Ranbir Kapoor in an exclusive chat with mid-day talks about 'marrying' the director's mind; sending harsh messages to his dad Rishi via his mom, why there will never be a Raj Kapoor biopic, and more...
Ranbir Kapoor regales the audience at the latest edition of Sit with Hitlist. Pics/Rane Ashish, Nimesh Dave
Actor Ranbir Kapoor visited the mid-day office to 'Sit with Hitlist', as it were, right before the release of Sanju. Which is just as well, since he usually meets the press only to promote his films, a rule of sorts, we hope, he would make exceptions to, once in a while. For, the last time mid-day was trying to get in touch with him was in late 2016, when we wanted to put him on the cover of a new product we were launching. We asked his best-friend, filmmaker Ayan Mukerji, to put in a word, we exchanged text messages with Kapoor for a couple of days; until, he totally disappeared! Only fair then that we start this conversation with:
You obviously don't like being interviewed, now, do you?
No, I don't. Maybe it is because I am an introvert. And when I don't have a movie to talk about, I really feel naked to be asked [questions about myself], because I find it hard to lie about certain things.
Which is true. There should be a serious meme online with, 'Ranbir honestly says'. You've spoken about your parents' marital problems, developing a drinking problem, because you were chilling at home, alone. In the early years, you've spoken about having been a stoner once, and then your dad's lawyer called to warn that you could go to jail for saying that. Are you more careful now?
No, I don't want to be careful, I prefer to be honest. It's always nice when someone talks to you for the hard work you've put in, or the fact that someone just recognises your work. When I started my career, there was a lot of spotlight on my personal life — not about my parents, but about my partner. So I got scared, and it made me cautious. And I don't know how to lie, or manipulate a situation. If somebody wants to know about my life, and it kind of changes something in their life, inspires them, or helps them learn from my mistakes, then of course, I wouldn't mind talking.
We met last year before the release of Jagga Jasoos, and then, of course, you were gone after. What did you make of the reactions to that film?
I was disappointed for various reasons. I was collaborating with a director like Anurag Basu who had worked his a** off for three years. Katrina [Kaif] and I did other projects, but he was just on this. In our heads, it is usually hard to accept that our film wasn't very good. When the audience rejects it, you feel that maybe they didn't get it, or the film was way ahead of its time. But that's not true. A good film is a good film. Nothing else matters. It was sad that the film didn't do well. But thankfully, as actors, we have other projects that we've already surrendered ourselves to; we're on a different journey, which helps. Also, I'm a detached person by nature, which applies to the final verdict of a film as well.
You had earlier done Barfi (2012) with Basu; apparently you didn't have any idea what was going on in that film as well, and then everyone loved it. You had similar thoughts about Jagga; that it could have gone either way?
I think so. Barfi was made in such a way that we — including Priyanka [Chopra], Ileana [D'Cruz] — had no clue what was going on. We would come on set, and Dada [Basu] would ask us, "Aaj kya mann hai karne ka? Chalo aaj tum teen pani-puri khaane jao." And so we would improvise on that scene. We didn't have a script. There was a story. There was a heart, and character synopsis. When we finally saw the film the three of us were like, "Wow, this is something great." But we didn't feel that while making the film. So we thought, chalo, if we could pull that off, it might just work with Jagga as well. Both films were made in the same way, just that he spent a lot of time on Jagga, as it was a musical, father-son story, my character stammers, was a detective…There was too much going on. I think there were some genius parts. But on the whole, it didn't really come together.
Ranbir Kapoor: I will never be single
Your dad totally bajaoed the poor director in the press after the film. Poor guy must have felt terrible, no?
Of course, I felt really bad for Dada. And he said something about Pritamda [music composer] as well. I only have empathy for them. But, to be honest, I have never looked my father in the eye. I always look down and speak to him. And only say, "Yes!" So, it was very hard for me to confront him on these things. But I always pass on a harsh message through my mom. What do I do, I can't control him.
You seemed to be in a happy space before Jagga's release though, because you said you were working with Rajkumar Hirani on Sanju.
When you work with a successful director, you already have that cushion. It's like somebody has your back. Because even when Sanju's promo and posters came out, the amount of love we received was because of Rajkumar Hirani and Sanjay Dutt's fan-following first.
And certainly yours, too.
