Off screen, she’s known for being among the stylish in commercial Hindi cinema, for being a social media influencer, and for having perfected the fine art of being silly while making mic-drop comments. On screen, Sonam Kapoor is a heroine whose roles can seem like the standard pretty young thing, but look closer and you’ll see she’s got a knack for playing characters who are working women. Whether it’s a romance or a drama, the women Kapoor plays take their careers seriously, and are shown as people who are able to achieve a balance between the personal and the professional.
The actor is also among those who seems to take feminism quite seriously; she once revealed on Instagram that her entire team consists of women: “We need to lift each other up. There are thousands of years of patriarchy to cut through.” So, on the occasion of her 38th birthday, here are five films in which Sonam Kapoor was so much more than just a pretty face.
Streaming on Netflix
Sonam Kapoor plays Simran Pahuja in this classic story — the boy doesn’t believe in love, while the girl is romance personified. “I love love stories. In fact, I love everything!” says Simran in her opening scene. She waxes poetic about her love for flowers, the rains, the colour pink, and more than anything, romantic films. If you thought this meant she’d be just another dreamy Hindi film heroine, think again. Simran is an art director who makes the sets for the very films she loves. It is refreshing to see how much she genuinely loves her job. She dreams of working with director Veer Kapoor (Samir Soni) who “makes the best love stories” — something she achieves right at the beginning of the film.
Simran repeatedly clashes with the irresponsible Jay (Imran Khan), but she makes it clear that she’s his senior, and that he needs to be professional and do what he’s told. “It’s not a joke, Jay!” she asserts when he messes up for the umpteenth time. “This is my set, and I will make it according to my sensibilities. I don't need your expert opinions. And if you can't do things right, then just get out of here!”
Streaming on Netflix
Sonam Kapoor is a bubbly physiotherapist in this frothy rom-com that features a snooty aristocratic family getting swept away by a thoroughly middle-class woman. We first see Dr. Mili Chakravarty when she’s treating an injured player from the Kolkata Knight Riders. He moans that he won’t be able to play again. She tells him to shut up, before promptly setting him right. The job of being a live-in physiotherapist for the gruff “king” Shekhar (Aamir Raza Husain) of Sambhalgarh takes Mili to Rajasthan, paving the way for some picturesque shots and a romance with Shekhar’s son, Vikram (Fawad Khan).
Mili is the 40th physiotherapist enlisted to treat Shekhar. Her quirky methods prove effective against the king’s stubborn tantrums. Mili may come across as scatter-brained, but make no mistake, she is good at her job. She even stands up to the formidable matriarch played by Ratna Pathak Shah.
Streaming on Disney+ Hotstar
Arguably Sonam Kapoor’s best performance to date, Neerja is the story of the heroic flight attendant who lost her life helping passengers escape after the plane was hijacked by terrorists. Based on a real incident that took place in September 1986, Neerja offers the audience a look at the obstacles that the flight attendant faced at home (her mother would rather she be a model; she has a failed marriage behind her) as well as how the young woman rose to the unexpected challenges that came with the hijacking.
Neerja leaves for the fateful flight just shy of her 23rd birthday. She finds herself reminiscing on her fleeting but miserable marriage. In these flashbacks, her husband derides her inability to cook (“Did your mom not teach you anything while making you independent?”) and dismisses her job as a model (“Not all of us get paid to just show our faces. We actually need to work hard.”) For Neerja, the job with Pan Am Airways is a new beginning and a promise of independence. She works at her job with unfaltering grace and courage until the very end. In real life, Neerja Bhanot was posthumously honoured with the Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award.
Streaming on Zee5
Sonam Kapoor is one-fourth of the starry ensemble in this buddy film about a group of friends who end up on a journey to rediscover themselves. Her Avni Sharma is a New Delhi-based lawyer who specialises in divorce cases, and whose mother (Neena Gupta) is constantly badgering her to get (arranged) married. “How are you behind in this when you’re first in everything else?” Avni’s mother asks her.
While the role is not particularly well-written and the lawyering leaves a lot to be desired, Avni is a welcome change from the usual heroines of Hindi commercial cinema. She is no stranger to one-night-stands, but she still craves a loving relationship with the right person. Her friend Sakshi (Swara Bhasker) describes her as the complete package: “Sati on the outside, slutty on the inside.” In one scene, Avni vents about her grudging desperation and the injustice of it all: “No matter how educated you are, graduation, post-graduation, whether you buy a house or a car, life is not complete until you have a fucking mangalsutra [makes a strangling motion] around your neck.” By the end of the film, Avni is cautiously optimistic about a relationship with a man who understands her misgivings about marriage and is willing to take things slow.
Streaming on Netflix
Zoya Singh Solanki, a junior copywriter at an ad agency, inexplicably becomes the Indian Cricket Team’s biggest lucky charm over the course of this film (she happened to be born at the exact moment that India won the 1983 World Cup). As empowering as it is to see women thriving in the workplace, it is also rather relatable (and reassuring) to see someone slip up and not be 100% efficient at their job, but pick herself up after making mistakes. Based on the beloved book by Anuja Chauhan, the film adaptation doesn’t quite have the charm and zing of Chauhan’s writing, but the decision to make the heroine someone who cares about her job is noteworthy. (Hindi cinema has a long tradition of rom-com heroines whose jobs are their last priority.) While her boss (Koel Purie) is just waiting for an opportunity to fire her, Zoya persistently requests ads so she can prove herself.
Her luck finally changes when she is assigned to an important project in Sri Lanka simply because no one else is available. Now she has to shoot an ad film with the Indian Cricket Team. What follows, of course, is a whirlwind romance with the captain of the team (Dulquer Salmaan), and the film ends with Zoya finally quitting her job — not because she’s going to ‘settle down,' but because she’s opening her own ad agency.