Screen Exclusive: In conversation Ranbir Kapoor, Bollywood’s crown prince.
During the anniversary edition of Screen The Big Picture on brandbuilding, an interesting point was made by R. Balki, who besides being a film-maker, is CCO and Chairman for Lowe-Lintas; he pointed to a new trend in fashion advertising — the no-logo trend and actor Ranbir Kapoor he said, is akin to that no-logo concept— an actor/brand that you can’t really pigeonhole into convenient slots.
It’s true, the young Kapoor, who just turned 31 defies stereotyping. So far he’s surprised the audience and the critics alike with his standout performances in a variety of films, be it his Rs.150 plus crore hit Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani or Barfi! that had him play a deaf and mute boy. Before that he gave us diametrically opposite films like Rocket Singh- Salesman Of The Year and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani with a competent performance in each film.
With Besharam, his next film to hit the marquee, Kapoor is ready to surprise us yet again with a desi version of sorts of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and a character complete with a hirsute chest on display! This is being touted as his biggest ever film release with over 3000 prints, one more step towards taking his place as the biggest superstar. In a freewheeling chat, he fesses up on starry ambitions, bossing over his mother on the sets, matching histrionic skills with dad Rishi Kapoor, giving a takkar to the Khans and a lot else.
Congratulations for the fabulous run that Yeh Jawaani Yeh Deewani had. Now everyone is expecting Besharam to surpass that besides acknowledging you as the new entrant to the superstar league.
Yahan par sab chadhte suraj ko salaam karte hain aur jab suraj doob jaata hai then everyone forgets.What’s also happened is that the whole ‘superstar’ word has been bastardised. A superstar is what these Khans are or what Amitabh Bachchan is, for the work they have done for more than 25 -30 years in the field of entertainment and even outside of it. Sometimes, they (the media) directly asks you ki ‘you are giving takkar to Khans’. I feel so embarrassed that you have used their names in the same sentence as mine. I would say that the times are good — I work hard; everybody works hard — so films are doing well. Tomorrow if Besharam does not do well, they will say, “Failed!”
The understanding I came with was to be a good actor. In my own home, my father endorsed the view that stars fade away but actors last. He is enjoying a new career as a character actor. He’s so busy and so happy because he’s always been a good actor. I think if you have that mindset, you won’t take success to your head, (and) you won’t take failure to your heart. I am getting the opportunity to work with such good directors — Imtiaz Ali, Anurag Basu, Anurag Kashyap, Ayan (Mukerji) to name a few and I am just taking advantage of that. I am holding them as tight as possible so that they don’t go away.
You once mentioned an incident when your grandfather Raj Kapoor’s car (with him inside) was carried by his fans in Russia as the epitome of stardom but with changing times, would you say that the yardsticks of stardom have changed too? Would it now be the number of people following you on microblogging sites?
I don’t think that kind of hysteria or madness around stars exists anymore, but then again every star generates his own madness. I am sure Amitabh Bachchan generated his own madness, the Khans had their own madness but every generation is different. Today of course, it is much lesser because the mystery has died out. Earlier people used to wait for a hero’s film, but today we are present all over, everywhere. Today the stardom is also different, it is more about the movies. More about characters, the work you do in the world of entertainment. The good part is that a film will go beyond a star today. I think that’s a good change.
And how does one consolidate one’s brand in times like these?
To me film-makers and the choices you make are the only factors that builds your brand value. I don’t do PR. I think forced social work or images like casanova and wild child — all of it is a fraud and people see through it.Today because of these social networking platforms, everybody is a critic, everybody has a voice and a fair opinion so it’s very important that you do good work because you can put down a facade, but you can’t put down a good work.
You have defied all stereotypes — your father often mentions how the roles you picked went against conventional wisdom and yet you made them work for you.
I am constantly fighting and changing it. I am not consciously, but subconsciously doing parts and becoming a part of worlds which are challenging me as an actor. In my entire career there are only two films of my 10 films that I relate to and that’s Wake Up Sid and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani because they are urbane characters and are somewhat derived from my life. All other films are derived from the film-makers I am working with. So as far as image is concerned, I am not trying to stick with one. I am too new for that, but I am sure as time passes by, with new voices — both directors and actors coming in — that image is also going to break.
Any films that you watched recently and enjoyed?
