He’s more famous for his celebrity family and starlet girlfriend than for his films – but he’s already being called the face of Bollywood’s next generation.
Just who does Ranbir Kapoor think he is?
Written by Iain Ball
Photographed by Tarun Khiwal
Styled by Arjun Bhasin
He’s been hailed as the new hope of Hindi cinema – despite the fact that he’s made only two films so far, neither of which has been a hit. Then again, he’s a Kapoor, scion of the nation’s most extraordinary film dynasty. That might not impress those of us weary of India’s obsession with nepotism and dynasties – but you might be impressed with Ranbir, a bright, ambitious actor who clearly knows he has to do a lot more than drop his last name to make it in 21st-century Bollywood. In this interview, Ranbir opens up with some refreshingly honest answers about everything, from riding on his father’s coattails to sex and drugs, to why he really doesn’t deserve all the money he’s making.
I was going to offer you a cigarette, but I heard you quit.
I did. Trying to, at least… I’ve been smoking for eight years.
I read in the paper that you gave it up for your girlfriend, Deepika [Padukone].
No, I didn’t. That’s just stupid tabloid reporting. I just wanted to check my self-control. I was quite addicted. I was doing like two packets a day.
So, have you been losing your temper and freaking out?
No, no. I don’t think I have a temper. I did give some shit to some people close to me. But I’m handling it pretty well so far.
Speaking of tabloid reporting, there’s been all this talk about problems between you and Deepika. Any truth to it?
I hate it when I open the paper every morning and read some article about me and her, about us getting married or me quitting smoking for her. It gets really silly, and it gets embarrassing for my family. There is no break-up. Some paper reported that I was seeing Katrina Kaif. It’s all rubbish. I guess the Indian media is so hungry for gossip and rumour that they jeopardize relationships. But it’s fine – you just have to learn to live with it.
Listen, I’m considering giving up journalism and breaking into Bollywood acting. As the best newcomer of 2008, what advice can you give me?
Er … what advice can I give you? Well, just love movies – that’s it. You can take classes or go to acting school, but I don’t think any acting institute can teach you acting. Go spend some time on a film set, assist a director, watch actors perform. That’s the only way.
What do you think my chances are?
Pretty good [laughs]… pretty good.
I don’t think I’d rack up the huge number of awards you got for Saawariya.
Well, they’re debut awards. I don’t really think too much of a debut award. Yes, it was special, but I look at a debut award as a sympathy award. There aren’t many debuts in a year, especially high-profile debuts. And because I come from a film family, you know, it’s… I’m happy, but I don’t really think too much of it.
Does it worry you that you’re getting this kind of acclaim because of your family?
Absolutely. But I take it as a responsibility. My family has been contributing to Indian cinema for 75 years. And I understand the value of coming from that, but I’m not someone who wants to ride on it. I want to take it forward, make them proud, make a name for myself. The curiosity you create coming from a film family is only for your first movie – after that, you have to do it yourself. My grandfather, Mr Raj Kapoor, was a very big star and director. He had three sons, but his other two sons didn’t do as well as my father did because… I don’t think coming from a film family guarantees you’re going to do well. I don’t believe in genes.
But you’ve got to admit that your family background gave you a break you probably never would have got otherwise. What would you be doing if you weren’t a Kapoor?
I always say that if I wasn’t an actor, I would be a struggling actor. But, yes, because I come from this family I got it rather easy. But at the same time, I think I have my own struggle, my own disadvantages. The pressure’s huge, the comparisons are there, expectations are there – so the fall will be greater, harder.
But you’re also making a lot of money because of it.
Absolutely. But money was never an issue. I’ve never seen the struggle for money, so I don’t know what that feels like. I’m being completely honest with you. You could say I’ve been born with a golden spoon, but that’s not my fault. I’ve been born into this family and they’ve worked hard for me to have it that way. I’m not a star in my own right. I look at myself more as a potential star. You know, people have appreciated my work irrespective of what family I come from. My first film was a big disaster, but I came out of it and people liked my work. I got amazing offers from these really amazing film-makers I’m working with. So things really turned out well for me, and I would like to believe that I had something to do with it – that it was my talent which had something to do with it rather than my family. But I don’t discard it. It is majorly because of that.