Of course, but I haven't received such response to any of my earlier films. When I was constantly hitting failure, it was not in my control either. For me, Bombay Velvet (2015), Jagga Jasoos (2017), Tamasha (2015) were entertaining films. That's why I was part of them. They were my choices. So you need to take a step back, and ask yourself what's going wrong. That answer requires patience. In my case, people in the industry said, "Commercial picture karo. Body banao." It confuses you. But you need to take in everything: Suno sabki. Karo apni. I am feeling better now.
Mayank Shekhar and Ranbir Kapoor
Correct me if I am wrong: Your dad Rishi Kapoor had taken you to Hirani after Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006) and requested him to work with you. You were also considered for 3 Idiots (2009), and there were talks about PK (2014) as well, in which you made a cameo. Clearly, Aamir Khan stole those parts, right?
Not at all. Let's just put it this way, I didn't deserve to be in those films, given the time and place I was in my life. Post Lage Raho Munnabhai, my father saw Raju sir's mother, fell flat on her feet, and told her, "Your son is a genius, and I hope he works with my son at some point." Because my father is like that. When he likes something, he just overdoes it!
You spent an entire year on Sanju, even while you weren't shooting through it all, simply hanging around in Raju's office, observing the process; in the same way that you spent 45 days in A R Rahman's studio during Rockstar (2011). Is that your method?
Yes, it is. Before I start a film, one of the things I try to do is completely marry the director's mind. As an actor, I am just channelling what he has written. The other thing is to understand the material. A role like Sanju doesn't come often in an actor's life. So, I understood that this is the film that I need to work my a** off for. Also, it's very rare that an actor feels so inspired towards a film. Post-Rockstar, Sanju was that film for me.
It's also a character you've seen all your life. He's been your neighbour at Pali Hill. Forget the irony of it all, just as a tabloid story of 70 years: Nargis and Raj Kapoor were the nation's top on-screen couple, even creative partners. And then, generations later, Raj Kapoor's grandson plays Nargis's son on screen. It is kinda crazy, right?
It is. But Sanju sir would always tease me when I used to work out in his gym during Barfi, "Yeh kya movie kar raha hai, Barfi. Iske baad kya karega? Laddoo. Phir, peda? Body bana. Be a man. Hero ban." But he has a lot of affection for me. He would always say, "If there is a film made on me, then I would like you to do it!"
He actually offered you the role...
He did. This was couple of years before Raju sir had thought about it. When the offer actually came to me, I wasn't really excited. I was like, "I can't do it. My personality is so different. He is larger than life, macho, alpha-male. And how can you make a biopic on an actor, who is still so relevant and working? How will I convince people?" But once I read the script, my perception completely changed.
Wasn't (late) Yash Chopra once supposed to make a biopic on Raj Kapoor and Nargis Dutt's life?
Yes, there were certain talks. But, I guess, when you are making an actor's biopic, it has to open certain classified files, and reveal the human side, the flaws and mistakes. You can't highlight only the good side of a person. I don't think my family would allow such a biopic on my grandfather to be made. But, yes, there was interest that Yashji has shown in making it.
In the same way that Kishore Kumar's family didn't allow you to make a biopic on him?
Yes. In fact, a lot of people called us during the making of Sanju to find out if there was a mention of them in the movie! Raju sir had to come clean on those accounts most of the times. You can't mention someone, and just stop your film! We had to fictionalise certain things, or change some names.
Then there's your body-language in Sanju, which straddles a thin line between performance, and mimicry, that so many people love to do of superstars. In fact, that may well be a definition of old-world super-stardom —when the public starts mimicking your walk, talk, voice, for fun. Have you found someone who mimics you well?
[Mimicry artiste] Sanket [Bhosale, who does a drunk Sanjay Dutt really well, and who I had met while prepping for the part] has done me as well, and it's pretty good. But as the years have passed in Indian cinema, a lot of stylised acting has diminished. It has become more natural and spontaneous. It's hard to mimic spontaneity, and this holds true with all the actors in my generation. Everyone seems quite relatable in that sense. But I think the way someone talks, or dances, you can mimic. I guess Sanket has done a good job with me.
What's the first mannerism you notice about yourself, watching someone mimic you?
When someone mimics you, that means you are successful, and that you are doing something right. But the first reaction watching it is: That doesn't sound like me. The second reaction is always: Wow. It's pretty cool that someone is relating to me. I have tried to mimic Amitabh Bachchan from Agneepath (1990), Hrithik Roshan in Koi Mil Gaya (2003), Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995), Salman Khan in Hum Aapke Hai Koun (1994), Aamir Khan in Rangeela (1995)…. I never thought someone would mimic me.
