’t been without its share of challenges and setbacks,says Kareena. When she first set foot in the industry in 2000 with JP Dutta’s Refugee,opposite Abhishek Bachchan,her surname weighed heavy. “Even before my debut film hit the theatres,there was constant speculation if I could act and match up to Karisma,” she says. She wasn’t deterred by her shaky start. Her next two films,Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai with Tusshar Kapoor and Karan Johar’s Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham turned out to be big grossers of 2001 and Kareena was termed “a talent to watch out for”. This was followed by a trail of box-office duds — Khushi,Talaash,Mujhse Dosti Karoge and Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon. “Her films may have failed,but as an actress she doesn’t fail you,” says filmmaker Imtiaz Ali,whose Jab We Met in 2007 gave her career a fresh lease of life. “She embodies everything that a Bollywood actress needs to have — she is technically sound,extremely good looking,blessed with inherent acting abilities,has the mystery and persona of an actress and has a positive mentality towards work. She is the cover girl of the film industry,” says Ali.

Kareena admits to not always having a dream run. “In 11 years,I have done many films — some extremely good ones,some very terrible ones and the rest just about okay. But every film has added to my big balloon of experience which I am holding today,” she says,adding,“I have even gained from a film like Tashan and the whole size-zero phase. I am happy people will at least remember that there was an actress who did this for a film.”

What has probably worked for Kareena are her “instincts”. “You need to follow your heart. You cannot say that this year I will do a movie with Shah Rukh and next year with Aamir. You have to just pick films as and when they come,work hard and leave the rest to your destiny.”

According to Karan Johar,“She is a natural; she has no craft,grammar or process attached to her acting. Move her from the sets of Golmaal to a Jab We Met to a Chameli on the same day and she will do just fine. It is a great sense of cinema that can keep her going.”

This attitude has remained unchanged even while working for debutant directors like Rensil D’Silva and Siddharth P Malhotra,on Kurbaan and We Are Family respectively. “I wasn’t even a film old. But Kareena had no qualms about doing what I asked her to do. She is a stress-free actress,” says Malhotra. D’Silva says,“A second take with Kareena is an indulgence. With her on the sets,you are sure to wrap up the movie sooner than you expect.”

Most directors count “spontaneity” as Kareena’s biggest strength. This made Rajkumar Hirani cast her as the only female lead in 3 Idiots. “I usually have a habit of conducting rehearsals for my actors,but she insisted on not having them as it would affect her spontaneity. She really surprised me with a couple of emotional scenes which we canned in just one take,” says Hirani.

The Kapoor girl though has often been criticised for being snobbish and haughty —and is known not to forgive or forget. If rumours are to be believed,the two actors who she will never work with are Hrithik Roshan and Abhishek Bachchan. She called John Abraham “expressionless” on Koffee With Karan. Stories abound of her professional rivalry and personal differences with actresses like Preity Zinta,Priyanka Chopra,Bipasha Basu and Deepika Padukone. For Kareena,however,making friends with the Bollywood fraternity is not something she is here for. “I am not here to make friends. I am here to work. I go to a job and I come back to my family and loved ones. There are a few acquaintances I like to meet and people I like to work with,” she says.

Coinciding with her rise as a top-billed actress has been Kareena’s emergence as a fashion diva. “I have known Kareena from the time she was nine. She has always been keen on experimenting with her looks. Be it the kohl-eyed look in Asoka to the over-the-top Pooh in Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham or the Patiala-tee look in Jab We Met,Kareena is never finicky about fittings at all,” says fashion designer Manish Malhotra.

Her fashionable avatar has got her endorsements such as Globus,Metro,Sony,Airtel and many others. Brand analyst Sridhar Ramanujan,CEO,Brand Comm,says: “She is the female equivalent of Shah Rukh Khan in the industry today and most people also consider her a pretty face. So obviously all the top brands want to cast her in order to increase brand value,” he says.

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Today,Kareena is in a happy place where she gets to choose from the best. Yet,she is not complacent: there are three unfinished films in her kitty. This demands a hectic work life. “I am here to sell my talent,and I will sell it as much as I can,but I will never succumb to selling my soul.”