I saw Highway the other day and I truly believe it’s one of the finest films I have ever seen. I was so bowled by it. Kahaani, Paan Singh Tomar, Kai Po Che and The Lunchbox are other films that I really enjoyed. I thought they were all very, very fine films.
Okay so what gets you to say yes to a film/director?
It depends on the director—if I just meet a person who is honest with his work, has a story to tell and is making a film with me not because he will get my dates or because I am a so-called star that people come and see. So I think that’s something that really appeals to me. But yes, I am a little blind towards Imtiaz, Anurag, Basu and Ayan because they have added a lot to me with the films that I have done with them. I have had a great working relationship with them, but beyond that I am just looking for honesty.
Fortunately for me, I have grown up in the lap of luxury. I have not seen a dearth of money so that’s not my motivation. That’s not something that I am working for, which allows me to be a little more fearless. It gives me an advantage over people, who are really trying to make a living through this profession. For me it’s my passion, something I love doing.
What genre would Besharam fall under?
Action, comedy, romance — it’s a quintessentially entertaining film, but it’s a very hard genre. I don’t have the brand or the face value of a Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan, who can do larger-than-life characters and people will believe it. You have to have a lot of conviction and a lot of kadar for the dialogues you say, a certain persona. So I am trying it, even though at this juncture of my career it’s a bit of a risk, but I want to aspire to do better and do different genres.
After Besharam, I have Bombay Velvet, which is a crime drama set in the ’50s-60s. It’s a gangster film, a love story where I play a street fighter, so again it’s a different film. Then I have Jagga Jasoos, which is again a detective film—Sherlock Holmes meets Austin Powers meets Karamchand. So it has a new world — a musical wherein one-hour-fifteen-minutes of the film will only have music. The character stammers, so he sings to express himself. I have tried different things. I don’t have a formula, or the guarantee that these films will work. I am insecure about these films, but that is something that also motivates me. There are a lot of people involved with the film and whether we succeed or not is unknown, but there is a lot of joy in it.
There is no preachiness, it is simple entertainment. It’s a caper with interesting characters. There is a lot of comedy in it. Romance, action. I think the dynamics between my parents, who play cops and me the robber, is very interesting. The format is a bit like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but obviously adapted to a Hindi viewership. It was fun, except that I’m playing a vulgar, repulsive character because that’s what I had to do so that people enjoy the journey of the character right from the first scene itself. As I said, a film like this needs a lot of conviction, so we have tried to do that. I will only know once the film releases, whether it is good enough or not.
The promos and the songs have got a lot of different reactions. There has been a lot of negative reaction too, which is fine because I am not relying on just the opening of a movie. There is also word-of-mouth. I think it’s a good film, It’s an entertaining film and if you make an entertaining film, people want to go to the cinemas. People want to have a good time. I have promoted all four films —Barfi!, Rockstar, Besharam, Yeh Jawaani...— for 15 days. I have interacted with the same media people, I put in all my effort but at the end of the day, the audience decides whether they want to watch a movie or not. It’s their money. My job is working hard in the movie which I have, so now I will just wait and watch and let the audience decide.
And we get to see you share screen space with your parents too. What was it like to work with two very fine actors, who are also your parents?
Personally I was very excited about this opportunity to work with them, but I was more like a parent to them. It was like ‘they are in my movie, they should not feel troubled and they should have a really good time’. And because they are such good actors, they never got their characters home. There is that very fine line, which they balance very well. I of course, was constantly telling my mother, ‘Do this, do that.’ With my father, I would be looking at him slyly to watch how he gives the shots, because somewhere I idolise him. I want to be like him, so it was more like an actor to a senior actor relationship(sic). I got to learn so much because he puts in so much effort to come across as effortless. He never had a style, he’s never copied an expression —it’s always something new, always spontaneous. So the feeling that sh**t, I have worked with Rishi Kapoor, someone I have idolised so much, has hit home only now.
Did you watch films Shuddh Desi Romance and D-Day, both with stellar performances from him?
I watched Shuddh Desi Romance. I missed D-Day because I was shooting in Sri Lanka but yes, he is constantly pushing himself. There was a time when he was the leading hero, doing the same loverboy parts, but now I think he’s really enjoying playing different roles, experimenting with his looks and all of that. Every morning when we have breakfast and are both going to our respective shoots, he is 10 times more excited than me, constantly talking about the movie and the character he is playing. And that is very heartwarming and inspiring as an actor.
