Ki and Ka Special: The Remarkable Journey of Arjun Kapoor
R. Balki’s Ki and Ka has had a phenomenal opening today, with a lot of appreciation for both, Arjun Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor for their flawless performance in this year’s April release. The two actors also recently walked the ramp as showstoppers for ace designer Manish Malhotra, for this year’s Lakme Fashion Week Spring Summer/Resort 2016.
Arjun Kapoor is seen romancing Kareena Kapoor Khan in the film where he plays a house husband while Kareena is the independent career oriented woman. Arjun is all praises for his gorgeous co-star and reveals that he was 15 years old when Kareena made her debut in the film Refugee. Notwithstanding the real-life age gap, their reel-life chemistry is quite evident in the romantic comedy and MW wishes them all the very best for this film.
On this note, here is a throwback of our cover story with Arjun Kapoor where he talks about his past films, his monumental weight loss and how he has evolved since the release of his debut film.
I wish Arjun Kapoor threw tantrums. If you didn’t pay attention, it’d be easy to lose him in a crowd. And, I mean that as a compliment. He’s not vain enough for a movie star (his hair being the exception; he keeps checking his properly-set tuft often), doesn’t holler to attract attention, minds his own business in between shots and doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable around him. He’s quite the professional — punctual and uncomplaining during several dress changes, and while smoking one cigarette after another, has a cool, endearing swagger that’s also very desi.
“Hindi mein kare?” Kapoor jovially asks when I’m about to start the interview. I shoot his request down; he dims a little. I was aware of his obsession with the masala genre of Indian cinema, the true essence of commercial Bollywood, and had seen him in his element in numerous talk shows and public appearances. My insistence on interviewing him in English made him a different person. He speaks in a well-bred manner and has an impressive vocabulary, but one can see a simmering need for that maniacal, street-smart, rustic rascal to jump right out. I look at him — sharp grey suit, impeccable hair, polished teeth, eating spaghetti — and wonder how his debut role in Habib Faisal’s Ishaqzaade was so different from all this. And, yet, that role was his comfort zone.
“After Ishaqzaade, Two States is a stark contrast. But I’ve always wanted to do unique and different material. It was actually the first film I signed post-Ishaqzaade and I’m extremely fortunate that Sajid Nadiadwala and Karan Johar cast me right after my debut. And, to do a Dharma [Productions] film after an Yash Raj one is a really cool thing. I play this geeky college student, and now that Gunday has released, it will be a different visual palette altogether for the audience. That’s a good change. Also, the film deals with cross-cultural marriages, which has pan-Indian relevance even today. I was hooked to the idea from the very beginning.” Chetan Bhagat’s Two States is Kapoor’s kind of cinema. It’s melodramatic Bollywood, and he has no qualms accepting that between Anurag Kashyap and Karan Johar, he’ll always choose the latter.
This craving for filmy kitsch was further fulfilled with his latest release, Gunday, where he shares a fantastic chemistry with Ranveer Singh. “We knew each other when no one knew us. I have a major comfort level with Ranveer and we always hoped to work together. And, I think it came together in the most perfect way possible.” Inspired by the 1970s, Gunday pays homage to Bollywood masala, and the acting style and dialogue delivery heavily emulates Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff potboilers. Both Kapoor and Singh are obsessed with the cinema of the 1980s and 90s, a period most of us would happily erase from Indian cinema’s history. “We’re filmy by nature. So, why not play to the gallery? The film is unabashedly front-footed about its commercial quality. But, it isn’t mindless. Also, in India, we haven’t had a serious film on brotherhood and friendship in a while. Though, inevitable comparisons will be made with Sholay, or Ram Lakhan, or Karan Arjun,” he says. It’s interesting to note that they might be the only fanboys of Hindi masala cinema in an industry obsessed with aping South Indian action flicks. While Anil Kapoor and Govinda look melodramatic to us today, at least they were original.