And were you good at it?
No, I suck at it. I don't have the talent to modulate my voice, or study each mannerism, and swing it back. In Tamasha, I had to do Dev Anand's mimicry. For that, I actually took classes. But it still seems caricaturish.
The other thing about stardom is when one is pitted against the other. The Khans, for instance, have been exclusive 'rivals' for almost 30 years now; feeding off each other, as if there's no chance anyone else can enter this zone. In your generation, the big story is Ranbir Kapoor vs Ranveer Singh; correct?
It will be pompous for me to say that it is the thing.
Will it be pompous to compare yourself with Ranveer Singh?
To anybody. But yes, I have a great opponent if I can say so [myself]. When I see his [Ranveer's] films, I get inspired. He is quite magical on screen. And I think I'll help him do better. And he will help me do better. There are times when his movies really set cash registers ringing. I would want to beat that. And it's not only the two of us. There is Varun [Dhawan], Tiger [Shroff], Sushant [Singh Rajput]. When I started out, there were only two or three. Now, there are 15. But I am really excited about this media competition.
Why media competition? It's a genuine numbers' thing, isn't it?
I think it's exaggerated by the media. I don't sit at home thinking, "Achcha, Ranveer ne aisa kiya, toh mujhe bhi karna padega!" But this media-created competition will be exciting.
Also the two of you have followed a cliché of show business. For instance, everyone refused Zanjeer (1973), and Bachchan was born. Everyone, or at least Aamir refused Darr (1993), that pretty much made SRK. And you refused Band Baaja Baaraat (2010), then there is Ranveer Singh!
I started out being very choosy about the films I was doing. And my dad never understood this side of an actor, where he does one film at a time. He comes from a school of thought where you work all the time: three-four releases a year. And then he said, "You have to understand that for every film you say no to, you're creating another actor, who's going to get better than you." But that's destiny. I can't do every film. And, I don't have any regrets about the fact that I didn't do a particular film, and so, some other actor came up!
Speaking of new talents, one of the films you move on to is with Luv Ranjan, who you called up right after watching his low-budget debut, Pyaar Ka Punchnama (2011). Do you do that very often?
It's the only time. Of course, when I like a film, I always congratulate. It's important for the fraternity to celebrate others' film-successes —whether it's a performance, or the director's work. But with Luv, I saw Pyaar Ka Punchnama on a flight to London. Soon as I landed, I messaged him, "Hey, I really enjoyed your film. This is Ranbir, and I would love to collaborate with you on a film." We left it at that. Over the years, we spoke about various subjects. In passing, he also narrated the subject of Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety.
Did he offer that to you?
Not that he directly offered it to me, but we were just talking about films. And, finally he narrated this one I absolutely liked — a no-holds-barred, ba**sy entertainer, if I may say so. It's not the kind of film that Luv has made.
And Shamshera is the next one, which seems like a macho/dacoit film, the sort of image that has propelled Bollywood's major stars for front-benchers —Bachchan, Salman, or Sanjay Dutt, if you may. Did you consciously choose not to be that macho hero?
To be honest, I can't be that macho hero. I don't have that personality. Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn or Akshay Kumar bring macho-ness to any part. If they did Jagga Jasoos, they'd make Jagga Jasoos seem macho. I like the story [of Shamshera], set in 1800s, about a daku tribe, fighting for their rights, and it could add to my macho-ness on screen, given the intensity. It's got an aspirational vibe to it. Sanjay Dutt plays the antagonist. I'm excited about the part. It's very new.
That will be surreal again: Ranbir Kapoor with Sanjay Dutt?
I told the director that when he [Dutt] doesn't come on set, I could do his part as well —quickly get my prosthetic done, do all the over-the-shoulder shots. But I'm very happy about the two films I'm about to explore.
You've spoken about how you were tired of being that same guy film after film…
Yes, the coming-of-age films. I'm done with the Harry Potter phase in my life. It's time to take the next step.
But you've also spoken about how, growing up in a sheltered environment, yet playing characters so different from each other, you're always trying to explore something deeper within. That you almost force a conflict in your life, which helps you broaden your emotional bank. That's like your character from Rockstar, no?
