Sonam Kapoor Ahuja (pronounced [soːnəm kəˈpuːr əɦu:dʒaː]; born 9 June 1985) is an Indian actress who appears in Bollywood films. Kapoor is one of the highest-paid actresses in the industry and is the recipient of several awards, including a Filmfare and a National Film Award.
The daughter of actor Anil Kapoor, Kapoor studied theatre and arts at the United World College of South East Asia in Singapore. She was an assistant director to Sanjay Leela Bhansali on the 2005 film Black. Kapoor made her acting debut in Bhansali's romantic drama Saawariya (2007), for which she was nominated for a Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut. She had her first commercial success three years later in the romantic comedy I Hate Luv Storys (2010).
After a series of commercial failures, the sleeper hit Raanjhanaa (2013) marked a turning point in her career, earning her Best Actress nominations. She then featured in the romantic comedies Khoobsurat (2014) and Dolly Ki Doli (2015), both of which earned her Filmfare Award for Best Actress nominations. Kapoor went on to play a princess in the melodrama Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015) and featured briefly in the biopic Sanju (2018), both of which rank among the highest-grossing Bollywood films. She also starred in the biographical thriller Neerja (2016) and the female buddy film Veere Di Wedding (2018), both of which rank among the highest-grossing Hindi films featuring a female protagonist. For portraying the titular role in the former, she received the National Film Award – Special Mention and Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress.
Kapoor supports the raising awareness of breast cancer and LGBT rights. She is married to the businessman Anand Ahuja. Known in the media for her outspoken personality, she is frequently credited as one of Bollywood's most fashionable celebrities. From 2012–2016, she appeared in Forbes India's Celebrity 100 based on her income and popularity.
Early life (1985–2006)
Kapoor was born in the Mumbai suburb of Chembur on 9 June 1985. Her father is actor and producer Anil Kapoor, the son of the late filmmaker Surinder Kapoor and the founder of the Anil Kapoor Films Company. Her mother, Sunita, is a former model and designer. Kapoor has two younger siblings: film producer Rhea and brother Harshvardhan. She is the niece of film producer Boney Kapoor and actor Sanjay Kapoor; actress Sridevi and producer Mona Shourie (Boney's wives) are her aunts. Kapoor's paternal cousins are actors Arjun Kapoor and Mohit Marwah, and maternal second cousin is actor Ranveer Singh.
The family moved to the suburb of Juhu when Kapoor was one month old. She was educated at the Arya Vidya Mandir school in Juhu, where she confessed to being a "naughty" and "carefree" child who would bully the boys. She excelled at sports such as rugby and basketball, and trained in Kathak, classical music and Latin dance. Kapoor, who practices Hinduism, states that she is "quite religious", and that it is a way of "reminding myself that I need to be thankful for so much".
Kapoor's first job was as a waitress at age 15, although it lasted only a week. As a teenager, she struggled with her weight: "I had every issue related to weight that I could have. I was unhealthy, I had bad skin, and I had hair growing on my face!" Kapoor was diagnosed with insulin resistance and polycystic ovarian disease, and has since begun an initiative to increase awareness of diabetes. Kapoor enrolled at the United World College of South East Asia in Singapore for her pre-university education, where she studied theatre and arts. She has said she later started courses in economics and political science through University of Mumbai correspondence programme, after returning from University of East London where she began her bachelor's degree in the same subjects but returned to Mumbai soon after she began. The actress Rani Mukerji, a family friend, visited her family in Singapore on holiday while working on Black (2005). Kapoor, who had originally wanted to be a director and writer, expressed a desire to work as a crew member on the film. On her father's recommendation to director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, she was appointed as his assistant.
Debut and career fluctuations (2007–2012)
During the production of Black, Kapoor developed an interest in acting when Bhansali professed that he wanted to cast her in the lead in his next film, Saawariya. She was advised to lose weight; at the time, she weighed about 80 kilograms (180 lb). Motivated by Bhansali's confidence in her, she lost 35 kilograms (77 lb) in two years. Kapoor studied acting with Roshan Taneja, Jayati Bhatia and Feroz Abbas Khan, and has cited actresses Waheeda Rehman and Nutan as influences, admiring their "path-breaking films ... quality of doing different things".
Released in 2007, Saawariya saw Kapoor play a Muslim woman awaiting the return of her lover opposite Mukerji and Ranbir Kapoor. It was the first Indian feature film produced by a Hollywood studio, Sony Pictures Entertainment. Saawariya proved to be a major critical and commercial failure. Writing for BBC, Jaspreet Pandohar called the film a "misfire on a massive scale". Raja Sen of Rediff.com described her laugh as "almost as infectious as her father's", but wished that she had been "allowed to simper softly, instead of having a clearly overdubbed plastic giggle plastered onto her." The film earned her a Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut nomination and the Stardust Award for Superstar of Tomorrow – Female.
