Long before OTT platforms took over mainstream cinema and women-led films became the new normal, Bollywood had movies like Aisha and Khoobsurat. Star-studded and light-hearted – qualities that have single-handedly ushered the rise of the rom-com genre in the West – these films had a woman protagonist.
This was Bollywood coming of age, in a way. In a film industry that was more about just hero-worshipping and larger-than-life action or over-the-top drama – traits that Indian films are infamous for - these were simple, slice-of-life stories with a memorable woman at the front and centre.
“I remember watching films with my girlfriends or with my sister over and over again that had strong female protagonists and feeling connected to them,” says Rhea Kapoor, film producer and fashion maverick, who made it possible for movie-goers to see relatable female characters on screen. Responsible for titles like Aisha and Khoobsurat, her last film was Veere Di Wedding, a 2018 urban drama that celebrated the relationship between four fiercely independent women.
Rhea has a soft corner for urban, women-centric storylines. She is quite open about her preference for strong, female protagonists too as she admits, “That’s my aim every day, to make those kinds of films.” And this seems to be guided by more than just personal taste. In the past decade or so, movie-goers have warmed up to the idea of ‘female heroes,’ as proven by the box-office collections.
Says Rhea, “Of course, there is a place for women-led films and stories, because we make up 60 percent of the population and we are dying for something that we can relate to, something we can celebrate, cry or laugh with.”
Taking the road less trodden
Rhea’s unconventional choices are reflected in not just her taste in films but on how her career has shaped up as well. Despite hailing from Bollywood royalty, the 33-year-old chose to give acting a miss and instead turned towards the production side of the business.
“Production happened to me when we got Aisha’s script and decided to make it. I was supposed to work under my father and then he got 24 (the American version), and I ended up taking up the project all by myself at the age of 21,” she recalls, “I realised that if I worked hard, it would be rewarding.”
Rhea has never since regretted choosing production over acting. “I believe that it is my calling,” she adds.
Also, acting, in her opinion is a part of a rather elaborate process. “I like doing things from beginning to end, and acting comes in the middle of the project. It is like ‘do your work and leave’ and I cannot deal with that,” she explains.
It is with this vision that Rhea has managed to carve a niche for herself in the film industry today. Unafraid to speak her mind, the star-kid has taken quite a few bold decisions, setting new benchmarks in the industry.
She quips, “Because telling stories that have been told before or doing things that have been done before is boring and predictable and who wants to be boring?”
From films to fashion – pushing the envelope
Beyond her role as a producer, Rhea has been pushing the envelope with her eclectic taste in fashion, mixing global trends with Indian sensitivities.
The fashionista, who turned entrepreneur with the launch of Rheson with sister Sonam Kapoor Ahuja has been addressing several gaps in the Indian fashion industry – what suits a typical Indian body, what looks good both on and off the runway, what’s truly expressive of one’s personality.
Fashion, she says, is a tool to tell people who you are, what your mood is, and what you represent, and what you want to communicate to the room. And a really powerful tool because you literally wear it on your body.
“My personal style is easy, strong, sexy, and comfortable. And it translates because people see that I am comfortable, and I am not a model or someone who spends hours in the gym, worried about what I eat,” says the young entrepreneur.
Rhea adds, “I am definitely androgynous in the way I like to dress. I like menswear a lot more and wear a lot of men’s clothes. I mix them with things that are feminine and sexy, and that is how I am different from Sonam.”
Her sister, a Bollywood star, on the other hand, has a more feminine approach to fashion – she loves her prints, skirts, and her dresses, says Rhea.
A glimpse of Rhea’s eclectic taste and understanding of the Indian body-type can be seen in her latest collaboration with fashion designer Masaba Gupta. The collection, aptly called ‘The Chronicles of Femininity’, showcases clothes that are versatile, feminine, playful, and yet strong and with intention.
Rhea says, “Our collaboration happened over a drink. Masaba and I wanted to embrace our changing bodies and wanted to feel sexy in our new bodies. We have been thinking like that for a while now – creating clothes for ourselves that are not trend-driven but that complement our curves and our changing minds.”
The limited-edition collection is all this and more. Inspired by 90s icons and featuring holographic prints, delicate florals, and old-school postcards, the style is every bit strong and feminine, and reflective of Rhea’s sensibilities and penchant for the unconventional.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)