“Do you think Elvis is dead?”
Posed with dreamy yet dolorous vagueness, the question comes out of nowhere on the heels of a rather impassioned conversation about books. But then Sonam Kapoor is about nothing if not the non sequitur.
Sonam turned 28 a week ago, and she says it was “hysterical.” “It was me and five girlfriends in Paris and we were at a Rihanna concert,” she starts off, giddily uncorked. “And we felt like kids again because it was such a pre-teen crowd! And we were drinking cheap beer, cheap champagne… like being young and broke again. And with that music — these really commercial, hip songs — it was like being in a nightclub with 80,000 people.” And thus they got trashed and woke up and had lots of fancy French things doused in chocolate “cause the best hangover cure is lots and lots of sugar, of course” and hauled themselves off to a vintage haute couture exhibition.
If this all sounds too girly — and it does — then cut her some slack. Kapoor’s worked relentlessly on back to back movies for a while now, and this year she’s been taking quick little time-outs to travel with close friends and family. “This year, I’ve managed New York, Paris and London already, and have Turkey, Hong Kong and Kerala lined up.” And does travelling bring anonymity? “Oh yeah, of course. I mean obviously there are Indians everywhere, but I think when I’m abroad I can be just another pretty girl walking down the street.”
Kapoor, I should mention, is a good buddy, and ours is a peculiar friendship: not least because she constantly shuns what I’m wearing, almost as if avenging the way my reviews claw at her films. Yet we get along merrily, despite me sticking to retro rockband tee-shirts and her making movies like Thank You. It is, after all, only fun to jibe with someone who revels in the sparring, and Sonam can laugh at herself really loudly. She’s an odd bird, this one, flighty and clever and ambitious while known, at the moment, mostly for her plumage.
Time-off hasn’t been insane, she insists. “I’m not a talkative drunk, I’m just a happy dance-y person. And I don’t really do stupid things. I mean I wish I could give you an unmentionable story, but you know my idea of a really, really good time is to just read a fucking book.”
Now this I can vouch for (not so much the un-stupid things bit, ahem). Kapoor reads more than most people I know, myself included. When she was but a tot who couldn’t pronounce “Chanel,” her mother would read to her and not finish the stories, leaving them on her bedside table. “And because I’m this freak with an overactive imagination, I’d try and finish them in my head. But I also ended up teaching myself to read just so I’d get to know what happened next.”
So she flew through “The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Panchatantra” before middle school. Sonam continues to read everything in range, chastising me for not having read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl despite her having recommended it a year ago; lamenting how a dead iPad battery on a flight led her to the new Dan Brown, which she calls “so bad it’s traumatising,”; and committing possible heresy by suggesting that when it comes to Game Of Thrones, the HBO show might actually be better than George RR Martin’s formidable novels.
“I’m going to act till the day I die,” Sonam says. “Not that I’ll be grasping for lead roles or anything, but I’d like to keep honing my craft, and to earn the lines on my face.” Say what? She explains, speaking of how important aging gracefully is to her, and every line on her face should be something she earns. So what, then, of now? “Haha, yeah, right now I’m completely line-free. But I’ll get there.”
This Diwali, she’ll have spent six years as a Hindi film actress. “In that time I’ve done 8 films, which is not too many. And I think I’ve grown up. I’ve learned from every film, no matter the result or the outcome. Who says only the good stuff has to be a milestone?”
Some of her filmography admittedly reads better on paper. Top-tier directors have made catastrophic duds starring Sonam, but, undeterred, she’s constantly conjuring up off-kilter projects. Significantly quirky milestones lie around the corner: Raanjhanaa is a film she’s given a lot to and is visibly proud of; she has a small but vital role in Rakeysh Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag; she’s stepping into Rekha’s shoes for a whacked-out take on Khubsoorat; and she’s just shot a romcom with Ayushmann Khurana.
And then there’s that ‘style icon’ cloak she wraps nonchalantly around herself. Line-free she may still be, but I wager she’s earning her stripes all right.
Part of the reason Sonam is currently even more ebullient than usual, I feel, is that she’s finally enjoying being single. She’s dated three men since I’ve known her (men she accuses me of being judgemental about and insists I include that in this piece) but she’s unstrung now and loving it. “It’s amazing. It makes me feel more free and more focussed, and I prefer being by myself. Honestly, every time I’ve become single in the last five years, I’ve never had the time to process it. And you know I’m weird when I’m in a relationship: my priorities change and the relationship becomes most important. So, last year, I realised I needed to focus on me, prioritise myself, fix me first. Before wanting to be part of a pair.”
Part of this self-repair has to do with an innate compulsion toward flawed men she can nourish. “It’s true. I have this thing, I like to save people, to take care of them. So the pattern is that I date these guys before they make it big,” she explains, with much mock-seriousness, “and then they become successful and whoops, there goes my project!”
Her superstar father is, understandably, less flattering about said ‘projects’. “My dad says I get strays home,” she admits, through peals of laughter.
(Two out of the three exes hardly ever read books, by the way. My “judgemental” side feels enormously vindicated.)
These days, thankfully, she’s looking for “more sorted” blokes, and, unlike the ones gone by, now she’d like those who have nothing to do with the movies. “The film industry is too small, it’s a mad place where everyone knows everyone. It’s sort of like a glass snow-dome, its own world. It’s too self-contained. And I think right now there are different worlds I need to discover.”
“I wanna date a lot of people,” Sonam sighs, before correcting herself. “Actually, I wanna go on a lot of dates.” Do queue up in an orderly fashion, yes, lads?
First published GQ magazine, August 2013