How did you end up working in Raanjhanaa?
After a year and half of deliberation, I decided to do Raanjhanaa. Aanand L Rai had offered me Tanu Weds Manu (2011). I was very excited about the script but the dates didn’t match. He told me that he would cast me in his next. He kept his promise with Raanjhanaa. There were a lot of naysayers. They questioned why was I doing the movie opposite Dhanush, who was till then known as the Kolaveri Boy in north India. The movie earned more than Rs 100 crore and got critical acclaim. That gave me the confidence to make different choices.
As an actor, what kind of space are you looking at?
Art either reflects the society or once in a while there is a piece of art — be it a painting, book or movie — that changes the way the society thinks. I don’t mind being part of the reflection of society, even though it is scary considering our present society. I also want to be part of the change while entertaining people.
Did you take up Neerja (2016) to be part of a change?
For me, Neerja is a very special film. I got to play a girl who was very ordinary but she did something extraordinary.
Your choice of movies in recent years has been interesting.
I have been making these choices since Raanjhanaa (2013). It’s not a pattern. To put it modestly, when you have a safety net, when you are born into privilege or you are privileged, you have a certain responsibility to make tough choices. When you make such choices, it challenges as well as validates the privileges and successes one enjoys. It’s my responsibility to make these choices because my stardom is not attached to my films. My stardom is because of the way I look, the clothes I wear and my fashion choices. My privilege comes from the family I’m born into. I believe, when you have been given so much, it’s good to build a larger table than a higher wall.
So, are you consciously building a body of work that adheres to a certain philosophy?
I am 33. I entered the industry when I was 20. At that time, I was like a babe in the woods. I was excited that I was acting in a movie based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel and playing the character based on Nastenka. Later, I worked with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. However, these choices were made for me in terms of my agency. I had people telling me who should I work with. Until the failure of Mausam, I didn’t realise that it didn’t work for me. I had some successes such as Aisha (2010) and I Hate Love Stories (2010) prior to that. However, I did movies such as Players (2012) or Thank You (2011) because I assumed that I have to take up these kind of roles since everyone else is doing them. When Mausam didn’t do well, I realised that I have to do movies that I believe in. I also decided to work with like-minded people so that I feel good about getting up and going to work every morning.
What about the movie Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga appealed to you?
No matter which strata of society you come from or what your religious belief or sexuality is, everyone craves acceptance and love. That’s a basic need for everyone. When I read this script, that’s what resonated with me. This was a girl who wanted to be accepted, validated and loved. How is it different from what any of us goes through?
What is the perfect love story?
A story of friendship. The best love story comes from two best friends.
Is that what happened in your life too?
Yeah. My husband (Anand Ahuja) is my best friend. In any relationship, there should be mutual respect. A marriage, too, should be based on mutual love and respect.
You are pretty active on social media.
I love to connect with people. If there is such a platform, it’s important to have a say and opinion, especially if there are young people who look up to your choices and opinions. I believe people who don’t have an opinion are cowards.
You often face trolling too…
Debate is healthy. When negativity comes for no rhyme or reason, you have to take the high ground. Hopefully, age has made me a little wiser. I have realised that I won’t do that (abuse anyone) as I don’t have the time to comment on posts. I’ve got such a full life. The people, who are spewing such negativity, obviously do not have much going on in their lives.
Given your stardom and position in the industry, how can you influence the way women’s stories are told?
I have never knowingly aligned myself politically to anyone. I believe that whatever I have to say, I should convey through my work. Once in a while, I should raise my voice as that’s my responsibility. When it comes to my films, I’ll never do a film because of any political agenda. I do a film only if I believe that it is truly progressive and liberal.
Did you get nostalgic about the popular song Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga from 1942: A Love Story (1994) that was picturised on your father?
When I was Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s assistant on Black (2005), he told me that he directed the song and it was Farah Khan’s debut as a choreographer. This title is apt for my movie. The song is beautifully written and composed. Also, it is a quintessential romantic song. So, the title lends itself to the movie.
Since there is a queer love story at the heart of this movie, did you have to take any special care while preparing for it?
Love is love, isn’t it? No matter who you are, love and friendship don’t change. However, it’s a very important film. The subject is very close to my heart. My father (Anil Kapoor) and I needed to do a film like this. We were offered movies together earlier, but they weren’t as special.