New Delhi: "Even when destiny gave up on Kareena, her DNA didn't", filmmaker Karan Johar once said of actor Kareena Kapoor. After a string of flat performances, the desperation to tear away from ditzy roles had begun to show as early as 2004 when she played a commercial sex worker in Chameli.
Eight years later, a 31-year-old Kareena has quietly grown into her legacy as Raj Kapoor's granddaughter. The serial coquette of uber-glamorous pomp-coms is ready for the big league with superstars as co-actors, better scripts and established directors. The year 2012 marks a watershed year for the actress who not only faces tough competition from gifted co-stars but has understood the fickle might of the urban audiences on the lookout for new talent.
"I don't like the candyfloss rom-coms Hollywood keeps making"
For Kareena Kapoor, having grown up in one of the Indian film industry's most illustrious families, it has also meant putting up with its tradition of not allowing its women to work in cinema. With a gawky height and an angular face deemed unfashionable for Hindi films, the 11-year-old Kareena would nevertheless follow her sister Karisma to the sets of her debut film Prem Qaidi in 1991. Her temper flare-ups were as well known as her complete lack of inhibition in front of a camera. She has had years to prepare in front of a mirror putting on mother Babita's make-up, simulating actor Sri Devi's dance sequences in the privacy of her bedroom without millions of audiences judging her every move. But after 40 films and 10 years of fighting off competition from some of the most versatile actors of her generation, Kareena has matured into a bankable actor reinventing herself with surprising ease, film after film.
"I am my own favourite"
Geet (Kareena): Dekho meri shaadi Anshuman se ho rahi hai and all that, but agar wo nahi hota toh you never know....shayad MAI bhi pat jaati! Just imagine. Aditya (Shahid Kapoor): Tum apne aap ko bahut pasand karti ho. Geet: Bahut. Mai apni favourite hoon.
In her career-defining film Jab We Met (2007), Kareena Kapoor, then 27, showed a side to herself previously untapped by filmmakers who repeatedly cast her in flirtatious roles tailor-made for India's new, moneyed audience in multiplexes. She completely dropped her guard and gave an endearing performance as a simple, small town girl who strikes camaraderie with a disillusioned millionaire. A mention of Jab We Met is pivotal to discussing her transformation from the posh Pooja Sharma or 'Poo' of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) - a film targetted at the NRI base in the US vicariously living the culture they have left behind in the country of their birth. Women who observe Karwa Chauth, men who land their helicopters in their front lawns and girls who sing and dance to Indian pop songs at their proms - KKKG had audiences collectively hating the cast for the impossible dreams they were living on screen.
It must be said of Kareena that she cut through the froth to find 'Geet', a role that was perhaps closest to her own nature and made it her own through a superlative interpretation that led to an army of Geet-wannabes in subsequent situational dramas. Suddenly, every girl wanted to be Geet and every man wanted her as a girlfriend.
"Agent Vinod will be my last action film"
The year has started on a good note. In the Imran Khan-starrer Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, Kareena is an extension of Geet, albeit a more mature one. As a hairstylist in Las Vegas and a protected girl from a Catholic family of free-thinking mad caps, she combines just the right amount of the ebullient with the naivete to force a conservative Indian audience to accept the unusual climax. Lined up this year are her films Agent Vinod with boyfriend Saif Ali Khan, Talaash with Aamir Khan and Heroine with Arjun Rampal and Randeep Hooda.
She is one of the few actresses in the elite top earning club whose standing in the industry is independent of what she delivers at the Box Office. Her share of flops never failed to reinforce her image as a glamorous actor who looks good on screen with almost any male lead. Yes, she has played her share as the mere prop in films such as Bodyguard and Ra.One but has redeemed herself with either an electrifying dance number or her comic spontaneity.
"Luck has worked wonders for me"
She seems to be leading a charmed life. With marriage on the cards with Saif, Kareena is reading the scripts carefully before signing on the dotted line. At 31, the actor is ready to move on to the next level, starring opposite bankable actors in films she hopes will make the history books. More than the money factor, Kareena's films this year reflect the thought she has put into her choice of projects. Signing up for Talaash and Madhur Bhandarkar's Heroine, after Aishwarya walked out due to her pregnancy, boosted her stocks further. The story of Heroine, that of a superstar whose career is on the decline, required an actor who had the domineering screen presence to match the performance of one of the biggest hits of 2011 - that of Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture.
Besides, which actor doesn't want a cult film to his/her name?
As in any of Bhandarkar's usual films, Heroine will expose the dark underbelly of the film industry. Both Agent Vinod and Talaash are thrillers with superstars at the helm. While Kareena shares an intimate chemistry with Saif, Aamir is known for his fastidious perfection. The pair gave an endearing performance together in the 3 Idiots. The films promise mature performances from its leads and Kareena has to match steps with two of the industry's most brilliant actors. What The Dirty Picture is to Vidya, Heroine promises to be that one film Kareena can look back on as her career's landmark achievement.
"There's no competition"
As far as competition goes, she faces significant challenge only from co-stars Vidya Balan (Kahaani), Priyanka Chopra (Agneepath, Barfee), Katrina Kaif (item number in Agneepath and Ek Tha Tiger) and Sonakshi Sinha with Rowdy Rathore, SOS and Dabangg 2. For the rest of the year, the race to box office glory will be divided among stars such as Bipasha Basu (Raaz 3), Sunny Leone (Jism 2), Chitrangada Singh (I, Me Aur Main) and Rani Mukherji (Talaash, Aiyaa, Koochie Koochie Hota Hai), none of them an immediate threat. Agent Vinod, where she will be seen riding a bike, is her last action film, she says, but the worst of her own share of forgettable candyfloss romances on screen are behind her. She now wears better clothes on and off screen and has been criticized into trading her ultra-lean, size zero figure for something fuller and more curvaceous. Most importantly, she has visibly grown into a better adjusted adult who takes her image as a teen role model seriously. Let's hope it pays dividends this year.####