WAY BACK IN 2000, VETERAN FILMMAKER JP Dutta was directing two debutants in his Indo-Pak romance-drama Refugee. Both the leads—Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor—came from film royalty, but their acting chops were yet untested. One of the scenes required Dutta’s heroine, still shy of 20 then, to share screen space with Suniel Shetty. While Dutta was readying Kareena for the role with a round of rehearsals, Shetty, already an established name in the industry, was taking it easy, confident of getting into the skin of his character right on the floor. Finally, Dutta convinced Shetty to have one rehearsal with Kareena, and, instantly, he was shaken out of his smugness. “‘Good heavens sir, she is fantastic’, Shetty told me, and set about preparing for the role with purpose,” recalls Dutta.
Sixteen years after Refugee released and tinsel town took note of the then youngest Kapoor on the block, Kareena (Kapoor Khan, after her marriage to actor Saif Ali Khan) still evokes a similar response. In the recently released Udta Punjab, she plays a role that’s crafted almost as an aside, but Kareena brings Dr Preet Sahani alive on screen with a rock-solid performance and manages to shine in a stellar cast of Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhattand Diljit Dosanjh. Cinemagoers enjoy her style, directors her effortless spontaneity. And her versatile portfolio of movies—from over- the-top performances, as in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... or K3G, 2001) or Jab We Met (2007), to muted, subdued roles like in Talaash (2012) or non-mainstream movies like Chameli (2003)—has proved that Kareena is no pushover. To borrow from nouveau