on the actor's trail

Mom-to-be Kareena Kapoor has revived the old debate about married heroines – but there’s a twist

We might be having a few wrong expectations after the announcement of the star’s pregnancy.

In 2012, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali made a questionable statement in the midst of pre-production for Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram Leela about replacing Kareena Kapoor with Deepika Padukone. “A married woman can never be my Juliet,” he had said at that time, explaining why Kapoor, who had announced her wedding to Saif Ali Khan, would be miscast as William Shakespeare’s tragic heroine.

At the time, Kapoor was about to promote Madhur Bhandarkar’s Heroine, which she had signed after Aishwarya Rai abandoned the project following her pregnancy. Four years later, Kapoor is the one tackling questions about her professional future as she prepares for motherhood. The confirmation of her pregnancy came from Saif Ali Khan, who has not yet been asked whether becoming a father for the third time will affect his upcoming movies.

Kapoor’s next project Veere Di Wedding, directed by Shashanka Ghosh and produced by Rhea Kapoor, will not be affected, her representative told Scroll.in. “Rhea as a producer has a fantastic track record,” the spokesperson said. “They will finish in two and half months.” Kapoor is due in December, and hasn’t signed any film after Veere Di Wedding.

The chatter about Kapoor confirms that Hindi film actresses have always had to play hopscotch with their personal milestones, whether it’s Kajol, who went into hibernation after marriage and motherhood, or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who was accused of leaving her Heroine producer in the lurch. This is not the case with their male peers, such as single dad Tusshar Kapoor, soon-to-be-father Shahid Kapoor, and Riteish Deshmukh, whose wife Genelia recently delivered their second child. Deshmukh continues to top-line sex comedies with misogynistic content, often alongside Tusshar Kapoor, while Shahid Kapoor’s heartthrob status appears unchanged.

Very few actresses have managed to salvage their careers after tying the knot. Those who do return adopt a more sedate screen avatar. No raunchy songs, risque dialogue or intimate scenes, and no surprises in their choice of roles. Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit and Kajol have made limited appearances after marriage and motherhood. Kajol teamed up with her best screen partner Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale in 2015, in which she presented as a clotheshorse with neon nail polish. Madhuri Dixit has found a way to extend her career on television.

Vidya Balan, who played bold roles in Ishqiya (2010) and The Dirty Picture (2011) before her wedding in 2012, is routinely harassed with questions about motherhood. She had a particularly tough time when poor health forced her to call off professional engagements. In 2014, Balan opted out of an awards ceremony, and pregnancy rumours surfaced alongside pictures of the visibly bloated actress. This was followed by some controversial career choices, including an alleged spat with her Kahaani director Sujoy Ghosh. Marriage, tut-tutted industry watchers, had killed the prospects of a talented actress who was just peaking.

Why Kareena Kapoor might buck the trend

Kareena Kapoor might do things differently because she handled her professional life better than most of her peers. Kapoor has balanced big-budget entertainers with realistic films such as Talaash, Satyagraha, Singham Returns, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Ki & Ka and Udta Punjab. How’s that for a smart response to Bhansali’s remark?

Some of Kapoor’s film choices have yielded mixed results, but she has made good her losses with her brand endorsements. Managed by Hindi cinema’s favourite talent manager Reshma Shetty, Kapoor has close to 18 brands in her kitty. She reportedly charges Rs 3-5 crore for an endorsement, which is less than the unattached stars Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra. Kapoor has managed to stay relevant and in circulation – a tough task for a married actress in her thirties who is gearing up for motherhood.

How will the Kareena Kapoor narrative change with the new twist in the plot? Juhi Chawla peddles health products, Karisma Kapoor sells baby stuff, while Dixit has been the face of toothpaste, tea and age-defying creams. Will Kapoor, who recently signed up for a line of high-end bathroom fittings and green tea, now move on to diapers and bottled water? Will Bollywood write another “Fevicol Se” item song for her?

If Kapoor chooses to get back to work, Hindi filmmakers will need to rewrite their scripts for working mothers all over again. The last time a woman bucked the trend was in the 1970s – and she happens to be Kapoor’s mother-in-law. Sharmila Tagore, who married Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi in 1969, continued to star in populist films such as Aradhana, Mausam and Amar Prem. Her first child, Saif Ali Khan, was born in 1970, followed by Saba and Soha¸but she remained at the top of her game alongside Mumtaz through the ’70s. We would like to believe Kapoor, who perfectly fitted into Tagore’s traditional gown at the time of her wedding, has picked up a few lessons in stardom from her legendary mother-in-law.

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