Sometime last year, director Anurag Kashyap declared that he could “give his right arm to work with Ranbir Kapoor.” Did that sound like a bit of an exaggeration? Not to those who have been following the 30-year-old actor’s career, which began in 2007 with the convention-defying Saawariya.
Ranbir Kapoor is unlike any other male actor working in the Mumbai movie industry today. In fact, he has little in common even with his talented dad Rishi Kapoor, let alone with all the other iconic entertainers who have, over four generations, made his clan the “first family” of Hindi cinema.
Ranbir, as malleable as clay, has steadfastly resisted being typecast. His illustrious granddad Raj Kapoor – whose full name was Ranbir Raj Kapoor – had a screen image, and so did his grand-uncles Shammi and Shashi Kapoor. Rishi was essentially a romantic hero, while Ranbir’s uncle, Randhir Kapoor, cultivated the persona of a comic lead actor.
Ranbir, however, cannot be placed in a fixed slot because he has refused to repeat himself. That apart, he has pushed the boundaries of stardom so far beyond the standard considerations of box office collection that he is one rare Bollywood actor whose work is always discussed for its craft rather than for any superficial packaging around it.
Ranbir plunges headlong into a role, mentally and physically. Carrying on from where he left in Rockstar (2011) and Barfi! (2012), he is now reported to be working to gain as much as 15 kilos in order to play the central role in Anurag Basu’s proposed Kishore Kumar biopic.
From a temperamental, trouble-prone musician in Rockstar to a Chaplinesque deaf-mute in Barfi!, Ranbir has completely redefined the rules of engagement for Bollywood star-actors. And when he does come up with his interpretation of the life, work and nuances of a true movie industry genius, Ranbir will in all likelihood set another significant professional benchmark.
It is wonderfully refreshing to see a Bollywood star unmindful of what the audience expects. Ranbir can deliver a film that rakes in big bucks (Barfi! made almost as much money as any Bollywood blockbuster last year) without having to compromise with the essence of the character that he chooses to essay on screen.
A high level of commitment and genuine understanding of the basics of screen acting enable him to immerse oneself completely in a role and yet retain the essential individuality that gives a star his crowd-pleasing edge. In that respect, Ranbir Kapoor is in a league of his own.
Whether a director like Prakash Jha, known for hard-hitting films about real socio-political issues, ropes him in for a somewhat bloated thriller (Raajneeti) or a more mainstream filmmaker like Raj Kumar Santoshi throws him into an uneven love story (Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani), Ranbir manages to come up a performance that has the stamp of a man who can go all out even if all the creative odds are not exactly stacked in his favour.
But when he has an author-backed role like the one in 2009’s Wake Up Sid, he plays his cards with restraint, does not overreach and get ahead of the script, and lets the inner dynamic of the character graph carry him and the film forward.
Wake Up Sid was a coming-of-age drama that drew its inspiration from life – the perfect platform for a natural actor like Ranbir to demonstrate his depth. His performance in the film provided glimpses of the rare emotional resonance that he can generate with barely visible effort. And then, remarkably, he can go on to tap a high degree of physicality to bring the characters in Rockstar and Barfi! to life.
On the anvil are films that are poles apart from each. At one end of the spectrum is Abhinav “Dabangg” Kashyap’s Besharam, a film in which Ranbir shares screen footage with not only father, but also his mother Neetu Singh, besides Indian-Australian actress Pallavi Sharda.
The other film starring Ranbir that will arrive in the multiplexes in 2013 is Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, directed by Wake Up Sid’s Ayan Mukherjee and co-starring Deepika Padukone and Kalki Koechlin.
Interestingly, both films have a link with Anurag Kashyap, the maverick poster boy of the new brand of Mumbai cinema that blends artistic value with commercial viability in a manner that has rarely been seen before. While the director of Besharam is Kashyap’s brother, one of the lead actresses of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Kalki, is his wife.
So that brings us back to Anurag’s ‘desire’ to work with Ranbir. It could become a reality pretty soon. Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet, a period film set in Bombay, is pretty close to seeing the light of day. The film was originally supposed to be toplined by Aamir Khan, but now it is Ranbir who is in the frame.
Adapted from portions of Mumbai Fables, a book authored by historian Gyan Prakash, the film dramatizes the life of Datta Samant, a leader of the city’s mill workers who spearheaded many strikes and agitations in the 1970s, one of which eventually led to the closure of a large number of textile units in Mumbai in the 1980s.
Nothing, it seems, is beyond Ranbir Kapoor’s ken – neither eccentric creative powerhouse Kishore Kumar nor feisty trade unionist Datta Samant. Versatility is clearly the young man’s forte.