When we talk about film royalty, one name should reverberate worldwide: Kapoor.

India’s eminent acting dynasty first appeared on screen in the 1930s, and still dominates to this day. After generations of raising male actors, the family turned to its daughters and, at the turn of the century, ushered in the era of Kareena Kapoor Khan.

Khan (no longer just Kapoor, and married to another star from an acting family — but more on him later) was always outside the Bollywood mold of singing, dancing, beautified heroines. Early films like “Refugee” and “Chameli” showed her capacity for drama, while commercial projects like “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” and “Mujhse Dosti Karoge” cast her as an over-the-top beauty queen (and retroactive feminist icon).

After more than 20 years leading Hindi films, the actor takes her first plunge into producing with Hansal Mehta’s “The Buckingham Murders,” premiering October 14 at the BFI London Film Festival.

“I’ve never really taken any creative decisions,” Khan told IndieWire in a Zoom interview. “I’ve always been more like a hired gun on a project, where I’ve signed on as an actor, and I do my job. I love acting and honestly, even in this film, the creative aspects have been Hansal through everything. He’s the captain of the ship … because I love the story, I lent my name, but apart from too many creative decisions Hansal and Ektaa [Kapoor — no relation] and Balaji [Telefilms] are doing all that.”

“I’m not really very good at all this,” she added with a chuckle. It’s rare for an actor branching out to be quite so candid about their endeavors; indeed, when asked about future creative leaps like directing, Khan shook her head adamantly.

“Definitely not,” she said. “It’s just such a different aspect to things, the way you look at a film and the way an actor performs affects the camera. It’s so much more responsibility, so much more time. This is a first and it’s always a seed into something — you never really know. But the fact that it’s not a typical Bollywood movie with the regular kind of song-and-dance culture, that’s what is slightly different.”

“The Buckingham Murders” stars Khan as Jass Bhamra, a detective assigned to the case of a missing child after the death of her own. It’s the second film Khan has out this year and even in a few months where she’s in the role of a mother, embroiled in a dangerous mystery — this and Netflix’s “Jaane Jaan,” now streaming.

“I was always looking for something that would be different to be on the OTT platform, rather than the commercial genre which I’ve done so much of and will also try to keep doing,” Khan said. “This was something different; it was interesting to also perform in a familiar language like Hindi, which I’m used to performing in, and also do the same film half in English. It was a challenge.”

Khan was the only actor from India on “The Buckingham Murders,” surrounded by English performers. The film feels less Bollywood, more “Broadchurch,” harkening to other British mystery series and procedurals (which Khan watches religiously). Khan isn’t leaving behind commercial Bollywood by any means (her next film, “The Crew” will have all the elements of a typical Indian movie musical), but she enjoys the streamlined shoots and deglamorized roles of these types of films. It’s the wisdom and balance of a firmly established actor and mother of two.

“Every decade, you will have different kinds of competition at different levels,” she said, looking back at her career. “But one has to try to keep doing something different, evolving as an actor. I think that also has happened post-marriage, post-having kids; just the way I approach things now is slightly different because of the limited time. I have to constantly balance things out.”

Khan is half of a Bollywood power couple, married to Saif Ali Khan (the son of an actor and professional cricket player, descended from royal lineage). The union was one of her most pivotal career moves — not because of any strategic motivation, but because Khan continued to act after the 2012 marriage, a rarity at the time. Her own sister Karisma and countless other Bollywood actresses over the years quit the industry to become wives and mothers, a model that has now shifted, largely thanks to Khan’s example.

“I think people got a little more confident when I married Saif and threw caution to the winds that I’m not going to give up acting and also have a supportive husband who would be okay with me doing what I like,” she said. “Through every aspect, it’s been a different challenge, but I think with people seeing that I did it, it became a lot more easier for them to take their decision and follow their heart and get married after that. I think now it’s become really cool actually to be a married actress.”

The Khans take turns working and being at home, a priority with two young children. When she’s out working, Saif is home, and vice versa. As a pair, they boast more acting range than many contemporaries, often consulting each other about creative choices and career moves.

“It’s not possible that we don’t discuss,” Khan said. “I asked him for his advice and his thoughts and what he feels about certain scripts. Saif’s very, very different in his choice of roles. He’s always been so much braver earlier on than I think a lot of actors have. He actually took the plunge of coming on Netflix and doing a show the minute the OTT platform ever came to India [‘Sacred Games’]. He inspires me as well to make some brave choices more often. He does push me for that.”

Saif Ali Khan was not only encouraging but excited for Khan when she first considered “The Buckingham Murders” because of the opportunity to work internationally and watch an entire cast of actors approach the material in their own language — juxtaposed with how Khan and her colleagues approach their work in Hindi. At the same time, she’s far from complacent back in India, where the film industry has changed drastically over two decades.

“It’s a lot more corporatized because there’s so much more to an actor now,” she said. “Earlier was a lot more relaxed and focused on doing one thing at a time. Now actors are attending events, speaking in conclaves, working with brands — there’s a lot of different aspects to the personality of an actor now and what they choose to do. Especially the actresses are taking much braver choices in their work, in their choice of films, wanting to be more in the forefront rather than what they did 10, 15 years ago. That’s a good time to be in the industry, when these kinds of movies are being made. But of course, doing a hundred and fifty things is not fun, apart from acting.”

Again, there’s a wistful quality to Khan accepting that her career as an actor is expanding — wistful, but not dissatisfied.The world has grown,” she said. “The world is coming closer and closer and there are more opportunities, so that’s a good thing, but I think I’m a little old school in wanting to just focus on performances.”

But looking back on her decades in the industry, the roles she remembers are those that broke the mold: Mani Ratnam’s “Yuva,” Shakun Batra’s “Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu,” Vishal Bharadwaj’s “Omkara” (an “Othello” adaptation costarring Saif Ali Khan before the two were together).

Even when she sticks to acting, Khan has never been a pure traditionalist — she didn’t even choose acting because of her family, but first tried her hand at law. Her first turn as producer exemplifies that. Whether “The Buckingham Murders” marks the end of that journey doesn’t matter, but is a testament to Khan’s own aptitude for brave choices.

“Sometimes I just feel like chucking everything up and never doing any of it,” she said. “I’ve actually grown up in the industry, I’ve seen my sister’s career, been with her for 20 years, then mine. It’s been forever. So I want to do what I want to do. I’m very, very clear about that. I’m clear about the fact that it’s fine, I don’t have to achieve everything that I want, but I still want to enjoy a part of my career, which is acting through the camera. But I also come with a lot of responsibilities, which is great, because that’s my life.”

“The Buckingham Murders” premiered at the 2023 BFI London Film Festivaland is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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