Married to actor Saif Ali Khan, with whom she has a son, Kapoor's off-screen life is the subject of widespread coverage in India. She has a reputation for being outspoken and assertive, and is recognised for her contributions to the film industry through her fashion style and film roles. In addition to film acting, Kapoor is a stage performer and has contributed as a co-author to three books: an autobiographical memoir and two nutrition guides. She has also launched her own clothing line in association with the retail chain Globus.
Born on 21 September 1980 in Bombay (now Mumbai), Kapoor (often informally referred to as 'Bebo') is the younger daughter of Randhir Kapoor and Babita (née Shivdasani); her elder sister Karisma is also an actress. She is the paternal granddaughter of actor and filmmaker Raj Kapoor, maternal granddaughter of actor Hari Shivdasani, and niece of actor Rishi Kapoor. According to Kapoor, the name "Kareena" was derived from the book Anna Karenina, which her mother read while she was pregnant with her. She is of Punjabi descent on her father's side, and on her mother's side she is of Sindhi and British descent. As a child, Kapoor regularly practised Hinduism with her family, but was also exposed to Christianity from her mother.
Describing herself as a "very naughty [and] spoilt child", Kapoor's exposure to films from a young age kindled her interest in acting; she was particularly inspired by the work of actresses Nargis and Meena Kumari. Despite her family background, her father disapproved of women entering films because he believed it conflicted with the traditional maternal duties and responsibility of women in the family. This led to a conflict between her parents, and they separated. She was then raised by her mother, who worked several jobs to support her daughters until Karisma debuted as an actress in 1991. After living separately for several years, her parents reconciled in October 2007. Kapoor remarked "My father is also an important factor in my life [...] [Al]though we did not see him often in our initial years, we are a family now."
Kapoor attended Jamnabai Narsee School in Mumbai, followed by Welham Girls' School in Dehradun. She attended the institution primarily to satisfy her mother, though later admitted to liking the experience. According to Kapoor, she wasn't inclined towards academics though received good grades in all her classes except mathematics. After graduating from Welham she studied commerce for two years at Mithibai College in Vile Parle (Mumbai). Kapoor then registered for a three-month summer course in microcomputers at Harvard Summer School in the United States. She later developed an interest in law, and enrolled at the Government Law College, Mumbai; during this period, she developed a long-lasting passion for reading. However, after completing her first year, Kapoor decided to pursue her interest to become an actress. She began training at an acting institute in Mumbai mentored by Kishore Namit Kapoor, a member of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).
While training at the institute, Kapoor was cast as the female lead in Rakesh Roshan's Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000) opposite his son, Hrithik Roshan. Several days into the filming, however, she abandoned the project; Kapoor later explained that she had benefited by not doing the film since more prominence was given to the director's son. She debuted later that year alongside Abhishek Bachchan in J. P. Dutta's war drama Refugee. Set during the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971, the film centers on a man who illegally transports civilians back and forth across the border. Kapoor portrayed Naaz, a Bangladeshi girl who falls in love with Bachchan's character while illegally migrating to Pakistan with her family. Her performance was acclaimed by critics; Taran Adarsh of Bollywood Hungama described her as "a natural performer" and noted "the ease with which she emotes the most difficult of scenes", while India Today reported that Kapoor belonged to a new breed of Hindi film actors that breaks away from character stereotypes. On the experience of acting in her first film, Kapoor described it as "tough ... [but] also a great learning experience". Refugee was a moderate box-office success in India and Kapoor's performance earned her the Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut.
For her second release, Kapoor was paired opposite Tusshar Kapoor in Satish Kaushik's box-office hit Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai (2001). A review in The Hindu noted that based on her first two films, she was "definitely the actress to watch out for". She next starred alongside Jackie Shroff and Hrithik Roshan in Subhash Ghai's flop Yaadein, followed by Abbas-Mustan's moderately successful thriller Ajnabee, co-starring Akshay Kumar, Bobby Deol and Bipasha Basu. Later that year, she appeared in Santosh Sivan's period epic Aśoka, a partly fictionalized account of the life of the Indian emperor of the same name. Featured opposite Shah Rukh Khan, Kapoor found herself challenged playing the complex personality of her character Kaurwaki (a Kalingan princess) with whom Ashoka falls in love. Aśoka was screened at the Venice and 2001 Toronto International Film Festivals, and received generally positive reviews internationally but failed to do well in India, which was attributed by critics to the way Ashoka was portrayed. Jeff Vice of The Deseret News described Kapoor as "riveting" and commended her screen presence. Rediff.com, however, was more critical concluding that her presence in the film was primarily used for aesthetic purposes. At the 47th Filmfare Awards, Aśoka was nominated for five awards including a Best Actress nomination for Kapoor.
A key point in Kapoor's career came when she was cast by Karan Johar as Pooja ("Poo", a good-natured, superficial girl) in the 2001 melodrama Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... alongside an ensemble cast. Filming the big-budget production was a new experience for Kapoor, and she recalls it fondly: "[I]t was great fun doing [the film and] we had a blast. [W]orking with the unit and the six mega star set was a dream come true." Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... was an immensely popular release, finishing as India's second highest-grossing film of the year and Kapoor's highest-grossing film to that point. It also became one of the biggest Bollywood success of all time in the overseas market, earning over ₹1 billion (US$16 million) worldwide. Taran Adarsh described Kapoor as "one of the main highlights of the film", and she received her second Filmfare nomination for the role—her first for Best Supporting Actress—as well as nominations at the International Indian Academy (IIFA) and Screen Awards.
Box Office India reported that the success of Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... established Kapoor as a leading actress of Hindi cinema, and Rediff.com published that with Aśoka she had become the highest-paid Indian actress to that point earning ₹15 million (US$230,000) per film. During 2002 and 2003, Kapoor continued to work in a number of projects but experienced a setback. All six films in which she starred—Mujhse Dosti Karoge!, Jeena Sirf Merre Liye, Talaash: The Hunt Begins..., Khushi, Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon, and the four-hour war epic LOC Kargil—were critically and commercially unsuccessful. Critics described her performances in these films as "variations of the same character" she played in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham..., and expressed concern that she was becoming typecast.
By 2004, Kapoor was keen on broadening her range as an actress and thus decided to portray more challenging roles. Under the direction of Sudhir Mishra, Kapoor played the role of a golden-hearted prostitute in Chameli, a film relating the story of a young prostitute who meets with a widowed investment banker (played by Rahul Bose). When Kapoor was initially offered the film she refused it, explaining that she would be uncomfortable in the role. She relented when Mishra approached her for the second time, and in preparation for the role, visited several of Mumbai's red-light districts at night to study the mannerisms of sex workers and the way they dressed. Chameli was well received by critics and the film marked a significant turning point in her career, earning Kapoor a special jury recognition at the 49th Filmfare Awards. Indiatimes praised her "intuitive brilliance" and stated that she had exceeded all expectations. Rediff.com, however, found her portrayal unconvincing and excessively stereotypical, describing her as "sounding more like a teenager playacting than a brash, hardened streetwalker" and comparing her mannerisms to a caricature.
Kapoor next co-starred in Mani Ratnam's bilingual project Yuva alongside Ajay Devgan, Abhishek Bachchan, Vivek Oberoi, Rani Mukerji and Esha Deol. The film, consisting of three chapters, tells the story of six individuals linked by a car accident. Kapoor is featured in the third chapter as Oberoi's love interest (Mira, a witty young woman). In a Times of India review film critic Subhash K. Jha described her role as "fey and insubstantial", but further stated that "she turns these character traits to her own advantage to create a girl who is at once enigmatic and all-there". She then appeared alongside Amitabh Bachchan and Fardeen Khan in Govind Nihalani's critically acclaimed film Dev, which revolved around the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in the Indian state of Gujarat. Kapoor's role was that of a Muslim victim named Aaliya, modelled after Zaheera Sheikh (a key witness in Vadodara's Best Bakery case). It earned her a Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress and nominations for Best Actress at various award ceremonies. Taran Adarsh described her as "first-rate" and in particular noted her scene with Bachchan's character.
