Broadly speaking, if you are a fan of organising chaos into categories, you might believe, as I do, that the Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Deepika Padukone episode from season three of Koffee With Karan (KwK) broke something. There was a gin-clear division — a before and an after. What was always considered edgy, was now suddenly notorious. While sex had often been discussed on KwK, for the first time, Kapoor and Padukone brought in condoms and infidelity with reckless candour — and this when it used to premiere on TV. The backlash was swift. Who can forget the late Rishi Kapoor tearing into the two actors for the comments they made about his son, Ranbir Kapoor, "With both the girls it is a case of sour grapes… All I will say to the girls is, instead of doing all this concentrate on your careers… It just shows their class. I would like to tell them to stop giggling all the time and instead grow up and behave maturely."
Suddenly, the protective veneer of performance was coated with an additional layer of caution when stars appeared on KwK. No one wanted to be candid if it meant being controversial. No one wanted to be sensational if it meant becoming the centrepiece of a media maelstrom and an industry meltdown. It was the first, and perhaps last time Padukone articulated anything resembling a serrated opinion. Kapoor herself would be more restrained on the show, though sometimes she slipped up, like when she responded in a later season to Karan Johar pointing out that she's known as fashionista first and actor, second, "You know the thing about the industry is that if you are not good looking, they think you are a good actor." (Not enough credit is given to Johar who, as a host, knows exactly what button to push to elicit what lashing.)
There is even a video snippet of Kapoor playing the now-extinct "Hot Or Not" game and when asked if she considered the late Sushant Singh Rajput hot, her immediate reaction was "Huh?" These are bytes edited and published for the sole reason of reducing Kapoor to an airheaded figure of nepotism who is comfortable in her own cocoon, unaware and untroubled by the surrounding world.
Unlike Alia Bhatt, who did a sketch with All India Bakchod (AIB) to dig her heels into the stereotype of her being clueless about all things beyond her social and professional circle, trying to be in on the joke cracked at her expense, Kapoor didn't bother with any PR-correction. If anything, her missteps seemed to give her career a new lease of life. I was one of the many who followed her daily promotional vlogs for The Zoya Factor (2019) — each day a new shade, silhouette, and texture of red — more excited for the daily drops on Instagram than I was for the film itself. Her interviews, even if airy and giggly, were always a compelling jolt of freshness. Hers was the only Cannes interview worth watching, the only look at the fashion-drenched film festival that created some sort of anticipation. She never seemed coached or PR-proofed, because no coach would be fine with her outrageous indifference and sharp insistence on beauty as a constructed virtue.
On the sixth episode of the seventh season of KwK, Kapoor arrived with that characteristic indifference, pregnant, tired, and glowing — almost as though she just wanted the show's shoot done with so that she could rush home and put her feet up; there doesn't even seem to have been a separate photoshoot for her outfit, styled by Anaita Shroff Adajania.
Having spent the past few years mostly shuttling between London, Delhi, and Mumbai, shooting one film in Glasgow and retreating to London, Kapoor has no idea what is going on in the film industry, warmed by and unconcerned with anything outside her cocoon. Her last theatrical release was three years ago, in 2019. Instagram is her sole tether and she has curated it to her taste, not to the zeitgeist. Which is perhaps why when asked to name people — who are bad at networking, bad at giving advice on relationships, have the best captions, are the star of the moment — during the rapidfire round, Kapoor yanked out names of family members or close friends. When asked to call friends from the industry, she called Shahid Kapoor, her co-star in Mausam (2011) from more than a decade ago.
When asked to pick the man of the moment from a litany of up-and-coming actors — Aditya Roy Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra, Kartik Aaryan, Vijay Deverakonda, Siddhant Chaturvedi — Kapoor looked lost. "Where are Ranbir and Ranveer in this?" she asked, even as she called Shamshera (2022) "some film" Ranbir is promoting and Brahmastra "Shiva No 1". Kapoor described Kiara Advani, part of Dharma Production's big family film Jugjugg Jeeyo (2022), and Bhumi Pednekar, the female lead in Anand L Rai's Raksha Bandhan (2022), as "underrated", pulling them back a few years in their filmography.
Arjun Kapoor, her younger brother by fifteen days but elder in other ways, accompanied her on the episode and noted, "Sonam is in some other era." For her, it seems, Hindi cinema is still stuck in amber, before the pandemic or before her wedding. She has the same energy of Kareena Kapoor Khan, who was also pregnant when on the couch, also dressed in black and who had also groaned at Johar during the rapid fire. "I am not ranking these boys now," Khan said with an indifference that Sonam replicated with her signature pitch in this episode. Tired of performing wit, they slumped contentedly, pretending that the limits of their vision and patience are the limits of the world. It is not that they are boring as much as, perhaps, they are bored by the show.
There is a fascinating, unstable energy between Sonam and Arjun. When she entered the KwK set, she had her arms out, palm up, as though she was the lead in a salsa pair, waiting for Arjun to cup her hands with his. Realising her mistake, she switched quickly, allowing her hands to be held. She kept alternating between petite and punchy, while Arjun captioned every snarky shrug of hers by looking into the camera with a shocked expressed and telescoped on every evidence of her distance from Indian cinema and filmmaking, and even acting.
I wonder if Kapoor has always kept this emotional distance from the industry, and if that distance possibly enabled her to not scuttle as though she was on a hamster wheel and pick projects slowly — even if not successfully — so that she carved her own lane in the dirt path of fame. Being a recluse to the mainstream even as she benefited from it. There was always a blunt ease to Kapoor's personality and the reason she won over so many was because as the industry tilted towards kitchen sink realism, Kapoor refused to give up on glamour. The one headline everyone remembers about Raanjhanaa (2013) was that she did not wear makeup for the film. Many found this a frivolous comment, but I found it fascinating that finally, here was someone who articulated beauty and glamour as necessary, even vital and virtuous that to do without it, was indeed something worth highlighting. Without beauty you could never be a star. And that beauty twists you into submission like nothing else does. Or as Dulquer Salmaan's character points out in Sita Ramam (2022), when beauty lies, doesn't truth believe it?
From her debut in Saawariya whenever people doubted her acting — and there is a lot to doubt there — the counter always was that Kapoor's beauty is so sublime, her attitude and comportment so unbothered, her charm so languid, what else is there to be said?