On Day 5 of this year’s prestigious Lakme Fashion Week, a visibly pregnant Kareena Kapoor Khan sashayed down the runway as showstopper for Sabyasachi’s Winter/Festive 2016 collection. And while this act isn’t exactly unprecedented—Lara Dutta, Malaika Arora Khan, and model Carol Gracias have all walked the ramp while pregnant—it certainly felt like a major moment in pop culture, signifying a shift in our attitude toward actresses who continue to work through marriage, motherhood, and even (gasp!) aging.
Although Bebo has never proclaimed herself a feminist, her actions speak louder than labels: from publicly acknowledging her live-in relationship with, and subsequent marriage to, Saif Ali Khan, to become a fashion icon for mothers-to-be, to signing on to shoot Veere Di Wedding (a woman-centric film) only a few short months after she’s set to deliver her first child, Kareena’s every move spits in the face of those who foolishly pronounce an actress’s career finished once she dares to settle down. She may not be the first star to continue working post-marriage and motherhood, but she’s certainly shaping up to be the most unapologetic. And it is that signature brand of Bebo brazenness that allows us to believe, to hope, that she might just be the heroine who permanently changes the rules for women in the film industry.
For hundreds of years and across several different cultures, pregnancy has been treated as something to be hidden from public view. Historically, we have celebrated the fruit of a woman’s labor (pun intended), but God forbid we see or hear about the details of pregnancy and childbirth. Even in the entertainment industry, which is one of society’s most uniformly liberal environments, we often see women cover up their changing bodies with glorified circus tents, if they don’t disappear from public view entirely, until every single kilo of weight gained during pregnancy has been shed. However, slowly but surely, the informal practice of confinement during pregnancy is becoming a thing of the past. Kareena herself said it best when she quipped that pregnancy should not be looked upon as a disease, but rather a normal occurrence that doesn’t demand any special attention. And in the glamorous life of a actress, this continuation of normality includes walking in fashion shows and stepping in front of the camera at public events, baby bump or not.
When asked if the industry was being supportive of her entering this new phase in life, she responded, in trademark Kareena style, “Why shouldn’t they be?” Why, indeed? Kareena has the distinction of being one of the last true blue female superstars, a favorite among the audience and critics alike. The idea that the industry would risk losing her over something as inconsequential as her impending motherhood would be a tragedy. After all, there may be hundreds of pretty young things waiting in the wings, but there is only one Kareena Kapoor, a fact the diva herself knows well, and seems to be using to her advantage.
“I know, of course, everyone prefers 16-year-olds dancing around in mini skirts,” the actress quipped during a media interaction backstage at Lakme Fashion Week. “But there is a certain amount of stature that is required for certain roles. And that will always be there.“
Kareena Kapoor is one of the few A-list actresses who has that stature, that gravitas, to turn an ordinary film into an extraordinary one. She has promised us that she will continue acting until she dies, obstacles be damned. And If she makes good on that promise, she may very well be remembered as the actress who made the industry a better place for all the women who came after her.
If that’s not the mark of true stardom, I don’t know what is.