Shortly afterwards, Kapoor was cast for the first time as a villain in the thriller Fida. Set against the backdrop of the Mumbai underworld, the film follows the story of an online heist in which her character, Neha Mehra, becomes involved. Although the film was unsuccessful at the box office, Kapoor received positive reviews for her performance, and some critics noted a distinct progression from her earlier roles. Her subsequent releases that year included Abbas-Mustan's thriller Aitraaz and Priyadarshan's comedy Hulchul, both of which were successful at the Indian box office. Following the success of her last two releases, she was cast as the protagonist of the 2005 drama Bewafaa. The feature received mostly negative reviews, and Kapoor's portrayal of Anjali Sahai (an unfaithful woman) was not well received. Nikhat Kazmi of Indiatimes believed that to become a serious actress Kapoor was embodying a maturer, more-jaded character beyond her years in Bewafaa. That same year, she starred in the romantic dramas Kyon Ki and Dosti: Friends Forever, both of which underperformed at the box office; however, Kapoor's performance in Kyon Ki was generally well received by critics (with the BBC describing her as "a pure natural").
In 2006, Kapoor appeared in three films. She first starred in the thriller 36 China Town, followed by the comedy Chup Chup Ke; both were moderately successful. She next portrayed the character of Desdemona in Omkara—the Hindi adaptation of William Shakespeare's Othello. The film (directed by Vishal Bhardwaj) is a tragedy of sexual jealousy set against the backdrop of the political system in Uttar Pradesh. Describing Bhardwaj as a "world-class director [with] a unique style", Kapoor was cast in the project after the director had seen her performance in Yuva, and was subsequently required to attend script-reading sessions along with the entire cast. The feature premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and was screened at the Cairo International Film Festival. Omkara was received positively by critics, and Kapoor's portrayal earned her a fourth Filmfare Award and first Screen Award. In a 2010 retrospective of the "Top 80 Iconic Performances" of Hindi cinema, Filmfare wrote that she was "brilliant" and praised her ability to "effortless[ly]" convey the various emotions her character went through. Kapoor considered her role in Omkara as a "new benchmark" in her career, and compared her portrayal of Dolly with her own evolving maturity as a woman.
Following Omkara, Kapoor took a short break from acting, as she felt that "nothing [was] challenging enough for me to say yes". In an interview with The Times of India Kapoor commented, "In my initial years in the industry, I pushed myself to do a lot of work because I was greedy. I did some films—which I now regret—purely for the money. Today, I want to do selective films." Later that year, she appeared briefly in one of the year's biggest hits, the Farhan Akhtar action-thriller Don (a remake of the 1978 film of the same name).
Kapoor returned to film as the female protagonist Geet Dhillon, a vivacious Sikh girl with a zest for life, in the romantic comedy Jab We Met (2007). Director Imtiaz Ali was not a well-known figure before its production, with only one feature credit to his name, but Kapoor agreed to the film after being impressed with his "mind-blowing" script. Featured opposite Shahid Kapoor, the film relates the story of two people with contrasting personalities who meet on a train and eventually fall in love. The film was received favourably by critics and became successful at the box office with gross earnings of ₹303 million (US$4.7 million). Kapoor won several awards for her performance, including her second Screen Award and the Filmfare Award for Best Actress. Jaspreet Pandohar of the BBC commented that the role required a mixture of naivety and spontaneity, and was impressed with Kapoor's effort. The critic Rajeev Masand labelled her the film's "biggest strength, as she brings alive her character with not just those smart lines, but with the kind of candor actors seldom invest in their work." While shooting for Jab We Met, Kapoor and Shahid ended their three-year relationship. When asked by Mumbai Mirror, she stated "I hold him in utmost regard, and I hope one day we could be good friends. He is a great guy."
The following year, Kapoor co-starred in Vijay Krishna Acharya's action-thriller Tashan, where she met her future husband in actor Saif Ali Khan. Although a poll (conducted by Bollywood Hungama) named it the most anticipated release of the year, the film underperformed at the box office grossing ₹279 million (US$4.4 million) in India. After providing her voice for the character of Laila, the love interest of a street dog named Romeo, in the Yash Raj Films and Walt Disney Pictures animated film Roadside Romeo, Kapoor played a mistrustful wife who believed her husband was unfaithful in Rohit Shetty's comedy Golmaal Returns. A sequel to the 2006 film Golmaal: Fun Unlimited, the film had an ambivalent reception from critics, and Kapoor received mixed reviews. The Indian Express believed the screenplay was derivative, concluding: "There is nothing particularly new about a suspicious wife keeping tabs on her husband, and there is nothing particularly new in the way Kareena plays it." Golmaal Returns was a financial success with global revenues of ₹793 million (US$12 million).