Saawariya didn’t make any money, Bachna Ae Haseeno was better but not great. How long are you going to give it before you get a hit? Are you going to do an Abhishek Bachchan and keep going for 15 films?
I understand the importance of commercial success. Without commercial success an actor will always be just a potential actor. I’m really happy with the place I’m at right now. I’m just looking at it like a ladder, taking one step at a time. I don’t want to become a Hrithik Roshan overnight. I want to direct movies at some point, I want to produce movies, I want to act as much as I can. I don’t know if I’ll be rejected by the audience… I guess I’ll still be trying. I don’t think I can do anything apart from the movies.
How much money are you being offered per film now? Rs 5 crore?
I’m quite embarrassed to talk about it. Because of the boom in the industry and because our markets are growing, prices have gone way above that. Today, 5 crore is nothing. You would probably get that for your debut movie. Today, actors are getting offered exorbitant prices like Rs 10 crore or Rs 15 crore. And I’m really embarrassed to say that I am getting offered such unseemly amounts of money.
But I also do understand that I don’t deserve so much money. When someone throws such exorbitant figures at me, I do tell them honestly that I’m doing your film because I like your film – I’m not gonna do it for money, and it’s better that you pay me what I deserve. This is just too much.
You’ve actually told someone that they’re offering you too much money? Who did you say that to?
It’s a producer – I wouldn’t like to name them. It’s a corporate house. People are spoiling actors today. You know, if a particular actor gives a super-hit commercial success movie, another actor raises his market price. I don’t know how that works. I mean, if you’re delivering the goods, you’re tasting success, then I guess you would gradually increase your market price. But you can’t increase your market price because another actor has delivered a hit and you feel that more money is coming into the industry. I don’t think you should work that way.
But if the money isn’t important to you then why would you do a Pepsi commercial?
Honestly, it’s quite silly, but at least 20 per cent of the reason for me being an actor was to do a Pepsi commercial. I’ve always loved that soda. I grew up seeing Shah Rukh Khan being the brand ambassador for Pepsi, and I like being associated with it. I’ve been offered a lot of endorsements, probably 30 or 40, but it’s not something that I’m doing for money. It’s more of an emotional attachment… it’s more…
For the love of Pepsi?
The love of Pepsi… yeah.
So what are you going to do with all the money you’re making?
I don’t know. I’m not an indulgent person. I’m not fond of cars, I’m not fond of great clothes or watches and all of that. I’ve been born with that, you know? But I do value money. I was living abroad and my parents put me on a very strict budget. They never spoiled me. I was always on pocket money, until Saawariya released. I do like food – that’s my only indulgence.
OK – more tabloid gossip…
[Laughs] Bring it on!
I read that you slapped Katrina Kaif on the set of Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani.
I didn’t slap her. We were doing this comedy action sequence which was kind of like a dance. I had to, like, swing her from one hand to the other and hit the goons. Somewhere in that action my elbow hit her nose. It was just an accident. People make a big deal out of it, but it was nothing.
Was she bleeding?
No, she wasn’t bleeding. She just caught a cold the next morning – I don’t know how. I did take her to the doctor and we got an X-ray done and everything was perfect. I did freak out a bit about it and I promised her the next time I do an action sequence, I’ll rehearse for a month before doing anything.
So between the rumours about you getting romantic with Katrina and then hitting her in the nose, should you now be worried about Salman Khan?
No, I’m not. I’m extremely, extremely close to Salman Khan and he’s really fond of me also. Our families are really close, and I guess he understands. He understands that if you’re doing a movie with somebody then people talk and that’s pretty much it. He understands that more than any of us. He’s been linked to numerous actresses all his life. There is no misunderstanding or bad blood between us.
How long were you in New York?
I was there for about three and a half years. I went to The School of Visual Arts, a film school. I was there for two and a half years and then I spent a year at Lee Strasberg.
You were 18 when you went to New York. What was the ratio between partying and studying?
Oh, it was all partying, yaar. Honestly, I led quite a debauched lifestyle over there. It’s the first time you taste freedom – and it’s New York City at the end of it. So it was great, but I guess it also teaches you a lot about your responsibilities, because I realized that I did a lot of things I shouldn’t have done.
It could be really embarrassing things… you know – alcohol or drugs or any of that sort. I have done it all, but I think I now have a more balanced idea of what’s important and what’s not important. And how important a career is, and how important your health is, and how important discipline is.