But Kapoor’s choice of films hasn’t been entirely careless. Ishaqzaade is for a mature audience and a debut most newbies would shy away from. Aurangzeb was a niche, mafia-style drama with him in a double role. Even Gunday doesn’t have Kapoor prancing around trees. More importantly, he doesn’t get the girl. “It was great thinking on Adi’s (Aditya Chopra) part to position me in that format for my debut. People sat up and took notice because it was unconventional. And, I was playing the anti-hero. I knew Aurangzeb was a song-less drama, but I thought I needed to push the envelope as a young actor. Gunday is an all-out masala film. Two States is a rom-com. I’m doing Finding Fanny Fernandes, which is an English film with an ensemble cast. I want to be bloody good at what I do. Right now, my only insecurity is whether I’m doing my best.”
We talk about his student film in which he co-stars with Varun Dhawan and that brings us to how comfortable he is being friendly with his direct competitors. His contemporaries such as Singh, Dhawan, Siddharth Malhotra, Ayushmann Khurrana and Sushant Singh Rajput make up an extremely promising bunch of leading heroes for the future. And, recent trends show that hailing from a movie family is no more an advantage. Therefore, how do friendships survive in a cut-throat, paparazzi-riddled movie industry? “According to me, you can’t mix business and personal lives, but this industry is such that you can. And, I’m excited about being friends with Varun, Sid, Ranveer, Ranbir and I genuinely would love to work together. I would love to do an Ocean’s Eleven or Snatch. That kind of cinema excites me. We all have our individual spaces. There’s a lot of work available for all of us. You can’t look at being No 1 or No 2, because everybody has their own fan following. We have to work towards creating our own fan base and the way to achieve a sustainable one is by consistently working hard enough over the course of ten to twelve years. The media creates the competition, not us.”
I ask him whether he ever had a ‘Raichand’ moment with his father or uncle, when they told him the dos and don’ts of being a Kapoor kid. He nonchalantly brushes it aside. “It’s embedded in you. You’re eating rajma chawal and Ram Lakhan is playing on the television. So, it’s happening around you, it doesn’t have to be put into words. I was always very aware of the kind of respect my father or my uncle had garnered for their work, and you want to make sure you never let them down.” It’s true he didn’t have a star kid’s life. He didn’t grow up in the media glare. We don’t know which school he went to, how good he was at karate, what his father got him for his 11th birthday. He wasn’t the good-looking lad everyone was fawning over and being linked romantically with other star daughters. Much has been written about his weight issues and how Salman Khan inspired him to get into shape (and also become an actor). He didn’t have a long-awaited debut like Johar’s Dhawan-Bhatt-Malhotra trio. He was actually chosen by a casting director, Shanoo Sharma, who passed on his tape to Chopra, completely oblivious to Kapoor’s filmy lineage. He didn’t have it as easy as you might think.
Is he bored of people talking about his monumental weight loss? He looked embarrassed on the chat show, Koffee with Karan, when his not-so-sexy photograph was displayed on the screen. “It’s part of my journey, it defines my struggle. Everybody has their share of upheavals; I had mine. I have absolutely no qualms with people talking about it. If I can motivate even ten people to lose weight like I have, that’d be great. I’m embarrassed at how I looked back then and the fact that I felt okay about it. You can look and feel so much better.”
He expresses his desire to direct some day. After all, that’s what he aspired to before stepping in front of the camera. “It’s most definitely one of my biggest aims in life. I’ll do it when the time is right and when it comes organically. I want to evolve a little more as a human being, which is important for a good director. You need to get a more well-rounded perspective about life to make a film that’s emotionally rich as well.”
We’re in his car as I wind up the interview and he receives a call from his father, Boney Kapoor. They excitedly discuss Gunday’s numbers and how the Valentine’s weekend release was a marketing masterstroke. Will this over-consuming love for Bollywood masala stunt his growth as an actor, or will Arjun Kapoor always be open to taking risks and making offbeat choices? That remains to be seen.