In 2009, Kapoor was cast as Simrita Rai (a surgeon who moonlights as a model) in Sabbir Khan's battle-of-the-sexes comedy Kambakkht Ishq, opposite Akshay Kumar. Set in Los Angeles, it was the first Indian film to be shot at Universal Studios and featured cameo appearances by Hollywood actors. The film was poorly received by critics but became an economic success, earning over ₹840 million (US$13 million) worldwide; a review in Times of India described Kapoor's performance as "a complete let-down" and "unconvincing". The box-office flop Main Aurr Mrs Khanna came next, following which she played the leading lady in the dramatic thriller Kurbaan, alongside Saif Ali Khan and Vivek Oberoi. The film (which marked the directorial debut of Rensil D'Silva) featured Kapoor as Avantika Ahuja, a woman who is confined to house arrest after discovering that her husband is a terrorist. Describing the film as "an emotionally draining experience", Kapoor explained that it was difficult to disconnect from her character. The film was critically praised, and Kapoor received her fourth Filmfare Best Actress nomination. Gaurav Malani of The Economic Times commented that after a long time the actress was given "a role of substance that brings her performing potential to the fore", while Subhash K. Jha described it as her "most consistently pitched performance to date" played "with splendid sensitivity" and "credib[ility]".
Kapoor's second Filmfare nomination that year came for Rajkumar Hirani's National Film Award-winning 3 Idiots, a film loosely based on the novel Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat. Co-starring alongside Aamir Khan, R. Madhavan and Sharman Joshi, Kapoor played Pia (a medical student and Khan's love interest). Several actresses were considered for the role, though Kapoor was eventually cast under the recommendation of Khan. The film received critical acclaim and emerged as the highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time up until then, grossing ₹2.03 billion (US$32 million) in India. It also did well internationally, earning over ₹1.08 billion (US$17 million), the second biggest Bollywood success ever in the overseas market. The Deccan Herald opined that Kapoor "brings a dollop of sunshine and feminine grace to an otherwise masculine tale. She is so spunky and spontaneous you wish there was room for more of her." 3 Idiots received several Best Movie recognitions at major Indian award functions, and Kapoor was awarded the IIFA Award for Best Actress, among others.
In 2010, Kapoor appeared in the romantic comedy Milenge Milenge, a production delayed since 2005. The feature garnered negative reviews and poor box-office returns. Kapoor's role was small, and not well received. She next starred alongside Kajol and Arjun Rampal in We Are Family, an official adaptation of the Hollywood tearjerker Stepmom (1998) from director Siddharth Malhotra. Kapoor played the role of the career-oriented Shreya Arora (a character originally played by Julia Roberts) and refrained from watching the film again so she could bring her own interpretation to it. Priyanka Roy of The Telegraph criticized the film for being "superficial and unnecessarily melodramatic", but praised Kapoor for "breath[ing] life and a new-found maturity into what is largely a uni-dimensional character". We Are Family emerged a moderate success and Kapoor was awarded the Best Supporting Actress at the 56th Filmfare Awards. At the end of the year, she reunited with director Rohit Shetty for Golmaal 3, a sequel to Golmaal Returns. Like its predecessor, the film received mixed reviews though emerged as the most successful entry in the Golmaal series, earning more than ₹1 billion (US$16 million) domestically. For her portrayal of the tomboy Daboo, Kapoor received Best Actress nominations at various award ceremonies including Filmfare.
Kapoor had further success in 2011 as the love interest of Salman Khan's character in the romantic drama Bodyguard, a remake of the 2010 Malayalam film of the same name. The film was not well received by critics, though became a financial success, with a domestic total of ₹1.4 billion (US$22 million)—India's highest-earning film of the year. A review in Mint dismissed Kapoor's role as the "sacrificial, ornamental [and] submissive female"; Mid Day referred to her as "bright", arguing that she "actually manages to bring her caricature of a role alive". She next appeared in Anubhav Sinha's science fiction film Ra.One with Shah Rukh Khan and Arjun Rampal. Made on a budget of ₹1.5 billion (US$23 million)—"India's most expensive film" at the time—the film follows the story of a London-based videogame designer creating a villainous character who escapes into the real world. Despite negative media coverage of the film's box office performance, Ra.One became one of the biggest earners of the year with a worldwide total of over ₹2.4 billion (US$37 million), and Kapoor's fourth major commercial success in two consecutive years.
