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Sonam wears: Dress by Preen by Thornton Bregazzi coming soon. Turtleneck by Splendid. Jeans by FRAME. Boots by Tabitha Simmons. Jewellery; Sonam’s own.

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Sonam Kapoor: Say It Loud

Photography by Chloe Mallett • Fashion direction by Sally Matthews • Words by Julia Maile

Born into an acting dynasty with a string of successful films to her name and over 30 million combined social media followers, actor Sonam Kapoor is bona fide Bollywood royalty. But don’t mistake her for some sort of pampered princess. Determined to use her high profile for good, she’s an outspoken advocate for the causes she believes in. Whether that’s fighting the gender pay gap, speaking out against victim blaming or campaigning to end child hunger, The MOD meets the formidable, accomplished woman who’s not afraid to speak her mind. 

Sonam Kapoor strides into the North London house where our shoot is taking place looking every inch the off-duty Bollywood star. Wearing Ellery’s signature flares, a vintage sequined top layered over a shirt emblazoned with motorbikes, and black biker boots, the 32-year-old has a commanding presence that immediately makes everyone on set sit up and take notice. Yet she quickly whips off her dark sunglasses and puts everyone at ease, ordering coffee, and – “something with chocolate from Pret” – before getting comfortable for hair and make-up. Endearingly uncensored, she chats candidly about everything from her upcoming travel plans, to jokes she’s played on photographer friends, and more serious matters altogether.

Born into a cinematic family – her father is Slumdog Millionaire star Anil Kapoor, her grandfather is filmmaker Surinder Kapoor and various other family members work in the industry – Sonam has risen through the ranks to become one of Bollywood’s most famous faces. Raised in Mumbai, she started her career behind-the-scenes as an assistant director – an experience she believes helps to keep her grounded. “I try not to act like a diva,” she says. “As actors we’re inclined towards narcissism and you tend to be very self-involved because that’s the nature of the job. Your body is your tool. Your emotions are your tool. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings instead of being so self-absorbed.”

Speaking out is something Sonam is categorically not afraid to do. In December 2016 in conversation with Rajeev Masand at a round table discussion, she told of being groped by a stranger at a cinema when she was 13 years old. While the recent allegations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood have seen many celebrities share their experiences, Sonam spoke up well before the #MeToo movement spread virally later in 2017So, what prompted her to talk openly about a subject that has previously been considered taboo? “On our side of the world – whether it’s India or the Middle East or wherever – there is a lot of victim blaming and victim shaming,” she explained. “It’s important to come out and say, ‘Listen, it is OK if this happens to you. It is not your fault. You are not the monster. The person doing it… He or she is the monster.’ It’s important for people who have a certain platform to come out and say it. And I have that platform. I hope this year sees a continuation of a more inclusive society, a society that isn’t racist, sexist or homophobic. That we start to understand that every person is equal and deserves the same opportunities.”

I knew what it meant to be a feminist at 13 years old

Jumpsuit by Merchant Archive coming soon. Jewellery; Sonam’s own.

Shirt by Oscar De La Renta coming soon. Skirt by Joseph. Trainers by Common Projects.

Sonam has also used her high profile to challenge the gender pay gap in Bollywood, recently turning down a role because the pay was inadequate. “What’s unique about my situation and gives me more courage is that I have a safety net,” she says. “I come from a very privileged background and if I don’t get the pay I deserve I can set an example and say, ‘Work with someone else if you are not giving me what I deserve.’ I hope that sets the right tone for other girls in the industry around me. Women should inspire other women, there’s power in numbers.”

Does coming from a position of privilege make her feel like she needs to give back? “I always think, ‘Why was I born in so-and-so family? Why did I get this opportunity to act?’ It’s a blessing and so when it comes to setting an example or being aspirational, so I need to be responsible. There is a saying, ‘If you have been given too much, instead of building higher walls you should build larger tables’. I want to use that to do something better.”