In 2009, Kapoor played an aspiring singer opposite Waheeda Rehman and Abhishek Bachchan in the Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra-directed drama Delhi-6. The film received mixed reviews from critics and was not a box-office success. CNN-IBN's Rajeev Masand referred to Kapoor as a "revelation", writing that she was "a firecracker, instinctive and uninhibited in what isn't even a conventional female lead". Sonia Chopra of Sify described Kapoor as an "earnest and effortless performer", and found her character likeable, despite the "typical Delhi-girl recipe".
Kapoor's first release in 2010 was Punit Malhotra's romantic comedy I Hate Luv Storys, opposite Imran Khan. She played an engaged woman who develops a one-sided attraction to her commitment-phobic co-worker. Khan said about Kapoor's craft, "We'd be shooting a scene from multiple angles—for three or four hours you're doing the same scene, the same lines—and here is this person [Kapoor] who brings consistency to her work, from the way she talks, to her accent." Although Shubhra Gupta of The Indian Express called Kapoor's performance "stiff and rehearsed", Daily News and Analysis' Johnson Thomas found her "likeable and believable". I Hate Luv Storys was Kapoor's first commercial success, earning ₹725.2 million (US$10 million) worldwide.
Kapoor next played the eponymous role in Aisha, a romantic comedy adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Emma, which was produced by her sister Rhea. She described her role opposite Abhay Deol, Ira Dubey and Amrita Puri as "a meddlesome busybody with a passion for matchmaking and playing Cupid". An Indo-Asian News Service reviewer thought that Kapoor had stood out with her performance, making "the best of a rather rare opportunity for an Indian leading lady to be part of a Bollywood film that salutes Victorian mores and Delhi's elitist affectations in one clean cool sweep".
In 2011, Kapoor starred in Thank You, a comedy about three women who teach a lesson to their philandering husbands. The film, along with Kapoor's performance, received poor reviews; Nikhat Kazmi of The Times of India called her "terribly out of sync". She then played the romantic interest of Shahid Kapoor in the Pankaj Kapur-directed romantic drama, Mausam, which was also poorly received. Despite doubts about her acting ability, critic Saibal Chatterjee of NDTV thought Kapoor conveyed "the essential vulnerability of a girl forever under duress, bringing out just the right mix of feminine fragility and native resolve". The following year, Kapoor played a computer hacker opposite Abhishek Bachchan and Bipasha Basu in the Abbas–Mustan-directed action film, Players, a remake of 2003's The Italian Job. Her role was originally written for Katrina Kaif, who was unavailable for the film. Although journalists had high expectations, it failed commercially, and Sukanya Verma of Rediff.com remarked derogatively that Kapoor "truly entertains with her childish attempt to pass off as a Gold-medalist hacker".
Kapoor's string of poorly-received films began to hinder her career.
Establishing with Raanjhanaa (2013–2015)
Kapoor's role in the Anand L. Rai-directed romantic drama Raanjhanaa (2013) marked a turning point in her career; Geety Sahgal called it her best performance to date in The Indian Express. Kapoor's role was that of Zoya Haider, a young Muslim student from Varanasi who is drawn into politics after the murder of her Sikh lover. To prepare for her part, Kapoor interacted with students, attended workshops and practised with theatre groups associated with Jawaharlal Nehru University. She also studied Jaya Bachchan's work in Guddi (1971), which she felt was "perfect" for her role. Discussing her character in the film, Kapoor described her approach to acting: "I have always tried to do different films and ... I try to be different for every character. I like doing different things to challenge myself in every way and don't like to repeat myself." Although Raanjhanaa received mixed reviews, her performance was praised; Rajeev Masand wrote that she "does some of her best work here, going smoothly from innocent to manipulative to cynical, without ever losing Zoya's inherent vulnerability". With worldwide earnings of over ₹1 billion (US$14 million), Raanjhanaa was a commercial success and Kapoor received her first nomination for the Filmfare Award for Best Actress.
Kapoor followed the success of Raanjhanaa with a brief appearance in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), a biopic on athlete Milkha Singh. She received ₹11 (16¢ US) for the film, made on a budget of ₹300 million (US$4.3 million), citing her admiration for director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and the film itself as reasons for her appearance. Critically praised, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was one of the top-grossing Bollywood films of the year. The critic Sarita A. Tanwar wrote in her review that despite her minor role, Kapoor proved to "be the perfect warm counterpart to Milkha". Both Raanjhanaa and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag received Filmfare Award for Best Film nominations, the latter of which won.
In 2014, Kapoor portrayed the banker Mayera opposite Ayushmann Khurrana and Rishi Kapoor in the Yash Raj Films comedy-drama Bewakoofiyaan, in a role which Anupama Chopra found to be poorly written and an "uphill climb". She next starred with Fawad Khan in the romantic comedy Khoobsurat, an adaptation of the 1980 film of the same name, playing the role which had originally been given to Rekha. Though she received a Filmfare Best Actress nomination for her performance, critics were divided in their response, with Shilpa Jamkhandikar of Reuters calling her "loud and exasperating", and Andy Webster of The New York Times comparing her to a young Anne Hathaway and highlighting her "Julia Roberts-like smile". Later that year she met entrepreneur-model Sahir Berry on a social media network, and began a romantic relationship with him, although they broke up a few months later.
