AFTERhrs Guest Editor on Women’s Day, Sonam Kapoor says it like she sees it
Upala KBR (DNA; Match 8, 2017)

It’s International Women’s Day and Sonam Kapoor takes the chair as the guest editor for the day. After a tour of the office and a few photographs, she settles down to answer a few rounds of questions. Over the course of an hour, one sees opinions change about her. She comes across a certain way, but those who know her well, know that she calls a spade a spade, works in the industry for the roles and not the money. She works with passion and takes up causes as passionately. She’s an animal activist with liberal views. She’s a non-judgmental feminist, to boot, and believes in inherently giving women the right to make informed choices. Here’s what she had to say about a variety of topics...

What kind of stories do you like to read in the papers?
I don’t open newspapers anymore as everything is available online now. I love reading opinion pieces a lot, columns and articles about what’s going on. All the so-called relevant news is now very easy to find all over social media, so they are the headlines of what’s going on in India, Mumbai or the world.

(Sonam picks up a copy of AFTERhrs and asks what the story on the front page is about) Ayesha and Krishna Shroff taking up for Tiger after Ram Gopal Varma passed unsavory remarks on him on Twitter.
(Laughs) They should be happy that Ramu doesn’t like Tiger. Whoever Ramu doesn’t like, does very well. I am very happy. I like Tiger. He’s very cool and least bothered. He is very well-behaved and performs so beautifully. I saw him performing recently at an awards event and he did such a good job. It was a pleasure to watch. I just haven’t had the chance to watch his performance, except for his first film, but whatever I see him at events and parties, I find the way he conducts himself very dignified. (Scans through to the back page)

Oh! There’s a Sonam vs Deepika article (We explain it’s about the outfits both wore and got criticised for and how both reacted to the criticism).

I was wearing a low dress and when dancing, it moved. Three of the photogs went behind and started taking pics sideways. When someone alerted me, I adjusted my dress, but those pics were already circulated. I was wearing correct innerwear, so nothing bad happened. They made it into such a big deal on social media! I was like, ‘God! So what I am wearing is so important!’ Of course, what I wear has always been discussed…

Your take on slut-shaming or body shaming or even shaming through fashion…
I have gotten all kinds of shaming. It’s very bad...

Are there any issues about women that need to be addressed — like women not being allowed to enter temples during menstruation?
How would anybody know that you are having your periods when you are going to a temple? I don’t know about religious reasons or practical reasons, but I feel everybody should have the choice. If somebody does not want to do something, you can’t say, ‘No, it’s okay for you to do it’. A lot of times, I have been judgmental about women who don’t do something I believe in and called them old-fashioned. But we shouldn’t judge other people for being different. A person should be given a choice and that’s the most empowering thing. Being in a burkha is as much your choice as much as not wearing one. You want to go into a temple, when you are menstruating, that’s your choice. If you don’t want to go in, that’s your choice. You have to make an informed decision. That’s what my parents did with me. They would always say these are the repercussions of what you are doing — these are the good and bad things.

Please continue...
I don’t believe in censorship in films, but there can be ratings to say this is appropriate for children. And restrictions like consuming alcohol at 25 or getting married at 18. I don’t drink, but it’s my choice, right? I am a vegetarian, but I spoke up against the beef ban because I felt you should be given a choice. Even though I truly believe that eating beef is bad for your system as red meat is unhealthy. I would campaign for vegetarianism, but I would never say you can’t have meat.

What do you think about freedom of expression for women? This is with reference to Gurmehar Kaur.
It was her dad, her opinion and a very compassionate way of looking at things. To not blame anybody and not have any resentment makes you a sensitive and evolved human being and if someone can’t see that, it’s disgusting. And if an artiste can’t see that, it’s even worse. I can understand a right-wing person commenting on it, but not an actor. It’s very ignorant and narrow-minded. As an artiste, you have to be sensitive — it’s a girl talking about her father. She’s not making a political statement and blaming anybody. She blames war. We are a country that won our independence through satyagraha (non-violence), and you are saying that it is okay to conduct war? We are the only country in the world that has not invaded another country, so how can you propagate the opposite when somebody is standing up for our belief system and says it’s war and violence that causes deaths, not a certain religious sentiment or a certain country. We should be applauding this, not criticising her for it.

