The long-delayed, long-in-the-making Jagga Jasoos reuniting Ranbir Kapoor with former flame Katrina Kaif is finally releasing this Friday. For Kapoor, here is a film that he may seriously be wishing lifts him out of the rut that his promising career is settling into. Much of the recent criticism of Ranbir Kapoor and his cinema has focussed on the identical roles he’s been essaying on screen of late. So much so that, critics complain, it’s becoming a cliché and there’s nothing refreshing in seeing a 34-year-old play and replay a boy-next-door relentlessly chasing love, dreams and art.
The man-child, the coming-of-age, the confused and puppy-eyed Tramp, the indecisive lover boy, the lost sailor looking for an anchor, the goofy genie in graphic Tees undergoing internal war between youthful, nomadic fantasies, monotony of life and creative awakening or destruction – these are some of the tropes that have become closely linked with any Ranbir Kapoor film.
And yet, despite occasional flaks, it is also Kapoor’s inherent talent, personal charm and sincere dedication that has rescued so many of his films from being just another rom-com, a point unanimously acknowledged even by his worst detractors. So, where is Ranboor Kapoor, arguably the finest actor of his generation along with Shahid Kapoor, going wrong? And where is he heading?
When Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet, on which so many hopes and so much moolah were pinned, tanked the press was quick to announce the demise of Ranbir Kapoor, the star. The same script followed Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha, a continuation of the ‘the journey of an artist’ theme from Rockstar. For a time, there was even a cruel joke going around showbiz that the Kashyap brothers destroyed Ranbir Kapoor’s career (with Abhinav Kashyap’s Besharam and Anurag’s Bombay Velvet). That was unfair, but both Kapoor and the Kashyaps handled the failures with grace and maturity.
A Tehelka article in May, 2015 tried to explore what it called Kapoor’s “impending doom.” The writer partly blamed his wrong moves to the growing media attention on his love life that was far more exciting than his screen romances. Striking a note of caution, the writer advised, “It may very well be that his family’s location in the Hindi film cosmos is aiding the massive attention being paid to the failure of his recent film. Till he turns around his career it would be good on Kapoor’s part to do some rethinking. He has gone too far into being the star with the interesting filmography to be falling back on clichés now for a bankable future in the film industry. All might be well if he skips the Besharams and stays immune to the media’s avid interest in his romantic life.”
Those who know their Bollywood well may have followed Kapoor’s hurtlingly hectic love life, from Deepika Padukone to Katrina Kaif. But to say that it was the romantic liaisons that prompted his professional failures would not only be simply wrong but also misguided. For, by all accounts, Kapoor is one of the hardest working stars around. He’s notorious for his dedication to work. In most interviews, he sounds fiercely competitive and talks romantically about being the best in his space. Recently, he told an interviewer, “An actor is as good as the film. He cannot come before the film.”
Could it be his choice of films, then? Take a moment to consider his career so far. He debuted with that glorious flop called Saawariya exactly a decade ago. So, he tasted failure with his first film even before he could sample success and that is something that one can safely assume has kept him grounded. In Saawariya, more than in any other film, he was the Tramp that his grandfather, the legendary Raj Kapoor embodied in his 50s cinema. You can’t miss the fact that Ranbir Kapoor is named after his grandfather.
But it’s only when RK discovered his inner boy-man in films like Wake Up Sid and Bachna Ae Haseeno that he started flowering as a bankable screen name. Films that followed included such experimental works as Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Raajneeti, Rockstar and Barfi!
At 34, perhaps, Ranbir Kapoor now needs to change his style and reorient his brand of cinema from coming of age to something that can contain and showcase his boundless talent and still touch a chord with audiences who, despite his many ups and downs, seem to have full faith in his future. There has never been any doubt that Rishi Kapoor’s son is a versatile performer and can easily switch from comedy to drama to anything in between. Fortunately for him, his last film, Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was a reluctant hit. That immediately gives Jagga Jasoos some box-office heft.
Some reports suggest that the Anurag Basu detective comedy is allegedly based on Tintin’s adventures. As exciting and experimental as it sounds on paper (just like their previous collaboration, Barfi!), you can’t overrule the possibility that it will contain the familiar Ranbir Kapoor clichés. Nevertheless, both the critics and audiences are expecting something truly surprising and out-of-the-box from Kapoor and Basu this time round (his other frequent collaborators include Ayan Mukerji and Imtiaz Ali).
Recently, Anurag Basu, director of Jagga Jasoos, said in a TV interview, “He’s raw, organic and might surprise you anytime.” And surprise is exactly what the audience is expecting from the fourth generation Kapoor, who, interestingly, completes a decade in Bollywood this November.
(Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai)