Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor speaks on dad, dating, Dutt, and the idea behind his directorial debut at Bandra’s Mehboob studio.
Ranbir Kapoor is a reluctant star. And we don’t mean it in the same way as many refer to Rahul Gandhi as a reluctant politician. A 24×7 actor, and in the case of Jagga Jasoos, a producer, Ranbir is very much out there — taking calls, doing interviews, on-camera, off-camera, through the evening, at Bandra’s Mehboob studio, where we meet.
The reluctance has more to do with his laconic, reticent personality. He usually pauses during the interview, awaits the next question, rather than elaborately answering the previous one. That way, he reminds you more of Aamir Khan until, thankfully, Kiran Rao happened to him. And, as Ranbir admits it himself, he’s certainly nothing like Rishi Kapoor, his wildly exuberant father!
Excerpt from the interview:
About a year ago, you’d said in an interview that you’re in a “pause or metamorphosis phase, somewhere between “what if” and “f*** it”. Still in the same state?
Well, no. At the time, I was also starting a new film, the (Sanjay) Dutt biopic, and I’m nearly completing it now. So I got to live a new person, and a new experience. I feel more alive now.
But what does “somewhere between ‘what if’ and ‘f*** it'” mean anyway?
I was a bit lost. I didn’t know how to understand and deal with failures. I didn’t know if the choices (I was making) were wrong. I was questioning my instincts.
So you’re at that crossroad where you don’t know what’s happening, in terms of having control over your life. And I think that phase is really important — the confusion, turmoil, or to be stuck between ‘what if’ and ‘f*** it’. And it’s your own battle to fight. Some people come out of it sooner, some take time.
Fortunately, the medium I’m in, films — which I love the most — changes me a lot, from phase-to-phase. Whether it’s the experience of (making) a film; or how inspired and excited I am (during the process). Dutt really gave me that.
You’d also mentioned that you were tired of seeing yourself on screen. Did this come from the fact that a lot of your films have followed very similar narratives: a lost boy, confused about everything, including love, finally comes of age. Was that choice in itself a coincidence?
I think that’s the phase I was in, earlier on. So those were the parts I was choosing. And those were the best parts being offered. Also, somewhere I was working with the same filmmakers — Imtiaz (Rockstar, Tamasha), Ayan (Wake Up Sid, Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani), Karan (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil) — because they had stories to tell, that I wanted to be a part of.
But yes, I have to change that. I can’t ‘come of age’ anymore! I can’t walk out of a marriage with tears in my eyes. I can’t pursue an ambition, be selfish, and have a girl make me realise what my true dreams are, so I can come back to her!
A year ago was also a time when three films of yours back-to-back had bombed, Besharam…
Also Roy. You were right on top of that poster. Now whether those movies were good/bad is subjective. All that the film industry cares about is if you’re the star, then your poster must guarantee bums on seats in the first weekend.
To be honest, Besharam opened to R21 crore on Day 1. So, we count that out. And even Roy, for whatever it’s worth, opened to R11 crore. But yes, Bombay Velvet did not open well at all. And I do take blame for that. But as I said, I had no control over it. Bombay Velvet was a film I loved on paper; it was a film that I would stand by. But there is no formula. I don’t know what’s gonna work,
Do you think this whole obsession with the star system is antithetical to huge risk-taking; has that taken us back over the years?
Not at all. I can’t follow somebody else’s career path. In my career, what’s always paid off have been the risks. When I’ve done something formulaic like Besharam, I’ve always fallen flat on my face.
I just go by gut instinct, which was the same that made me sign on Rocket Singh, Wake Up Sid, Yeh Jawani…, Rockstar, Rajneeti, and Barfi. And it was the same instinct that made me sign on Besharam and Anjaana Anjaani. So, this is the person I am. I am going to have lots of failures in my life; hopefully I’ll have some successes too. But I can’t really plan anything. I’m just spontaneously living my dream.
Is it then more about the craft, parts, performances, in terms of living the dream, as it were?
Not at all. You need bums on seats. I’m not here to prove to people that I’m a great actor, and that I only get great reviews, and awards. At the end (of the day), it’s about box-office collections — about how many people know you as a star, and come to see you in a movie. But I have a long way to go. I’m still struggling to find that rhythm. And I hope that I struggle for a long time. The day it gets a little easy, I might get contented.
Speaking of distinction between star and actor, you have attempted to bridge the two. For instance, your dad says you actually went back to acting school in the US simply to get the stammer right for Jagga Jasoos.
It’s my job as an actor to do my preparation. Eventually the audience has to connect with my character. And if my character stammers, I’d try to get it right. I can’t look foolish on screen. But, that’d be the same if I was a driver — I would have to know how to drive, both a manual and an automatic car, not a big deal.
