Sitting inside the banquet hall of a suburban Mumbai hotel, Ranbir Kapoor is snacking on French fries. He’s had a long day of promotional activity for his latest film, Jagga Jasoos, and his hair is tousled, as though he’s raked his fingers through it all day long. And, if you were looking for a word to describe his presence, his sweatshirt offers one — “Disarming” is emblazoned across the chest in bold letters. The 34-year-old actor sure knows how to set a scene.
We are meeting a few days before the release of his 21st feature — an adventure film, a comic caper and musical drama, all rolled into one. The film demanded 160 days of shooting spread over three years, during which he broke up with his co-star Katrina Kaif, and was frustrated with director Anurag Basu’s “chaotic” way of functioning. As the titular Jagga, he plays a young detective with a stammer.
Is this his most ambitious role yet? It’s hard to say. For the last decade, Kapoor’s choices have steered from playing your regular heartthrob (Saawariya) to a canny but compassionate salesman (Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year); a rock singer (Rockstar) to a differently-abled prankster (Barfi!); to a hot-headed street fighter (Bombay Velvet) and a storyteller trapped in the corporate world (Tamasha). In the past few years, Kapoor has faced flak for playing characters who cannot achieve emotional growth unless a woman schools him in love (Wake Up Sid, Tamasha, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil). His last critical as well as commercial hit was 2012’s Barfi! So, has Kapoor’s likeability stopped going hand in hand with his bankability? “Ranbir is already in a position where a film’s fate does not affect his reputation as an actor. He is a superior actor,” says Imtiaz Ali, who directed him in Rockstar and Tamasha.
In this interview, Kapoor addresses his successes as well as his failures, his attempts to play new characters, his father, actor Rishi Kapoor, and why he calls himself a stalker. Excerpts:
At this point in your career, how important is Jagga Jasoos for you?
Every film is important. Bombay Velvet (2015) was important to me, but failed. Tamasha (2015), too. That movie got some isolated love while Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) was a commercial success. We are remembered by our last film. So, it does not help me now that Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (2009), Raajneeti (2010) and Barfi! (2012) were hits.
Jagga Jasoos is of significance to me because it took so long to make, and I am one of its producers. That apart, Katrina and I are coming together after Raajneeti. I’d be lying if I say there is no pressure. There is a lot of pressure in delivering an artistically and commercially successful movie. But I am not going to beat myself to death if it does not do well. I am going to inspire myself to work harder.
In Jagga Jasoos, you attempt yet another complex character.
The way the film has been made is more complex than the character. Our intentions were very clear from the onset — we wished to make a film that even children can connect to — something universal that appeals to both younger and older generations. As is the case with most good films, it had to be layered — the take-away has to be social and moral. At the same time, it has to be an engaging story. That was difficult, not the character.
In the past, Hrithik Roshan attracted a young fan base, thanks to Koi…Mil Gaya and Krrish. How important is it for you to connect with children?
It is very important. Children of a certain age — eight-12 years — are not watching movies in theatres. Something is not drawing them in. I hope they give this movie a chance; there is comedy, romance and a father-son story.
When you complete a film, how do you detach yourself from it?
While working on a film, I am attached to the project and the people in it. Once I am done, I am already on a different journey, working on another film. I am not very attached to its failure or success. I do feel bad when it does not work. For example, when Bombay Velvet flopped, I felt bad. But the job of an actor is to act and leave its fate to the audience.
You are a Kapoor. What insights into the business have you acquired through these years?
Success makes you strong and motivates you. Sometimes, it can make you content and lazy. I think failure has taught me more than success. I attribute this to my family — especially how to deal with it.
My debut film Saawariya (2007) was a huge disaster. Facing failure in your first film teaches you a lot. There’s a lot of luck involved; barring the hard work you put in, you can’t control anything. This journey is not easy.
This is your second movie with Anurag Basu. What has this collaboration been like?
He takes on the responsibility of doing a lot of work for the actors. When I was working on Barfi!, I was very impatient. It took almost two years to make. I had no dialogues or action scenes — I was insecure. When I watched it a week before its release, I was amazed. How did he pull this off? I believe he made my performance. An actor shines because the film is good. That’s a great learning — your work as an actor can’t stand away from a movie. The movie comes first.
For example, people liked Raajneeti because it is a good movie. If you watch just my performance, it was not so good. Collaborating with Mr Basu is hard; he works in chaos. You have to be patient, crazy and surrender to his process.
Do you believe that you have been let down by certain scripts?
