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Heyy, Bebo

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By Kareena Kapoor has had more misses than hits. But the glam doll of the Kapoor khandaan remains an awesome celebrity who continues to have the best directors vying for her. Manjula Sen looks at the phenomenon called Kareena
  • Published 9.11.08

Kareena Kapoor beams from the billboards as the only woman among a bunch of men in Golmaal Returns. The other heroines in the October release are also-rans and invisible from the posters. Ms Kapoor is in a league of her own.

The sequel to the 2006 success Golmaal opened to what trade pundits call a “bumper response.” Not that it matters. Kapoor’s career has been fairly immune to the fate of her films — most of which have been box office flops. Oddly enough, duds don’t scorch the 28 year-old pale beauty’s ability to command headlines and film offers. Triumphs are just the icing.

Kareena has had the best banners but perhaps the worst success ratio among her contemporaries. So much so that in March last year on Koffee with Karan, the popular television chat show, she had a good-natured dig at herself for the string of flops.

You could say that for a while she was like Anna Kournikova, the blonde glam doll with no title under her tennis racquet. Kareena with her porcelain skin sets pulses racing but the cash registers do not always tingle as enthusiastically.

It really does not matter. The grand-daughter of the legendary Raj Kapoor is not giving up in a hurry. The spark was there in films such as Yuva and Dev, and Chameli and Omkara won her awards. By the time the Sikhni of Bhatinda aka Geet in Jab We Met (JWM) blazed through the box office last October, she had already reinvented herself according to her own personal script.

“Aishwarya is married, Rani is not happening, Preity is getting married and Bipasha is getting old,” says trade analyst and distributor Amod Mehra. In other words, only three heroines rule the roost — Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif and Kareena. Chopra has had some recent flops. Kaif is on the upswing and keeping her company is Kareena, with a string of good films lined up.

And that’s despite some major flops, including this year’s Tashan, which featured Akshay Kumar and Kareena’s current arm candy Saif Ali Khan. The unveiling of size zero Kareena should have dented her market value. It did not. Mehra puts it pithily: “It was a s*** film. But even in the bad films, she is good. And she is genuinely sexy.”

Kapoor, shooting abroad and travelling for concerts, wasn’t ready to speak. Else, one could have asked her what her outlook on life was.

If Preity Zinta has bubbly attached to her name, versatility is Kapoor’s middle name. Be it tragic characters or ultra glam seductresses, Kapoor is effortlessly honest in her performances. It’s a candour that spills over in her personal conduct. Her life is a fairly open book, gossip be damned. That is where her star quality probably derives from.

“She is just right as the face of iconic youth fashion. She is not just young and successful but also very hot, very glamorous,” says Indrani Sharma, brand manager for retail fashion chain Globus, which signed on Kareena as its brand ambassador.

Sharma believes the Globus campaign “helped Kareena more than us when it started for the way it showcases her figure and her style. After JWM, she is on a high, has lost a lot of weight and her personal life is being talked about. It’s a win-win situation for all.”

Today, by some estimates, she has endorsements worth Rs 17-20 crore, including ITC Vivel, Anne French, Nutrisse Garnier, Emami and Citizen. The downturn in the economy has evidently spared Kapoor who is laughing all the way to the bank. Last heard, she had turned down Rs 75 crore for a TV show.

The younger daughter of former actors and estranged pair Babita and Randhir Kapoor has always frankly expressed her many opinions. She once famously called actor John Abraham wooden, rarely mentions her father in “thank you” speeches (her father, who once called her ex-boyfriend a dodo on television, evidently feels the same and backed out from commenting on his daughter) and keeps a distance from the Bachchan family after a short-lived engagement between her sister, ex-actress Karisma, and Bachchan scion Abhishek.

And yet the candour is frequently without rudeness. At a restaurant, Kareena was inundated by women from the neighbouring table about her diet regimen. She answered patiently.

Closer home, she broke the ice between her family — the trio of mother and sisters — and that of uncle Rishi and Neetu Kapoor, by turning up to wish cousin Ranbir Kapoor on his film debut Saawariya.

“She is a very loving girl. When the parents have a problem, it has nothing to do with the children. There are ups and downs in all families. One keeps out of family bickerings,” says the affable Neetu Kapoor, who describes her younger niece as very blunt and open-minded.

More than any other actress, everything that Kapoor does gets converted into newsprint and airwaves. Clearly, she represents a youth culture that is unapologetically spirited about the lives they lead.

Take her diet — the subject of many an interview. The Punjabi tandoori chicken eater who turned vegan with a vengeance is on a regimen combined with daily power yoga that has seen her transform from soft curves to slim and supple. Dietician Rujuta Diwekar who came on board last year during Tashan is the sculptor of that table-top stomach.

Diwekar came up with a plan of eight mini meals which included cheese, soya milk, buttermilk, cereal, milk, fruit, coconut water and paneer tikka. By all accounts, Kapoor even has portions of fattening foods like parathas and pasta.

