I've always thought Kareena Kapoor is beautiful and enjoyed her over-the-top passionate, fully feminine persona in films like Asoka and heck, even, Main Prem ki Deewani Hoon or that cult disaster, Yaadein. Even when I hated what my friend CD calls her 'hadi-pasli' stage, and what Kareena proposed in one interview is her contribution to national progress ('I'm proud of bringing size zero to India') -- I kinda liked her. Now, in that mirchi red Ra.One sari, less size zero, she simply renders the pulchritudinous seas incarnadine.
I was often wistful that this favourite of mine, who could even act a little, wasn't quite the winner. So why is it that now, when she's the highest-paid female actor in Bollywood, when she's rumoured to be getting market share on a forthcoming film, something no woman in film has managed so far, and is in so many blockbusters, Kareena Kapoor is driving me nuts?
It's not just a rooting for the underdog, hating the top dog, thing. I cannot open a newspaper without seeing a silly, simpering interview, in which she seems keen to establish herself as the girliest of girls rather than a smart professional. Either she's saying how she told Shah Rukh Khan, I'm not going to do any action-vaction, I just like songs and romance baba.
Or giggling about how Saif Ali Khan promised to slap her if Agent Vinod does well because she gave him so much grief about having to action-y things in, well, an action film. Or she's looking embarrassingly self-congratulatory about being a waxwork at Madame Tussaud's ('Saif said the statue looked hot") -- while glossing over the fact that it's not even in London, but at a branch of the museum in Blackpool.
Why did I, and many women like me, like her before? Because she seemed so nonchalant about what the world thought. She never hid her relationships, MMS or no MMS. She acted in all sorts of films. She was a little ditzy then too, but in an easy, thoughtless way, this-is-me way, without girly games.
But, where did it get her? In fact think of many ladies, who were unaffected in quite that way -- Preity Zinta for instance -- and where they are now. The world does not reward women like that easily, not for long.
So, when Ms Kapoor rebooted from size zero, it seems she rebooted her persona too. Suddenly every pedigree-pout pose, whether on those back of the bus ads, or on her "web presence" (http://www.kareenakapoor.me/ -- I kid you not) has that I'm-a-hot-girl self-consciousness. She may be looking into the lofty distance, but she's tracking our response from the corner of her eye. Kareena 2.0, cares very much about how the world is seeing her and perhaps, agreeing to fit in to that gaze a bit.
I once interviewed India's first woman cab driver, Kanchan Gawre, who said this about her many achievements: "Just because I'm a success, I haven't forgotten I'm a woman. I still fulfill the roles a good woman should." Kanchan Gawre was smart enough to understand, that to survive and succeed in a world where the terms are set by men, you have to play this double role. To confirm, even celebrate the gender status quo, even as you change it, at least for yourself.
Feels like Kareena got smart to this too and since then the only way has been up. I understand this, but still wish she could be successful as well as cool. Which is not her problem, because she never signed up for that role. And it's not like I could pay her crores and crores.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.