Over a Zoom call as we begin to talk about several things, I see Sonam Kapoor sitting in a make-up chair, wrapped in a robe, devoid of any accoutrements. She is at a venue called Allbright Mayfair—UK's first-of-its-kind members' club for working women, which encourages associates to network, upskill, and stay connected. It is Sonam who chose this location for our shoot, and she is flanked by her beauty entourage, who are expertly contouring her face and curling her hair. Her choice of location resonates with the things she chooses to speak to me about.She brings up the subject of sisterhood and solidarity on how she is trying to find ways to protect women in the film and fashion industry. "This is something I really want to work on, because I feel we are vulnerable, and it's crucial to figure out a system where we can protect ourselves.”
Sonam's solidarity routinely extends to include colleagues and female-led causes that she cares about. In many ways, her definition of feminism is deeply linked with sisterhood—that being a feminist includes using your privilege to empower other women. During the #MeToo movement in Bollywood, the Neerja actor was one of the handful who urged people to "believe survivors and understand consent". When Zomato introduced 'period leaves' for women, Sonam exercised her social-media muscles to applaud the food-delivery giant. When actor and co-star (and Cosmo Digital coverstar) Swara Bhasker was attacked for her 'masturbation scene' in Veere Di Wedding (and for her political views), Sonam let a news reporter know that "people liked to troll her friend because she has an opinion". More recently, the actor came out in support of Rhea Chakraborty, joining the #JusticeforRhea hashtag and adding, "Everyone loves a witch hunt as long as it's someone else's witch being hunted. Walter Kirn (sic)."
Of course, these assertions bring hostility in tow, sometimes in truckloads worth of trolls. [It begs to be brought up that feminism-related articles and comments are often the favoured targets of online hate, globally.]
But Sonam had long decided that she doesn't have time for negativity...and certainly won't allow it to silence her.
"I hate this idea of ‘cancel culture’," she ventures, frankly. "All these websites and Instagram accounts that just want to spread negativity. There is no space for negativity anymore in this world...we need to spread positivity!" As for her detractors, Sonam is too busy to care. "There are so many good things going on in my life that I don’t have time to react to somebody’s post or put out a negative comment," she declares.
"I believe that these people who are spreading hate don’t have a full life. They must be very miserable. If being nasty fills their pockets or adds entertainment to their very dull lives, then I can only feel sorry for them. Anybody who is a hater is obviously a bit of a loser, and you should feel a little bad for them."
But back to sisterhood, a cause Sonam advocates and defends in equal measure. The actor's commitment isn't linked to some glossy version of The Power Puff Girls—it is a reminder to women that their power and safety lies in togetherness. "I’ve always been a champion of women because we need to be our own champions," says Sonam.
"I realised, early on, that no-one can save you but yourself. There is no knight in shining armour who will pull you up on his horse and take care of you... Instead, we need to lift each other up. We have to be each other's heroes, we have to be each other's champions...and we have to be our own champions." Sonam goes on to explain that it takes a certain wisdom to arrive at this truth, that women must stop tearing each other down. "Because there is power in numbers," she stresses. "And it is only when we hold hands, when we are together, that we can makes changes. Otherwise, we are basically just waiting to be burned at a stake. If you are wise, you will empower other women."
Sonam believes that one of the ways we can support other women is through kinship, friendship, and empathy. And she doesn't rule out the need for an overcorrection. "For example, Beyoncé often chooses to work with women-led teams," she says. "And this matters, especially when you’re in a position of power. I think women in power need to make a conscious decision to work more with women. We have been conditioned to believe that we are supposed to compete with each other...but that is a lie."
Sonam's commitment to women and women's issues has also changed the stories she wants to tell. Recently, the actor launched an Instagram series called #WomenInFilm, a heartfelt undertaking where she highlights female directors, make-up artists, and technical heroes, whose hard work often goes unnoticed. "People should know about the ones who actually make things happen, whether they are sound designers or cinematographers," she says. "I feel that the audience only sees the actors; they don’t realise the work that goes in, behind the scenes. They believe a film industry is defined by the star, which is not true. So I have been getting in touch with technicians to tell their stories. I have also started working on something called 'Women of Substance', which will be a magazine-style social media series that celebrates women.”
Another subject that distresses Sonam is the policing of women's actions—and outfits. From women in parliament to girls in schools, on streets, and even the tennis court (remember how Serena Williams was berated for wearing a compression outfit to prevent blood clotting after giving birth?), the female form has, for centuries, been pressurised into adopting specified forms of dress (and undress).
"There are so many opinions about what a woman should wear, how she should dress, look, behave, and talk," says Sonam, her eyebrows raised. "People haven’t realised that it's a woman's choice, and she is not asking for their advice. You could be in a sari or a skirt and be raped. You could be in a pair of shorts or a salwar kameez and be molested. You could be in a tank top or a kurta and still be teased or hooted at! It is not the women that are at fault—it's the people who are doing these things that are at fault!”
Sonam's manager appears on our screen to politely signal that my time is up. The make-up artist is done with her work, and Sonam—who looks every bit the glamorous star she is—is ready to be photographed for the Cosmo cover. I have time for one last question. A delicate one. How should parents raise daughters, so they grow up to be fearless, strong women? She pauses for a moment. "Don’t raise them to get married," Sonam responds. "Raise girls and boys the same way—to be good people, to have a mind of their own, to have a moral compass. Raise them to do the right thing, to change the world for the better. Just don't raise your daughter to be someone's wife."
Photographs: Carla Guler
Stylist: Jennifer Michalski-Bray;
Make-Up: Maria Asadi;
Hair: Aamir Naveed;
Fashion Assistant: Kayleigh Dennis;
Location Courtesy: The AllBright Mayfair, London.