Read Our Exclusive Interview With Ek Villain Returns Star Arjun Kapoor
Cover Story: The Transformation Of Arjun Kapoor 

Arjun Kapoor was last seen in Ek Villain Returns

A tumultuous journey of 10 years in cinema is just the beginning for go-getter Arjun Kapoor — an actor whose motto is to constantly upgrade, and fall back upon only one thing: his instinct 


It’s been 10 years since this genial actor made his debut in Habib Faisal’s Ishaqzaade. His Parma Chauhan was a heady mix of cute and macho, and the actor played it to perfection. After the crackling debut, he further explored and proved his range as a true-blue commercial hero with his next two films, Aurangzeb and Gunday. 



But, from the very beginning, he had made it a point to not get stuck with one image. He soon broke away from his macho image, and comfortably slipped into the character of a cute if a tad nerdy IIM graduate in 2 States, and then went on to be part of the brilliant ensemble cast of Finding Fanny that included the likes of Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, and Pankaj Kapur, along with Deepika Padukone. He gave a memorable performance as Savio, proving that he is equally adept in playing nuanced characters that don’t have the essential flourish of a Bollywood ‘hero’. Over the years, he has continued to experiment with roles and often excel, one such being the poker-faced Pinky, his character in Dibakar Banerjee’s poignant social commentary on gender politics masterfully packaged as a chase drama. He has been trying to push the envelope while staying inside the out-and-out commercial space and his filmography is a testimony to how the heroes in Bollywood films are breaking away from the stereotype. 


When we met Arjun Kapoor for our previous cover story, he was on a mission to become fitter and healthier. The actor had then shared how he was taking small but robust steps to bring in a big change. Just 10 months on, and the results of his rigor and perseverance are showing in his recent outing, Ek Villain Returns, especially in the highly-stylized action sequences. But the transformation of the lean and mean Ishaqzaade to the bulked-up badass Ek Villain, is not just a physical one. For Kapoor, this decade under the spotlight has been that of discovering newer nuances of his craft as well as evolving as a person. We catch up with Kapoor to talk about the transformation of the actor through the years, and try to view the evolution of the commercial Bollywood hero through his lens. Excerpts:


You look stunning. Tell us about your recent transformation. Was it for the movie or the result of your personal fitness journey?


It is a combination of both. I was working constantly. When the first lockdown happened, I got the time to introspect on a lot of things, and realised that I am not being able to deliver what the audience is expecting from me. I felt that I was letting my fans down. You can’t control the fate of the films but you can always do your best to look the part. So, I decided to use this off time to do something about it and go back to basics, and start reconnecting with my mind and body. I got Ek Villain Returns a month into this, and by then, I had already aligned myself into this mind space. I was already on the journey, but the movie gave me a goal. My character in the film required certain physicality — I had to look like someone who can stand up in front of a John Abraham and also romance a Tara Sutaria. Also, to portray his devil-may-care attitude, I needed to be very comfortable in my skin. You can say that the transformation was principally for the movie, but the intent was already there. 



You owned your body in Sandeep Pinky…, and looked the part. Some roles require a certain physique. But do you think it’s about time we move beyond the idea of mainstream Bollywood heroes having to look a certain way or be of a certain body type?


I would not pin it down to just Bollywood. It is even with the visual allurement that social media brings, the perception of branding and imagery, there is a certain body type, both for men and women, that is celebrated. Even in fashion, clothes are made for that particular kind of body type. Yes when you are playing to the gallery, you have to look a certain way because that is entertainment, and it is aspirational. But when I am doing a movie like Faraar, I am very aware that I need to look the part and not look like what my appearance is in Ek Villain Returns. But in the commercial space, those movies are few and far between. People mostly want to see aspirational characters on screen. But the normalisation of different body types, and what essentially defines a ‘hero’ both physically, mentally, and emotionally is something that is also a reflection of the visual narrative created by society. And that narrative needs to change. 


