The Stars Of Veere Di Wedding On Portraying An Urban Reality, And Their Favourite Women-Led Films

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Swara Bhasker and Shikha Talsania talk about how different it is on-set when the film is led by a female-dominated cast and why there's still a long way to go before a big-budget film like Tomb Raider is made in India
The Stars Of Veere Di Wedding On Portraying An Urban Reality, And Their Favourite Women-Led Films

Ladies, it's so wonderful to sit down with you. Your director Shashanka Ghosh described this film as an estrogen tsunami! Which I have to say is a pretty fab descriptor! My question is when you're in a film where the most powerful people are women, is the vibe on the set different? What changes?

Sonam Kapoor (SK): Is it different? I don't know. I mean, the last couple of years, I think, at least I've had the opportunity of working in movies where either I've been working with directors and producers who've given me equal respect or I'm doing films where I'm the most important character/actor on the film. So I've gotten used to it now! I like it!

Swara Bhasker (SB): I loved it. I think it's different and interesting, and I think there was a certain different kind of chill on this set. But I think not just any women– there were four, five– all the women involved… It was just full of women. Shashanka, by the way, is also a woman only! He was like an honorary girlfriend.

SK: That's what we used to call him. He used to sit in on our 'goss sessions'.

SB: Four, five chill women, who are all basically fun people and capable of working with each other, and not having petty hassles. So it was amazing, it was like a party!

Shikha Talsania (ST): Yeah, the vibe was very empowering actually.

Kareena, you're very quiet.

Kareena Kapoor Khan (KKK): No, I completely agree with them! I think it was brilliant. It's so much fun, when the energy's right.

SK: We had fun. And Bebo always says, "This film feels— I always get this feeling!" Bebo?

KKK: Yeah, the feeling is there! The chemistry is showing. I'm sure people are going to come and enjoy. They are excited about this film. The promo, everybody's talking about it. And everybody's excited. Wherever you go, they ask you about when the film's coming out. So hopefully, I think it's going to be fun!

Tell me how much of it was improvised on the set, because you are four educated, urban women playing four educated, urban women. So do you bring in your own life experiences and change things and say, "No, this is not how it would happen"?

SK: But I think that's on most films, right?

Most films? Are you able to do that?

SK: Yeah! Unless the writer is very married to his script and says at the beginning of the film that this is how it's going to be, and these are the lines. Filmmaking is a collaboration. So we did our readings, we did our workshops. On-set, sometimes– for example, there was a point where we all had to go and Bebo finds one shaadi ka joda. And we felt it worked a certain way. As actors, all four of us were like, "We feel this energy works here better." And it was written in a different way. So as actors, I think we've worked enough to kind of understand, sometimes, "this is what our vibe is, our chemistry is".

ST: And what was lovely was that all of us were on the same page while we were improvising. The two of us, Swara and I, have improvised a lot, unnecessarily!

SB: And it's all been thrown out in the edit! Shashanka has at that point said, "Haan, haan, karo, karo, haha, very good, very good", and in the edit, nothing is there! And I'm like, "Hello!" And he's like, "I'm just diplomatic."

ST: See, what you had asked earlier about how it was on set, we were having so much fun together. We were four veeres, chilling with each other. So it was very easy to improvise. It didn't feel forced.

SK: And also when you know you're character and you're within the confines of that you can move around, yeah.

The characters you play, from the promos at least: they swear a lot, they drink. 'Tareefan' gives me the suggestion that they're sexually provocative, aggressive — I have to say, it's wonderful to see women surrounded by good-looking men who are randomly just swaying and not doing anything else! But tell me, is there a danger here of reducing what women empowerment is to behaving more like men or reducing it to smoking, drinking, sex?

SK: No, I think the fact that we can say that we're reducing it to that is only wrong. It's completely misconstrued, what feminism and women empowerment is. It's a choice, right? The choice is that we all are four different characters and we all have different ways of behaving in the film. Like for example, my character Avni barely abuses! But when she does, she does; once in a while. And there's nothing wrong with it! I don't think this question would be posed to men! That you're drinking, smoking and abusing, or sexually active: does this make you less of a man?

The point is when we allow our male characters to be as close to reality as possible, to the reality of that story, why can't we let our women have that? Nobody asks Anurag Kashyap, "Why do the characters in your films swear so much?" – Swara Bhasker

No, I didn't suggest that it makes you less of anything! I'm just saying, does it suggest that–?