As for the star-actor issue, or trying to become a star while remaining an actor, I think you just have to become capable at your job. Everything else follows. If you’re honest, a good person, and your intentions are correct, you will become a star. You can’t really concentrate on ‘ki mein star kaise banoonga’, and begin to design things around it; I don’t think that works out well for anybody.
You went to Lee Strasberg school (in New York) and studied method acting. How much of that have you applied in your films?
Not much, you know. Having come back home after an under-grad course in direction (from the US), I was around 20, a star-kid, getting attention from a lot of directors willing to work with me. But I was too young then. My father asked me if I might want to go back to the US and do something for a year. I went to the Lee Strasberg Institute for nine months, to learn the ‘method’ (style/school of acting). It’s not something I thoroughly endorse myself.
I think acting is not something you can learn. In a practical form, yes (it helps) that you’re working with other actors, doing scenes, and so you’re putting it (the craft) into a method.
But the Strasberg or Stanislavsky ‘method’ (acting) itself is not something I buy. As an actor, you have to develop your own method — if you’re intelligent, have had good exposure in life, and can surrender to a moment, or material. You don’t need a curriculum or syllabus.
Would you do drugs to play Sanjay Dutt, for instance?
(Laughs) It’s acting, and you have (an actual) sense of it, it always helps, and might seem truer. But I’m not really going to kill somebody to know what it feels like for a scene! I’m not that deep into the ‘method’. Playing Dutt, I’d want to see how I can get into the soul of the character. The look is easy…
The look, which leaked online, was frickin’ nuts!
Yeah! We worked really hard at it, doing four months of prosthetic (make-up) trials, lots of disappointments, thinking that it’s not going to work out. But you need to put in that time and effort. It’s a daunting task to play someone like Sanjay Dutt, who everybody knows anyway.
We met Dutt recently; he said he was astounded to see you during the shoot.
It was surreal for me. You’re acting like him, and the director calls cut, you look up, and suddenly there’s Sanjay Dutt actually sitting behind the monitor! But then I’d got so obsessed with him. Every time I’d see him, I’d start observing him like a hawk — the way he scratches his beard, twitches his eye, drinks water, hugs… It’d become a bit of a sickness for me. But that obsession is necessary for acting, or any form of art — that madness to get something right. You may still fall flat on your face, but it’s necessary.
The other biopic you were working on was Kishore Kumar’s, with Anurag Basu. We saw you in the Asian Paint ad recently, where you were clearly channeling Kishore, you even looked like him in it. True?
Yes, Prasoon Pandey had directed that ad, and his reference was Kishore Kumar. But I was really upset that the Kishore biopic didn’t happen at the time. It’s such an amazing story waiting to be told, and he’s such a genius. He’s also someone that many in today’s generation have forgotten. At that time, we didn’t get the permission from certain real-life people to use (the story). It was a bit of a bu***r. But I hope that film gets made, and I’d love to play Kishore Kumar.
As stars, inaccessible Kishore, or Dutt, for that matter, held much aura/mystique around them. The way you’ve played out your career so far — not on social media, never done TV — is there a conscious attempt to take stardom back to how it once used to be, there being distance between audience, work, and the person?
Well, I’m trying to. And yes, that is the intention. But it’s really hard, because today, people want data. They want to consume things, and if they like you, they want info on you, and talk to you, since there is access.
I think that really comes in the way of your job, especially if you’re an actor, because you’re not yourself on screen. You’re playing different parts. I may be wrong, and maybe the order of the day is to be on social network, market yourself, and have direct contact with the audience. It’s my natural instinct to stay away from all of this. And I’m happy. My life is more peaceful, simpler. I’ve fewer things to pretend about.
Your dad, on the other hand, is a social media star, because he basically doesn’t give a s***. We read your foreword for his autobiography, where you hope that you don’t become a dad like him. Now that’s being just as publicly honest as he is.
I can’t be like my father. He’s one of a kind. He’s so honest, which is admirable. He’ll have no guilt or baggage in his life. He’ll always be a free man. We’re all, at some level, hypocrites. If there’s a political question at a press conference, I’ll have a hypocritical answer, or I’ll clam up, or wriggle out of it. But he won’t. And he regards himself as junta. So if he has an opinion on politics, sports, entertainment, ban on a certain food, he will give it. He feels he has that freedom of speech. Unfortunately he’s an actor, so that gets blown out of proportion, or gets taken too seriously. I don’t think I have that frankness, openness.
Are you more like your mother in that sense?
My personality is more like hers than my father’s. My sister (Riddhima) is more like my father.