Kapoor followed her success in Bodyguard and Ra.One with a role in Shakun Batra's directorial debut Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012) opposite Imran Khan. Set in Las Vegas, the romantic comedy follows the story of two strangers who get married one night after getting drunk. She played Riana Braganza, a carefree young woman, and was particularly drawn to the qualities of her character: "Riana knows what she is doing. Even though she does not have a house or a job, she is a positive person [...] very similar to the way I am." The film received positive reviews and was an economic success, grossing a total of ₹530 million (US$8.3 million) in India and abroad. The Hollywood Reporter found her "endearingly natural"; Sukanya Verma of Rediff.com asserted that "after doing ornamental roles in films like Bodyguard and Ra.One, it is nice to see the spunky actress in her element again since Jab We Met." She next appeared in Agent Vinod, an espionage thriller directed by Sriram Raghavan. Kapoor was enthusiastic about the project, but it met with a tepid response and she was described as miscast. When asked why she had taken the role, Kapoor described it as an opportunity to attempt something she had never done before.
For her next feature, Kapoor was cast as the protagonist of Madhur Bhandarkar's Heroine, a drama revolving around the Bollywood film industry. Originally the first choice for the role, Kapoor was hesitant to take on the project when Bhandarkar approached her with the film's initial concept. With reservations about the criticism her character might evoke, she was replaced by Aishwarya Rai. Days after production began, Rai left the film (due to her pregnancy) and Bhandarkar re-approached Kapoor with the film. When the director reinforced his faith in her, she agreed to do the film after having read the completed script. Kapoor (who described her character of Mahi Arora—a fading star—as "bipolar and schizophrenic") refrained from taking on any other projects, since she found Heroine "very aggressive and tiring". Reviewers found the film to be "drably monotonous", but noted that it was watchable primarily due to Kapoor's performance. Rajeev Masand described it as "a deliciously camp performance," played "with utmost sincerity". Bollywood Hungama opined that it was her best work to date and concluded that "[t]hough her character is inconsistent [...] Kareena furnishes the heroine's character with a rare vulnerability and an exceptional inner life." At the annual Stardust Awards, Kapoor garnered the Editor's Choice for Best Actress, and received additional nominations at Filmfare, IIFA, Producers Guild, Screen and Stardust.
On 16 October 2012, Kapoor married actor Saif Ali Khan in a private ceremony in Bandra, Mumbai, and a reception was later held at The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the Lutyens Bungalow Zone in Mumbai and Delhi respectively. Kapoor stated that despite adding Khan to her name she would continue practising Hinduism after her marriage. At the end of the year, she co-starred alongside Aamir Khan and Rani Mukerji as the "tantalisingly seductive prostitute" Rosie, in Reema Kagti's crime mystery Talaash: The Answer Lies Within. Set against the backdrop of Mumbai's red-light districts, it follows the travails of its personnel and principal, Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat (Khan) who is assigned the duty of solving a mysterious car accident. Pratim D. Gupta of The Telegraph found Kapoor to be a standout among the ensemble, adding that "she brings an unseen mix of oomph and emotion that becomes the [film's] centrepiece". With global revenues of ₹1.74 billion (US$27 million), the film emerged as a box office hit, and earned Kapoor Best Actress nominations at the Screen, Stardust and Zee Cine award ceremonies.
In 2013, Kapoor collaborated with Ajay Devgan for the fourth time (alongside Amitabh Bachchan, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpayee and Amrita Rao) in Prakash Jha's Satyagraha, an ensemble socio-political drama loosely inspired by social activist Anna Hazare's fight against corruption in 2011. The film received little praise from critics and underperformed at the box office earning ₹675 million (US$11 million) domestically. A review in the Daily News and Analysis noted that Kapoor's role as reporter Yasmin Ahmed was "limited to mouthing a few 'important' dialogues and being present in crucial scenes like any leading lady". Following an appearance in the poorly received romantic comedy Gori Tere Pyaar Mein (2013), Kapoor decreased her workload for the next two years to focus on her marriage and family. She took on smaller parts where she played the love-interest of Ajay Devgan and Salman Khan in the dramas Singham Returns (2014) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) respectively. Singham Returns served as a sequel to the 2011 film Singham and Kapoor's role was written specifically for her by Rohit Shetty—the third time the pair collaborated. Reviews for the film were generally mixed with Kapoor being criticized for taking a role of minimal importance, but the film was a financial success with a revenue of over ₹1.4 billion (US$22 million). Kabir Khan's Bajrangi Bhaijaan emerged as India's highest-earning film of the year grossing a total of ₹3.20 billion (US$50 million), and earned the National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment at the 63rd National Film Awards.
