Bollywood Actress Sonam Kapoor on Women's Portrayal in Indian Movies

Sonam Kapoor
Star TV

Amid an ongoing debate about a recent gang-rape case, the daughter of well-known actor Anil Kapoor weighs in on how Indian cinema reflects society and what needs to change.

NEW DELHI -- Sonam Kapoor's career took off in 2007 with her high-profile appearance in romantic drama Saawariya (Beloved), the first Bollywood production by a Hollywood studio (Sony Pictures). Since then, Kapoor has played a diverse array of roles, in films such as, Delhi-6, hit romantic comedy I Hate Luv Storys, Aisha (which set Jane Austen's Emma in Delhi high society) and 2012's Players, an adaptation of The Italian Job. In 2009, Kapoor was profiled in The Hollywood Reporter's Gen Next Asia list, as a talent to watch. Given her association with brands such as L'Oreal and Salvataore Ferragamo, Kapoor's unique style sense makes her one of India's leading fashionistas. She is also known for sharing her views on social issues. The recent horrific gang-rape in Delhi of a young woman ignited massive street protests demanding justice for women while sparking a debate on how Bollywood portrays female characters. Kapoor sat down with THR to share her views on the subject and what she thinks needs to change.

The Hollywood Reporter: What are your views on how women have been portrayed in Indian cinema?

Sonam Kapoor: Unfortunately, things have actually gone downhill since the golden era of the sixties, which had great films with such beautiful portrayals of women (such as Bandhini and Sujata). Back then, male actors were not afraid to put actresses in the forefront with these characters. But during the eighties, it went downhill, as women were usually objectified and shown as props in the film. Of course, there were exceptions. My dad (leading actor Anil Kapoor) has done films with very strong women characters for the time, such as Mr India and Beta. But the industry became male-dominated through the nineties and even now, to an extent, with the “item” song culture. There are exceptions today as well with actress Vidya Balan's roles in Kahaani and No One Killed Jessica. And she did a great job in The Dirty Picture, which showed how women were portrayed in eighties cinema. But today, the really big films -- those which cross the coveted rupees one billion mark at the box office -- objectify women. I have stayed away from that. I think actresses need to set an example. I don't want to be a part of that [objectification], as these portrayals are not done in a nice way. They are not done to show the women as strong, but to show them as objects. I liked how Farhan Akhtar [a leading Bollywood actor and director] approached talking about the overall issue over women's security in India. He has taken it very seriously, coming from a man who has two daughters and a sister. I hope filmmakers like him address this issue in future films. Similarly, Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) would be appropriate to do movies on this subject.

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THR: There is also this debate about the impact of cinema when it comes to violence against women.

Kapoor: You can't blame cinema for that. Art reflects society. Cinema doesn't dictate -- you portray what the society demands. The mindset of people has to change when society changes. It will take a while. I feel that now we are becoming more aware of the issue [following the mass protests demanding more security for women]. It's a slow and steady start to increasing this awareness. Otherwise, there wouldn't have been so many people on the streets.

THR: Do you think more women filmmakers will also help in changing perceptions?

Kapoor: Of course, but its also up to the man to see the woman with respect. If you look at our political scenario, the strongest leader is a woman -- Sonia Gandhi [leader of the ruling coalition government and head of the Congress party] and there are others, too. But women also need to see themselves differently. Sometimes women also make stupid statements and this should also change.

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THR: What kind of projects are you pursuing when it comes to the kind of characters you want to portray?

Kapoor: I have bought the film rights to a book by a woman author, and it's a great love story. I can't give more details yet but it's about two strong individuals. So I am working on that. While the big box office hits grossing rupees one billion are ruling the industry, there is a change happening with successful women-centric films like English Vinglish (starring veteran actress Sridevi and helmed by a woman director, Gauri Shinde). Of course, there is a need for more of these kind of films, but it is a step forward.

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THR: Your association with Delhi seems to run deep considering the variety of Delhi-based characters you have portrayed in various films.

Kapoor: The amazing thing is that they are all so different. I played a girl from Old Delhi (in Delhi 6), a fashionista from upscale South Delhi (in Aisha) and in my latest film, Raanjhna, I am a college student from Jawaharlal Nehru University (known for its political activism). In my next film (an unnamed project by veteran Bollywood banner Yash Raj Films), I am a professional career woman from Gurgaon (Delhi's adjoining satellite town which is home to top corporate offices). All these Delhi girls exist. From the very start of my career I have always wanted to make these choices. My role in Raanjhna as the JNU college student is extremely feminine, but she knows her mind. She wants to do the right thing. She does street plays and does a play called Dastak (The Knock), which is about the harassment of women in Delhi. In the past, I did make some mistakes with some roles, but then I told myself that I don't need to be in that rat race. I have to find my own niche.