Did you also grow up being closer to your mom?
I think that’s true (for kids) in most Indian families, where the father is away at work, and is a strict person. Growing up, we hardly saw our father. Back then, they used to do two shifts a day, six movies a year. We could only see him during holidays — in Ooty, Kashmir or Switzerland. He’d be shooting there, and we needed a holiday, so we’d go where he was.
You have spoken about how marital problems between your parents really affected you as a kid. Does that remain a sore point still?
Not at all. Besides the problems they went through, the greater thing is how they came out of it. I still see so much passion, love and respect between my parents. My father is still so possessive about her. My mother is still so inquisitive about how he’s doing. It’s been 38 years. So, no, I don’t think there’s a scar. I feel happy when I see them together. They’ve found a healthy companionship.
According to psychology, a possible fallout with parents having marital issues, and the kid being too close to the mother, is that as an adult that child turns into a “love avoidant” — as against a “love junkie”, which mostly happens when you’ve been neglected by parents while growing up. Do you find yourself being either?
No, I think I’m different with different people, and different phases. Everybody wants attention, companionship, and to feel loved.
I’m talking in terms of relationships.
Relationships only. There are varying degrees of what you expect (from a person). As you grow older, you understand more about life, and how much you have to give (back) in a relationship. What I was like while dating a girl in school, and what I am now, and what I will be to my girlfriend later or my wife, will be very different. There is no way to measure it. But there is a different sense of evolvement so far as love in my life is concerned.
Do you go on dates with people outside films, or regular folk, as it were?
Unfortunately I don’t. I’m so obsessed with my films, my life at the movies, and working through the year, that I don’t really get to meet people, unless I travel, or it’s a chance encounter. Usually the only people you get to meet are from the (film) industry. And mostly you interact with actresses. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Film people are amazing, but I’d like to, you know, go on a date…
With an architect, or a doctor…
Yeah that’d be lovely. I think it’ll be hard for that person though, because of the kind of lives we live. There’ll be a lot of insecurities. But if you meet somebody who’s sorted, and if you’re yourself sorted…
How would you even meet them? Surely you’re not Tinder, unless you have a fake account there as well, like the one on Instagram.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, I’m not on Tinder. Wahan tak ki naubat aayee nahin abhi tak!
You make it sound like it’s a bad thing to be on Tinder.
No, actually, I shouldn’t say that. It’s not a bad thing to be on Tinder. Tinder is doing good to people — it’s getting them together. But I’m happy falling in love with my own company. I’ve always been like that. I don’t mind travelling, having breakfast, lunch, dinner, alone. Sure, being with someone is amazing. There is nothing more beautiful than that. But being alone is something I also enjoy very much.
Would you consider yourself a loner, in that sense?
Not dramatically, but yeah. I’m constantly in a bit of a meditative state — I don’t have a thought (in my head), or stress, anxiety problems, or insecurities. So I’m at peace with myself.
You’ve spoken about how it bothers you that you’re considered a Casanova, when you’re really not.
It used to bother me before. But I’ve also understood that this is how show-business and media operate. The media made me a star even before I deserved it. So this is a small price to pay. I’ve dated actresses, so there’ll be some interest over where you had dinner, or went on a holiday. It comes with the territory. There was a time I used to get bitter about it. I was hating on them going, “How dare they?” But now it’s fine. As long as people don’t judge me for what’s written about.
Of course they will.
But I have no control over that. I can only hope my work over-rides all of it.
Have you ever had a personal publicist?
I never had a PR person because I really don’t know how to play the game. If I knew how to market myself, I definitely would. I don’t know how to be exciting; apart from the parts I play. Films give me an outlet to express myself, and become interesting. I like to become non-interesting after, so I can save the interesting parts for my movies. My personality is boring. I am an introvert.
At 31, you said by 35, you’d want to have a movie, as a director, out of the way; at 34, are you close to checking that box?
I always feel I’m close, but then I get lazy. I have a brilliant idea, which I’ve been sharing with my director friends, and others who’re close. I just don’t have the strong discipline, and gift, to write. It’s still definitely on my to-do list — a big ambition. Having said that, the more I work with good directors—(Anurag) Basu, (Raju) Hirani, Ayan (Mukerji) — I realise how far away I’m from it. I just don’t want to direct a film, since I’ve said it, or it’s cool. I want to be good at it. I want a story that I wish to express myself through. I think I have it…
So you do have the idea for your directorial debut.
Yes, I do. The genre is fantasy-romance. I don’t mean fantasy in the sense that it’d take the audience away to another time or place that they can’t connect with. I mean a love story with a fantasy quality — that’s idealistic, magical.
I’ve always leaned towards the genre.