For me Pankaj Tripathi is no less a hero. Yes, commercial cinema comes with certain expectations. If you are chasing such roles, you need to have that kind of physicality. On camera, it is a role requirement, the vision of the director, and the expectations of the audience. Yes, it should change, but, what I find more problematic is the obsession with a certain body type, skin colour, etc. off camera. We almost always end up judging the book by its cover. When we think of a hero, we don’t necessarily look at the qualities of a person, being a kind and good human being is so underrated these days. It is mostly always about appearance. We even end up talking to people who are visually more appealing; we click pictures of good-looking people before clicking on the more ordinary-looking ones. With social media, it has gotten worse. Everyone wants to look perfect and the idea of perfection is furthermore propagated by filters and beauty apps. I think the first step towards changing this is to own how you look and be comfortable in your skin. It should begin with you, and your perception of yourself. 


Moving on from physical fitness, how do you take care of your mental health, especially since this can be not only an exhausting but also a volatile profession?


I am the happiest when I am shooting. So, that takes care of most of my blues. Additionally, now every time I feel that I am getting stuck in a rut, or I am pushing myself too hard, I take out time and switch off for a few days. Time puts things into perspective. After the release of Ek Villain Returns, I didn’t take up anything; I gave myself time to rejuvenate. I have understood the importance of taking a break. 



Did being from a film family mentally prepare you for the steep highs and abysmal lows that are such an integral part of this profession? 


We all want to tell stories and entertain people. That passion keeps us going. Success and failure are in every profession. In ours, it happens in public. But the failures never made me any less excited about getting into this industry. When you see your father or your uncles go through such phases, you learn how to conduct yourself in such situations. Not only that, you learn from them how to rise from those situations. The word stardom is often used rather frivolously. What is stardom? Everybody gets their moment of fame. It is when things are not going well, how you react to it and how you fight and how you come back from it. Stardom is essentially surviving long enough so that the good stuff outweighs the bad, and people remember you for the successes. 


But have you ever felt burnt out and decided to take a break? 


Somehow, my burnout happened just before the lockdown and the lockdown, as terrible as that time was for all of us, helped me address it properly and get over it.


When I decided to go for this transformation, it came from the place where I had totally burnt myself out. I was working back-to-back without any break. I was just a hamster on a wheel. I was so busy that I didn’t realize that it was taking a toll on my mental and physical well-being. The burnout hits you after a few years; nobody can pre-empt it. Also, when you are getting offers, nobody wants to slow down and let go of the opportunities. It was the first lockdown that made me realise it. I decided to change the way I was living my life — the routine, the discipline, everything. I also took care of my mental health. I made it a point to let go of certain thoughts that were bogging me down. 



How much do social media trolling and negative criticism of your films impact your mental peace?


I don’t think we should be reacting to or dealing with troll at all unless it reaches a point where you need to put your point across. My film has opened at 7 crores when most other Bollywood films are not even getting an opening. We are sitting in Mumbai and reading comments on it on social media, but we don’t take into account the rest of India. We need to understand one thing: a rather minuscule population of the country is on social media. When we travel across the country to promote our movies, we see the love and adulation people have for us first-hand. 


There is a big difference between the trolls and the critics. But these days, the line is increasingly getting blurred. The media is also embracing the clickbait culture that is prevalent on social media. I think as an industry, we need to take cognizance of it and not let this phenomenon grow. It has become easy for people to target us because we tend to ignore it thinking it is not real. But it is becoming real. We are making films, there is a lot of hard work that goes into it, and there are a lot of people involved. You might like the film or not like the film, but there is no point in making a joke out of it or getting personal.


You have done Ki & Ka where you play a househusband. Even in Sandeep Pinky, there was a gender role reversal of sorts. Being a Bollywood hero, why did you take up such roles, which are not conventionally ‘macho’, especially since you had started off with roles like Ishaqzaade and Gunday?