Do you feel sexism exists in Bollywood?
Sexism exists everywhere, even though there are mostly women in this office right now (laughs) and your boss is a woman! You get judged for your clothes and makeup. How you dress, should not be a criterion. They can judge you as a professional on whether you can lead your team or not, or do your job or not. Why do people feel that when women get pregnant, they won’t be able to perform better? Pregnancy is not an illness. They also say, ‘Oh, she’s PMSing.’ I feel men PMS more than women most of the time. I can’t even understand most of the time what they are going through. Sexism is not just in the Indian film industry. It exists in the corporate jobs, media and households. My friend tells me his wife can’t handle money. Girls are bad drivers, they only like to shop. In my house, my dad likes to shop a lot and my mom handles the money. There’s a preconceived notion and I have gone through my own ideas of what people thought I was or still think I am because I like to dress in a certain way and I like to look pretty, or I am Anil Kapoor’s daughter or I am born with a silver spoon. As human beings, we need to break these preconceived notions based on someone who looks a certain way, or is a certain size. Never judge a book by its cover.

I have heard from actresses how the actors get better hotels to stay in, and their pay scales are higher, etc…
Yes, it exists a lot in the film industry. Earlier, I used to judge actresses, when they said, I am not getting enough money, and I’d say why the f**k are you doing it then? Don’t do it. But then I realised that I am in a position where I can say no to jobs. I can sit at home for a year. I have the luxury of choice, but a lot of women don’t. Actresses in successful position can say ‘If you are going to treat me badly, I won’t work with you.’ I made that choice and I took a year-and-a-half off after Mausam. I had a great time in Mausam because Pankajji knows how to treat people. But before that, I wasn’t treated right and I would wonder, ‘Why is so-and-so staying in this hotel and why am I staying in this hotel?’ or ‘Why is so-and-so getting paid this much and why am I getting paid this amount?’ All these questions were in my mind and I felt unhappy going to work. I felt like a second-class citizen and I took some time off and decided till I get the kind of work I want to do, till I get that respect, I am not going to work.

What are the things you’ve done differently?
I thought that my life would be harder, but I have not had one flop film after Raanjhanaa. It’s been five years and it’s only gotten better because my decisions have been very idealistic. I have never toed the line. If a director comes to me with a big project and actor, but no script I ask him how do I know what my role is? Why should I do this film? I don’t care if others have done it. Sooraj Barjatya has narrated his entire script to me. Sanjay Leela Bhansali has not once told me you cannot have an opinion. They are the most successful people. Aamir Khan has group screenings for all his films and he asks people to tell him what’s wrong so he can make it better. You should be open to that. Actors say they don’t read reviews. I read every review — so that I can become better. There may be some judgmental people, but I look at even them with an open mind. I never get offended if someone asks me a nasty question. The general perception is that the film industry is sexist but there are only a few people who are and very strangely, it is the women who are more sexist in the film industry.

Do you think actresses should campaign for their rights like they do in Hollywood?
That’s the only way when anything good can happen — when women come together. Unfortunately, in Hollywood also, there’s so much competition and insecurity. It’s more in the Indian film industry, as it’s very campy — there are lots of camps. But I have very good actress friends, Swara Bhaskar and Jacqueline Fernandez — I can trust them with my life. Even Bebo — the kind of love and encouragement she gives me, is incredible. And all of them are super successful and two of them are my contemporaries. So there is that option but there’s also that other side where everybody is at each other’s throat. I just stay away from those people.

Are you happy with the number of women you see on a movie set?
No, there are still not enough women on a film set, it’s still predominantly men. If you go to an airport there is one line for security for women and five lines for men! That poor lady gets exhausted by the end of the day. Come on! What’s going on? There should be equal opportunity for women everywhere.