SB: But also, we never said– nobody said that this is a feminist film! Nobody said this is a film about empowerment! It's interesting, right? Firstly, I just want to say, it's taken 105 years for mainstream Bollywood to make a film about four girls who are friends and not falling in love with the same guy. I know I'm saying this again and again, but I think it bears repetition. Just because people saw four girls, who are in a certain urban setting, being realistic to what young, urban working women– what their lifestyle is. The fact is that a lot of us who come from this background do curse (some of us more than others), we do drink (occasionally or whatever). We're empowered about choices, as Sonam said. And just because we're showing that on screen, why is that becoming an issue? I don't mean you. But I'm just saying we've been getting this question a lot. So the point is when we allow, as Sonam said, our male characters to be as close to reality as possible, to the reality of that story, why can't we let our women have that? Nobody asks Anurag Kashyap, "Why do the characters in your films swear so much?"

SK: There was this film that came out, I think it was Pyaar Ka Punchnama? A lot of the dialogues in the film were very misogynistic. And people have celebrated that film and nobody has once said that, "Don't you think you're being a little misogynistic by talking about how women are a certain way, and how men are looked at as commitment-phobic and women are desperate to get married?" I don't think those questions were posed to that! It was a celebrated film, and it was a fun film. But at a point where we're making a film that is entertaining, which is pretty real: a lot of my friends drink, a lot of my friends smoke, a lot of my friends are sexually active. And that is not Veere Di Wedding! That is not what the film is. But it's a colloquial way of talking. We do swear, we do talk in a certain way.

So you're saying it's a portrayal of reality, of a certain urban reality.

SK, SB: Yeah, yes.

SB: And please don't put this empowerment and naarivaad and feminism — we have not said any of this. It's a story about four girlfriends, dealing with life and having fun–

ST: Four humans.

SB: Four humans. So just take what you will from it.

SK: But I hope, in a way, it breaks a glass ceiling. When my sister and I decided that we wanted to make films in any way, we hoped that there was a space for women to be like– there are films for men, where they go and watch their Salman Khan/Aamir Khan/Shah Rukh Khan type — Shah Rukh Khan, girls also like watching. But we also felt that where are the films that we would like to go and watch on a Friday night or a Saturday night where we're celebrating women, there's aspiration for women to be a certain way? We don't have those films! And we hope, to a certain extent, Veere Di Wedding is that film, where there's an aspiration for women. Like, it's OK if you're not getting married, it's OK if you've not had sex for a year with your husband, it's OK if you're getting a divorce, it's OK if you're commitment-phobic, it's fine! Sonam Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Swara Bhasker and Shikha Talsania are also going through it in their characters! So it's fine! And they're enjoying themselves; and they have a friendship; and that's what it is. So if that is empowering in a certain way, let it be empowering in a certain way. But we're not–

Taking on the mantle.

SK: We're not taking on the mantle. I would love to take on the mantle personally. But at the same time, it's just– why is that thopo-ed on us? It's the same stupid argument that everybody's like "why the hell has Sonam Kapoor changed her name?" It's ridiculous!

So tell me then, why the distancing from 'chick flick'? What is wrong with being a chick flick?

SK: 'Chick' is derogatory, right? Are we chicks?

ST: I think it puts you in a bracket. At an age when we're getting out of labels, generally, I think we should move away from that label as well. Because at the end of the day, as we said earlier, it's a film about four friends. Regardless of whether it's men, women, or them mixed together, not in love with each other.

ST: I think that's what it is, moving away from labels.

SK: I wanna watch a Salman Khan film, because he's there without his t-shirt on sometimes.

Listen, truer words were never spoken. Sonam, I had interviewed you two years ago, and we had talked about Veere. And you were saying how because of the sexism in the industry, it was hard to raise the money for the film. And you said, "The truth is that Varun and John got more money to make Dishoom than Kareena and I will get to make this film." Do you think anything's changed in those two years? I mean, we're seeing a film like Raazi doing really spectacular numbers. Has anything moved?

SK: I don't know. Bebo, what do you think?

KKK: No, I think my take is completely different, because I think it depends on the script. Budgets are OK'ed on what the level of the script is. But of course, if you compare it to a Salman Khan or an Aamir Khan film, of course the budgets will be different. I don't think even Raazi was made on a really big budget. It was not shoestring either. But I think they believed in the script and somewhere I felt that the studios come on board on how good the script is or how bad the script is. But of course I think we also got a fairly decent budget at the end of it all.

SK: At the end of it! After fighting a lot! And that was also from a female producer like Ekta Kapoor. It was her, she fought tooth and nail to make sure our film got what we had to get. It was my sister and Ekta; it wasn't a man coming on board and saying, "We're giving you the money for this film."

