EXCLUSIVE: For Janhvi Kapoor, playing the lead role in the first major Bollywood film to hit Indian cinemas since they returned to full capacity earlier this month is a nerve-wracking responsibility. The movie, the horror comedy Roohi, has pressure on its shoulders to paint a rosy picture of the Indian box office market when it releases March 11, particularly while the wider country continues to make a remarkable recovery from the pandemic.
This kind of genre cinema has not historically been a big deal in India, but it is gaining traction, as evidenced by the buzzy reception to 2018 pic Stree, which was made by Roohi producer Dinesh Vijan. In the new film, Kapoor plays a woman possessed by a witch who can only be cured by marriage. As you might have guessed, it promises to have a cultural point to make, which the actress discusses below in an exclusive first chat with Deadline ahead of the release.
The actress also tells us how she “underestimated” the reach that VOD platforms now have in the traditionally theatrical-first nation, a lesson she learned after her biographical drama Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, in which she plays an airline pilot, pivoted to Netflix during the lockdown. She does, however, remain committed to the big screen. Kapoor also discusses the pressures associated with being from a dynastical Bollywood family, and what she hopes to achieve in her own career.
DEADLINE: How does it feel to be the star of a film that, given the circumstances, feels so important?
JANHVI KAPOOR: Honestly, it’s making me extremely nervous and anxious. I am not sleeping very well. People are asking me this question every second of the day and I am so scared someone is going to jinx it. I really hope it works out – communal viewing in theaters is such a big deal and has been such a part of our culture since the start of time. I would hate if it died out because of the pandemic; we need to keep it alive, but we need to be as safe as we can and take all the precautions we need.
DEADLINE: Tell us about being an actress during this pandemic.
KAPOOR: It’s been confusing. I was supposed to have three theatrical releases and instead I had one Netflix release [Gunjan Saxena] this past year. That wasn’t what I expected, but it taught me a lot; it taught me that nothing goes to plan and you need to be OK with that.
Honestly, I underestimated the reach of OTT platforms. Having my film come out on Netflix, I realized you get such a global reach, it was a lovely experience. We’ve all been through something collectively and I think this has united us – I hope we come out of it better human beings.
DEADLINE: How does it compare, releasing a film online versus in theaters?
KAPOOR: A digital release doesn’t make me as nervous as a theatrical release. The pressure of numbers, i.e., box office, is less when you are online. The producers have made their money and you have given it your all.
DEADLINE: The comedy-horror genre isn’t historically that highly regarded in Indian cinema, but we have seen more films of that ilk recently. Is it growing in popularity?
KAPOOR: It is! In the past 2-3 years I’ve seen a lot of them. It’s a wonderful genre, all the jump-scares as well as the comic-relief aspects. I love them for the adrenalin rush. Especially when you get to watch it communally in a theater, it’s a wonderful experience.
DEADLINE: The trailer looks wild [watch it below, English subtitles can be enabled]. Was this one fun on set?
KAPOOR: It was a lot of fun, but quite grueling as well. My co-actors are extremely funny so it was good to work with them. It’s fun to play such an extreme character.
DEADLINE: Your character, who is possessed by a witch, can only be cured by getting married. What is the film saying there?
KAPOOR: I know what the film is saying, but what is said in the trailer is quite the opposite. I don’t want to give too much away, but it definitely is a statement on self-sustenance and the notion of needing a spouse. In India, there is a belief that a woman needs to get married and that’s her entire goal. We are a very progressive nation but there are still a lot of places in India where that belief prevails. We’re alluding to that stigma.
DEADLINE: Your family is Indian cinema royalty. Has that put extra pressure on you?
KAPOOR: That’s one way to look at it, but I like to look at it as an incredible blessing and responsibility. I have access to filmmakers and actors who have so much experience. There are a lot of comparisons and expectations but there’s also a lot of good will. There are some people who expect you to be as good as your mum was [the late Sridevi, who is regarded as Indian cinema’s first female superstar], but there are other people that love your mother and father so much they’ll accept you right off the bat. There are two sides to every coin and you have to make of it what you can.
DEADLINE: Tell me about your ambitions What do you want to do with your career?
KAPOOR: Honestly, I just want to do memorable work. I’ve seen the love and admiration my family has gotten and it means a lot to me to make them proud. The public has given us so much love it’s almost my duty to give something back to them, and I don’t know what better way to do that than by giving them memorable performances.
DEADLINE: How about filmmaking? Would you be interested in acting or directing?
KAPOOR: Definitely. But I first want to get the acting thing done right.
DEADLINE: It’s noticeable that some Indian content is traveling better than ever before, particularly through streaming platforms. In fact, there are huge global audiences for international content now that maybe didn’t exist 10 years ago. Would you be interested in branching out into the international space, outside of India?
KAPOOR: I would love to do that. I’ve auditioned for a couple of international projects. I love the idea of artists without borders. Being a global actor, that’s a wonderful way to expand your horizons and learn about different cultures. As a human being it’s a massive opportunity to fill up your emotional well.
DEADLINE: What do you have coming up next? When will you be back on set?
KAPOOR: I’m on my way to the airport now! I’m flying to Punjab to resume shoot on a thriller comedy, Good Luck Jerry, and then after that I will resume the comedy sequel Dostana 2.