In 2016, Kapoor took on a starring role opposite Arjun Kapoor in Ki & Ka, a romantic comedy about gender stereotypes from the writer-director R. Balki. She was cast as the ambitious and career-oriented Kia Bansal, and was particularly drawn to the project for its relevance and novel concept. Critics were divided in their opinion of the film, but it emerged a financial success grossing over ₹1 billion (US$16 million) worldwide. Meena Iyer of The Times of India mentioned Kapoor as "terrific" and Sukanya Verma considered the actress to be the film's prime asset noting her ease at "smoothly transition[ing] between fragile and volatile to reveal a woman comfortable in her own skin, unapologetic about living life on her terms and never missing an occasion to mince words."
Kapoor next played the role of Dr. Preet Sahni in Abhishek Chaubey's critically acclaimed Udta Punjab (2016), a crime drama that documents the substance abuse endemic in the Indian state of Punjab. Co-starring alongside Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Diljit Dosanjh, Kapoor was initially reluctant to do the film due to the length of her role, but agreed after having read the completed script and waived half of her fees to star in it. Udta Punjab generated controversy when the Central Board of Film Certification deemed that the film represented Punjab in a negative light and demanded extensive censorship before its theatrical release. The Bombay High Court later cleared the film for exhibition with one scene cut. Rediff.com stated that despite being "the narrative’s most conventional character," the film "greatly relies on [her] for warmth and virtue" and Mehul S. Thakkar of The Deccan Chronicle wrote that she was successful in "deliver[ing] a strong and hard hitting performance." For her performance, Kapoor received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Filmfare and Zee Cine award ceremonies.
On 20 December 2016, Kapoor gave birth to her son, Taimur Ali Khan Pataudi, at Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai.
In September 2017, Kapoor commenced filming for Shashanka Ghosh's Veere Di Wedding, a romantic comedy co-starring Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania.
Alongside her acting work, Kapoor has established a career as a designer and an author. During her five-year association with the retail chain Globus, Kapoor became the first Indian actress to launch her own line of clothing for women; she described the collaboration as being "special" and "reflective of my personal sense of style". Her collection made its debut several months later in stores across India, and was well received. Following the end of her contract with Globus, she expressed a desire to work with a design house to release her clothing line internationally, but later explained that those plans were on hold.
In 2009, Kapoor collaborated with nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar on Don't Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight, a book which focused on the principles of healthy eating habits. Published by Random House Publications, the book was well received by critics, and sold 10,000 copies within its first twenty days. A follow-up titled, Women and The Weight Loss Tamasha, was released two years later. It addressed the weight loss concerns and eating habits of women in various parts of their life, and featured Kapoor in a voice-over for the audiobook. In February 2013, Kapoor released her autobiographical memoir: The Style Diary of a Bollywood Diva. Co-authored alongside Rochelle Pinto, it became the first book to be launched under the Shobhaa De imprint of Penguin Books—a set of series that included celebrity memoirs, guides and biographies. In a review published by Mint, Shefalee Vasudev criticised the writing style as "too-breezy" but further stated that it is "a well-produced book, reproducing chirpy little post-it notes and diet charts, punctuated with Bebo's stunning pictures from her private albums to fashion magazine covers." Later that year, she collaborated with Diwekar for the third time on The Indian Food Wisdom and The Art of Eating Right, a documentary film about nutrition.
During her years in the film industry, Kapoor has been actively involved in promoting children's education and the safety of women. In June 2010, she took part in the international campaign 1GOAL Education for All, and was appointed ambassador for the Shakti Campaign—a project launched by NDTV to combat violence against women—in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. Two years later, Kapoor launched Channel V's anti-rape mobile app 'VithU'; she stated that with an increasing amount of violence against women in India, "[i]t [was] important for actors to stand up for issues because they can reach out to a lot of people."