What is the process that you follow when facing the camera?
I don’t feel any pressure or responsibility. I feel that I should be honest to my work, as much as I can. I feel that I should take as much as I can. It’s a simple process. There is no method acting. There is madness, there is passion and there is a childlike quality that I have; apart from that I don’t really take it seriously. There is no intellectual process, no method acting. I am not changing the world. I am acting. I have to take that on face value. I can’t become so serious about what’s happening around me and believe that I am a star. That’s relative. If I do good films, that will come. If I do bad films that will take away the joy of it.
I don’t feel that I have achieved so much. Yes, I am grateful that it has come my way but I feel that I have so much to achieve. I am still hungry, I am still ambitious. I want to reach limits where I will set a standard. Right now, I am only trying to match the standards that have been set by my predecessors. Like what the Khans have set, what Hrithik Roshan has set, I am trying to touch it. So I think there is a long way to go. I have achieved only 2 per cent of what I want to do.
Outside of the hits and misses, what is it that drew you to acting? I remember reading that for the longest— after you visited your father on the sets of Heena and saw him do the retakes— you did not think of acting as fun.
I really started enjoying acting in Wake Up Sid and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani. The first films are just a product of what people have said to you in life. You come from a film family, so you have certain notions — let’s act, let’s try and do something. Eventually you fall in love with what you do and that’s a more organic process. I wasn’t ever ambitious in my life. I was always a below average student in academics.
But acting is something I love. It’s not that hard a job. You don’t have to study it. You just have to be receptive to a lot of life experiences, which you can put to work. Everybody has talent. It is how you channelise it that makes the difference. As an actor, you have to truly be besharam in front of the camera, in terms of emotions, not in terms of removing your clothes. So far I am loving it and I really believe that the day I stop enjoying acting I will give it up. I don’t want to live my life being a prisoner to something because it is giving me fame and money. You have to enjoy it, love it, surrender to it and give something.
Once you get success you realise that you can’t take it for granted. The experience and time that you spend in your profession and a certain mission or goal and your own personal expectations are crucial. I have a lot expectations from myself and what I want to do. I don’t have any sure-shot movies or formula in the next few films I am working on. I am trying to compete simultaneously with Amitabh Bachchan and Varun Dhawan. Yes, I have confidence, but I am unsure about what I am doing. And I always want to be unsure.
What are the most memorable things that have been said to you that you hold dear?
An old Parsee man sent an autograph of my grandfather that he had signed in 1953, he had put the date on it and written, ‘Humility is an artist’s greatest virtue’. And I really connected with it. I remember Dilip Kumar saab had come for the premiere of Saawariya, but he didn’t say anything then. The next day he drove to my house. He didn’t come inside, he told the watchman to call me. He sat me down on the road, gave me a lot of love and said, “I give you a lot of blessings because I see a lot of Raj (Kapoor) in you.” And that’s so much of encouragement and confidence they instill in you. Mr Shah Rukh Khan had told me, “You will do very well in life because you have an original point of view.”
Mr Salman Khan has been very encouraging from very early on towards me and my work. Aamir sir, after Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani was constantly in touch with me about how much business the movie had done. He had a bet with me — I thought the movie will do Rs.120 crore, he said, “It will do Rs.180 crores, take it in writing.” All of them have been so encouraging, everybody, even senior actresses like Rani Mukerji, Aishwarya Rai (Bachchan) or Rekhaji. And because I am an industry kid, because they have a relationship with my family, they have been extra encouraging. So yes, it’s a really good sense of positivity from the industry which I have channelise.
Does it feel good that your contemporaries hold you in high-esteem, almost like a role-model of sorts?
It’s great because I am just doing work the way I would like to do it. I am not following somebody’s path. I want to be there, but I can’t follow someone else’s path. I can only become a superstar if I have an original voice, an orginal thought process and a perspective.of life. If I have a say politically, socially, in the world of entertainment or sports, then I have an original point of view and it’s great that people consider that, but you can only do it if you have something to say. You can’t repeat what somebody else has said. I think that’s the biggest mistake.
As an actor, what’s the next challenge that you are taking up?
