When meeting someone one has known many years, one tends to jog one’s memory back to the first time. In the case of Kareena Kapoor Khan, it was in Ooty, on the sets of a film her sister Karisma [Kapoor] was shooting. Bebo, as Kareena is affectionately called by practically everyone, was a bored 15-year-old, accompanying her mother who was, in turn, chaperoning Karisma. Girls from good homes didn’t go to outdoor shoots without their mothers, and the Kapoor sisters were nothing if not girls from a good home.
So while Karisma (Lolo, for short) matched steps with Govinda on the sprawling lawns of The Monarch Hotel, Bebo hung around indoors scouring the menu of a nearby Chinese restaurant to order lunch. “Oh Gawd,” she mock protests when I bring up the memory, “I’m still obsessed with food.”
At 39, Bebo has changed a lot from that teenager in Ooty, except for the twinkling eyes. It’s surreal when her two-and-a-half-year-old son Taimur (Tim to his parents) waltzes in, nibbling from a bowl of makhana. Over scalding hot cups of black coffee, an unusually reflective Kareena opens up on parenting and travel, and reveals why she has no use for a Rolls-Royce.
Rajeev Masand: You turn 40 next year. What’s left to tick off on your list of things to do before that happens?
Kareena Kapoor Khan: My list always involves travel. We free ourselves when we travel. I’ve done a lot of Europe, but I definitely want to do Finland, the Northern Lights, and Russia (Moscow and St Petersburg, in particular).
RM: In an interview a few years ago, you said: “In your twenties, it’s okay to be in the co-pilot’s seat; in your thirties, you should be in the pilot’s seat.” What’s the mantra for your forties?
KKK: In your forties, you should be the passenger; lie back and let the bloody aircraft fly! I should actually be in a space rocket [laughs]. Jokes aside, by 40, you should’ve made your money and have a little bit of a legacy. Then, you can start doing what you want.
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RM: Do you think about turning 40?
KKK: I’m actually looking forward to it. I was 18, then 25; soon I’ll be 40. I was happy then, I’m happy now, and hopefully I’ll be happy when I’m 60 too. The idea is to be comfortable in your own skin, look good, and feel fabulous.
RM: Saif was in his forties when you had Taimur. Is it different for women? Would you consider having another baby in your forties?
KKK: It’s a thought; I don’t know if we’re going to act on it. That whole “biological clock is ticking” stuff is very dated. Forty is nothing. It’s the way you look at it. Look at Serena Williams—she’s an inspiration.
RM: I was talking to Sonam Kapoor Ahuja recently and she said that you are the gold standard for this generation of actors. She said that she hopes to someday be as relaxed and secure as you are, both in life and work choices. Does that kind of security come with age and maturity?
KKK: I think so. That constant need of wanting to be accepted, wanting to be loved, wanting to be the biggest star, wanting people to say, “Oh you were fabulous in this film”, I’ve been there, done that. Now it’s about what I think looks amazing on me. That has obviously come with a lot of experience, failures, success…and being in a space where I’m a lot more relaxed.
RM: You’ve just returned from a long break in London. We saw pictures of Taimur picnicking with his cousin Inaaya and spending time in the park with Saif and you. Was it a much-needed getaway from the paparazzi and attention he gets here?
KKK: That is a constant worry for Saif and me. That’s why we keep trying to get away. For my birthday, we’re going to Pataudi. It’s also important for Taimur to have time with us without us shooting or going to script readings and fittings. It’s important for him to be with his parents someplace we (and he) are not recognised.
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RM: So, was this break good for him?
KKK: It was amazing. Taimur is obsessed with his father. He’d rather spend time with Saif than anyone else. That’s a good sign at such a young age. Otherwise, they always want to hang out with their friends, go running or cycling. I think he has the most fun with us, and I hope that’s always going to be the case.
RM: Films aside, you’ve been doing a radio show that’s now going into its second season. You have interesting conversations with your guests, on motherhood, parenting, divorce, body shaming, female friendships, staying relevant, patriarchy and equality in the workplace. What has the show taught you?
KKK: It has opened up my world, because I got to meet people from different walks of life. Stars’ lives are quite insular. Through the show, we sent out the right message. Every time I’m at the airport, I’ve had men and women, even CEOs, come up to me and say, “Hey Kareena, really cool show.” So I’m happy with the impact it’s had. It’s great to be able to talk about things so openly. We had Malaika [Arora] talk about divorce—of course, she was comfortable because we’re friends, but it’s also helped her to speak out. To have even helped a friend feels good.
RM: You’re often praised for raising a baby and having a successful career in a demanding, glamorous profession. But there are people on social media who say that you should be spending more time with your baby than hanging out with friends. How do you respond to those who say, “Why is the baby seen more frequently with nannies than his mother?” or “Why is Kareena dressing like a 16-year-old?”
KKK: That’s why I like to stay away. I’m still relevant without being on social media. I don’t need to post my views or how I feel, as long as I know exactly what I’m doing. I’m aware that there are people talking, but that’s fine. There are two sides to a coin.
RM: Does it bother you that people can be so judgemental?
KKK: There’s freedom of speech. I’m all for democracy and people getting their voices heard, but it’s not affecting me or my life.
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RM: You’re in a job where you’re surrounded by people all the time. Even at home, you’ve got Taimur, who needs your attention. What qualifies as alone time?
KKK: I try to have that alone time. I enjoy being by myself. So sometimes, when Tim’s in playschool and Saif is shooting, I read. I love crime thrillers, so I lie down on the sofa and dive right in.
RM: What is your greatest indulgence?
KKK: Travel. I’m not into cars. I don’t have a Rolls-Royce (and I don’t want one). I’m not wasting so much money. The car is just going to drop me from one place to another. My social status doesn’t depend on whether or not I ride in a Rolls-Royce.
RM: What kind of holidays do Saif and you enjoy?
KKK: We’re not adventurous; we like hiking and skiing, but no rock climbing and stuff. We like to go to the same places—there’s comfort in the familiar—but with Tim we’ve decided that we’ll visit a new place each year.
RM: Nice. Have you done that yet this year?
KKK: Yeah, we went to Tuscany, because Saif and I both love red wine. And for Tim, we thought it would be lush and green, and he’d love it at his age. Probably when he’s 14, he’ll be like, “Why am I here, in the countryside?” So we thought we might as well expose him to nature now. Plus, Saif and I are nature lovers. We love the beach, but we also love snow. We like to sit and watch the sunset or lie on the grass. Next year, we’re going to try to visit Finland.
Photographs: Tarun Vishwa; Styling: Malini Banerji; Art direction: Prashish More; Hair: Yianni Tsapatori/Faze Management; Make-up: Subhash Vagal; Production: P Productions; Assisted by: Saaniya Sharma, Pujarini Ghosh (styling), Aishwarya Bahl, Sakheel Parchure (intern)