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Kshama Rao

Karisma Kapoor, with her fiery performance in Khalid Mohamed's Fiza, was Numbero Uno gal this time last year. A couple of months later, the blue-eyed actress reaffirmed her position with Shyam Bengal's Zubeidaa.

Then came the lull. Ek Rishtaa followed, but with the spotlight on Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar, Karisma was left in the wings.

All this while younger sister Kareena, who made a smashing debut last year with J P Dutta's Refugee, is all over the place. Not only is kid sis a looker, she's one helluva actress. Haven't you all read about "the saving grace of Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai," her "fresh strawberry sweetness in Ajnabee," "her breezy performance" in the box-office dud Yaadein?

Kareena Kapoor To cut a long story short, the media, which went into overdrive last year with Karisma's turning fortunes, is now going gaga over Kareena's career moves. She's even being touted as the next Number 1.

The next few months will see more of Kareena as Santosh Sivan's Asoka and Karan Johar's Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham ready for release.

What's more, Karisma does not have any big banners in her hand.

Which brings us to the point of this article -- where is Karisma Kapoor? And is the media in a bit of haste in labeling her younger sister as the next best thing to have happened to the Hindi film industry?

Says Bharati Pradhan, editor, Moviemag, "There are three reasons why Karisma is lying low. First, she has done everything possible in the arena of commercial cinema. So, naturally, she would rather take up roles that explore her range as an actress. She has proved a lot with her films; now, there's nothing really to prove to anyone. She's been in the industry ever since the age of 15-16 and she must be tired now after having put in all the hard work in her career.

"Secondly, everyone knows she is going around with Abhishek Bachchan, so she's made a smart move by phasing out her career as she's probably planning to settle down in a couple of years. Thirdly, she's fulfilled as an actress. I don't think she needs to hanker over anything. Also, by moving out of the scene, she's letting the field open for Kareena. And since Kareena has top banners including the Rajshris and Yashraj, it's all in the family now."

Karisma Kapoor Film columnist and critic Dinesh Raheja too feels that Karisma is deliberately taking it easy. "I guess she is looking only for the 'creatively satisfying' roles. Having said that, I must say, that Karisma still has her market and there are definitely offers coming by. She's always struck that balance between commercial mainstream roles and the artistically satisfying kinds. The commercial filmmakers would still want to cast her. She's not being ousted by anyone. It's just that she's outgrown the routine song and dance roles."

Suneel Darshan, producer-director, Ek Rishtaa and brother of filmmaker Dharmesh Darshan, says, "I'll tell you where Karisma Kapoor is. She is shooting with her favourite director Dharmesh Darshan who gave Karisma her career's biggest hit, Raja Hindustani. The film, which is called Haan Maine Bhi Pyaar Kiya will star Abhishek, Karisma and Akshay Kumar.

"Karisma has taken a long time to reach where she is today, so she is naturally taking it easy. At this stage of her career, any actress, and not just Karisma, would be choosy about the films she takes on. One wrong move and all that she has done over the years could be affected."

Noted film distributor Shyam Shroff feels, "You can't keep Karisma out for long. She'll be there. She's one of the finest actresses to have ever appeared on the Indian screens and she has yet to give her best. She will be playing a very long inning."

Indu Mirani, of the trade magazine Box Office, feels if Karisma has matured today and is taking fewer roles, it's not because of Kareena's presence. "She was due to mature. In Ek Rishtaa, she didn't have much to do. But there are a couple of films coming up in which she's playing very strong characters. For instance, there's Boney Kapoor's film based on the English film Not Without my Daughter, in which she has a great role."

Boney Kapoor, who's working with both the sisters, says, "Karisma has just completed shooting for my film, tentatively called Shakti, which should release early next year. So who's saying she has no big releases coming up? Karisma has carved a niche for herself in the industry. Today, she's in an enviable position; any actress would want to be in her shoes."

Karisma and Kareena Kapoor As for the media's unabashed praise of Kareena, critics and filmmakers believe this is normal. Says Darshan, "The media has always found somebody or the other to praise to the skies and then pull down. I don't think Kareena is getting praise she doesn't deserve. She's young, good-looking and has great potential. I won't call her the flavour of the season but the flavour of the new decade. While Karisma is working in my next film, Mere Jeevan Sathi opposite Akshay Kumar, Kareena is doing Talaash, again with me and Akshay."

Adds Boney, "I think whether the media is going overboard with Kareena is a question best answered by the media itself. All I would say is Kareena sure has potential to be Number 1."

Mirani feels it's not just Kareena that the media is going hyper about these days. It's anybody. "It's the publicity machine that's working overtime. Besides, a couple more films and Kareena will definitely be the Number 1. She has all that it takes."

Raheja agrees, "Kareena is pretty and acts well. Besides, the media have their own favourites and they love to pit one against the other."

Shroff doesn't find anything wrong in the way the media is reacting to Kareena. "That's normal. When I saw her first in Refugee, I felt she was good. When I saw her in Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai, I thought she was a bomb. In Ajnabee, she was just okay. Your perception changes with every film."

Pradhan however feels even the film industry is treating her like a "goddess. The kind of money she's been getting speaks for itself. The fact of the matter is, how much ever you dislike her or her attitude, she is really good. She had nothing to do in Mujhe Kucch..., all she had to do was look awesome and she did look marvelous. In terms of sheer looks, I don't think there's anyone right now who can stand up to her."

Lastly, everybody we spoke to agree there cannot be any comparison between the two sisters. There is a substantial age gap between Karisma and Kareena and so, obviously, they couldn't be vying for the same roles. "Karisma, Raveena, Manisha -- they are in a different league now. They can't be playing college girls forever. So, naturally, Karisma has moved on," says Mirani.

Karisma Kapoor Just as Karisma can't do a Mujhe Kucch... now, even Kareena can not deliver a Zubeidaa feels Raheja.

Shroff adds, "They are both bombs. If someone wants to remake Kandukondain Kandukondain in Hindi, they will be the right choice for the movie. Karisma has matured a lot, she can go for the kill. Kareena can keep playing a college doll. She has tremendous potential and her age as her advantages."

Kapoor feels both sisters have distinct personalities and their approach to acting is different so they would not step on each other's toes. Darshan feels that. while Karisma has undergone a long and arduous struggle, Kareena has got too much too soon. "But they have a smart, intelligent mother who knows to handle their careers and keep them there."

Pradhan has the last word. "Right now, if Kareena isn't Number 1, then who is? So she is definitely reigning, unless Ash (Aishwarya Rai) picks up a couple of a good films and returns with a bang."

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