Sonam in and as Neerja Image: Twitter
It took Sonam Kapoor two whole years to get a Friday release in Padman — two years since Neerja. So, in the last two years, this actor has had no releases, yet, she's managed to walk the red carpets at international events, dominate social media trends, stay in the news. How? Read on.
With Neerja, Sonam did the unthinkable. She delivered a solo female-driven hit, shouldered entirely on her. I'd like to imagine that when she cuddles up in bed after a particularly long day, she wonders, even today, what she did to ensure Neerja became the hit that it did. The answer isn't in Sonam, but in Neerja Bhanot herself.
And Bollywood has been doing this for quite some time now. It's simple. Just take a star and cast them in a film about another star, and voila! You have a biopic, riding on the emotion it evokes, thanks to the truth in the story and the social media storm it cooks up, thanks to the A-lister.
If sceptics are shifting in their chairs, claiming that Sonam actually delivered a performance of her lifetime in Neerja (yeah, right. For being able to top that looks highly impossible), let us draw your attention to Mary Kom and Priyanka Chopra's efforts. Pee Cee trained and trained, and then trained some more to get Mary Kom right. She even looked great on screen, and so wowed were we by her that we forgot she is a North Indian playing a Northeastern. No, it's not a racist commentary, but would Hollywood cast Jake Gyllenhaal as Bruce Lee in his biopic? Same difference.
But Bollywood did it again in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag with Farhan Akhtar. Not our words, but Naseeruddin Shah's, "Farhan was made to look like Rocky and not Milkha," he had said in an interview to NDTV in 2013, and we agree. Sushant Singh Rajput's M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story was no different. Yes, he delivered well. No, he didn't look the part.
The list of the Bollywood trend of miscast star power is endless: Emraan Hashmi as Mohammad Azharuddin in Azhar, Shraddha Kapoor as Haseena Parkar in Haseena Parkar, Aamir Khan in Dangal (or Mangal Pandey: The Rising if you roll back), Akshay Kumar in Rustom, or even the most recent example, Akshay in Padman (though in Akki's defence, it isn't an official biopic).
So, what made Neerja work and even drop the coveted National Award into Sonam's kitty? The answer lies in Bhanot herself. The feisty air hostess who sacrificed her life to save that of others is a story that both inspires and runs a chill down our spines. And that worked in favour of the film.
Even as Sonam's contribution to the film was restricted to the long bob haircut she sported and some jerky dialogue delivery, something amazing happened. Neerja rubbed on to her; and basking in her glory, Sonam shone. And that is why Neerja will go down in posterity, but Sonam won't.