Actor Arjun Rampal is in a happy space. Busy in his office bustling with activity on various projects, Rampal, dressed casually in grey sweatpants and a black T-shirt is attending calls before he leaves for the filming of J.P Dutta’s film Paltan. He plays a lieutenant-colonel in the film based on real-life events – a contrast to Rampal’s recently released film Daddy– a biopic that featured him as Mumbai gangster Arun Gawli.
Interestingly, Daddy was quite the experiment for Rampal – he has the credits not just as an actor, but also for production and writing. Rampal admits that he became an accidental producer with Daddy, quite in the opposite mould of a conventional filmi one who would feel the need for an item song, stylised chase or the usual gangster tropes. Being conscious of the fact that a film like this needed to be different from the gangster genre so popular with Bollywood, the actor roped in his friend, director Ashim Ahluwalia of Miss Lovely fame, who he knew would be good with atmospherics, for helming the film. Rampal was right in his judgement and the gritty, noir style film that recreated the Dagdi Chawl milieu quite authentically, stood out from the crowd of gangster films of recent times. Besides earning critical acclaim, the film has earned back its cost and then some more, with just its theatrical collections. As a cherry on top of the cake, Amazon Prime has picked up the digital rights of the film for an undisclosed but smile-worthy price.
But what Rampal was happiest about at the end of it all was the fact that his daughters Myra (11) and Mahikaa (15) and his ex-supermodel wife Mehr have given a thumbs–up to daddy dearest in the film Daddy. According to him, “It’s the most challenging performance and the best role that I have done till date. The trolls on Twitter are saying ‘Arjun ke sab paap maaf’”, he adds, laughing.
On being quizzed about the film’s central idea – of being a victim of circumstances, Rampal points out that quite like the dreaded gangster Gawli, everyone is an outcome of their circumstances. However, the whole battle in life, he avers, is about rising above one’s circumstances.
Rampal should know. A young, outsider from Deolali, Rampal rose to become a leading Supermodel in the insular world of modelling, a rare achievement back in the day, and then transitioned successfully to a career in films. Professionally, Rampal created inroads for himself despite an absence of film industry connections. He agrees that the film industry is a tough terrain to navigate. “The stakes are much higher here and (because of which) there is a tremendous amount of insecurity that I find in our industry. The industry will wait to watch your performance and body of work to suss you out before letting you in. And I think it is the correct way, because it teaches you to not be dependent on somebody else.”
With over 15 years in the movies, Rampal has not just acted in successful masala films, but has had a wide range of meaty roles in off-beat films – Sudhir Mishra’s Inkaar, Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti, Abhishek Kapoor’s Rock On to boast of. He also has a National Award to his credit.
Despite his almost perfect journey to the top echelons of Bollywood, he agrees to a recent observation made by pop singer Lady Gaga (who incidentally performed at LAP, Rampal’s nightclub in Delhi) that a life of fame is not an easy one. “I don’t feel shy or embarrassed or guilty about having the lifestyle I have. It looks great from the outside, but takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice.”
When I ask him whether it was his good looks or his smarts that contributed to his success, he credits his survival in the cut-throat film industry to his undying passion. “It’s not brains. It’s not beauty. It’s passion. Whatever I am today and wherever I am today is because of how passionate I am about what I do,” explains Rampal.
At this point though he is quite satisfied with the way his life has shaped up. Especially, when it comes to his family – his two girls are quite interested in creative fields. Mahikaa, the elder one is a keen observer of foreign movies and is interested in dramatics while the younger Myra is interested in painting. He likes to spend time with them between shoots although they don’t share common choices in music. He rues the fact that his work has renders him short of time, “I don’t get to spend that much time with my kids which is the only bad part about my profession because it absorbs you and sucks everything out of you. So when I am with them, it is important to have the best time. Mehr and I are friends to our kids. We have made our children grow up without fear of parental intimidation. In today’s times—you want to be their confidant.”
Summing up his life’s philosophy Rampal quotes a line that is his raison d’être and one he really likes – ‘Did you have a good life? Good enough to make a movie on?’
His own life could certainly qualify.