At 17, an age when most girls are finishing school and going out on their first date, she was already saving money and investing. Thirteen years later, her portfolio includes diamonds, silver, art and real estate. On the way are a soon-to-be-launched clothing line, and a startup in the social media space, for which she is looking for investors.

Meet Sonam Kapoor, movie star, investor, entrepreneur and celebrity brand ambassador, who also produces movies and wants to invest in a patisserie. Not the kind of profile that fits a person who writes down all her expenses and shuns credit cards.

We met Kapoor in her vanity van, which was parked next to an up-market lounge in Juhu, Mumbai, where she was shooting for an endorsement with her father, the veteran actor Anil Kapoor.

Wearing a stunning white, off-shoulder halter-neck dress that touched her feet, her long brown hair tied up with a black band, the 5ft 9in tall Kapoor settled down on the sofa-cum-bed inside the van. Other than a bunch of orange-and-red fresh gerbera flowers on a table, the van’s interiors with white panelling had none of the frills that many Bollywood stars are fond of equipping their vehicles with.

Kapoor’s been financially independent starting at an early age and can’t understand why money is spent on unnecessary frills. “I have not taken any money from my father since I was 17," Kapoor says. “My parents made it very clear that now you are an adult and you have to take care of yourself."

While she lives with her parents at their house, she bought her first car, first designer bag and other expensive accessories with her own money.

Kapoor considers herself a conservative investor and attributes this trait to her grandfather, who was a banker at the country’s largest lender, State Bank of India. She has a manager who handles her financial portfolio, but she keeps track of what’s going into it. Being conservative doesn’t mean she’s shy of investing, especially considering the fact that art—which some investment professionals consider fickle—is one of the asset classes that attracts her.

“I have grown up with art around me. I started investing in art since I understand it and I love it," says Kapoor.

She bought a Shibu Natesan painting 8-9 years ago at a time when he was a well-known artist. “I had bought it for a certain amount and I knew it would appreciate, and it has," says Kapoor, who closely tracks the art market.

Indian art is also a “ridiculous" investment, she says, using the word as a euphemism for the absurd price levels to which it can appreciate. Kapoor, however, says putting money in art was a logical investment for her because she understands art. She knows that it can be risky, but is comfortable taking that risk.

“For example, I bought a Manjit Bawa painting and it has not appreciated to what I had expected it to. But I have bought it because I am passionate about it, also knowing that it is an investment. I am also being smart about it. But at the same time, if a piece of art doesn’t appreciate, it doesn’t matter."

Kapoor doesn’t plan to sell any part of her collection, but it definitely forms a key part of her investment portfolio.

Kapoor and her sister Rhea, 29, also started early with Anil Kapoor Film Co. Ltd. She was 23 years old then, a year after her debut with Saawariya.

“When I was 23, my sister took over my father’s company and we make our own films now. During the production of the film Aisha, my father was in Los Angeles and we did everything on our own," she says. Aisha, a romantic comedy based on Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma, earned about 18 crore at the box office.

As she comes from a family that has been in showbiz and movie production, Kapoor understands the business side of it as well. “I always say that films don’t fail, budgets do. To begin with, you should know your audience... Always assign an appropriate budget. For example, you can put a certain amount of money in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo because you know you are going to open in 5,000 screens, it has a safety net of Sooraj Barjatya and Salman Khan, who have a certain audience, it is a commercial film with song-dance and a mass product. If I invest the same amount of money in Neerja, then I am stupid. You have to invest and market correctly," says Kapoor, the blunt businesswoman. Prem Ratan Dhan Payo grossed 40.35 crore on its opening day.

Kapoor goes on to explain what she means by investing correctly. “For instance, on Friday we opened Neerja for 700 screens. Since the film was good and the word-of-mouth was correct, next week, we increased the (number of) screens. We saw how the market was responding and saw growth. Money works the same way for everything."

Neerja, in which she essayed the character of Neerja Bhanot, the Pan-Am purser who died saving passengers on a hijacked flight in 1986, earned 22 crore on its opening weekend, more than the 21 crore it cost to make.