In January 2014, Kapoor began working with UNICEF to advocate the education of girls and increase quality based education in India. Speaking of her association, she expressed hope in creating places "where children feel safe and secure, and where interactive and creative tools are used to ensure that children are happy and learning." During the first year, Kapoor visited schools in the states of Rajasthan and Maharashtra where she interacted with students and participated in fundraising events hosted by the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya organisation in the Jalna district. Along with UNICEF India's Goodwill Ambassador (Sharmila Tagore), Kapoor hosted a charity dinner to help raise awareness for the development of underprivileged kids, and launched the 'Child-Friendly School and Systems' (CFSS) package. She later donated an equivalent amount of the funds raised during a joint initiative by UNICEF and Groupon for a higher-quality learning environment in Indian schools. The following year, she awarded 31 students and 5 teachers for their contribution towards the field of education in Chhattisgarh at the concluding ceremony of Child Rights Protection week. Also that year, Kapoor provided a voice-over for the documentary film Girl Rising: Woh Padhegi, Woh Udegi [She will learn, she will fly] for the organisation of the same name, and produced a documentary on women's empowerment. In June 2016, she spoke at an event organised by UNICEF in Lucknow to promote menstrual hygiene management.
Additionally, Kapoor has made public appearances to support other charitable organisations. She performed at a fundraiser for the World Youth Peace Summit in November 2003, and participated in a concert to raise money for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. She visited Indian jawans (troops) in Rajasthan, for a special Holi weekend episode of NDTV's reality show Jai Jawaan. In 2010, Kapoor adopted the village of Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh as part of NDTV's Greenathon Campaign, to provide the village with a regular supply of electricity. Four years later, she participated in a campaign to raise awareness on hunger and malnutrition in the world and made donations to the Kashmir flood relief. In September 2016, Kapoor attended the inaugural of Global Citizen India—a joint initiative by the music festival of the same name and The Global Education and Leadership Foundation.
Kapoor has participated in several stage shows and world tours since 2002. Her first tour (Heartthrobs: Live in Concert (2002) with Hrithik Roshan, Karisma Kapoor, Arjun Rampal and Aftab Shivdasani) was successful in the United States and Canada. At the end of that year, she performed with several other Bollywood stars at Kings Park Stadium in Durban, South Africa in the show Now or Never.
Four years later, Kapoor returned to the stage with six other Bollywood celebrities in the successful Rockstars Concert world tour. The concert was originally scheduled to commence in April 2006, but was postponed due to the arrest of Salman Khan. It later began the following month and was staged in 19 cities across the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. In 2008, Kapoor performed in Shah Rukh Khan's Temptation Reloaded 2008, a series of concerts in a number of countries. The show (which also featured Arjun Rampal, Katrina Kaif, Ganesh Hegde, Javed Ali and Anusha Dandekar) debuted at the Ahoy Rotterdam venue in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Several months later she again joined Khan, Rampal and Kaif to perform for an audience of 15,000 at Dubai's Festival City Arena.
Known for her nonchalant relationship with the media, Kapoor has gained a reputation for discussing her private life with no reservations. As a child she regularly attended award ceremonies and events with her family, and would also accompany Karisma on-set during filming. In an interview with Filmfare, she explained that growing up in a film family helped her develop a sense of professionalism and dedication towards her craft. Kapoor's private life has been the subject of media attention in India, with frequent press coverage of her weight and relationship with actor Saif Ali Khan. The couple—dubbed "Saifeena" by the entertainment media—has been one of the country's most-reported celebrity stories since 2007, and Kapoor gave birth to their son Taimur on 20 December 2016.
While a segment of the press has described Kapoor as friendly and extremely close to her family, others have criticized her for being arrogant and vain—an image she gained in the wake of her superficial character, Poo, in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (2001). She subsequently featured in films portraying similar characters, and this further established her off- and on-screen personae. Before the release of Chameli (2004) (in which she played a sex worker), Kapoor stated that "there is a certain image that people identify you with [and] [i]t always follows you whichever role you play. I am trying to transgress this image and become more screen-friendly than image-friendly." Chameli helped Kapoor reinvent her on-screen persona, and she later explained that her honesty and openness was often perceived by the media as arrogance.
