Role reversal

Mohini Chaudhuri | Updated on January 20, 2018

Gender bender: Kareena Kapoor Khan in a still from R Balki’s Ki & Ka, a film that challenges normative gender roles

Long criticised for doing little in male-dominated films, Kareena Kapoor Khan returns in her next as an ambitious career-woman with a stay-at-home husband

Kareena Kapoor Khan has appeared in some of the most successful Bollywood releases in recent years, including Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015), which smashed the box office with collections upwards of ₹300 crore. Yet, fans and critics alike have been disappointed with her choices. Though part of money-spinners — Bodyguard, 3 Idiots, among others — Khan herself had very little to do in these male-dominated films. This, at a time when actresses have finally begun to headline films, and with encouraging results too. Khan is aware of the chatter around her. She admits that she’s guilty of the charge, but isn’t too rattled by it. “Maybe in the last two years I didn’t take up too many roles because I was married and I wanted to settle my house. But people were behaving like it’s my last film. I’m going to work for 25 years more. Age is no barrier,” she says.

The living room of her Bandra apartment has life-size paintings, artworks, books, vinyl records and a study table. Behind the sofa on which Khan is comfortably seated with her legs folded, is a massive painting that eats up an entire wall. “This just arrived two days ago. It is by an international artist called Ari Lankin. That’s all I know. All this belongs to Saif (Ali Khan). He’s done an art history course and when he’s unwinding, he sits and watches documentaries on paintings all day,” she says, sipping on green tea.

Khan is a couple of weeks away from the release of her next film, Ki & Ka, directed by R Balki. For those complaining about her lack of substantial roles, in this film Khan is in the forefront, playing an ambitious career-woman with a stay-at-home husband. “I identified with my character because today, whether it is journalism, acting or the corporate world, women are leading the pack. And it’s fine if a man wants to sit at home, cook up a meal and doesn’t have ambition. Genuine love should not be about bank balance,” she says. The film has a catchy tagline that goes, ‘strilling, pulling — same thing’. We see the man of the house — played by Arjun Kapoor — cook and clean, and ask his wife for money to run the house. After a long day at work, he takes off her shoes and rubs her feet. “Everybody talks about doing something different, but this really is different. A film is always a director’s personality. Balki’s spoken about gender role reversal in a sweet, fun and loving way. People will really fall in love with the characters,” she says.

Khan’s character in the film has a clear-cut career plan chalked out. “I’m a marketing manager. In two years I’ll be vice-president, and then CEO,” she says with confidence. In her real-life career, Khan hates to plan ahead. “I don’t know what I’m doing next, and I like it that way. I’m listening to scripts, but I’m not liking anything,” she says. When Balki was reading out the script of Ki & Ka to her, she stopped him halfway and said she wasn’t interested in hearing the entire story. “I’ve always gone by my gut,” she smiles. “Sometimes it fails. But it’s okay, that is a part of the job.”

A career that has lasted 16 years has taught her to be detached from success and failure. Khan says that she’s as passionate about making movies today as she was during her debut film, Refugee, but now insists on a work-life balance. Google pictures of her and Saif, and all you’ll find are photos of the fabulously stylish couple traipsing in and out of airports, catching flights to exotic locations. “Now that’s too much. Sometimes we are actually travelling for work, but people think we are on holiday,” she laughs. “We are very hard-working people and we love what we do. But yes, there’s work and then there’s my downtime, which I need. I hate packed schedules. I need to read and travel as well.”

Between work and travel, she does catch up on films as well. “I watched Tanu Weds Manu Returns, which I loved. That’s my kind of film. I liked Piku too and I’m going to watch Neerja soon,” she adds. She says it is encouraging to see so many films written for women, but doesn’t want to read too much into it. “If one heroine-oriented film works, you’ll see 25 of them. That’s how the industry works,” she says wistfully. Either way, she’s certain nothing can stop her from acting for as long as she pleases. “I love my work so much. There’s a fire in me that will always be there. I’ve been working since I was 18 and I want to work till I’m 80,” she says.

Published on March 25, 2016

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