'I am told I am too honest for Bollywood': Janhvi Kapoor

Janhvi's public image is far removed from the characters she plays

63-Janhvi-Kapoor Janhvi Kapoor | Amey Mansabdar

This has to be the year of Janhvi Kapoor. The actor, who made her debut with Dharma Productions’ Dhadak in 2018, has three films releasing in 2024. This is unusual, especially for Kapoor, as all her films have seen her play the lead role or the protagonist, and not just a love interest.

As an artist, I have always been an advocate of Indian cinema. We have diverse cultures and a diverse audience.
Nothing feels as good as people filling the theatres. No review or critical acclaim can match that.

And yet, when we meet at her Bandra home, the 26-year-old actor says she is not having the best day. “I just received the dialogues of Devara last night, and all I want to do is sit in my room and learn my lines,” she scowls.

The Telugu film Devara is unarguably the biggest film she has been signed for. It is a major production―an action film directed by Koratala Siva―and she stars opposite the celebrated N.T. Rama Rao Jr. One would think it ironic that Telugu lines make her nervous, since she is the daughter of India’s first female superstar Sridevi, who frontlined Hindi as well as every south language film. “I never learned Telugu and it is something I am ashamed of,” she says. “I can understand it phonetically, but I can’t speak it. Yes, it is one of my biggest regrets.” Now, she feels the film is bringing her closer to her south Indian roots. “This part of me had been dormant for a while. But the Devara team is very patient and helpful. They are working with such stalwarts and I am so grateful they are just a call away to help me with my lines,” she smiles. The film also co-stars Saif Ali Khan and Prashant Raj.

The other two films releasing this year are Mr and Mrs Mahi, in which she is again cast opposite her Roohi hero Rajkummar Rao, and a political thriller called Ulajh. “Sharan Sharma, the director of Mr and Mrs Mahi, discussed the film with me while we were shooting for Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, which he had directed, too,” Kapoor says. “So I feel it has been a long time coming. He had this idea of a romantic film sprinkled with cricket. I fell in love with it. Its casting had its own journey, but I feel I have almost willed it back into my life,” she smiles. Kapoor adds the film has been trying; she lost nine kilos and dislocated both her shoulders training for it. “The process was long and strenuous, but I’m so proud of it,” she says. The film releases in April. Ulajh, she says, also borrows greatly from Kapoor’s life experiences and personality.

gallery-image Sundry shades: Stills from Dhadak
gallery-image Gunjan Saxena
gallery-image Good Luck Jerry
gallery-image Future ready: Stills from Ulajh | Instagram@janhvikapoor

She has also recently been signed on for four new films, all of which will release in 2024 or early 2025. She has been cast opposite two southern mega stars: Ram Charan for RC 16, and Suriya for Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Karna, a two-part mythological drama where she plays Draupadi. She is also said to have been signed on for Shashank Khaitan’s next under Dharma Productions, alongside Varun Dhawan. There are rumours of yet another major film being signed on for Dharma.

“My father (Hindi film producer Boney Kapoor) has gone and made some announcement, and I don’t know what he has said. It’s too early to talk about the other films. My father has definitely not spoken to me or my producers,” she laughs. “I wish I belonged to a universe where you just shoot films, you didn’t have to announce, clarify or deny them.”

What Kapoor will discuss is how excited she is about the many collaborations between Bollywood and films from the south. She is working in three. “As an artist, I have always been an advocate of Indian cinema. We have diverse cultures and a diverse audience. Regional cinema is also Indian cinema and we have seen them do the kind of businesses that mainstream cinema does. That says where we are culturally, as a society: we seek truth, we seek new ideas and honesty in our art. The pan-India format allows us to do all of this. Look at Kantara,” she says of Rishab Shetty’s Kannada film of 2022, that was made on a meagre budget and went on to make nearly Rs400 crores globally. “I don’t think this is a phase. I think we are stronger together. Cinema brings us together. It is amazing that we could, hypothetically, have a film with Allu Arjun acting, Sanjay Leela Bhansali directing, and have Sai Pallavi or Roshan Mathew, or some amazing Bengali actors in it. The possibilities are endless.”

Mili Mili

Inter-state films dipping into each other’s fan base is a big plus, too. “The south industry has been cultivating its audiences for a very long time. Telugu and Tamil films dubbed in Hindi have been getting great ratings,” she explains.

Kapoor has starred in six films in five years―Dhadak (2018), Gunjan Saxena and a short in Ghost Stories (2020), Roohi (2021), Good Luck Jerry and Mili (2022), and Bawaal (2023). None of these have fared well at the box office, save her debut. But almost each one has seen her receive rave reviews for her performance. She was even nominated for two Filmfare awards for best actress (Gunjan Saxena, Mili).

Does the blockbuster film elude her? “I think a box office success would have made a difference to me and to my producers to get bigger budgets for their films. But I am fortunate they signed me for my talent. That said, nothing feels as good as people filling the theatres. No review or critical acclaim can match that,” she says.

There is always so much talk around kids of actors or industry folk, but Kapoor has taken her career very seriously―she moved to California to Lee Strasberg’s film institute to hone her craft. “Can I be honest? I learned nothing there,” she says. “I’m often told I am too honest for Bollywood and that has burnt me. But at least I sleep well at night. The thrill of moving to California was in the anonymity it gave me. I was not someone’s daughter for once, and that was so refreshing. But the school’s format was so rooted in Hollywood and approaching its casting agents. I actually realised I am not a method actor. Secondly, I wish I had spent more time with my people and in my language. I am telling stories from India and I need to relate to Indians. Sitting in LA and going to Malibu on weekends actually made me feel more detached.”

Devara | Instagram@janhvikapoor Devara | Instagram@janhvikapoor

Kapoor’s public image is far removed from the characters she plays. She portrays herself as a glamorous girl, working out in the gym, practising kathak, painting, or making awesome comedy reels. What is her relationship with her image like? “I enjoy social media, but there is nothing I enjoy more than being on a film set,” she says. “I haven’t been on one in a month now and it is driving me crazy. Getting my dialogues yesterday was like getting a life jacket thrown at you. I don’t want anything to dilute my art.”

There are also rumours of a budding romance with Shikhar Pahariya; she almost admitted to having him on her speed dial on Karan Johar’s talk show. “I even have my manager on my speed dial,” is all she’s willing to admit.

She will admit, however, that she loves her younger sister Khushi Kapoor’s debut, The Archies (2023). “I thought she had a very likable, soft and honest energy on screen. She is an internal actor, not a demonstrative one. I told her there would be a lot of instructions thrown at her for not fitting into a conventional mould,” says Kapoor.

She would know, she has been making and breaking moulds for a few years already.