Sonam Kapoor Ahuja on picking socially relevant films: Coming from a place of privilege, I feel more responsible

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja on picking socially relevant films: Coming from a place of privilege, I feel more responsible

2018 turned out to be quite eventful for Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, with a string of hits like Padman, Veere Di Wedding and Sanju. Her choice of movies, besides being entertaining, were also socially relevant, advocating change in society. From addressing stereotypes connected to menstruation, to gender equality and celebrating the spirit of the modern Indian woman, to addressing homosexuality with the recent release, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Sonam, in an exclusive chat with Firstpost, opens up on finding her own space, staying away from camps and stereotypes, facing tough times, working for the first time with dad Anil Kapoor, and much more. Excerpts below.

You have been making some brave choices with Neerja, Padman, Veere Di Wedding and now Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. What drives you to do that?

I have a safety net, coming from a family where I don’t have to fend for myself to such an extent. Even if kaam nahi milega (I do not get work), I will be all right. People who are from a position of privilege have more of a responsibility to make the right choices. Even though I am not supported by my dad, I completely support myself but I do have that safety net of my husband, or my father, or my mother. I honestly feel that when you come from that place of privilege, or you achieve something in life where you can make hard choices, then you should make brave and responsible choices.

Coming to commercial films, whether it’s Veere Di Wedding or The Zoya Factor, I feel I need to be responsible while picking these films as well. There has to be a balance because eventually, I know that a film like Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga won’t get a very huge opening at the box office but since people know that it’s a Sonam Kapoor film which will have a message as well as entertainment, it will open to like Rs 4 crore, which is good enough for me because the film has got only 1,000 screens.

Were you skeptical about audience reaction when you took up Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga? Did you fear rejection?

Honestly, I didn't. The issue was different. I signed Sanju and Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga together. At that time, the amendment to Section 377 was not made and there was no freedom to the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community to be themselves, or to love who they want to love. We didn’t know at that time whether the film will get released, or will it get an A certificate. My dad and I discussed this. I have had such a progressive, liberal upbringing, and in fact, when I joined the industry I found it very homophobic, very sexist and coming from such a home environment into this so-called real world of this film industry, it was a culture shock to me. Are people really like that? I would wonder. I couldn't believe that they made fun of the LGBTQ? For me it was quite shocking. Just because you have a different preference for who you want to love doesn’t make you any different from what we as a community considers normal. There is nothing abnormal about it. To judge them, or laugh at them, or stereotype them is very cruel. The whole idea was to make a film that was extremely familiar to our traditional audience. It was a conscious effort and conscious decision to make this film. Talking about fear, all these years my only fear was not living up to my father’s and my family’s expectation, and that is the reason why it took me so long to work with my father.  But it was very easy to do those father-daughter scenes.

Who was more keen to work with the other person, you or your dad?

My dad. He would say that I have even played Priyanka Chopra’s father so why not yours (laughs out loud). And this is predominantly father-daughter story. It is a love story but it is not a romantic love story. It’s different manifestations of love, love between parent and a child, love between two friends, love between two siblings. It is a story of acceptance, it is a story of freedom, it is a story to be who you want to be and it is told in a very sweet, simplistic way. It reminds me of Hrishikesh Mukerjee films, it is really that simple.

How did you take this criticism of not being brave enough? On one hand, the film prides itself to be the first mainstream film with same sex love theme but on the other hand, the treatment is too safe with your and Kuhu’s relationship getting overshadowed by your warm equation with your dad and Rajkummar Rao?

Look, it is not a romantic love story which I kept trying to say during the promotions. It is a story about a girl coming out. It is the beginning of her love story with Kuhu. We are not exploring the love story. Gazal (Dhaliwal), who is the writer of the film and who is a part of the LGBTQ community, is from that situation. She comes from a small town and comes out to her parents and that emotional part has not been tackled yet, which is quite important. We were not playing safe at all. This is just the beginning. Also, if it was a man and a woman not being sexual with each other, do we ever question that? Why are we only questioning women? Then, it also has to be palatable to the audience.

Was the role difficult for you? Though you were found suitably restrained.

The girl who I play is absolutely opposite of me. I am not shy. I have immense self-belief and self-confidence. I know exactly who I am and my parents have been extremely supportive. I don’t come from a small town. My character is very uncomfortable in her skin and I wanted her to be awkward. Everybody in the family is in taal and there is one person who is betaal, someone who hasn’t found her rhythm. That sadness has to be there in her. Lot of reviewers have seen that in her and portraying that was hard because I am a very happy person. I always feel like I am sparkling, I'm energetic. So to dim that was hard. It is one of the hardest films I have done. Not because of the fact that I was playing gay, that was the easy part. Romancing Regina (Cassandra) was the easiest thing, it’s easy to romance a woman than to romance a man. I was most comfortable doing that. But playing someone who doesn’t understand who she is was the most difficult part.

Do these box office figures bother you? Were you anxious?

The film is doing pretty well. For 1,000 screens, Rs 3.3 crore opening is spectacular and even the growth on the second day is good. We are also releasing it on the digital platform soon for far reaching, bigger audience.

Your dad seems quite excited about adapting stories from books, like your next release The Zoya Factor, and then there is Battle of Bittora. Recently, he also did Netflix series Selection Day, which is again an adaptation.

I am very excited about The Zoya Factor because I am working with an excellent director, Abhishek Sharma. It is adapted from one of my favourite books of Anuja Chauhan. It is a commercial film, a very sweet romantic comedy between Zoya and Nikhil, played by Dulquer Salmaan, who is an excellent actor. Comedy is my forte and I really enjoy doing comedy. Then there is Bittora and we have bought the rights of another book called Govinda. I really loved Selection Day.

Will you ever get into the digital space?

I would love to because I feel that is the future. Just that in India, we don’t have much of an outing except cinema, so going to cinema would last a little longer but I don’t see lasting anywhere else longer. Eventually, I would want to get on to digital platform, so why not be the first at it.

Over three years ago, your dad spoke about the struggle you have had in your career and he sounded quite emotional about it? Things look much better now.

It wasn’t so much of a struggle but yes it was very hard for me in the industry initially not because of anything else, but because there were lot of expectations from people of who I should be, where I should be and what kind of films I should be doing. I didn’t think I fitted into any mould then. I was trying to find my own space and I found that from Raanjhanaa and I am now flourishing in that space. I understood by then that I am not an out-and-out commercial actress and nor I am an art-house actress and I don’t think there are many people in between.

I realised that when you have your own space, there is no competition. Earlier, I remember there was lot of judgment. I didn’t belong to any camp and yet I got lot of love from the industry. I had friends everywhere but there was never anything like she is a part of this or that. But there were certain directors like Aanand L Rai, Rakeysh (Omprakash) Mehra, (R) Balki Sir, Ram Madhvani who pushed for me and they are the best directors of our country. Sooraj Barjatya fought for me to do his Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo. I remember, during Neerja, there were lot of names being thrown at Ram but he and the producers fought for me, nothing bigger validation than that. Every director of mine will always watch my film and give me feedback. I am a filmmaker’s actor and my struggle has always been with everybody else.

Your name is being tossed around for Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi opposite Akshay Kumar.

Oh God! Nobody has offered me the film and I don’t know why my name is being tossed around. I haven’t signed anything as of now. I am reading lot of scripts and I will be announcing something soon but right now, there is nothing. But I would love to work with Rohit Shetty. I love his comedy. I loved Kareena (Kapoor Khan) in Golmaal and I loved Chennai Express. I have seen only those two films. I heard Simmba was excellent and if he does come to me and if it's an offer for a lead then why not?