I think Jagga Jasoos and Bombay Velvet are the next big challenges. The former is a film I am producing with Anurag Basu. We are extremely passionate about it . I want to give it a really big platform We are making a television show called Jagga Junior. I want to have comic books, I want to have animaton shows. We have the Disney Brand, which is co-producing it with us. It’s my first production and it’s a very different character for me. Again Bombay Velvet is a very intense role, something which I have never done; it has shades of Al Pacino from Scarface, it has Godfather, it has Deewar and Manmohan Desai. Vinay Anand’s drama is another exciting film. Let’s see what happens.
Would you say that you have turned producer rather early in your career? None of your generation actors have done that?
I think I am a little late. I should have done this a little earlier, but again I did not want to do it with R.K. Films because it belongs to Raj Kapoor. It’s very important that I make my own identity. I decided on my own production company, so that when my children are acting or producing, they don’t have to cope with Raj Kapoor’s shadow, they will only have to cope with my shadow. It’s very important, I think, to do something of your own. At 21, my grandfather acted, directed and produced films. I am 30 and I am just acting and producing, so I don’t think I am doing something original. I found the right time, the right bearing with Anurag Basu, the genre, the kind of films that I believe in and everything fell into place. I am trying to make the world’s best movie. It sounds very pompous but unless I say it, I won’t be putting the thought in people’s mind. They should expect the world’s best movie (from us) because that’s what we want to deliver.
What kind of films are there on your wishlist?
I want to do a negative role. I want to do a film like Anand (the role that Rajesh Khanna played), Naya Daur, Ram Aur Shyam, Judwaa (that Salman Khan did) a sports movie like Chak De! India or a political movie like Rang De Basanti… I want to do a Joker from The Dark Knight, I want to do a Braveheart, I am hungry. I am always looking at other people’s movies, always getting inspired, jealous that why wasn’t I a part of these films and hope that people feel the same way about my films also. So it’s a give and take. You inspire people and you get inspired by people.
Now that you have settled the question of carrying off solo-hero successes, would you act in multi-starrers?
I believe Raajneeti was a multistarrer, but you can only do a multi-starrer only if directors write one. But because film-making and stars are such an expensive proposition, they start with the thought ki bahut mehngi ho jayegi, we can’t have two actors in it, let’s just write for one actor. I am always open to a good film. Like a film I am doing called Roy, which is being directed by my friend Vicky, I play a supporting part in it. The lead characters are Arjun Rampal and Jacqueline Fernandez. Vicky is a childhood friend and I believed that this is a story that must be told. That’s why I am a part of the film. I hope that people can write multi-starrers — the drama between the characters should appeal to the audience. I haven’t been offered any multi-starrers as of now, but I would love to do a two-hero film. I would love to work with my generation of actors, I would love to work with the Khans, I would love to work with Hrithik Roshan. I would love to pair up with these actors, take something from them, give them a tough competition and try and be better than them in that movie. That’s the incentive that you should have.
Your generation actors, particularly the girls, are making overtures to Hollywood cinema, would you consider audtioning for a Hollywood film?
I really believe that even if (Steven) Spielberg wanted to work with me, I would refuse. I would rather work with Anurag Basu and Imtiaz Ali because I truly believe that if you want to make a mark in the world, you have to do it with your own culture. Life Is Beautiful made a mark in the world as an Italian film, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was a Chinese film, Amelie was a French film and yet they made their mark worldwide, so I don’t need to go there to be a part of a Hollywood film. Lagaan goes from India and gets nominated in the foreign film category and the spotlight is on them. Films like 3 Idiots do such great business in China, so I think you have to make a film which is very steeped in your own culture, your own language, something that you can identify with. I can’t identify with Hollywood emotions and the kind of blockbuster films they make. I like watching them, but I’d rather be a part of my own film industry.
Speaking of sensibilities, there is also the change in dynamics between urban and non-urban centres, thanks to the arrival of multiplexes. Does that work well for young stars like you?
There are very rare films that have a mass appeal as well as class appeal like Yeh Jawaani… and the money that it made —85 per cent of it came from multiplexes, only 15 per cent from single screens. When you have a film like Dabangg, it has a ratio of 40:60 — a healthy divide of 40 per cent single screens and 60 from plexes. There is a healthy mix of Rowdy Rathore, Chennai Express, Besharam, at the same time there is a Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, there is Barfi! which are multiplex films. I heard today that Shuddh Desi Romance is doing very well, Kai Po Che did well, so everyone is getting an opportunity.