Or take her size zero — a dress size usually earmarked for anorexic models. Though Kareena denied being anorexic, it became, as she once pointed out, a national issue. Reams were spent analysing her body mass index and grave looking editors walked around interviewing her on serious issues such as diet. The new Kareena smiled, answered with impeccable politeness that she had not gone on a crash diet and kept her outspoken manner firmly in check.

Before that, of course, there was the tongue-in-throat smooch with former boyfriend and JWM co-star Shahid Kapur that the world got to gossip about, thanks to a widely circulated MMS clip. These banner headlines were blasted aside by the biggest of them all: Bye bye Shahid. Bonjour Saif.

Kareena had met her ex at a shoot, and it was she who made the first move. She declared her love for Shahid and credited him with a new, healthy approach to fitness and food. Shahid looked at his beloved and declared, “She comes across as misunderstood all the time.” She was, he gushed on television, wonderful, outspoken, most loyal friend and most loyal lover.

Shortly after JWM’s release, the two broke up. What was interesting, however, was the maturity with which they parted. There was no public bickering. If Kapur was heartbroken he hid it well. For Kareena, it was time for a new love.

Saif had dumped his wife Amrita Singh for small-time model Rosa Catalino. Now Rosa had been dumped by the dad of two, who flaunted Kareena on his arm. Literally. Her name was tattooed on his forearm in Devnagari.

But Kapoor is in no rush to signpost her love. She publicly proclaims their togetherness but parries all questions about heading to the altar just yet with her 10-year older partner. “Not for another five years,” she declared once.

Aunt Neetu stoutly bats for her. “Saif is a very nice boy. Times have changed today and to each his or her own.” Film critic and journalist Indu Mirani has her own views on the subject. “Saif is her bad boy phase. She will move on,” she says.

Mirani remembers Bebo (as she is known) as a child on big sister Lolo or Karisma’s set. “She always wanted to be a star. ‘I am waiting for the day when Indu Aunty will come and interview me,’ she’d say”.

Mirani remembers a lovely looking, slightly plump girl whose favourite actors were Nargis and Nutan, who loved to “wallow in grief, soak up all the melodrama in life and favour salwar kameezes and dupattas.”

In an extended paternal family where most girls did not join the career of their fathers, Karisma and Kareena broke the mould and were encouraged by their mother to pursue an acting career. Karisma’s responsibility, says a source, was to look after her mother and sibling. Kareena, the protected younger child, was not let out of sight and constantly chaperoned. Unlike her sister who had to claw her way to the top, one bump--grind David Dhawan movie at a time before the big banners condescended to cast her, Kareena had a dream launch with another debut actor Abhishek Bachchan in JP Dutta’s Refugee in 2001.

Soon, the big banners and meaty roles were heading her way — Yash Chopra, Sudhir Mishra, Mani Ratnam, Govind Nihalani and Vishal Bharadwaj all queued up to cast her.

Govind Nihalani who directed her in Dev, a film on communal riots, describes her as “a natural.” He recalls: “She had no problems with the no-make-up look. She has a flawless skin anyway. And I discovered that she was very quick to understand a scene.”

His apprehension at her mechanical response during rehearsals was soon dispelled. “Something was holding her back. But say Action! And magic would happen. She’d deliver flawless shots.”

Rahul Bose, her co-star in Chameli, agrees. “She was the first actor I talked to and had fun with on the sets. I learnt it was okay to loosen up a little bit even though we were doing a serious film. When she talks about the fear of AIDS that runs through her, one could actually feel it.”

When Raju Hirani of Munnabhai fame started casting for 3 Idiots, he saw Yuva, Omkara and JWM. “That’s the kind of look I wanted: simple, real and without make-up. She has done a great job in all the films.” Kareena said yes to Hirani, as she had with Nihalani, without seeing the script. On the sets, Hirani was floored by her “amazing” memory. “She has heard the script just once but remembers the scenes very vividly. Another quality is her enthusiasm. She wants to do this film come what may. She is willing to go all out for it. I get fascinated by her excitement about the role,” says Hirani.

According to trade analyst Mehra, Kareena is now asking for, and getting, Rs 3 crore for a film. She could get more but her appointment diary is apparently full. “Producers are begging for dates, throwing Rs 4-5 crore at her,” he says.

Today she is starring opposite Aamir Khan in 3 Idiots, with Akshay Kumar in Sajid Nadiadwala’s Kambakht Ishq and Salman Khan in Sohail Khan’s Main aur Mrs Khanna. She has a cameo role in Shah Rukh Khan’s next home production Billo Barber.

Last heard, she had signed an endorsement for a rumoured Rs 7 crore for Pepsico’s Kurkure. As they say nothing succeeds like success. Kareena can afford to shrug a shoulder at failure. For some fish in a fishbowl, the world blinks first.