17th Anniversary Special: Aditya Roy Kapur – The Non-Hero
Location Courtesy: The Park, Worli – By The Lodha Group
“I’ve had a good month,” Aditya Roy Kapur grins sheepishly, as the hook of a pair of trousers he’s trying on misses the bar ever so slightly. We’re at his sea–facing Carter Road apartment, in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra, with stacks of clothes being brought out for fittings ahead of our cover shoot.
The abs we saw in Fitoor — which sent scores of women into a collective tizzy (and probably became the only reason the film made any sort of money) — are gone. After Ok Jaanu released (and tanked) in January, Aditya’s been “chilling,” as he likes to put it. His waistline also tells us he’s been eating everything he isn’t allowed to while he’s shooting, because Bollywood’s obsession with looks means that the leading man will likely flaunt a six–pack even when he’s playing an average Joe.
Average Joe, actually, may be the most apt words to describe Kapur — and there are few bigger compliments I can pay him. I’ve been to his house twice, and he’s opened the door to his sparsely furnished apartment himself and offered me tea and coffee. He’s most comfortable in chappals, shorts and solid T–shirts, his hair tousled and a carefree smile that refuses to leave his face. Conversation flows as easily as it would with a friend I’ve known for years. If you’re of the opinion that Bollywood stars are prima donnas, you haven’t met this guy.
Trench coat by Burberry; shirt by Corneliani; trousers by Vivienne Westwood @ The Collective; watch by A. Lange & Söhne; Monogram Square Brooch by Louis Vuitton
Back–to–back flops have earned him a chunk of criticism, and many will tell you that while Kapur’s an effortless actor, it’s his choice of scripts that has often let him down. He may not say it in as many words, but this sabbatical–of–sorts may just be the shot his career so badly needs in its arm.
These days, he’s reading scripts and meeting people, because he’s itching to get back to work, but till he puts pen to paper, he’s making the most of cheat–meal season. At our shoot, for instance, his lunch order refreshingly lacked words such as ‘kale’, ‘quinoa’, ‘grilled’ or ‘low–fat’. A princely feast of chicken cafreal, kosha mangsho and porotta showed up at least an hour before the crew’s meals, but Kapur insisted on waiting and eating only when everyone else did, staying afloat with sips of black coffee instead.
The waiting game continues with his scripts, too. “It’s not a conscious decision to take time off‑; I just haven’t found anything I’ve connected with. I didn’t want to take up something for the sake of being busy. However, I’ve found a few things interesting in the last couple of weeks, and I’m close to signing them,” he tells me.
Other actors have often told me about how they’ve learnt to rapidly pick up and move on from a flop film, but Kapur is clearly — and rightfully — more emotional about his choices. “Whenever something doesn’t do well, you feel the need to introspect and question a lot of things. The famous saying about failure teaching you more than success is true,” he admits candidly. “So I’m trying to be honest with myself and dealing with whatever thoughts occur to me, rather than shutting them out. You have to allow for feeling upset.”
What he won’t do, however, is try to pinpoint what went wrong and break his head over it. “I try to think about whether there was something intrinsically wrong about the decision that I took. But I’ve felt convinced about the films I’ve done. I don’t regret any of them,” he says.
Blazer by Corneliani; jumper by Z Zegna; pants by Burberry; shoes by Z Zegna; Monogram Square Brooch by Louis Vuitton
Still, failure should make him a bit more careful about his next few choices, right? “In fact, I might try to be a bit more careless,”he says, with a laugh. “See, I don’t think there’s a lot of scope for plotting and planning in this industry. It’s full of surprises and you can’t predict anything. I might be wary, but I won’t let anything paralyse me, make me too critical or allow me to doubt myself too much. At the end of the day, going with your gut is all you have, so it’s best to leave it to fate and see where it goes.”
One thing Kapur does want to change — and we’re with him on this one — is his lack of work in genres like action and comedy. He tells me that growing up, his eldest brother Siddharth watched a lot of Bollywood films, but he and his older brother Kunal would join him only for the English ones. “I loved watching Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean–Claude Van Damme movies — the one man against the world kind of stuff. On other days, a good comedy or drama would do it for me. The three of us wouldn’t really discuss films earlier, because we weren’t in the industry, but we now discuss it all the time,” he says.
Does he turn to them for advice too? “All the time. They come from a place where they want what’s best for me, but they don’t tell me what I should and shouldn’t do. They’ll give me their opinion and leave it to me to do what I want. Whether it turns out to be a success or failure, you should know that you made that decision,” he reasons.
I ask about how he stumbled into Bollywood as a 24–year–old VJ with barely any knowledge of Hindi films, and he laughs. “I don’t think it ever occurred to me. My first love was cricket, and I’ve always maintained that I would have done very well at it had I continued playing. Unfortunately, I was terrible at my studies, and running from one tuition class to another left me with no time to play. Then I wanted to pursue music, followed by another phase where I wanted to go abroad and study psychology,” he recalls.
