In Bandra’s plush Krishna Raj Villa, Ranbir Kapoor appears like any other very well-to-do youngster. He wears jeans, a striped shirt and fidgets rather compulsively with his iPhone. Unlike any random youth, however, Ranbir stars in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s massively hyped Diwali release, Saawariya, a film that, defiant of Bollywood convention, goes head on with Shah Rukh Khan’s next, Om Shanti Om. Raja Sen caught up with the surprisingly deep-voiced Ranbir, and here’s what the soft-spoken baritone revealed.
So, how nervous are you? Or should I say thrilled?
You know, honestly, I think it’s a mixture of all. Three-four days back, I was quite blank, I was in a state of zen. And I loved that feeling because I wasn’t nervous, excited or anxious. But now it’s seeping in. The reactions have started coming in from the promos and the music, and so I’m a bit scared and hopefully, everything will come out well.
You’ve seen the film. How did you like it?
You know, because we worked on the film for so long, you can’t really get objective about the film. I’m in love with the film, I’m in love with my character, and I think that even if I’d lasted 10 years in this industry, I wouldn’t get a film like Saawariya. It’s such a great opportunity to work with someone like Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I hope and pray, and will work doubly hard to work with this man again, because it was just an out-of-control, brilliant experience working with that man. Yeah, you do feel awkward, the first time you see yourself on screen. But it’s just such a beautiful story, and so excellently crafted that it’s a good feeling.
How do you think you’ve done?
I think I’ve done really well. I can’t compare myself with anyone, but on a personal level I think I’ve done a very good job.
You’ve worked before on Black, as an assistant to Bhansali. And now you’re his leading man. How different are things?
I don’t think there’s much of a difference, because I was learning then and am still learning now. He’s given me and Sonam a lot of love. He’s imparted a lot of knowledge about cinema, and about life, to us. And we’re just grateful to him for giving us such a big opportunity and launching us in such a big way. It was always a dream to work under him and my dream came true, so I’ll always be thankful to him. I just hope and wish that he continues to love me as much as he does right now.
Assuming you won’t tell us too many specifics about the character before the movie is out, is the character a lot like you?
Yes. The character’s name is Ranbir Raj, which happens to be my grandfather’s real name, his name was Ranbir Raj Kapoor. There are a lot of things, a lot of character traits which are very personal. There are conscious tributes, like the name, made by Mr Bhansali to my family and my grandfather. It’s a happy-go-lucky character, there’s a lot of inspiration taken from Charlie Chaplin and Raj Kapoor. If the character from Shree 420 was alive today, he would be this character.
Did your parents give you a lot of inputs on acting?
I don’t think I actually went to them for advice. Of course, since I’ve been growing up, they’ve always been subconsciously telling me things which have stayed with me. They don’t sit me down and say ‘these are the things you have to follow.’ They’ve never done that, they’ve left my decisions up to me. They guide me. I just remember when I was shooting my first song, Masha Allah, I was really nervous. You know, people look forward to Sanjayji’s songs, he has this understanding of song picturisation and music. So I messaged dad, told him that I was really nervous, and asked, ‘What do I do?’ He messaged me back saying ‘Don’t be silly, what are you nervous about? You’re a Kapoor! Just smile and sing the song, don’t act like you’re singing just sing it passionately, and everything will turn out okay.’ Those were really encouraging words and really helped me. And then Sanjayji was guiding me throughout the film.
You’ve spent time on the sets as an assistant director. How much do you think that helps you, as an actor?
Oh, a lot. You know, before this I went to a film school for two years, then to an acting school. I’ve gone through the experiences and I must tell every budding actor or director that the amount you learn on a film set in just two months is something you won’t learn from even 10 years of film school. The grounding experience you get in cinema, the exposure you get… And I got the opportunity to see Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukerji, such great actors. Everything was just magical because they are geniuses in their respective fields. I think it’s really important to assist on a film, especially if it’s a director you believe in and respect. You learn a lot, experience a lot and see a lot.
Did you have a plan in mind, to assist first?
Yes, completely. I loved Devdas and wondered if Sanjay Leela Bhansali knew I existed. So I kept a conscious agenda in mind that I would go to him, assist him, get my learning experience and also make it a point that he likes me and casts me in his next film.
You’ve known Sonam forever. Was it fun working with her?