SB: But that is the catch-22 of the economics of this industry. It is also fact that certain stars guarantee certain openings, or those big formula films guarantee certain openings, so producers feel safe to put that investment. Because it is at the end of the day money and investment. It is a business! Which is why I think it's great that film like "female-centric films" make money! It's great that Neerja made the kind of money it did, it's great that Raazi made the kind of money it did, it's great that Ki & Ka made the kind of money it did, because then producers are like, "Haan. Yeh kahaaniyaan bhi paisay banaati hain."

SK: But still it's a very long way off till we can make a Tomb Raider, or we can make a Hunger Games or Twilight, where women are headlining these films, which are the big-budget films. I mean, even Marvel films, besides Wonder Woman, are mostly led by men! You know, male heroes! If internationally, they're at that level, then India is very far behind.

SB: I feel it will be one or two films to change it. These economics change quickly.

It makes good conversation to say that there are not enough scripts or people aren't backing it and things like that. But they were doing it back then! It's up to you to say, "This is what I want to do or this is what I don't want to do." – Kareena Kapoor Khan

Sonam, you were just in Cannes, and for me, the most enduring image from that festival were the 82 women on that red carpet. It was just astounding and it made me wonder, when will women here, in the Hindi film industry, be able to create an image like that? When do you think we could get organized enough to actually move the needle? Because that one image was captured, went around the globe. They were asking for a safer work space, equitable paycheques. When does that happen here?

SK: I think with Veere, we've moved a step forward, just the fact that the four of us are working together. Right now, they're making an Ocean's Eight as we're making Veere Di Wedding. I just feel like right now it's going to that space where there are mainstream actresses working together. I don't remember the last time there were…maybe Susan Sarandon and…I don't even remember. I'm saying that it's very rare that it will happen. I don't mean to sound fatalistic in any way but I'm just saying there's a long way off for all our industries to be like, "Okay. Women need to be treated a certain way. We need to get equal opportunities, the same working conditions." It's very far behind, especially in India. We live in a patriarchal  society, unfortunately.

Kareena, you've worked the longest. Have you seen substantial change?

KK: I think a tremendous amount. But I beg to differ a little bit because we also had actresses like Rekhajee, Sharmila Tagore and Waheeda Rehman who did films like Aradhana, Mausam and Satyajit Ray's movies where they did have women-centric characters. Seeta Aur Geeta was in the 60s. So we did have women. I guess it's up to actors of today – whether it's all of us here or whether it's Kangana or Vidya or Priyanka who have picked up films and done it. There's no one more out there, who has gone against every possible tide, other than Vidya Balan. To be married and not have the quintessential body but still say, "No it's fine. I'm going to pick up scripts and do it." And she's done it – from The Dirty Picture to Tumhari Sulu. So it's up to you. It's very nice to say, "There are no scripts." But there have been scripts since then. My mother-in-law and I were chatting, I think the day before yesterday, and she said, "But I did Aradhana when Saif was two years old; Amar Prem, when Saif was like three." It makes good conversation to say that there are not enough scripts or people aren't backing it and things like that. But they were doing it back then! It's up to you to say, "This is what I want to do or this is what I don't want to do."

SK: But the mindset has to also change, right? Women coming together and holding hands and saying, "We are with you," instead of competing with each other.

But isn't that competition a very media-fuelled narrative? That "How was it? Aren't you all insecure about each other?"

SB: Weren't Nandajee and Asha Parekhjee really close friends? And they were working at the same time. It's human to be jealous and it's also human to make friends. I don't think you can help being friends with a fun person who you're working with.

SK: But I think my dad and Amit uncle kind of ruined it, with their films! The seventies and eighties! Because I think in the fifties and the sixties, you had Nutan, and you had Waheedajee. And then the Angry Young Man came in, and then my father came in, with his "bhidugiri" or whatever. And that's when it started; I think the late seventies and eighties–

KKK: The eighties and nineties were not great.

So for all of you, is acting nurture — is it something you were born with or is it something that you have acquired? The acting skill, is it nature or nurture?

ST: I would have to say a little bit of both, actually. A little bit of both.

SK: I think the three of us come from filmi backgrounds. So I guess that it was inherent. I guess so.I don't know. My sister's not an actor. I think it was just there in our blood. Swara, I don't know. She comes from a family of academics.

What were you thinking, Swara?

SK: What were you thinking, Swara?

SB: I thought, "Let me see how I can spit on my education and go to an industry where it's of no value!" No, no, I'm kidding. I think you have to have that bit of a performer in you. I think that a lot of out biggest stars are "outsiders" (and I say this carefully and with quotes).

KKK: And not very educated, as you said!

