For half a decade of his film career, Aditya Roy Kapur was always the best man, never the groom. From London Dreams to Action Replayy to Guzaarish to Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, he played second fiddle to Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan and Ranbir Kapoor respectively. It wasn’t until he became a boozard with a song, in Aashiqui 2, that he stopped being the hero’s crutch on screen.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Kapur chose not to use any crutches in real life. His eldest brother, Siddharth Roy Kapur, is the CEO of UTV Motion Pictures and the better half of actor VidyaBalan. His other older brother, Kunaal Roy Kapur, is best known as the lardy comical backbone of Delhi Belly. But, the only time his brothers helped him get a role was when he was in the second standard. “Siddharth was the head of the dramatics society in Sydenham College. They were doing The Sound of Music and needed someone to play Kurt [von Trapp],” Kapur says. There’s an 11-year gap between Siddharth and him and a six-year gap between Kunaal and him. Kapur says, “When there’s such a big age difference, you don’t end up chilling with their friends. I was the irritating younger brother.”
We’re sitting in Pali Village Cafe, an all-day dining restaurant, in Mumbai, which looks like an ageing spinster’s home, complete with empty wire birdcages and yellowing walls. In person, many actors look like they’ve stepped out of a shiny car commercial. Kapur, in a plain red T-shirt, denim-blue shorts, Quiksilver chappals and a week-old beard, looks like he’s back from a candle march. Our shoot is over, it’s been a long day, but his good cheer hasn’t ebbed. He’s friendly and charming to a fault, like he knows he doesn’t have to try too hard. Nice guys like him usually make for boring interviewees, but they also make for pleasant company. Close to the end of the shoot, he casually asks our photographer, Colston Julian, “Are we done?”, and Julian cockily replies, “Yes sir, I’m that good.” Kapur puts on his best smile and says, “Yeah, but I’m not.”
As a teenager, Kapur would have dedicated his life to being a full-time loafer if his mum hadn’t pushed him to audition for Channel V. “There was a really popular show at the time called Basement, which Juhi [Pande] used to host. Juhi was out of town and Lola Kutty [Anuradha Menon’s popular south Indian alter ego] was filling in. They told me to do a few weeks with Lola and gave me a white T-shirt with ‘Trainee VJ’ written on it. They were like, ‘This kid doesn’t know anything, but we’re telling you he’s a trainee and putting him on screen.’ I would be really scared, and Lola would say, ‘Tell them [the viewers] we’re taking a break.’ And, that’s how it started. It was money in the pocket and a cool thing to do alongside college,” says Kapur.
After four and a half years of VJing and “playing a heightened version” of himself, Kapur debuted in London Dreams, starring Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn. Kapur agreed to act in the movie mostly because it promised a month-long vacation in London. He admits, “I don’t know if I would have been as excited [to do the film] if it was based in Virar.” (Khan and Devgn probably wouldn’t have been either). By any measure, he wasn’t serious about it. “It wasn’t looked at as a career move or a launch. It wasn’t some great big thing that was going to happen to my life,” he says. Luckily, his overacting in London Dreams was vastly overshadowed by Khan’s. But, people knew not to be gentle from then on. Film critic Raja Sen had said in his review of Action Replayy that Kapur “clearly believes an afro can make up for an innate lack of charm” — this after misspelling his surname. After Guzaarish, many reviewers failed to even mention him in their takedowns. An assistant director friend, who’s worked with Kapur and his brother Kunaal, had told me once, somewhat brutally, that Aditya is “the least talented [of the three brothers], but just happens to be the best looking”.
The looks part can’t be disagreed with. If Kapur looked like a penniless busker with his natural afro, he looks like a blues singer without it. Yes, music metaphors come easily when looking at Kapur — something director Mohit Suri must have noticed when he cast him as a boorish musician in the remake of Aashiqui. “Aashiqui 2 came to me because of Karan Dara, the first AD [assistant director] on the film. I think Mohit and Vishesh [Films] had done an online hunt and not found anyone. I got a call asking, ‘Why don’t you send your pictures?’ They liked them and offered me the film. It was a quick process,” he says.
Aashiqui 2 ran for six weeks, earned more than Rs 100 crore, made the Bhatts (Mahesh and Mukesh) richer and hopefully happier (with Mahesh Bhatt even stating he preferred this Aashiqui to his own), and finally launched Kapur’s career. Like that of the original, its music quickly became the rickshawalla’s ballad, and unlike the lead pair in the original, both Kapur and his co-star Shraddha Kapoor were sincere and easy on the eye. “I don’t know how to put into words how the experience of Aashiqui 2 was for me. I felt the most into a character that I had ever felt. It was like a brotherhood on set. We were a small team and we’d help with lights; we didn’t need a call time because we just wanted to come back and be together. There was a lot of love between all of us. And, I think that affects the fate of the film — what’s on camera, what’s on screen, just the energy with which you make a film. It was the first time I was playing a lead role, which brings with it a certain responsibility and drives you in a different fashion from when you’re a supporting actor,” says Kapur.
Kapur carried forward his bloodshot eyes and slurry speech to Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, another movie whose earnings went north of the Rs 100-crore mark. “I had no idea they were going to release as close to each other as they did. They were two different kinds of drunks actually,” he says. “One almost had a death wish. He found joy in nothing, but he wasn’t a negative or judgemental guy. He was like ‘I’m gone, just let me be gone. I don’t want anything to do with anyone.’ The other guy was, ‘Life has passed me by, so I’m going to be bitter about it.’ He looks at his best friend who has moved ahead in life; it bites him somewhere. These were the aspects I grabbed onto to play them differently. Hopefully, that’s come through in some way.”
From hitting the bottle to punching the dough, Kapur’s second leading role is as a Lucknowi cook in Habib Faisal’s Daawat-e-Ishq, which is produced by Yash Raj Films. “When a film does well, the most amazing thing is you get a choice. You want good directors and production houses to come to you, and that’s what happened. And, then, of course, this being recognised thing, man. Suddenly becoming a face because of the enormity of where Aashiqui 2 penetrated in our country.” But, why has he been so selective? He has done exactly six films in six years. “It isn’t that I’m a kaamchor, but I really need to find something I believe in. I don’t want free time. But, I can’t just get myself to do something I don’t completely buy into. The period between Guzaarish and Yeh Jawaani was quite long. But, I plan to do more films, since I love being on set more than I like being at home.” On Daawat-e-Ishq, he says, “My character is flamboyant and loud and gregarious and very demonstrative of his feelings. When I read the script, I felt like I can do this. Also, Habib is a meticulous man. I knew I was doing this with someone who could lead me.”
We finally part ways, and it isn’t until I transcribe our 40-minute chat that I realise what he’d said in answer to one of my questions: “Right now, I’m too involved with trying to improve myself and becoming a decent actor.” Considering he still harbours the thought he isn’t decent yet, his early supporting roles start to make sense. Kapur was the trainee again, learning the ropes like he did with Lola Kutty. He just wasn’t wearing a white T-shirt that said it in so many words.
Creative Direction by Kapil Batus
Make-up by Hemant Naik; Hair by Hassan/Hakim Aalim; Fashion Assistant: Khushbu Doshi; Location Courtesy: Pali Village Cafe, Mumbai