Reality bites

Bollywood buzz

Reality bites

She considers herself lucky and honoured to get the chance to essay the role of the late air hostess Neerja Bhanot in her biopic Neerja. Sonam Kapoor believes that if the film can make even one person a better human being, then her doing the role will be worth the effort.

“I don’t do any film to further my career,” Sonam declares. “And I usually do only one movie a year. I am not in any race, and I am not the kind of person who plays games to be ahead in the race. I choose a film that impacts my life in some way, and if it is going to make me better as an actress or as a human being, either by going through the experience of working with people on the film, or where they are shooting, or the subject of the film or my role, I do it.”

She points out the example of her last film, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. “I liked the idea of the film, and my character. Also, it was a completely commercial film and could give legs to a small film like Neerja.”

Above the fray

And Neerja, of course, was a superb opportunity. “Here was a girl who was not born extraordinary. Her father worked in the Hindustan Times and her mother was a homemaker,” she says. “She was a normal girl educated in a normal Mumbai school and later in one of its well-known colleges. She decided to be an air hostess and supplemented it with being a popular model in ad films.”

But this is the same girl, notes Sonam, who showed extraordinary courage, which came out of her sense of morals, values and duty. “She was no superhero, nor was she a trained military person, and she was terribly scared during the hijacking incident. I think a truly brave person is that who is scared and yet becomes extraordinary because the spirit in her makes her do the brave thing. So she drew out courage and saved 359 lives and died at the age of 23, becoming the youngest recipient of India’s highest award for bravery in peace time, the Ashok Chakra.”

Sonam felt that if she did not do this film, it would be a great injustice to Neerja’s sacrifice. “This film will inspire everyone. It impacted me hugely,” she says enthusiastically, “Three years ago, if someone had asked me to name my female heroes and inspirations, I would have named Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, the ridiculously talented Lata Mangeshkar, Sarojini Naidu, Meryl Streep and so on. But now, it is Neerja, that ordinary hero, whom I look up to for her true courage. She was no queen, singer, politician or actor.”

Sonam has been known to become emotional about her character. “Actually, her mother Rama aunty passed away just two days before we released the film’s trailer, and at the launch, I came to know that she had sent her blessings,” says Sonam. “I was really upset that she could not even watch the trailer of our film.”

At the same time, Sonam also felt special when she was called to give away the Neerja Bhanot awards for bravery in honour of the slain air hostess recently.

“It was really uplifting. I do not know what I have done to play her role and give away the awards in her memory,” she smiles. “I am just an entertainer, an actor. I feel really blessed in life to have got so many opportunities to honour people and feel humbled. These are the unsung heroes. For example, one recipient was a war widow who instead of going into despair, started a support charity for war widows and their families.”

The personal connect

Sonam’s research included meeting Neerja’s family, friends and co-workers and listening to recordings of her during in-flight announcements. “I was also given the proper training of an air hostess,” she says. But what she cannot forget is the crucial fact that Neerja’s mother told her —“Two weeks before the incident, Rama aunty told me that Neerja had attended a special programme on how air hostesses must deal with a hijack,” reveals Sonam. “Like all parents, she told Neerja that she must run as far as possible from any trouble if it really happened, and Neerja had retorted, ‘Mummy, what kind of a mother are you?’ So when Rama aunty had heard of the hijack, she knew that Neerja would do something foolish and that she wouldn’t come back.”

And so, Sonam’s biggest challenge here was not in physically playing Neerja as she was during the challenging episode in her life, but in doing justice to her role as daughter and sister. “As Rama aunty told me, all her friends and relatives told her that she should be proud of her daughter. But while she was, she was also grieving for her child.”

What would Sonam do if faced with such a situation herself? “I don’t know,” she admits candidly. “But I hope I will be able to do the right thing.”

And this, says the actor, is because in real life, she is not at all the self-confident person she comes across. “In real life, I am scared of everything,” she confesses. “My old friends will tell you that I was incredibly shy, lacked confidence and had so many fears and anxieties. I never watch myself after a scene on the monitor, I am a nervous wreck whenever I go on stage, I hate public speaking, and recently I performed on stage after seven years.”

She adds candidly, “Every morning, I get out of bed scared, but face my life. I don’t like to talk about my fears because I want to have a positive outlook. The fact is that I am always happy, and love everybody and love life.”

Sonam is also afraid of crowds and small spaces, but her biggest fear is to be inconsequential. And somewhere within this fact lies the roots of her outlook on awards.
As she says, “It’s really amazing when you get an award, but I do not think they are important. I figured this out when I was not nominated for Delhi-6. I did not lobby for it. But I know what impact it had on me. I was 22, it was my second film, and I was young and really disappointed, because from all the international film festivals where the film was shown to mixed reviews, I won six awards.”

Does she ever take advice from her father Anil Kapoor on her films? “I naturally discuss my movies with them, but you know how moms and dads are. For them, I can do no wrong,” she giggles, as she adds, “But my sister Rhea is ridiculously critical.”
So, have they watched Neerja? “They have, and my sister cried,” Sonam replies.

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