“Acting wasn’t on my mind, because I didn’t grow up watching Hindi films and felt no connection with them. I had just seen stu‑ here and there. Arts and theatre were always around the house, because of my parents and grandparents, and both Siddharth and Kunal were acting on stage. I was the shy one, who would rather play a sport. It all changed when I was whiling away my time and got a kick up my ass to go and audition for Channel V. The next thing I knew, I was enjoying the job.”
Jacket by Paul Smith; shirt by Canali
As a VJ, Kapur — replete with an Afro that became his identity — got to interview the who’s who of Bollywood and the music industry. “I was getting my degree via distance learning and didn’t even have to attend college, so I got to go out and do something new every day. In a sense, that was a kind of schooling for me,” he says. Acting may sound like a natural next step for anyone in those shoes, but at the time, Kapur would lazily bunk auditions. When he finally did get into the scheme of things — “after feeling guilty about passing up chances” — he discovered that it was worth making a full–time switch to. “As a VJ, you’re being a heightened version of yourself. That was cool, but I found that acting gives you the chance to be different people, and every role is different. You get to do things you can’t do in real life, like shoot the bad guy and get the pretty girl.”
As a newbie, Kapur signed on three films in quick succession, with only Guzaarish getting him a chunk of the spotlight. Till that point, it wouldn’t be wrong to say he was still better known as ‘that cute VJ who’s now an actor’. His first solo hit, Aashiqui 2, came only after a three–year hiatus from the big screen, by which time the hair had been shorn and his screen presence was more restrained. “I remember being so raw on the sets of Guzaarish, I once went and asked Mr Bhansali to pack me up early so I could go play football. He looked at me like I was mad, but he did let me leave before time that day,” he grins.
Football, just like cricket, is on the backburner now. “I played so much in my early 20s — maybe five times a week — that I’m saturated by it and haven’t played in a year, I think. My generation also had a fixation with pool and snooker, but there’s barely anywhere to play now,” says Kapur.
How does he unwind, then? “I go to a pub every now and then. A dingy bar with a pool table and rock music is all I need. I’ve discovered a couple of quiet, dark places where barely anyone approaches me, so I stick to them. As actors, we end up doing house scenes more often. When films happened, I lost my anonymity, and the ability to roam around in trains all day,” he says.
That probably also makes it harder to stay in the dating game, I wonder aloud. “Oh yeah, totally,” he chimes in. “The only people I end up meeting are when I’m out working. We don’t see new people too often. I think about it now — I used to meet a lot of people earlier. Now it’s tough. I’ve been single ever since I can remember.” “So the last girl you dated was someone you met on the job?” I ask. An impish laugh is all he’s willing to give me in response.
Another thing that’s gotten tougher over the years, Kapur tells me, is keeping his passion for music alive. He’s been playing the guitar for years now, and was also the vocalist for his college band. “My school friends — who are still my best friends — and I were all musically inclined. I’ve written a lot of English songs and I’d love to make an album soon. That’s part of my five–year plan.”
More items on that agenda include working more and not being too selective “because I’m happiest when I’m on the sets. Life is sorted there,” and perhaps exploring work abroad. “Now is a much better time for film and even TV than the last decade. There are so many more roles that exist, which won’t cast someone who looks and talks like me just for the sake of diversity,” says Kapur, whose recent binges include House of Cards and Black Mirror. “But I still haven’t managed to catch Narcos or Game of Thrones — the ones everyone is big on.” He’d also like to direct someday, but clarifies immediately that he realises it’s very difficult, and is easier said than done. “I’m finding now, as I grow older, that while I’m not setting any particular goals for myself, I’ve resolved to explore a lot more,” he trails off.
Suit by Hugo Boss @ The Collective; Shirt by Thomas Pink; Scarf by Z Zegna
Exploring, in the literal sense, would rank high on that list, I would imagine, for Kapur’s love for travel is well known. Till five or six years ago, he says he would take off by himself for weeks at a stretch, with basic information about a place, a map bought on the spot and the rest discovered along the way. “Then I made more money, got a bit spoilt, and went from living in hostels to hotels. I think I’m going to go back to the hostel scene, though. I have some crazy and spontaneous memories from the trips I’ve taken,” he says.
Last year, post his Dream Team tour in the US, Kapur took off by himself to the Burning Man festival in Nevada, and also explored Lake Tahoe. The year before, he spent a fortnight in Krakow, Berlin and Vienna. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to travel next. My friends tell me I should go now because I’m free, but I need to feel that urge. I also want to plan my trip the old– school way, where you depend less on your phone — no Google Maps and no lists advocating ‘5 best spots for this’ and ‘10 best meals in this place’,” he reasons. “The beauty of travelling alone, for me, is to do with getting lost, losing touch with people and figuring things out as I go along. Hopefully, it’ll be South America, Africa, Australia or Japan next.”
Featured Image: Blazer by Ashish N Soni; shirt by Eton @ The Collective; trousers by Armani Collezioni @The Collective; shoes by Louis Vuitton
Art Director: Amit Naik
Junior Stylist: Neelangana Vasudeva
Hair: Team Hakim Aalim