Who but Kareena Kapoor can call herself a superstar without sounding pompous? Even Rajesh Khanna couldn't get away with that one.
Kareena dazzles you with her enterprising spirit. From the sassy streetwalker in Sudhir Mishra's Chameli to the Muslim riot victim in Govind Nihlani's Dev, to the sassy Punjabi kudi in Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met and now the on-the-edge actress in Madhur Bhandarkar's Heroine...it's been a truly maddening and turbulent career for Bollywood's most pricey actress.
I've known Kareena better than almost anyone else...But then, I don't think anyone can really 'know' Kareena fully. Certainly not Kareena herself.
Her attitude to life and career always swings between I-don't-care and I-live-and-die-for-what-I-believe-in. There's never a middle path, never a chance of finding a balance between those two extremes.
Daughter of caprice and the wizard of whimsy, Kareena goes completely by what her heart tells her. In the process if she ends up looking somewhat contradictory in her conduct, then so be it. Kareena doesn't care. She lives for the moment and crams all her intensity into it, not sparing a single thought for what's gone and what's waiting around the corner.
I think I was the first journalist Kareena ever spoke to. Right after the release of her first film Refugee. I remember running into this spunky naturally beautiful girl, who told me she always wants to be simple and Indian in movies, like she was in Refugee.
The impact that Kareena made in her debut film remains unequalled by anything any other newcomers including Dimple Kapadia in Bobby or Karisma Kapoor in Prem Qaidi, made.
During a private conversation, the icon Amitabh Bachchan himself had called her "ethereal". She had laughed nervously. "That's what I want to be. I've watched the films of Meena Kumari and Madhubala and those are my role-models...I feel very awkward doing the things that today's heroines are required to..."
She had just begin shooting for her second film Ajnabee where she was required to be sensuous. And Kareena was dying a thousand deaths. "I can't do all this!" she grumbled throughout the making of the film.
Barely a year after Refugee she was transformed into a captivating centre-spread queen in Satish Kaushik's Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai and later Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.
The makeover from the simple salwar-kameez-clad girl in Refugee to the pouty seductress 'Poo' in K3G was startling...and complete. Kareena's priorities had transformed completely. "I realize I can't be paid what I am for being draped from head to toe. I've to be glamorous and seductive. That's what being a saleable heroine of today is all about, " she confided me.
So it was, goodbye Meena Kumari, hello Britney Spears and Lady Gaga...And never mind if Spears erupted much after 'Poo'.
During the making of K3G, it was clear to all who the queen on the sets was. Not Kajol, not even the Bachchans...it was Kareena who was pampered silly by the Johars. It was as though everyone saw she was the superstar in the making. Somehow the commercial success never really happened. But it didn't stop her rapid climb to being a youth icon.
"I must be the only actress in the world whose brand equity increases every time I give a flop," she laughs with that don't-care-a-damn toss of her hair which makes her such a favourite among the generation that believes in self regard being the highest form of creativity.
Somewhere down the line her headstrong attitude cost her dearly. She lost big banner films like Karan Johar. She said no to the offer to do Kal Ho Na Ho because, according to her, she was being offered peanuts. She also said no to Deepa Mehta and Rituparno Ghosh's offer to do Water and Raincoat after saying yes.
"Right now it isn't time for me to do too many of these offbeat films. I did Chameli, and that's enough," she said with a toss of her stubborn head. I immediately recalled her response to Deepa Mehta's Water when it came to her right after Refugee. She was shooting for Subhash Ghai's Yaadein in Rajasthan when the script arrived. "I can't do this," she mock-quivered. "Shabana Azmi would chew me alive."
Of course she wasn't bothered by Shabana's performance. From the start, Kareena is the most confident and arrogant performer in Bollywood. Even for the most complicated scene she needs no rehearsal. Joking and giggling till the last second she switches on her instinctive powerhouse performing abilities like a water-tap.
And so it flows... Kareena is today on the threshold of another beginning. Fida where she co-stars with her then boyfriend Shahid Kapoor is a momentous turn for her and nor just because she plays a negative character for the first time. Right now, Kareena is a girl completely consumed by love. Her other friends and well-wishers (yours truly included) have ceased to matter.
Her moodiness is legendary but she never carries her temper to the sets. Kareena is a performer much ahead of her times. She's a princess in demeanour and royalty at heart. Her bearing and her behaviour convey the arrogance of aristocracy. It was these qualities that prompted Sanjay Leela Bhansali to cast her as the passionate warrior-courtesan Mastani in the historical love story Bajirao Mastani.
I am not very sure any longer if the film can be made with Kareena in the cast. With characteristic impetuosity she has gone and signed two other films with her Bajirao co-star Salman Khan.
The larger picture has never mattered to her. She always jumps into the short run sacrifices the trek for the sprint. I remember how excited she was after watching Bhansali's Devdas. "I have to be in his next picture, no matter what. We were born to work together," she vowed.
I've seen Kareena in love. Nothing else matters to her right now. When Agent Vinod didn't work, she was heartbroken, not for herself but her beloved Saif Ali Khan.
Right now she's consumed by the thought of marriage and the release of Heroine, in that order. One of these has to work. The other would be a bonus.