Kapoor is also known for her assertive and moody nature, and her outspoken views and independence have been singled out for making major contributions to her career; they "add to her superstar aura". In an early interview, she confessed to being an "introvert, yet [...] extremely candid and blunt", reasoning: "Total faith and complete belief in myself is my attitude towards life, films and virtually everything else. I am all about doing what I feel is right. It is not easy to pin me down as I can be a bundle of contradictions." Journalist Subhash K Jha explained that while this approach has sometimes been at the cost of professional opportunities, it "makes her such a favourite among the generation that believes in self regard being the highest form of creativity [...] She lives for the moment and crams all her intensity into it, not sparing a single thought for what is gone and what is waiting around the corner." Meanwhile, Anu Ahuja suggested that Kapoor's demeanour is an act; she is "cold and unapproachable so that no one will act funny with her".
Today, Kapoor is considered as one of the most popular Bollywood celebrities in India. Her look and performances have established her as a style icon for young women. In a 2009 poll conducted by the newspaper Daily News and Analysis Kapoor was voted one of India's most popular icons; with her partner Saif Ali Khan, she was listed amongst the top celebrity endorsers for brands and products worldwide. She became the only Indian actress to be featured on CNNGo's list of "Who Mattered Most in India", and was later selected by Verve for its list of the country's most powerful women from 2008 to 2013. In June 2010, Kapoor was named "India's Most Beautiful Woman" by the Indian edition of People magazine; Eastern Eye and Indian Maxim named her as "Asia's Sexiest Woman" and "India's Hottest Woman" in 2011 and 2012 respectively. The following year, she was selected by India Today for its list of the country's most influential women. From 2012–16, Kapoor has featured on Forbes India's "Celebrity 100," a list based on the income and popularity of India's celebrities, peaking at the seventh position in 2012 with an estimated annual earning of ₹735 million (US$11 million).
According to media reports, Kapoor relies on her instincts and spontaneity as an actor. She is known to commit heavily to each role, and refrains from rehearsing for a project. Commenting on this, director Rajkumar Hirani said "I usually have a habit of conducting rehearsals for my actors, but she insisted on not having them as it would affect her spontaneity. She really surprised me with a couple of emotional scenes which we canned in just one take." Karan Johar described Kapoor as a "natural", explaining that "she has no craft, grammar or process attached to her acting [...] It is a great sense of cinema that can keep her going." According to Rensil D'Silva (who directed her in Kurbaan), "Kareena [..] is instinctive and has emotional intelligence. She absorbs the situation and performs accordingly. Discussing the scene, in fact, harms her."
While discussing her career highlights in a 2010 article, Rediff.com noted: "[E]ven though a lot of her starring roles have been forgettable, [a] look at her filmography now, however, would show a more thoughtful selection of roles [...] playing to her strengths." Her portrayal of a series of superficial characters at the start of her career were criticized; film historian Gyan Prakash explained that these roles "tended to infantilise her, packaging her as daddy's little girl, all bubble and no fizz". Critics noted Chameli (2004) as her coming of age, claiming that "a new actor in her was discovered". Following her portrayal of a variety of character types in Chameli, Dev (2004), Omkara (2006) and Jab We Met (2007), Kapoor was noted for her versatility. In 2010, Filmfare Magazine included two of her performances—from Omkara and Jab We Met—in its list of "80 Iconic Performances". India Today labelled her "the most versatile female lead in the industry", noting that she "play[s] her roles with trademark spunk".
Manjula Sen of The Telegraph wrote that although she has "the worst success ratio among her contemporaries", it does not affect her marketability. Sen further explained that Kapoor's strength lies in her being versatile; she is "effortlessly honest in her performances. It is a candour that spills over in her personal conduct." Writing for CNN-News18, Rituparna Chatterjee spoke of her transformation to date: "[A]fter 40 films and 10 years of fighting off competition from some of the most versatile actors of her generation, Kareena has matured into a bankable actor reinventing herself with surprising ease." In 2004, Kapoor placed third on Rediff's list of "Top Bollywood Female Stars". She was later ranked seventh and fifth in 2005 and 2006, respectively, and returned to third place in 2007. In January 2011, Kapoor placed fourth on Rediff's list of "Top 10 Actresses of 2000–2010".
Kapoor has received six Filmfare Awards out of ten nominations. For her role in Refugee, Kapoor was awarded the Best Female Debut in 2000. She earned a special jury recognition for Chameli (2003), and two Critics Award for Best Actress for Dev (2004) and Omkara (2006). Kapoor later received the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for Jab We Met (2007) and We Are Family (2010) respectively.