I am very comfortable with my masculinity, and with who I am. I don’t need to project that I am a man. But I am also a person who treats women with utmost respect and care, and I really understand their value in life. Doing a Ki & Ka is just about that, showing love and value their importance, and giving credit where it is due. Being a man is not just about being ‘macho’, it is not as two-dimensional as coming and saving the girl and being a hero.


I think the fact that I look like the typical ‘macho’ guy but I am still in touch with my sensitive self is something that exists in my personal nature as well, and I am very comfortable exploring that on camera. So, I can easily play a Pinky, I can still cook breakfast for my working wife, and take care of the house.



I know how to be around women, my upbringing was around some very strong and independent women, especially my mom. That has built the core, which has not changed after entering this industry that is still mostly male-dominated, even though we refuse to admit it from time to time. It is my mother’s upbringing and thought process that reflects in my conduct both on and off camera. I would never stop that from reflecting on the work that I do. Not all characters would allow it, but you can choose which characters to play. If I do an Ek Villain Returns, I also do a Sandeep Aur Pinky, the two explore very different sides of masculinity. Even my character in Sardar ka Grandson was a mumbling jumbling buffoon who goes out of the way to fulfill his grandmother’s wish.


It’s been a decade in the industry. How do you see the evolution of cinema and that of you as an actor?


I have always tried to pick up different kinds of characters. I have never waited for things to change or a trend to start. But, today, it has become a bit easier to attempt unconventional roles without being bogged down by the thought processes that existed among people when I started off.


The evolution of cinema, as I see it, is on a strange trajectory—the further we go, we remain the same. And I don’t see that changing especially. We are a democracy and we have a huge population who want their dal chawal although they might sometimes opt for sushi. Ghar ka khaana, the mass entertainers, will never lose their charm. But getting takeouts and going to restaurants every now and then has become more acceptable with time. Today, there is a proper demarcation between the slightly more entertainment-driven cinema and the more pushing-the-envelope kind of cinema. If I have done an Ek Villain Returns, I am following it up with a Kuttey, which is more in the latter space.



Do you think the idea of the ‘hero’ is changing in Bollywood?


A certain kind of ‘hero’ will always exist because society needs ‘heroes’. That is why movies like Avengers are so popular. We need heroism. But such movies need not always be male-driven. In India, we are still a bit far from finding that balance. The male heroism here is typically defined as being physically strong and dominating, and action as a genre has always worked in that space. Our country enjoys a good action film, the fight between the good and the evil, the quintessential Ramayan storytelling that is engrained in our cultural fibre, and for that, we need a hero who can save the day. This plot device is not going away anytime soon and there is nothing wrong in it, it is just that we need to explore newer ways of doing it, and that is happening. Especially in the OTT space, we are now seeing flawed heroes. But I think heroism on the big screen will always have a certain flare of commerce and mass. Theatres were shut for a long time and all the films came on OTT. So it remains to be seen how and if the changes we are seeing in the OTT space will also spill into the theatres, which are the fulcrum of a movement.


I don’t know how much the idea of a hero has really changed because I think for that, society needs to change first, and this depends largely on the education, upbringing, and culture within the community, and not just on cinema. Cinema is just a reflection of society. Cinema in itself can’t change society; if it can start a conversation, that’s a job well done.





Describe your style in three words


Classic, comfortable, and cool. 


Three essentials you don’t step out without?


My wallets, sunglasses, and my watch


Things we’ll always find on your nightstand?


 My AirPods, my charger, and bottles of water


If you had to pick only one designer to wear for movie premiers for the rest of your life, who would it be?


Tom Ford


If you were to style yourself for an event, what would you wear?


 Definitely something Indian — can be a bandhgala or a sherwani


Pick one: formals or streetwear?




What was the first car you ever purchased?


Mercedes-Benz M-Class ML 350 


What’s your dream car?


A yellow Porsche 911 Carrera

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