I chose those films, so, I take responsibility for them when they have not worked. No one put a gun to my head and made me do those films. Maybe, at a certain phase of my life, I was in a certain mindset and I had a certain vision for them, which did not come through. But one can’t be too hard on oneself. You have to work harder. There is no formula for it when it comes to cinema or any other art form. My successes and failures have all come out of instinct.
Many believe the characters you have played recently overlap each other.
It’s not by design. These were the parts offered to me — some were similar, some overlapped. I naturally connected with them, hence I acted in those films. I have not chosen a part thinking, ‘Now that I have a done a comedy, let me do a romantic movie’. I try and be a new person in those parts.
What made you agree to a biopic on a fellow actor like Sanjay Dutt?
I did wonder, why make a biopic when the person is still living? Sanjay Dutt is so controversial and yet loved. So, when Rajkumar Hirani said he wanted to narrate a script to me, my message to him was I hope it was not the Sanjay Dutt biopic. But the way Hirani and Abhijat Joshi have adapted Dutt’s story is inspiring. It is an honest take of an ordinary man, his mistakes as well as his relationship with his father and friends. It also shows the way he dealt with drugs and his mother’s death before his film released. The film talks about terrorism too. It felt like sci-fi to me.
You are very private. How do you handle the constant media scrutiny?
I have been in the industry for 10 years. In the end, what matters is what stands out when your film releases. I would rather be forgotten between releases. So, my biggest fight is not to be written about.
It is difficult when you are a young actor and single. There are a lot of conjectures and rumours about my life. I try not to be affected by that and just focus on work. This is a simple life I have designed for myself. That apart, I do want to build a certain mystery about me. I hope that it would help the audience believe in my characters.
Is that why you are absent from social media?
I have a private Instagram account, but I have never posted any photos. I just follow people, I am a stalker.
Quentin Tarantino rebuffed you in London and Natalie Portman told you to ‘get lost’ in Tribeca. You’ve been quite open about those encounters.
To be honest, more than a star, I am a film fan. So, I find it endearing to share my fanboy experiences.
But stars must have been dropping in and out of your home for years.
It was like a dream world — there used to be music sessions, costume fittings and script readings at home. It was like Disneyland. That’s how my love for cinema began. Watching my father’s passion to go out and work every day also impacted me. It was a very healthy atmosphere for an aspiring actor.
How exposed were you to cinema in your formative years?
While eating dinner, my sister (Riddhima Kapoor Sahni) and I used to watch my father’s films. We repeatedly watched Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Karz (1980) and Naseeb Apna Apna (1986) on the VCR. We also got attention at school for being star kids. We were used to the attention we received when we stepped out. We were taught not to abuse it or use it to our advantage.
What are your favourite films featuring your parents?
My favourite Rishi Kapoor movies are Amar Akbar Anthony, Chandni (1989), Kapoor and Sons (2016). I really like a film called Khoj (1989), though not many have watched it. I have been a bit shy about my mother’s movies and I don’t want to watch her with other actors. I like Rafoo Chakkar (1975), Khel Khel Mein (1975) and Kabhie Kabhie (1976).
You wrote the foreword of your father’s memoir, Khullam Khulla. Is there any revelation about his life that surprised you greatly?
I am one of the few people in the family who has not read his book. But I know him. Nothing would surprise me because he is such an honest person. He speaks his mind without censoring anything and he does not mean any harm to anyone. There are very few people like him in this world. He gets into a lot of trouble for saying things on Twitter. But he does not wish to hurt people. He considers himself to be part of the aam janta and he has to have a voice.
Which Kapoor-like trait have you inherited?
The love for food. It is my top choice in life. What food does to your soul, nothing else can. Then, of course, the passion for movies. We go to my grandmother’s house for family lunches, everybody is passionate about life, cinema, food and alcohol — it is quite amazing. It is one happy film family.
Saawariya or Bombay Velvet?
Saawariya, my first film. Everything I am today is because of it.
More satisfying collaboration: Imtiaz Ali or Ayan Mukerji?
Both are very different filmmakers. Ayan is my best friend. With Imtiaz, I have a student-teacher relationship.
Which movie showcased your acting chops the best?
Bombay Velvet — I worked very hard for it. The second film would be Tamasha.
The series you are currently binge-watching?
The Crown, Fargo (season 3) and The Young Pope.
Which character of yours is the best lover?
The last book you read?
I’m reading film producer Robert Evans’s autobiography, The Kid Stays in The Picture.
What does football mean to you?
It is life. I would have been a football player or coach had I not been an actor.
Who is your favourite superhero?