From Raj Kapoor’s naive optimism to Shammi Kapoor’s gay abandon, Amitabh Bachchan’s rage against the system to Shahrukh Khan’s east-meets-west balancing act, every generation has an actor that reflects the hopes, fears and aspirations of that era. And if there is one actor who can rightfully claim this iconic stature for the present generation, it is Ranbir Kapoor.
Scion of the first family of Bollywood, Ranbir Kapoor has accomplished the seemingly impossible. He has managed to engage the attention of the attention deficiency syndrome inflicted, cell-phone tapping, social-networking addicted Gen-Y Bollywood audience with films like Bachna Ae Haseeno, Wake Up Sid and Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year. Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar was a film that not just spoke but also sang in the language of Gen-Y. These were not commercial blockbusters, mind you. But these were films that struck a chord with an audience that is craving for films that speak to them in their own language. A language that comes naturally to Ranbir Kapoor. We came back impressed by his clarity of thought and action. To put it simply, this guy is sorted. Here’s what he had to say…
Being Ranbir Kapoor, do things come easily to you? How do you deal with goals that prove difficult to attain?
Nothing is easy in life. You have to be passionate about achieving your aims. You have to work hard and put in the effort. Nothing comes easy, just because I am who I am. If I feel that there is something I want and it is unattainable, I convert that into my driving force and go all out and achieve it. That’s when I really feel that sense of achievement.
You turned 29 and also marked four years as an actor in 2011. Have you taken stock of where you’ve been, what you’ve learned and where next, stuff like that?
Absolutely. I do that exercise every year. I set some goals, some targets for myself for the year. It is sort of a list on my cell-phone, about the person I aspire to be, things I aspire to do. It could be anything, you know, like spending more time with my parents, trying to quit smoking, get more sleep, play more football, take out more time for myself. It is essential for me to do this stock taking exercise once every year. Set a goal, a target. It just organises my life better and helps me achieve my goals in a more systematic manner. It keeps me focussed on what my priorities are and what my priorities aren’t, which I think is equally important. You need to know what you want but it is also important to know what you don’t want.
Can you share some of these learnings that could be useful to others reading this?
It is very individual specific. Everyone has that in-built mechanism of ambition and drive for what they really want to achieve. I don’t think I have to spell out my shenanigans or put out a list of dos and don’ts for others. Everyone has their own goals, their own targets. They have their own idols who inspire them. They have their own benchmarks. I don’t think that anyone can tell anyone what to do or what not to do. I am glad that we live in an age where every youngster has his or her own ideals. They are setting their own benchmarks. I really don’t think they are bothered by anyone else’s rule-book. Each one is charting his or her path to what they want to achieve.
Do you believe that youngsters today are ambitious and driven?
Absolutely. The current generation may seem aimless but at the back of their minds, they know what they want to do with their lives. They become responsible very early. Youngsters today have so much exposure to different influences, so early in life. When we were growing up, there was no Internet. We could hardly travel. Today, one is exposed to different cultures from around the world. You meet people from diverse backgrounds. The Internet is a huge facilitator in bringing in various social and cultural influences. Then there is satellite television. The world has opened up for this generation like never before. I think, because of this exposure, the youngsters today grow up quickly.
So, when it comes to choosing the films you act in, do you make conscious efforts to align yourself with the thinking of your young audience, like say, in films like Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year or Wake Up Sid?
I don’t have to make any conscious effort. It is instinctive. I am 29. I am not trying to play a 40-year-old. Obviously, I get the kind of roles that a youngster can play. Being one of the younger actors in the industry, I get the opportunity to enact young characters. If the film is good, it reflects on society and the mindset and aspirations of the present generation. My only hope is that through my characters, I am able to inspire them in some small way. I believe that if I succeed in changing ten people’s lives in this country through my movies – if they feel inspired, if they feel motivated, I will feel I have made a difference.
With Rockstar, your character Jordan aka Janardhan wanted to experience pain to become a better artist. Do you personally believe that experiencing pain makes for a better artist?
I do. I believe that unless you are exposed to various emotions and experiences in life you won’t have that range… If everything is just sunshine in your life, you won’t have any depth as an artist. Or as an individual, even. I don’t mean to say you have to go through experiences of such exaggerated level, obviously it’s a movie. But we all face heartbreaks, we all go through moments of sadness, happiness, joy, jealousy, greed, hate… And I believe that it is important to experience these moments, live through these emotions so that your reservoir as an artist is so deep, and so full that you can channel those into your work. It brings a sense of depth and truth to what you are doing. I can’t just be going to the sets, learning dialogue and spitting them out flatly. There is a deeper place where such things come from. I believe that makes the audience connect with your performance and makes for a more organic and natural performance.