No. There's a dialogue in Tamasha where my father says, "Jinki life mein conflict nahi hota, and they wish it upon themselves, ek din itni buri tarah woh conflict aayega, that you'll wish that you'd never wished for it." I like to play parts that emotionally challenge me, where you can really surrender. Roles that make you feel empty from inside, because that makes you feel alive. It's boring to superficially go on set every day, say some dialogue, romance an actress, sing a song. That's fun too. It's part of the deal, and you need to do that. But, I've always leaned towards the tragic, intense side. If you consider Rockstar and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani: Rockstar was a 100 times harder part, Yeh Jawaani was easy — coming on set, with positive energy, having fun with a great ensemble cast. It was a party. I got a lot of respect for Rockstar, within the industry, and the media. But the love I get for Yeh Jawaani is something that I'll never get for Rockstar. Today, if you saw [before this interview]...
Yes, that little fan-girl was crying uncontrollably when she met you.
She had seen Yeh Jawaani 250 times. Those are the films people like watching. They like watching entertainers — films that don't take themselves too seriously. We're not saving people's lives. We're entertainers, and that's what we should stick to doing.
I guess in a role like Yeh Jawaani, you have to channel your actual personality a lot more, in the same that way Shah Rukh and Salman do?
Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan are very easygoing with who they are. It's like wearing a T-shirt. You don't put on, or play any character. People love them for who they are first. That's hard for me to do. It's easier me to have crutches of a character, like in Barfi, Wake Up Sid (2009), or Rocket Singh (2009). You're channelling something emotionally, through something else. But to be yourself is very hard. Character-driven films are more exciting because you feel, "Okay, I can be this, and be that." But, to some extent, just to continue being you, is another challenge, which I need to get more comfortable with. I guess you have to believe in yourself. Yeh Jawaani was more about Ayan's belief in me.
Speaking of your personality, what I find really odd is that, at one level, you call yourself an introvert, and that you like to spend most of your time alone, not that you're lonely. But, since the age of 13, you've always been in a relationship. That means you also seek companionship all the time. Last year, you said, was when you were single for long, for the first time. I'm assuming that's changed?
See the thing is...
Has that changed?
There are so many questions here. I don't want to cause any misunderstanding, which I'll end up clearing for the next six years of my life!
To find love, relationship, companionship repeatedly is very rare. When you isolate yourself so much from the world, you tend to find that one person you can devote, or direct every feeling and emotion towards. Because it comforts and shelters you. That one person makes your life easy. And sometimes it comes in the form of friendship. Most of the times, yes, it comes in the form of a partner.
You didn't answer my question...
That's my answer.
Are you single right now or not?
Erm... I'm not single. I'll never be single.
Are you dating Alia Bhatt?
Main iss sawal ka jawab dene ke liye Raazi nahi hoon!
That was a great answer! So many films of yours have have had so much gyan on relationships, is there one where the world-view is closest to your own?
Well, I do believe characters do extra-ordinary things only when they are in love. No selfish character will do anything extraordinary. And when you're young, starting out, mostly love stories are written for you. It's a great genre. What you stand for, believe about love, politics, people, society, kind of reflects in your films. Because I'm not really doing anything apart from my movies.
You obviously don't make any political statements.
I don't make any political statements because I don't follow politics. Politics makes no difference in my life. I'm not at the brunt of anything. I live a luxurious life. I don't have water, or housing problems. I don't have any issues, so who am I to comment on politics?
Your next film is Brahmastra, in which you play a superhero. You're a natural actor; will you ape a superhero? (Mohar Basu)
Brahmastra is not a superhero film. You can call it a supernatural romantic fairytale. And Ayan [Mukerji] will never write a character that has no truth in it. I think it's too early for me to talk about what Brahmastra is about, but Ayan's going to spend the next 10 years of his life on this trilogy. That's all he wants to do. So I'm really excited. We need your excitement also.
So that's the next 10 years of your life too?
Yes. What Ayan's doing is allowing me to do two films between every [edition of] Brahmastra. So I make this film every one-and-a-half years.
Is it overconfidence to plan a franchise even before the first one is a hit?
But he's written it in a format of three films. So when Brahmastra part 1 ends, you know it's not the end. There's so much more to it.
Are there any personal tricks that you apply on every film as an actor?(Veeral Pathak)
Apart from marrying the director's mind, and really understanding the text, I do a lot of silly things — like, it may sound silly to you that I wear one perfume for every character [I play]. I have a very strong sense of smell, so when I smell that fragrance, it kind of connects me to that character.
What were you wearing for Sanju?
