Being Neerja

On an otherwise mundane Wednesday afternoon, there is a flurry of activity in actor Anil Kapoor’s suburban office in Mumbai. Amid hurried movements of stylists arranging outfits and staff members working on weekly schedules, actor Sonam Kapoor, dressed in a gorgeous Dolly J maxi dress and a pair of Louboutins, is a picture of poise as she addresses the media. It is hard to imagine that this is the same woman who has played the feisty Dolly in Dolly Ki Doli, the elegant Maithili in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, and, most recently, the fearless and stoic flight attendant Neerja Bhanot in ad-man Ram Mahvani’s eponymous film, Neerja.

Kapoor agrees she has had a great 2015, and the fact that she is experimenting with characters is testament of how seriously she takes her career. “I enjoy doing something new in every film,” she says. “If I don’t, I won’t be challenging myself and on the creative front, I would be stagnating. I like reinventing myself with everything I do, and I love every second of it. Yes, there are challenges, but I’d rather face them head on.” And in her latest film, Neerja, there must have been quite a few. The role of Neerja Bhanot needed her to play India’s youngest recipient ofthe Ashoka Chakra, who on September 5, 1986, sacrificed her life to save more than 300 passengers on the ill-fated Pan Am flight 73 hijacked by terrorists.

As part of her preparation for the role, Kapoor trained to become an in-flight attendant. She also met Neerja’s friends and family members to understand more about her life. “Since she was also a model, I saw all her advertisements,” Kapoor says. “In fact, Neerja’s family had a beautiful audio recording of her in-flight announcement rehearsals,which helped immensely.” But according to her, the biggest preparation was to become Neerja herself. “It was important for me to know what she believed in and what she didn’t. So I tried to imbibe her likes, dislikes and morals. Because, at the end of the day, she wasn’t in front of me, so understanding her had to come from understanding her beliefs, values and principles,” the actor says.

But, most importantly, Kapoor says playing this role has made her stronger. “We had to shoot inside the aeroplane, at the end of every day, I would thank god that I got to get out, where Neerja didn’t. It just made the story so much more poignant for me,” she adds. Working on the film also helped her change her perspective on in-flight attendants. “I didn’t realise that 70 per cent of an in-flight attendant’s job is to ensure the safety of the passengers – only 30 per cent of it is service. People’s usual perception of them as glorified waiters and waitresses is ridiculous. The kind of hard work that goes into this, and how duty-bound they are, is amazing. So now when a flight attendant tells me to wear my seat belt, I do it immediately,” Kapoor says, smiling. sonam

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