“I Said I Was a Feminist At 21. And It Wasn’t ‘Cool’ to Be a Feminist Then, Like It is Now” : Sonam Kapoor
The actor opens up about being a ‘girls’ girl’, why being born into Bollywood is more than just a privilege, and what she thinks of the #Metoo movement.
In conversation with Cosmo Ed Nandini Bhalla:
It’s the morning of the Cosmo covershoot, and Sonam Kapoor’s manager calls to inform us that she will be arriving an hour earlier than scheduled. Sonam’s been feeling a little under the weather, she explains, and would really like to wrap up by lunchtime.
She ends up arriving even sooner than anticipated, and the crew scrambles to get things in order. No one really minds though, because Sonam is all smiles and hugs and rapid chatter. All three, it should be noted, are Sonam’s ‘things’—qualities that make her impossible not to warm up to. Ill or not, she seems palpably happy (“It’s just a tummy bug,” she tells me, “but it can pull you down, you know!”).
I point out how she looks visibly contented, and she responds with a grin. “Oh, but I’m always happy! I’m just a happy, chirpy, optimistic person. And even when I do get annoyed, it doesn’t last long... Isn’t that true, Nam?” she asks her long-standing make-up artist and good friend, Namrata Soni, who is coaxing Sonam’s poker-straight hair into gentle waves. ‘Nam’ nods in agreement.
Sonam has strong female (and famous) friendships, and you won’t see this posse shuffling out of clubs at 4am or making tabloid headlines after a drunken night. Instead, her high style sorority includes women who inspire her with their own accomplishments. “Like Samyukta (Nair) who owns Dandelion and Clove, and two restaurants. Shehla (Khan) has her own fabulous label and is into Buddhism. And Swara (Bhaskar) who is so amazing at what she does, and is also socially and politically aware of everything. She’s an activist and an actor. My friends don’t have lives that are ‘Page 3’, so it’s easy for us to meet during the day or for a quiet dinner. It’s not hardcore partying.”
She pauses to eat a square of (vegan) chocolate. “I’m a girls’ girl. 99 percent of my friends are girls. And most of them are actresses. Jackie (Jacqueline Fernandez) and Swara are two of my best friends. And I’m very close to
Bebo (Kareena Kapoor Khan)...she is like my sister. So it’s bullsh*t that actresses can’t get along.”
Sonam tells me that while she applauds the #MeToo movement, she feels it “still has a long way to go in India”. “Three reasons: one, because all our lives, we have been told to ignore sexual harassment or abuse. Laugh it off, look in the other direction, or just pretend it didn’t happen. Two, there’s a lot of victim shaming in India. It started with sati...like, it’s better to kill yourself than get raped! Because it’s your fault, right?! That’s the mindset in our country. If something bad happens to you, you have something to be ashamed of. You’re not ‘pure’ anymore. Your clothes were wrong. You were drunk. The fault is ours and the shame is ours, and we are conditioned to think that way. Three, we live in a patriarchal society, and many women are afraid they will lose their jobs or never get married because of the stigma that comes with being harassed. So yes, the #MeToo movement is great because I hope it inspires young women to speak up, but we have to do so much more!”
I tell Sonam how I think she is very brave, and she shakes her head. “I don’t know if I’m brave... I’ve always just voiced my opinions. I said I was a feminist at 21. And it wasn’t cool to be a feminist then, like it’s ‘cool’ to be a feminist now. And I don’t think people understood what it meant then, and they don’t understand what it means now. Feminism means having equal opportunities, irrespective of gender. It’s really as simple as that. And some people will say, ‘But how can you be a feminist when you wear such pretty clothes?’ And I’m like, my clothes have nothing to do with feminism. Being a feminist doesn’t mean I’m going to burn my bra and ‘grow my upper lip’. Being a feminist means that I have a choice to do both. Earlier, a lot of actresses refused to call themselves feminists. And they were like, ‘I’m not a feminist; I believe in equality.’ And I was like, if you believe in equality, then
you should be a feminist.
I think it boils down to how you were raised. I was well-informed and well-travelled. Also, I have a ‘safety net’, which is why I think it’s more of a responsibility for me to be brave. People say things like, ‘Oh, you were born with a silver spoon’, but while I take that as a privilege, I don’t take it for granted. But because I have this ‘safety net’, I can make hard choices. I can refuse a film if I’m not being paid what I deserve. I can say what I want to say and be who I want to be. So if I don’t speak up about issues, then shame on me. If I’ve been given XYZ, and I’m Anil Kapoor’s daughter, and can sit at home and not have to work for two years without worrying about anything, then I should have the courage to be who I want to be. And hopefully, that will inspire other women. It’s not courage; it’s my duty. I used to be agnostic, but not anymore. Now I believe that there is a reason you are born into a certain life, and you should never take that for granted or have a sense of entitlement.”
Photographs: Arjun Mark; Styling: Samar Rajput
This article was originally published in Cosmopolitan India, March 2018 issue.