For Sonam, this means supporting causes close to her heart and centered around children – the Fight Hunger Foundation, which aims to end child malnutrition, and the Cuddles Foundation, which brings life-saving nutrition to children fighting cancer.

Sonam credits the progressive way her parents brought her up with giving her ambition and a confidence to succeed. “I understood what being a feminist meant when I was 13 years old,” she says. “We were given equal opportunity in the house. There is no set way, we have always been given a choice. My sister [film producer Rhea, 30] is an atheist, my brother [actor Harshvardhan, 27) is agnostic and I follow Hinduism. I’m vegetarian, my sister eats everything that walks and my brother is a health freak.”

Being modest about the way you dress... It grounds you
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Jumpsuit by Michael Lo Sordo coming soon. Jewellery; Sonam’s own.

Sonam’s first ever acting role was for the film Saawariya in 2007, and it saw her nominated for the Filmfare Best Female Debut Award and heralded the start of a successful career that includes starring roles in big-budget films I Hate Luv Storys and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time) and an award-winning role in Neerja, where she played Pan Am flight purser Neerja Bhanot, who died while saving passengers on board a hijacked flight.

In India, Sonam is now almost as famous for her sartorial choices as she is for her films, with every outfit debated and dissected by the press and imitated by the masses. She surveys the rail at our shoot with an expert eye, commenting on the detailing of a Merchant Archive dress before joking, “Who do I give my credit card to? I want everything!” But despite her obvious love and appreciation for fashion, don’t go calling her a ‘fashionista’. “I hate that term,” she says. “I’m not following trends. I’m not a slave to it. Whatever I like, I just put together. I’m an artist and I enjoy expressing myself in any way and clothes are an extension of that.”

Jumper by Mary Katrantzou. Earrings; Sonam’s own.

Different faces and body types are being embraced now, it's inspiring for young girls to see

Shirt by Petar Petrov. Trousers by Petar Petrov. Trainers by Common Projects. Watch; Sonam’s own.

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Dressing modestly is one such way of expressing her personality. “Coming from my culture, it’s important to have a certain vibe when you’re dressing,” she explains. “I love my sensuality but I feel that you can express that through not being [on show]. Being modest about the way you dress, being modest about your work, being modest about who you are… It grounds you. The more you shout, it shows your insecurity. It’s important to have a sense of self and a quiet confidence.” Someone who exudes that kind of understated chic is her style icon, Tilda Swinton. “I love the fact that the way she dresses is an extension of who she is. It’s very individual.”

A regular at fashion month, Sonam recently swapped the front row for the runway, walking in Ralph & Russo’s 2017 A/W Haute Couture show at Paris Fashion Week. With Indian models having an increased presence on global catwalks – Radhika Nair became the first ever Indian model to walk for Balenciaga and Dipti Sharma closed the brand’s S/S 2018 show – Sonam says she is excited and encouraged to see more diversity in the fashion industry. “The world is getting smaller and there’s no defined colour anymore,” she says. “Different faces, colours and body types are being embraced now, it’s inspirational for young girls to see. It’s giving people a chance to speak up and speak out.”

What’s next for the talented actor? Having achieved success at home, is a move to Hollywood on the cards? “I just want to keep doing roles,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what language – just as long as I’m not the exotic Indian girl in tights! I have a very long road ahead. I haven’t achieved everything I want to do yet.” Confident, ambitious and passionate about what she believes in, we can’t wait to see where the road takes her next.

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Hooded sweatshirt by RE/DONE.  Skirt by Mary Katrantzou. Boots by Tabitha Simmons.

Jumpsuit by Michael Lo Sordo coming soon.

Shirt by Oscar De La Renta coming soon. Earrings; Sonam’s own.

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Hair Ernesto Montenevo
Make-Up Kate Goodwin
Photo Assistants Harry Burner and Roland Gopal Chowdhury
Casting and Production Ashumi Sanghvi @ MAD Productions
Production Assistants Eleanor Langley and Beth Doherty


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