So were you going a bit overboard on the booze and drugs?
I wasn’t going overboard, but… it’s just that I did things which I don’t think I should have done.
Can you give me an example? And be honest.
Wow, there are so many! Like I said, it was probably getting drunk, not going to class in the morning, neglecting my work.
Come on, that’s not so bad – every student does that.
I think this is as bad as I can say right now. I’ll have to tell you other things off the record [laughs].
So you say you’ve done it all – let’s check them off the list. Marijuana, cocaine… ?
Well, there was marijuana…
No, I didn’t get in that deep. But there was marijuana, there was alcohol, I started smoking cigarettes.
So you avoided the harder drugs?
That’s something I’d never ever touch.
I guess because of exposure. I understand what those drugs do to a person.
You’ve seen people around you doing that stuff?
Absolutely. I have plenty of friends who are into stuff like that. And it never attracted me, I never really longed for such a high.
A lot of movie stars – whether it’s Hollywood or Bollywood – can have trouble keeping their egos in check the more successful they become. How is your ego doing?
You know, there’s a real fine line between ego and self-respect. But I don’t have an ego as such. I recently heard a story about this new actress who’s just coming up in the industry. Outside her van, her first name was written, but her last name wasn’t, so she just walked off the set and didn’t come to the shoot. I find it really funny. I don’t think I have an ego. I’m quite easy-going. I don’t need a van. I can travel Economy or Business Class. I don’t need a First Class ticket.
Do you think you’re always going to be this modest? Or is it because you’re just starting out and you’re idealistic?
Like you said, it’s all related to success. I mean, if you’re successful, these things will come to you – you don’t have to demand them. So why demand it when you don’t deserve it? If you’re successful and people are giving you stuff readily, you might as well accept it and come to terms with it. And probably that’ll give you a reason or a motivation to work harder and achieve it. It’s as simple as that.
The more successful you become, the more important your opinion will be on all kinds of things not even remotely connected to films, from the price of onions to Pakistan. So I’m gonna help you get ready for that.
How much is a kilo of onions?
A kilo of onions? I would say… 20 rupees.
Would you favour Indian military strikes inside Pakistan to destroy terrorist training camps?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t know how that’s going to help. It’s getting back to America, Iraq and all of that. I don’t know if that’s the right way to do it. I don’t know if there is a way to do anything about it.
Where were you during the Mumbai attacks last November?
I was in India. I’ve actually been witness to two of these unfortunate incidents in the world. One was 9/11 – I was in New York at that time. I don’t want to make any political statements because I don’t think I am anybody to make such a statement. I do believe that it’s faith gone wrong. All I can say as a 26-year-old boy living in Bombay is that what happened to my city was totally uncalled for. It was ugly, it was stupid and it did anger me.
You were in Manhattan on 9/11?
Yes, I was on the street. I was going to class when it happened, and it was just insane. My entire school got evacuated, but we didn’t know the seriousness of it – all we heard was that a plane had gone into the TwinTowers. So we were walking towards the WorldTradeCenter, and when we reached, we suddenly saw one tower fall down. It was really scary being there. I’d never seen New York City so scared and empty.
OK, let’s move on to a less gloomy subject. Did you go to New York a boy and come back a man?
Er … No, no. I think I became a man much, much before I went to New York.
OK. So how old were you when you lost your virginity?
I think I must have been 15.
Fifteen! And how old was your girlfriend?
She was 15, too. I was seeing someone really seriously for two years.
You grew up pretty fast.
Yeah, I think so [laughs].
I’m going to offer you a hypothetical choice. Your next film will be a guaranteed super-hit, but only if you give up sex for the next five years. Which one do you want: success or sex?
A super-hit film for sure. For sure.
You’d give up sex for five years for that?
Absolutely, that’s easy. I guess I haven’t tasted a super-hit film yet. If I had done, then I would probably choose the latter, but I am really curious to experience it.
I think your girlfriend is going to be a bit upset with that choice.
Ah, yeah. I guess maybe it is a bit of a selfish choice. But I would still go for the super-hit.
Diesel, True Religion
I have a tailor in Bombay who does a great job with my suits. Savile Row is really good, too.
Interno 8, on Conduit Street in London
Zegna, Prada, Gucci
Myself – I really don’t understand fashion