Arjun Kapoor: Women in our country don't get their due, nor do they get the right to choose
Batting for parity for his female co-stars, Arjun Kapoor on why a film no longer belongs to an actor alone anymore
Arjun Kapoor gives a glimpse of his new buzz-cut, as he removes his cap. Seated at a suburban five-star, the actor has been, since morning, promoting his upcoming film India's Most Wanted. "How come you don't have a shendi (pony)," I ask him. "It's better to use a clip on. Right now, my hair has grown because I am shooting the climax [of Panipat] in which I am wearing a helmet," pat comes the reply. To douse our excitement, he volunteers to show us the looks of his next - Panipat, a period drama helmed by Ashutosh Gowariker in which he plays a Maratha warrior. Regal gait, royal costumes, and an enviable moustache is all the sneak peek we get of the actor from the film. Over some black coffee, we sit down to chat about gaining perspective from his failures, why he won't tolerate his female co-stars being treated any lesser than him and finally reacting to the allegations of sexual harassment against Dibakar Banerjee, the director of his long pending film Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar.
From a comic role in Mubarakan (2017) to a cop act in India's Most Wanted, are you consciously trying to display your range to keep up with the changing colour of commercial cinema?
When the audience evolves, the material evolves. After 2 States , I was sure I wouldn't take up another romantic-comedy anytime soon because there is no point in dabbling with generic things anymore. But R Balki's [director] Ki & Ka  connected with my heart. I relate to the thought - what if a man wants to grow up and follow in his mother's footsteps? Women in our country don't get their due, nor do they get the right to choose. Social consciousness is very internal for an artiste, but this also operates in tandem with the greed of working with a director, who can teach us to do better. I chose Dibakar Banerjee's film [Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar] because I instinctively felt he could make me a better actor. As for Rajkumar Gupta, it was his idea of depicting patriotism without jingoism. A period film is on everyone's wish list, and I finally got mine. Some projects work, some don't, but I know my reasons to pick a film. It has always been nothing short of a learning experience.
Is this film about the terrorist organisation Indian Mujahideen (IM) because the villain's identity is still under wraps?
The story is about five men. We don't want to emphasise on the identity of the man [Mohammed Ahmed Siddibappa aka Yasin Bhatkal, leader of IM] who killed about 400 people. Through this film, people should discover how terrorists are waiting to get pardoned in this country. It boils my blood that we allow trials and respect even our worst enemies. He doesn't deserve the mercy. I hate that we glorify such men. Instead, let's glorify what this country did to stop the man.
What has been the biggest challenge on Panipat so far?
It's an emotionally draining and equally satiating experience. Just because the world around you is so operatic, it is difficult to not over-perform sometimes, especially with poetic lines and the grand milieu. The heightened performance and theatrical tonality could take away from believability, but Ashu sir keeps the pitch in control. He wanted us to be relatable in spite of the grandeur. Panipat is a patriotic film and every emotion it showcases is relevant even today.
Is the Marathi diction tough to crack?
Not really. I have studied Marathi in school. The language is another prop for authenticity. The film has to have a pan-India appeal, so we can't have a language divide. It has to be understandable [across regions].
What was Kriti Sanon's reaction when you tweeted, 'batting for the film to be referred to as Kriti and Arjun's Panipat'?
We were shooting together when I tweeted it. As a woman, I am sure Kriti has thought of it several times. To say, 'Arjun Kapoor's Panipat to clash with Kartik Aaryan's Pati Patni Aur Woh' is not factually wrong, but it discredits others who make a film happen. It doesn't make an actor any lesser if the female actor's name is attached to the film. This industry isn't about insecurity anymore. Panipat is incomplete without Kriti. The era of making it only a hero's film is gone. Actresses aren't all about song and dance anymore, and even if an actor has a smaller part in a film, it is integral to the plot, like Taapsee Pannu was in Baby (2015). People have to call out this bulls*#t.
Your next film is with Banerjee. In light of the #MeToo movement last year, few past allegations have resurfaced in public domain…
After the allegations were made, he has gone on to direct five films, and no one bothered to discuss it before.
But now, it's in discussion because of the sentiment at large.
The fault lies in everyone collectively. We all must introspect. I did my research after the allegations resurfaced. Whatever had transpired, he spoke about it, so did she [Payal Rohatgi], and the matter was shut . No one brought it up for the last eight years. I feel he could work and speak openly about it because there is nothing to hide. If he had done something wrong, then justice should have been served to him. Enough and more people have worked with him since then; we have to believe the matter is over and done with. No one took a stand all along so, you have to let go of it because it makes sense to follow the judgement of more sensible people who have worked with him before me. It's convenient to have this conversation now because allegations are one thing, understanding what happened is another and consensual activity is another. There are a lot of layers and I am not talking about Dibakar here. The movement has suffered because complex discussions are being reduced to allegations. Blame somebody and the repercussions can be dealt with later. Every time a man is not proven guilty, the repercussions are far bigger. Unfortunately, the movement is still being understood. And I fairly say this, if there is anything wrong we all must reconsider and take a stand on it.
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