Kapoor also speaks about profit sharing in the film business and is comfortable doing it. “There is something called profit sharing we do where instead of burdening the producer with a huge amount of money as your fee, you share profits."

Until recently, such deals, in which stars take a cut of the profits on top of a nominal fee, have largely been the prerogative of men superstars in the Indian movie industry.

Apart from being an actor, Kapoor is also well known as a fashionista. So, it is a natural progression for her to enter the apparel space. Kapoor and her sister co-own a clothing line. “We are equal partners in Rheson (a combination of the first three letters of the two sisters’ names) and the brand is completely owned by us. We rolled it out in partnership with Shoppers Stop. We announced it two years back and we will be launching in July," she says. The high street brand will have clothes priced in the range of 400-4,000.

Other than the production house and clothing line, Kapoor is interested in start-ups too but not as a passive investor. “Actually, I want to start something and I am looking for investments," she says, adding that her interest lies in the social media space.

“I consider myself as a brand. When you look at yourself as a brand, sometimes you need to monetise it. Now how do you do it? Instead of other people making money through you, you need to control your brand and make sure you use it in a way that you get the most out of it," Kapoor adds.

Kapoor wants to control the information about her that’s put in the public domain. “You do that through social media. For example, if I am going for an event and wear an X dress. I have put out that image before anybody else. It is a simple philosophy. You control what is about you and you do it first."

This is something she understands. “I feel you should always do things that you understand. So when it comes to social media, my focus will definitely be something in beauty, fashion, films, books... things that are creative. It could be food also."

Kapoor’s investment portfolio expands to include real estate and silver. “I just bought a house (a duplex apartment in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex). It is stressful, obviously, acquiring a piece of property that is of a certain amount. I invest mostly in silver and to an extent in diamonds. I shun gold because my mom advised me to do that. My mom is a jeweller," she says.

So which are the asset classes that she is not comfortable with? Stock market, she says. “I don’t want to do anything that I don’t understand. Hence, it is usual FDs (fixed deposits) that I invest in instead."

She explains her logic with an example. “For instance, don’t make movies if you don’t get it. It is as simple as that. If you understand property development, just do that."

Whether it is movies or money, Kapoor believes in taking advice; but the final call is hers. “For instance, if I am signing a film, I take advice from everyone but eventually I do what I want to do. My parents have always told me that I should not turn around and say you told me to do this. Eventually, it is my decision."

Since Kapoor is conservative and plays safe with money, her financial journey has been steady but slow. She says has grown up seeing her mother—whom she considers her role model in money matters—take all the financial decisions at home. “Especially in finance you need to pick examples from others."

“I write down all my expenses because it is my money and I have been working very hard for it. Sometimes, it is okay to indulge, but make a budget. I always make a budget. I like beautiful things and I like spending money. And when it comes to fashion, it can be considered as an investment. But sometimes what happens is that you invest in something, (but) it doesn’t appreciate. But I am passionate about it so it is okay."

Her advice is to avoid spending too much with credit cards. “You should understand how much is going out. I make sure I know how much I am spending."

If you want to start a business, again, stick to something you understand or are passionate about. “For example, if I invest in a patisserie, it might seem out-of-the-box for others. But since I understand food and know how to market creative things, it seems logical. Don’t do something that’s trendy to do."

With time, experience, travel and listening from people, Kapoor believes her investment horizon will widen. “I believe that when you are a listener or a sponge, with age you will be able to widen your horizon." She is aware that her income is irregular and sporadic. There are times when she doesn’t sign any films. So, she chooses to spend, save and invest accordingly. Her mantra is to always take the wisdom of the older people and also understand the needs of the new generation.

We ask her if she regrets any investment. She says she would have liked to invest in real estate earlier. “I wish I had started taking profit-sharing much earlier. I wish I was more responsive than reactive, whether it is choosing a film or investing," Kapoor says.

As we wind up our conversation, Kapoor checks her mobile phone and sees that she has missed two calls from her mother in the previous 90 minutes. “I should have been home by now. My mom decides by when I should be home," she says with a smile as she gets ready to go home, which is a 10-minute drive away.

Mint Rich Star is a monthly series that introduces readers to the business side of a celebrity. The series will lead up to the annual Mint Rich issue.

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