I went to his [Dutt's] house and stole his perfume! It's this really strong, macho perfume that I would never wear otherwise. Every AD on the set was like, "What are you wearing?" But it helped me stay in character! Then, I'm very bad at remembering lines. When I have long dialogues, I stress over not how I'm looking, or how I'll perform, but that I don't get the dialogues wrong. That's very embarrassing for an actor. And that's happened only over the past two-three years. I used to be pretty good at this before. I'm very scared. Can't be old age, I'm only 35. What's wrong? Too much coffee? Is it bad habits?
That was another lifetime.
Another lifetime! Like I said, every film comes with a new process. Because Sanju was a biopic, dealing with a real-life character, you had to go deeper. During Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016), I asked Karan Johar what my process should be, he said, "Just shut up and come on set with a big smile. That's what you are!"
So much of it could also come naturally to you, being the fourth-generation actor. Speaking of which, you are named after your grandfather; he was, in fact, 'Ranbir Raj Kapoor'?
That's because of this weird theory that all of our names should begin with R. I don't know why. They ran out of names eventually, I guess. My grandfather used to sign Ranbir Raj Kapoor, but never used that name. So Shammi Kapoor suggested I be named Ranbir!
Is there any particular story about Raj Kapoor that always get shared at family gatherings?
Lots of them. We speak about him as anyone would speak about their grandfather. For instance, the fact that post 8.30 pm, no one would want to cross paths with him — not even his wife or kids — because he would have three drinks, and then anyone who came around would get a lecture of their life. People would crawl by his door to avoid his gaze! I was six years old when he passed away, and I am told he was very fond of me. So whenever my mother would shout at me, he would call and be very upset with her.
I recently read a biography of Shammi Kapoor, and figured his life was as good as a movie. He was something else!
Sanjay Dutt actually used to tell me that he used to hear Shammi Kapoor stories the way we hear Dutt's stories! I really can't speak about those stories on this platform, because they're absolutely crazy!
What really connects you and Shammi Kapoor is that you are the only two Kapoors to have finished class 10, without having failed it once! True?
But I have done Standard 12 also! (Laughs) I remember I was assisting Dad on Aa Ab Laut Chalein, when my Class 10 results came out. We were in America. And I had secured 54 per cent. When my dadi [grandmother] saw it, she thought hamare ghar mein Einstein paida hua hai! She threw a party in America, gave me a lot of dollars to shop. I felt like a scholar in my family!
On the same (funny) note, did you see the recent Hindi version of Deadpool 2? There's a line there by Ranveer that thoroughly lampoons Bombay Velvet. It's not like it was the worst movie ever, and you take a lot of pot-shots at the film too.
No I didn't know about this [in Deadpool 2]. Well, the expectations were way too high with that film. There was this massive star I was being made out to be, a certain arrogance coming from the filmmakers—massive budget, and its subsequent earnings. That's really the thing. I take potshots at every film I do. I tasted such a big disaster with my very first film [Saawariya], being the butt of jokes at all award functions.
Literally, yes! I was born in the industry, and understand the value of success, failure. You should own it, it's yours. When you are making a film, everybody is on a journey. You've spent 80-85 days, it seems the truth. It's only when you see the film, you say...
Was there any such point with Bombay Velvet, for instance?
When Karan [Johar] and I saw the film, a year before its release, we sat in the car and the first thing I asked was, "I know we are screwed, but how screwed are we?" Karan said, "Too screwed!"
So you knew?
Even if you know, you live on hope that maybe audiences will like it. I was shooting Wake Up Sid and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani simultaneously. Ayan's Wake Up Sid had a cool, young vibe. Ajab was being directed by Rajkumar Santoshi, who comes from a certain generation. All his ADs were older than him. I thought Wake Up was my 'Titanic'. It released in August, made Rs 40 crore, got me credibility. And then I was wary of Ajab, thinking my career would be over after that. Katrina always told me, "You're stupid; it's going to be a success. You should stand by it." When it released, it did double the numbers. That's when I realised that as a Bandra boy, who goes abroad to study, I don't know what India, or Indian cinema, is. This industry doesn't have a fixed formula.
From an audience perspective, what could have been most disappointing was your third film that same year: Rocket Singh!
I get so much love for that movie. But where were these people when the film released? I remember Aditya Chopra said that I should not promote the film, because I had already promoted two films that year; found commercial, and critical success. I thought Rocket Singh was my 'Munnabhai'. But there was something wrong with it. It didn't speak to people the way it should have. If it was a good movie, it would have done well.
Transcribed by Mohar Basu, Sonil Dedhia and Sonia Lulla