No Longer the Girl Next Door

Priyanka Pereira is a Mumbai-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to Open magazine
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Shraddha Kapoor wants to be known as more than the likeable actress-daughter of one of Bollywood’s controversial actors. A new girl is born post-Haider
“Every day I feel different. I may be sounding crazy right now, but hell yeah, I feel different,” says Shraddha Kapoor. Looking at my baffled face, her smile widens. “What I mean to say is one day when I wake up I am happy, another day I am sad, some days I feel lost, some days super confident and on some other days super confused about what I should be feeling.” The day we meet is a day she’s feeling elated. Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider has released and compliments have been pouring in for her fresh-faced performance. She has already started shooting for her next, Remo D’Souza’s ABCD 2, a dance-based film, where she is matching steps with Varun Dhawan. “I have already torn a ligament,” she says, pointing to her foot. The meeting place for the interview is her plush family apartment in Juhu. A large window overlooks the Arabian Sea. The house is intricately done up, with murals, paintings, high-backed chairs and upholstery, but something here is a little reminiscent of a Bollywood villain’s den. Photographs of Shraddha adorn one corner of the wall, while her father Shakti Kapoor’s pictures find space in various corners of the room. There are photographs of her maternal aunt, yesteryear actress Padmini Kolhapure, in the living room as well.

However, Shraddha is in sharp juxtaposition to her manicured surroundings. She is simple and likable, dressed in an all-black attire sans makeup, hair loose and a perpetual smile on her face. As she settles down for the interview, her little pooch Shylo comes sauntering in. “I have always grown up with pedigreed dogs. But this time I wanted to adopt and we found him as his owners wanted to give him up. He is now a Marathi dog,” she states, planting a kiss on his face. Even before I can start with my interview, she enthusiastically asks, “Have you seen Haider? You loved it?” she says, pronouncing the word ‘loved’ the way she does in the film. Clearly thrilled about being a part of this film, she points out that her role was not as lengthy as her previous two films—Aashiqui 2 and Ek Villain—but that doesn’t matter.

Shraddha admits that she was the one who approached filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj for the role. “Shahid (Kapoor) and I have been friends for many years. When he told me that he is doing a film with Vishal sir, I asked him if he had already cast a girl for it. Shahid told me that he hadn’t yet and if I am keen I should go and meet Vishal sir for it.” She was asked to audition for the role. “I was alright with giving an audition. It is a rare opportunity to be a part of a film like this.’’ Bhardwaj liked her audition and soon she was sent the script of the film. She is honest enough to admit that there were portions in the script she didn’t understand at all. “I knew nothing about the Kashmir insurgency. My political awareness was zilch. This movie enriched my limited knowledge.”

Shraddha prefers to stick to tried and tested responses during interviews. She pauses often to gather her thoughts and then says them out in a rehearsed manner. This guarded attitude and political correctness stems from her upbringing in a film family, under the shadow of a father who has often faced flak from both the industry and the public. Her father Shakti Kapoor has been known for his notorious ways in the industry. His ‘casting couch’ indiscretions even earned him a temporary ban from the film industry. It was only after he apologised to all and sundry that the ban was revoked. Shraddha, was a teenager then and it couldn’t have been easy being the daughter of the industry’s most infamous villain. However, she seems calm, collected and far removed from this episode. Over the years, she may have learnt that public memory is short-lived and that it is possible to carve a name for herself by the work she does individually. But this does not mean she rejects her identity as her father’s daughter. “He has been a very successful actor and it is rather inspiring to have someone like him guide your career path when you need it,” she says, calmly.

It is a question which by now she must be used to answering. What is it like to be the daughter of Shakti Kapoor? The world may wonder that, but Shraddha is matter-of-fact in her love for her father.

Her mother Shivangi Kapoor, she says, has been her backbone and her sounding board. She has kept her firmly grounded and this shows: despite the success she has found this year, with Ek Villain and Haider, Shraddha does not seem overtly excited. After three successful films in a row, she looks better prepared, but the celebrations are on hold. “This is just the beginning. I have a long way to go. Fortunes change every few months here,” she says, pondering her career for a wee bit.

There was a time when she had completely been written off. She had put three years of her life in the making of her debut film Teen Patti, which was dubbed a train wreck of a movie by critics. She tried again to impress the audience by opting for a popular and younger role in Luv Ka The End. A failure is a failure in this industry. And going by industry dynamics, once written off, it takes a lot to get back. Shraddha smiles and quotes a line from her film Ek Villain. “Andhere ko andhera nahi sirf roshni mita sakti hai. Nafrat ko nafrat nahin sirf pyaar mita sakta hai (Only light can cure darkness, and love can cure hatred). After my first film flopped, I was hiding in my room, covering my head with a bed sheet, when my mom asked me what the hell I was doing.” She was ordered to put on her running shoes and hit the gym and then to head for dance classes. “She had faith in me.” Even after her second film failed to live up to expectations, her parents did not let her lose hope. “I still remember them telling me that everyone doesn’t become a star with their first film. Each of us have different journeys charted out for us. And I have my journey too.” But the trouble was not over yet.

Shraddha who had previously signed on a three-film deal with Yash Raj Films (YRF) was now asked to be a part of Aurangzeb. At the same time, Aashiqui 2 was offered to her. As industry sources reveal, the young actress took a big risk that eventually paid off. She chose content over a frivolous role, even though that meant saying ‘no’ to a big studio like YRF. This angered Aditya Chopra, but she stood her ground, let go of the YRF contract, and moved on. She does not speak about it, but from all accounts it was a bitter parting, one where the doors of YRF will forever be shut for her. However, as luck would have it, Aashiqui 2 became one of the biggest hits of 2013 and Shraddha hasn’t had to look back. “My life changed completely after Aashiqui 2... for once I did not have to give auditions.”

Siddhant Kapoor, Shraddha’s younger brother, recalls that as kids Shraddha and he both wanted to be part of the industry and were both influenced by their father. Siddhant chose to be an assistant director before his debut as an actor in Sanjay Gupta’s Shootout at Wadala. Shraddha moved to Boston to pursue higher studies. She dropped out of Boston University after eight months to return to acting.

Shraddha has come into the industry at a time when she has stiff competition from many young actresses, like Alia Bhatt and Parineeti Chopra. A trade analyst who requests anonymity says, “Shraddha is extremely beautiful but as an actor she has a lot of catching up to do with Alia and Parineeti. She is yet to prove herself as a versatile actress.” Her strength is perhaps her girl-next-door image, which she has exploited well so far. But she is now keen that she be seen as a serious actor. “I have achieved a bit of it with Haider. There will be a lot of box-office hits, but the thrill of doing a good film where people take you seriously is something else.”

While the will to improvise as an actor is a never-ending one, Shraddha wants to hone another talent which has found many takers: singing. Her maternal side is a family of singers. Her grandfather Pandharinath Kolhapure is a classical singer and also a cousin of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. Her mother, she says, is an accomplished singer. “I trained a bit with my grand- father when I was really young, but I regret not training with him more.” Mohit Suri was the first to use her talent when he asked her to sing Teri galliyan in Ek Villain. “I wasn’t sure then. Also, I had a bad cold and flu that day. Perhaps that’s why it sounded good,” she laughs. Bhardwaj then asked her to sing a Kashmiri folk song for Haider. “I want to sing more in all my films now. I am becoming greedy,” she smiles.

Shraddha wants more from the audience as well. She is always keen on genuine feedback from her fans and loves the attention she is showered with when she heads out. “I have worked for this. I love posing for selfies with my fans and signing autographs for them. It would really bother me if they did not recognise me.”