My first impression of Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor was formed in 2010 when I saw her film Aisha. In it, Kapoor, who is the daughter of film veteran Anil Kapoor, plays a frivolous, fashion-obsessed character – which I assumed was not too far off from her real-life personality. But when we meet during her recent trip to Dubai, it becomes clear that I have done her a disservice.
Dressed in an emerald green bustier gown by Lebanese label Ashi Studio, satin Manolo Blahnik heels and an IWC timepiece, Kapoor tells me that, on a personal level, Aisha was actually one of her most challenging acting roles – even more so than her critically acclaimed performance in the true-story film Neerja, where she plays a flight attendant who died while saving passengers from hijackers.
Still, while she says that Neerja was her most fulfilling role, Aisha was the most difficult. "My sister was 21 and I was 23, and my father had just moved to Los Angeles because he was filming 24 and Slumdog Millionaire, so he told me and Rhea to run the company. My sister was running it, and I was acting in the first project that we were doing together, and we had to get the finances on our own and make the film by ourselves," she explains.
Over the past decade, Kapoor has made a name for herself as one of the most stylish actresses in India. Endless fashion shows, runway appearances, shoots and set wardrobes might make one disillusioned, but for Kapoor, fashion hasn’t lost its magic. “I don’t take it seriously. As soon as you start taking yourself and all of this seriously, the charm goes away. So for me, it’s just for fun, and every outfit is an adventure and a way of expressing myself,” she says. Working with a stylist helps, and in Kapoor’s case, that’s her sister, Rhea.
Last year, the duo teamed up to take their combined love for fashion to a new level, by launching their own fashion label, Rheson. “We used to buy from brands like Zara, H&M and Forever 21, and when you look at them, one comes from Sweden, one comes from Spain, but most of these clothes are all made in India. So we thought we’d create something that is a high-street brand, with an Indian story,” says Kapoor. Prints inspired by the 1980s feature on the label’s latest collection of blouses, dresses, jackets and fusion tunics, and while the pieces are currently only available in India, the plan is to take the brand international next year.
Between acting, designing and modelling, Kapoor has her finger in a lot of pies. On top of it all is her thirst for activism. She makes time to applaud national triumphs, such as the opening of the first women-only toilet at a train station in Mumbai. "Since I've joined this industry, I've always felt if you can use your voice effectively and you have a platform to use that voice effectively, then use it," says Kapoor. "Because it's nice to be famous and all of that, but sometimes you can actually use your platform for more than just getting free dresses and bags. Young girls are following me for what I wear and what I do, why can't they follow me for what my belief system is?"
Earlier this year, while promoting the release of her film Padman, which tells the story of a husband who sets out to create affordable sanitary napkins for his wife, Kapoor was part of a social media campaign to raise awareness about the lack of affordable sanitary napkins for impoverished women. She helped spearhead the #PadmanChallenge, where numerous Indian celebrities were nominated to help spread the word and destigmatise the issue, by posing with pads and posting the pictures on Instagram.
And in the wake of the tragic rape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa Bano in India, Kapoor took a stance on Instagram to condemn the crime with a sign reading: “I am Hindustan. I am ashamed. #Justiceforourchild.” The post prompted an onslaught of comments from Kapoor’s fans, who engaged in heated political debate with a lot of unpleasantries exchanged. “Like any tool, social media can be used for good or evil,” says Kapoor. “What’s dangerous is that people can be faceless, nameless brutes on it. Anything with great power comes with great responsibility.”
Nearly a decade since the release of Aisha, Kapoor has proved that she's a lot more responsible and socially conscious than that particular on-screen character. But glamour still plays a huge role in her lifestyle. When we meet, she's in Dubai to celebrate the 150th anniversary of prestigious Swiss watch company IWC, a brand she became an ambassador for in 2017. The actress says that she's always treasured watches more than jewellery. "I got a watch when I was 16, one at 18 and another at 21 – at any important age, my mom used to always ask if I wanted a pair of earrings, or a watch, and I would always choose the watch. I'm such a traditionalist when it comes to watches – even if I have to wear something that counts my steps or something like that, I have to always have a watch, too." The timepiece she's currently wearing is the 150th anniversary edition of the brand's Da Vinci model, in white gold and paved with diamonds. "There were only 50 pieces of this made," she tells me.
Kapoor is no stranger to working with luxury brands. She has supported couture label Ralph & Russo since it released its first collection, and she frequently wears its creations on the red carpet. Last year, she closed the brand’s autumn/winter 2017 haute couture show at Paris Fashion Week. “This was one of those really epic things that I’ve done,” says Kapoor. “It was this incredibly beautiful gown, but so heavy, and the jewellery was so heavy. It was breathtaking. I was just thinking: ‘I hope I don’t fall on my face.’ I’m sure at your own wedding you’re not as nervous, as when you are walking down the runway for the whole world to see you.”
Speaking of weddings, tabloids around the world have been publishing whispers about Kapoor’s rumoured wedding to Anand Ahuja, reportedly taking place this summer, with speculated locations including Switzerland. Since I witnessed the actress dodging questions surrounding her wedding and personal life from another journalist only moments prior, I decide not to pry, instead asking her what she looks forward to in her own wedding, whenever and wherever it may take place. Expecting to hear about ultra-posh wedding venues and costly designer bridal outfits, Kapoor’s answer takes me by surprise.
“I think the whole idea of a marriage is more appealing to me than a wedding,” she says. “I think there is too much money spent; it’s all very crass, and I would rather give that money away. I’d rather have a wedding at home than anywhere else. I think it’s important to do all the rituals, but I don’t believe in spending all that money, I find it disgusting and very wasteful, and I’m not okay with that at all.”
And with this, Kapoor proves that she is a whole different breed of Bollywood royalty.