SB: No, no, also lots of educated people here! But you have to have that little desire to… For me, it was a desire for an audience. I'm sorry, I'm saying it very bluntly. I was a big dramebaaz from when I was little. My dad used to call me Isadora Duncan. I used to come back everyday with the stupidest stories, like "you know aaj kya hua, papa?!!" And he'd just be like, "Mmph!" Also, I'm not trained as an actor formally; I haven't been to acting school. I haven't even done theatre actually, though people think I have because I speak Hindi. But I really haven't. So I did also nurture that thing, I did a lot of workshops, even before I came and even after. I'm very insecure about that ki "I'm not a trained actor!" So I keep doing workshops. I think you have to have both, as she says. And it doesn't matter how you get it. You could get it, as Shikha did, in the company of a lot of theatre and film, or Kareena or Sonam — just being in that world and being familiar with the medium from ever and it's just natural for you.

ST: It's just your awareness is a little different, when you're growing up.

SK: Also, I know this, my mom didn't come from a film background. So I understood both sides. In my family, it was OK to be part of the film industry; my mom's side — like when you're not from the film industry, they're like, "You can't join the film industry!" For me it was absolutely normal, but for my cousins it was not. They couldn't understand it, or where it is, and why these hours. Like Shikha and I were discussing that if we came back at twelve o'clock in the night, our parents would be like, "What are you doing? Come back home!" And if you're on a film set till six in the morning, they'll be like, "It's OK", no conversation, no phone calls.

ST: Usually at about twelve, there'll be a phone call saying, "Where are you? How far are you from home? When do you plan to head home?" But if you're on a film set, in Madh Island and there's no driver, nothing, you're driving your own car, about four o'clock, like "Ma, I still haven't… It hasn't wrapped yet" — "Haan, OK, cool, no problem, call me whenever."

SK: That's a fact, though! I was like, "That's so true!!"

And tell me finally, what are your favourite women-led films? What are some of the ones you go back to? What are the ones that inspire the four of you? Notice I didn't say chick flicks.

ST: So many. I'm a huge fan of Melissa McCarthy. I think she's done some fantastic films. I really like… Sandra Bullock and her…

The Heat?

ST: The Heat, yes. I thought it was really interesting to see that. And so many, ya. So many. These wonderful women sitting over here and all the films that they've done.

SK: I like Bandini a lot. That's one of the films I really really loved. And I also like Gone with the Wind: very empowering, tragic, sad films… Very dramatic, no?

ST: Can I also add, I'm obsessed with Khoon Bhari Maang. Obsessed!

KKK: Superb movie.

SK: The fashion?

ST: Everything about it!

KKK: And she was brilliant. Brilliant.

SK: Superb! The outfits were just getting wilder!

ST: I think I've seen it eighteen times!

The hats! Yeah, yeah, it was amazing! It was quite spectacular.

KKK: I would have to say The Devil Wears Prada or something like that, because Meryl Streep is.. The Bridges of Madison County. Unbelievable. It's just her!

It is her. She's so good. Swara?

SB: I have a list. I love Mughal-e-Azam, because I think in that time, and that story, for that character to just come out and…

Go against the emperor, yeah!

SB: For me, it's a women-centric film.

ST: There's Bazaar also.

SB: Yeah, but I like Mughal-e-Azam more.

SK: I like Guide also.

SB: I think Erin Brockovich is a film that– I was like, "Wow!" More recently, I think Jab We Met was fantastic, because it was Geet. That whole film was about Geet and driven by her. Can I also say Nil Battey Sannata?

SK: Hum bhi bol saktay hain na, humaari bhi films hain! Neerja, thanks!

ST: So it's difficult to pick one, I think there are quite a few.

There are quite a few.

KKK: So many.

SB: But I feel she was right, it's not like great parts for women were not written before; they were. But I just think that perhaps they were the rarity rather than the norm, if you look at the entirety of what was being made, which is why they stood out of course.

SK: My father was saying, "Whatever I remember, Sridevi was the only one who could open a film as big as a hero could." He was like, "People are not talking about that. I think she was the first one." We were having a conversation. For me, I don't remember her as that, because she'd been married to Boney chachu for twenty years and she'd stopped working as much, so I always knew her as my aunt, I never knew her as that. But it's true! So there were people like that, you know. Bebo very rightly said it's up to us to take the baton and be like, "We're gonna take it forward." And hopefully with Veere we are going to break the glass ceiling in some way or the other. And I hope this film is very successful, because it's an entertaining film about four people! They just happen to be women.

Thank you, and go kill it, ladies! Looking forward!

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