While Kareena Kapoor has moved away from her family custom, being one of the rare Kapoor women, besides her elder sister Karisma, to work in films, her family DNA shines through in the way she instinctively gets into the skin of a character. She isn’t a method actor — in fact, the only thing that’s part of her method is to reach the sets prepared with her lines. (“As long as I know my lines, I can improvise.”) A quality actor should be dexterous, she believes. “Sometimes when I do commercial movies, people criticise me saying you do too much mainstream and not women-centric films. I am not a politician. Women’s empowerment is great, but there is nothing wrong in working with the Khans and doing Bollywood potboilers. All I want is a versatile portfolio,” says Kareena, who loves working with Vishal Bhardwaj and Imtiaz Ali.
Her directors concur that she’s a natural. She can pull off Mani Ratnam’s Yuva (2004) or Bhardwaj’s Omkara (2006) with as much ease as the breezy Mujhse Dosti Karoge! (2002) or Jab We Met. She can do that because she doesn’t intellectualise or overanalyse a role, says Balki. “Even in the most intense scenes, she doesn’t psych herself up. And she mostly gets it right in the first take,” says the adman-filmmaker.
Imtiaz Ali, who directed Kareena in Jab We Met, cast her because he was looking for someone “who could talk incessantly without being irritating”. And, he adds, “She performs exactly according to the brief set for her, even if it’s the exact opposite of what she is as a person. She is a complete director’s actor and a thorough professional.” Her ability to uncomplicate roles also manifests in real life, in the easygoing affability that she has developed on the sets. “I’m not Poo [of K3G]. That’s Karan [Johar],” says Kareena with an impish smile.
Ali was a relative newcomer when he directed Jab We Met [his first film Socha Na Tha (2005), though critically acclaimed, had tanked at the box office] and Kareena, by then, was already a star, with a reputation of being an abrasive diva. But discussing the story with her, sitting on the floor, took Ali back to his younger days when he would direct plays and sit with the actors to discuss the nitty-gritty. Even through the course of the shooting, says Ali, Kareena was one of the easiest people to get along with. “After a few days, I insisted that she throw a tantrum so that I get to see the ‘real’ Kareena Kapoor. But she would laugh it off. Once in a while she would put on a show, but it was no good,” laughs Ali, adding that for a long time after the movie released, Kareena would text him and sign off as Geet, the character that she played in the movie.
There was evidence of this sense of congeniality through the ForbesLife India shoot that took place during the weekend after Udta Punjab was released. In one instance, the actor volunteered to do a change of outfit when she felt something was amiss. “Please tell me if something isn’t working,” she requested our photo editor, before slipping on to a black and white checked dress with a black belt.