She was bold, naughty, unabashed and career-oriented – the modern woman ready to break the glass ceiling and turn stereotypes on their head. But that was in the movie Ki & Ka, and this is Kareena Kapoor Khan we are talking about. She never does the same role twice. So in her next film Udta Punjab, slotted for release on June 17, she will be seen in the pared-down, non-glamorous role of Dr Preet Sahani, who moves to the interiors of Punjab from the city to tackle the issue of drug abuse.
The actor has always been known for her strong opinion and frank approach towards life. She has never shied away from discussing her personal life and is one of the few female actors in the industry who have been vocal about gender inequality and feminism. Her last release, Ki & Ka, lends due credence to the last point. With gender equality at its core, this film by R Balki delivered a strong message against social norms where a woman is required to run the house while a man has to fulfil his role as the breadwinner. “Abroad, you will come across a lot of people who are househusbands. But in India, the concept isn’t popular, even looked down upon,” the actor says. “People are not even comfortable discussing it. I am glad Ki & Ka tried to break these stereotypes.”
In the film, she is seen essaying the role of Kia, an independent, headstrong marketing manager. She is also cast opposite Arjun Kapoor, a first in her career. That’s another thing about Kareena Kapoor Khan – in her 16-year-long journey in Bollywood, she has worked with most A-list actors and has never refused the opportunity to work with someone new. Even in Udta Punjab, she has been cast opposite debutant Diljit Dosanjh. “I never discuss anything related to casting with directors,” the actor says. “For me, all that matters is my character and the script. I am not interested in knowing who is paired with me or who else has been cast. I don’t really stress on things such as having a big name or a star opposite me. But yes, I feel it is important for the actor to suit the role he or she has been signed for. That’s crucial.”
The actress has successfully balanced her commercially successful films with critically acclaimed ones. Does she feel commercial films give male leads more importance, with female roles relegated to the background or used to promote item numbers? “We all know Bollywood is a male-dominated industry. The big box office numbers are dominated by the Khans. But I think the audience is accepting good scripts now and it doesn’t matter whether the lead is a man or a woman,” she says.
And the industry has seen the actor stand by this view. As one of the early risk-takers in the industry, she has experimented with her roles, irrespective of their length or screen time in the film – be it in Chameli and Dev or Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. No wonder she smiles at the mention of Neerja, with Sonam Kapoor in the lead, and its great performance at the box office. “I am proud the film has done so well,” she says. “Watching films such as Neerja, with such great performances, reinforces my faith in the industry. Even Queen, with Kangana Ranaut playing the lead, was a fabulous film. So today, women are at the forefront everywhere – whether it’s the corporate world or the media. And I am glad things are changing.”