In 2015, Kapoor starred as a runaway bride in Dolly Ki Doli, a comedy co-starring Pulkit Samrat, Rajkummar Rao and Varun Sharma. Mint's Udita Jhunjhunwala criticised Kapoor's performance in the film, writing that her "range is too limited to bring alive a character that may have had heaps of potential on paper". Shubhra Gupta wrote: "Kapoor is in almost every frame, and should have filled them all. But the treatment of the character shows up her limitations." Despite the negative reviews for her performance, she was nominated for the Filmfare Award for Best Actress. While filming Sooraj R. Barjatya's Prem Ratan Dhan Payo with Salman Khan in Gondal, Gujarat in February 2015, Kapoor was diagnosed with swine influenza, from which she recovered the following month. Kapoor portrayed Rajkumari Maithili Devi, a princess looking for love. The film became one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time. She was praised by Rachit Gupta for her credibility as a royal, and Komal Nahta thought that the role was significant enough to be a turning point in her career. However, she won a Golden Kela Award for Worst Actress.
Neerja, marriage and beyond (2016–present)
Following an appearance in the music video of Coldplay's "Hymn for the Weekend" (featuring Beyoncé), Kapoor starred in Ram Madhvani's biographical thriller Neerja (2016). She was cast as the eponymous air hostess Neerja Bhanot, who died while saving the passengers of the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 in 1986. Kapoor felt responsible towards the project because it is about real events, and met Bhanot's family as a preparation for her role. The film garnered wide critical acclaim, and several commentators considered Kapoor's performance to be her best to date. Raja Sen found her performance to be career-defining, while Hindustan Times' Rohit Vats wrote that "she carries [the film] entirely on her shoulder. She looks earnest, scared, benevolent and bold, all at the same time." Sen listed Kapoor as the best actress in Hindi cinema in 2016, while Rajeev Masand invited her to his annual best actresses roundtable. In addition to several other accolades, Kapoor won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress and National Film Award – Special Mention. With a worldwide gross over ₹1.35 billion (US$20 million), Neerja emerged as one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films featuring a female protagonist.
After a two-year absence from the screen, Kapoor played a social worker in R. Balki's comedy-drama Pad Man (2018), based on a short story in Twinkle Khanna's book The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad. Co-starring Akshay Kumar and Radhika Apte, the film is inspired by the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who campaigned for menstrual hygiene in rural India. Kapoor said that the length of the role is of little importance to her as long as the film has "relevance beyond just having a good time at the movies". She liked featuring in a film that addresses important social issues and is about something more than just entertainment. Although finding her role to be "largely superfluous", Saibal Chatterjee wrote that Kapoor "makes the most of the limited opportunity"; Anna M. M. Vetticad of Firstpost commended her screen presence but disliked a romantic subplot involving her and Kumar, criticising the chemistry and age-gap between them.
On 8 May 2018, Kapoor married Indian businessman Anand Ahuja in a traditional Sikh ceremony in Bandra. The following month, she featured in Shashanka Ghosh's Veere Di Wedding, a female buddy film co-starring Kareena Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania. The Hindu's Namrita Joshi found the film formulaic and clichéd, while Sweta Kaushal of Hindustan Times thought the film had "style but no soul" and was partly impressed with Kapoor's performance. With earnings of over ₹1.34 billion (US$19 million), the film proved to her second top-grossing Hindi film not featuring a well-known male star. Later that month, Kapoor featured in Rajkumar Hirani's biopic of the actor Sanjay Dutt, entitled Sanju, as one of Dutt's love interests. Kapoor said that despite her brief role, she agreed to the project to work with Hirani and to reunite with Ranbir Kapoor after her debut. Anna M. M. Vetticad criticised the film's attempt to whitewash Dutt's misdeeds, but found Kapoor's portrayal of her small role "sweet". On the other hand, Rajeev Masand called the film "consistently engaging", and wrote that Kapoor "hit the right notes as Sanjay Dutt’s [partner]". Sanju broke several box-office records, becoming one of the highest-grossing Indian films.
In 2019, Kapoor starred in the coming-of-age film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (as Sonam K Ahuja), co-starring her father, Juhi Chawla, and Rajkummar Rao. She played a closeted lesbian who has trouble coming out to her conservative family. She agreed to the project to break stereotypes about same-sex relationships in India. Critics praised the film for its progressive story and for pushing boundaries in Hindi cinema, but it failed to do well commercially. Kapoor will next star in Abhishek Sharma's film adaptation of Anuja Chauhan's novel The Zoya Factor, in which she plays the titular character.