Can you share some experiences that have shaped you as an artist?
I think, as a human being we all have such experiences. But somewhere they are also dark experiences. I can’t really speak about them because it’s my secret chamber. Only I can enter that place. You will also have similar dark places within you. But I cannot use your experience and you cannot use mine. You cannot really talk openly about it. But I believe that each and every one of us, has this chamber. Unless, of course, you shut yourself away from the world in some room. Then maybe, you are devoid of all experiences. But if you are living a normal life, you are intelligent and you observe your own life, lives of those around you… you are bound to have a treasure trove of experiences. The thing is to be aware. Aware of your own experiences and emotions, of the reactions, mannerisms of those around you. That’s what builds up that reservoir of experiences and gives us character and depth, not just in movies or as an artist but even in real life.
So you have to keep yourself open to influences and experiences…
As an artist, you grow with every interaction you have with someone, every person you meet. Every director I have worked with has taught me so much. Every day spent on the set it may be the most boring day, but you have taken something away from it. You have enriched yourself, you have added to your experiences and you are moving on. I look at it as a long journey and every day is a learning. You cannot be content. You have to be driven. You have to be passionate. You have to be hungry for more.
How do you cope with all the adulation and attention that comes your way?
All my life, I have always been below average. Be it in academics, sports or dramatics. So, I never regarded myself as someone special. When I became an actor, I got a lot from the media, from the industry, from the audience… I got more than what I deserve. But I don’t take it for granted. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder because I am from a certain family. I have been regarded as the next superstar, as the next big thing for a long time now. But I don’t take all these tags seriously.
I am here to do my work. I believe that I have achieved only 0.5 per cent of what I really want to achieve. My journey has just begun. I need to achieve so much more. I need to have a big body of work. I need to work with good filmmakers. For me, I am just a labourer. I like working on a film. I like creatively surrendering myself to a movie. And that is what really drives me. The frills and certain tags like youth icon or next big thing that are attached don’t matter. I am aware that it is all relative. If my films do well, I will get all these labels. If my films stop doing well, all this will disappear. So, I focus on the movies and give my all to my work everyday.
How do you deal with it when your personal experiences end up as fodder for Page 3 gossip?
I accept it as a part of the territory. It is part and parcel of being an actor. People are interested in our personal lives. It is another thing that most of the things are exaggerated. But you just have to keep your focus on your work, on your journey, on your path. On what your goals are. I don’t want to clarify everything that is said or written about me. If I think too much about what is being written about me – lies or the truth, it will just distract me from my purpose.
So, you should understand what your purpose is. As long as people who are close to you know the truth, as long as you know the truth, as long as your heart is clear, as long as you are working hard… I think that is all that matters.
Beyond the glitz and scandals, what are the lessons that your relationships have taught you? Any relationship advice for youngsters?
I believe that no advice or experience of mine in a relationship can help anyone but me. You grow up with every relationship. But you have to grow up on your own, you have to learn from your own experiences. The only thing I can say is, don’t take anyone in your life for granted. That other person in your life depends on you emotionally more than anything else and you have to be very sensitive to that emotional dependence. You cannot take that for granted. You have to be supportive, you have to be encouraging, you have to be giving. You have to adjust, you have to accommodate, you have to sacrifice…
These are the basics that you have to be aware of if you want to make any relationship work, whether it is a girl, a guy, your parents, your friends – that’s how humans are. You have to make an effort to make a relationship work. It’s that simple.
Simple. Straight. Truth. Also very difficult. Well, on a lighter note, what is your idea of fun?
I have a lot of fun on the sets. I am always joking with my directors, with my crew members and co-stars.
But that’s about work again. I meant, beyond the sets…
Beyond the sets, well, I love being on a film set but when I am not on a set, I do normal things. I hang out with my parents, spend time with my friends. I play a lot on my Playstation – my friends and I, we have been playing the FIFA game for years now. We actually have these books in which we have tabulated leagues and scores and stuff. Yeah, we are very serious about it. I also play a lot of football. Sundays are reserved for the game. I watch DVDs. Normal things, you know.
I do whatever a young guy my age would do. I don’t think that just because I’m an actor, I will stop living a normal life. I make the effort to do the everyday things because I look at it as a reality check. It keeps me grounded.