Oh, we’ve grown up together. Such close family friends, our grandparents, parents and finally me and her. She’s such a good human being and apart from that she’s such a talented actress. Everything with her is all-heart. If she likes something she’ll say it, if she doesn’t, she’ll say it. Everything’s black or white, there’s nothing in the middle. And you know, we’re the only two people right now who feel the same thing at this moment, and our friendship has grown as we share the same nervousness and anxiety and excitement. We have the same kind of expectations and we share a lot together, so I think we’re really close friends and our relationship has grown stronger because we did our first film.
It’s one of the year’s most-hyped releases. Is all the buzz scary or exciting?
I think it’s a mixture of both. Scary because you think about all the expectations. The expectations are so high, and the fall will hurt more. But I don’t think about all that. I think of it as a responsibility, and I’ve worked very hard on this film and hopefully people will like it. I’m just asking people to give me a chance and not compare me to anyone. See me as an individual. I haven’t tried to copy or mimic anyone. This is all me, this is all Mr Bhansali and see it as Saawariya.
You’re starting your career with a big Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. Where do you go from here?
It’s scary, because if I had been in the industry for two-three years, and then go to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, I would understand the value of working with him. Getting to work with him in my first film itself, it’s like a diamond-encrusted spoon which is being fed to me. I just hope I can live up to the expectations of working with him. I don’t know where I go from here. There’s no timetable, no decision on steps I want to take ahead, or the kind of films I want to do. I want to work with everyone and hopefully my journey will be enriching.
What do you think of the way Bollywood has grown over the last couple of years?
It’s fabulous. The exposure to Indian cinema internationally has grown drastically, and people look at it as a form of art. Earlier, it was just entertainment but now people are actually looking at Indian cinema. People say that films of the 1950s and 1960s, the stories they had aren’t being told anymore. I disagree. I feel people are making beautiful films, they have a lot to say.
What kind of films do you like to watch?
All kinds of films. I watch all the Hindi films, a lot of English films, foreign films. If you ask me favourites, I’ll say Shree 420, Life Is Beautfiul and Devdas — Mr Bhansali’s Devdas, that is.
As a student of cinema, how do you categorise Mr Bhansali’s work?
I wouldn’t categorise him, he’s a genius and that’s his style. You don’t come across people like this often. I have worked with him as an assistant director and I can say this with authority that he is the most hard-working person I have come across. To him things haven’t come very easily.
You love the film, you enjoyed working on it. How important is commercial success for you now?
It’s extremely important. You work so hard at it, you’ve given it your all, and who doesn’t want appreciation? At the end, you work for the appreciation, and want the film to do well. I haven’t gotten around to thinking of what’ll happen if it doesn’t do well. I have a positive outlook to it, and we’ll see what happens.
Are you looking at reviving the RK Studios banner?
Definitely, that’s my top priority. I want to bring all the glory days back to the banner. We are working on something right now and soon we’ll have something materialised. In the next two years, there will be a film releasing under the RK banner.
Alot of your contemporaries from film backgrounds are making their debuts. Are you guys competitive about this?
All the newcomers are my friends. I wish all of them luck as they wish for me. It’s like a brotherhood. It could be Neil, Sikandar, Harman, Imaad…
Sanjay Bhansali knows exactly what he wants. Was it hard being his leading man?
Sanjayji is a perfectionist, and he’s worked with such greats as Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. Him working with newcomers means the expectation is on him: what kind of a performance will he take out from the newcomers. I can’t gauge how well I’ve done, if I’ve kept up to his expectations. I worked really hard and Sanjayji is really, really happy with my performance. The biggest compliment he gave me was at the music launch when he said ‘you are the true successor of Raj Kapoor.’ Coming back to your question, there were a lot of stories that Sanjayji would shout a lot, would scold Sonam and me. There was nothing like that. The three of us are like a family: we go out for dinners, movies… Now, if he has certain kind of expectations about our performances, he has the right to shout at us. At the end of the day when you see yourself on screen, you’re just thankful to the man that he did that to us. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to do this performance.
Finally, speaking of Mr Bhansali’s stars and Shah Rukh Khan, how does it feel going up against him on the year’s most-awaited opening weekend?
Honestly, I’m so nervous and excited about it being my debut film that I can’t worry about things like that. Yes, I respect Shah Rukh Khan a lot, and I’ve been a fan of his. I hope his film does well, and our film does well too. Just that our film does a little better.