And these are your friends since childhood…
Yes, all my friends have been with me since the age of three or four. They’ve been with me all along. They are what you call, true friends. They don’t have any agenda. They are not yes people. They tell me to my face when I am crap and I can do the same to them. And I think these are the kind of friends who go a long way with you, unlike the ones you make along the way because of your professional success.
Very few actors have actors as friends. Why is that?
It is very hard because your life is like a gypsy. You work on one film in which there are like a hundred people involved. You get close to them for the duration of the film and then you part ways. So, you don’t have time or the headspace to form new friends. Also, I am a very shy and an introverted person. I am very happy with the few friends I have, who I care about. I have always believed that God has given us braincells and we should use them for the few people who matter. The more peopleyou force into your life, the more you would be distributed. So love just two people but love them completely, instead of distributing that love among too many and loving each person lesser. I am very happy with the few people I have, who I really care about.
You definitely don’t want to spread yourself thin! Speaking of thin, what is your fitness regime like? Are you a gym freak?
To be very honest, I hate going to the gym. I think it is really stupid. I don’t believe in having a big, muscular body. Of course, you have to be fit. You have to eat healthy. You have to sleep well. And if you play a sport, there is nothing better than that to keep fit. So, I try and play football as much as I can. I have a trainer who travels with me everywhere. We concentrate on functional training, we don’t do any weights. We do pilates, a lot of TRX, which is all about using your own body weight. I try to do things that are more innovative, which are more me. I think lifting weights is really dumb, as dumb as the dumb-bells. So, I try and avoid it. I try and exercise as naturally as possible. But I believe that eating healthy and sleeping well is the key to fitness.
So, no all-muscle action hero type of films for you?
Of course, as an actor, I believe that I should be able to adapt to any genre. I have not been offered a hard core action film. But honestly, I don’t see myself in a super-hero action flick or doing a Sunny Deol-kind-of-action-film. Because, it doesn’t come naturally to me. I like the bum, I like the ordinary guy who does extraordinary things. I know I can’t carry off a role in which I punch a person and he lands 30ft away. Firstly, I know I wouldn’t be able to do it convincingly. And secondly, people won’t believe it even if I did. So, I am waiting for the right kind of action film script. But, yes, I would love to do something fun in the action flick space.
I believe you always wanted to be a filmmaker and acting just happened.
Absolutely. It is just a dream right now, but it is something I am very passionate about. I went to a film school for three and a half years, came back and assisted Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I am a big fan of Hindi movies and filmmakers like Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Mehboob Khan, Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen… So, yes, I hope I get an opportunity to make a film some day. But I also believe that you can only make a film when something emerges from within you naturally. You cannot just get up and say, let’s make a film today. If you don’t have anything to say through your film, it is pointless to make one. So I am waiting for that day when I will have something to say.
How do you react to mindless films grossing over 100 crores while films like Rocket Singh are appreciated but do not make that kind of money?
I feel nothing but gratitude for those so called mindless entertainers. It is because of certain films that gross over 100 crores that we get the opportunity to make films like Rocket Singh and Wake Up Sid. If it weren’t for those 100-150 crore grossers, there would be no money in the film industry. So, I am only thankful for the 100-150 crore grossers.
Yes, as an actor, you have to balance it out. For me to feature in a Wake Up Sid or Rocket Singh, I also have to be part of Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahaani. Otherwise, I will never get a chance to work in a Rocket Singh as it will be seen as a big waste of money. We are in a commercial profession. We are not making films for ourselves. It is art that needs to be sold. It is an expensive medium, so the commercial aspect is very important. You have to ensure that the film industry makes money.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the Hindi film industry?
I have been lucky to enter this field at a time when Hindi films are really evolving, new ideas are coming in, new filmmakers are making their mark, actors are being more fearless. Back then, actors had a prototype of the characters they want to play, the way they look. Today, we have the opportunity to try different genres, not as experimental cinema but entertaining, engaging films in our own way. A few films will gross a hundred crores, few will gross 20 crores. But the satisfaction that a 20-crore-film can give you can be much higher than the 100 crore one. I guess, I am lucky to be in such a scenario. I am at the right place at the right time. It’s not that I am here to bring about a change. I hope I can make a difference but that is not something I can dictate.
Finally, a typical job interview question… Where do you see yourself five years from now?
In this same place as I am today. Talking to you about the same desires, the same insecurities. I hope I never feel content. I hope I never feel that I am in a better place. I hope I will always feel that I want to be in a better place than where I am. I want to grow, I want to be bigger, I want to gain respect. So, I hope, I can always strive for more.
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