In 1998,at the very outset of his career,Arjun Rampal,in an interview to a website,had decalred that he would only be part of movies that made sense to him with roles that were exciting. And that we would prefer to create a niche for himself as an actor,than a star and leave the rest to destiny. Rampal,at the time was making a difficult transition from modelling to films with late cinematographer Ashok Mehtas Moksh and Shantanu Sheoreys Jadh.
About 14 years later,it would appear that the then aspiring actor has wisely chosen to stick to his guns. Or that he is destinys favoured child. With 20 plus films,a National Award for his performance in Rock On! and a reasonably good collection of movies in his kitty,Rampal once again reckons for the litmus test with a lead in Prakash Jhas Chakravyuh. He plays Adil Khan,an upright cop who believes in the system in this action drama about two friends who find themselves on opposite sides in the governments war against Naxals. There is also Madhur Bhandarkars Heroine,Sudhir Mishras Inkaar,where he plays the head of an ad agency who is accused of sexual harrassment by a colleague,besides Prakash Jhas Satyagraha and Nikhil Advanis D-Day.
Says Madhur Bhandarkar of the actor,With Heroine,Arjuns image will change as much as Kareena Kapoors. He has done a fabulous job of playing a superstar who is in relationship with Kareenas character.
Prakash Jha,who first worked with him in Raajneeti,endorses Rampals performance. He has completely broken away from the wooden expression that people criticised him for.
We met the actor at his plush suburban pad in Mumbai,where he spoke about his forthcoming projects. Excerpts.
What convinced you to sign a film with a subject as complex as the Naxal issue in the interiors of India?
Well,primarily because I like Prakash Jha as a director. He does not preach and is not going to make a docu-drama on Naxals. It has a lot of action and drama and I think that is the right way of telling a story and giving a message. I just hope people go out there and enjoy it for what it is.
Nobody wants to give a gun in their childs hand,but there must be a desperate situation which is why it happens. My character Adil is an idealist who believes everything should be done by the book. He still has faith in the system. His point to people who support Naxals is,that anybody who gets power at gun-point,is also going to rule them with a gun-point. He understands that the system is not working but according to Adil,in such a scenario,you repair the damage,not destroy the system altogether. Its his idealism that creates a dilemma for him,of choosing between his duty,loyalty to his friend and wife.
Its been a while since you played the lead,so are you nervous?
What is a main lead? Its the guy who has the easiest part (laughs),but the colourful ones that have some real meat are the others,so I enjoy doing those as well. But even when it is author backed,the lead has to be complex,unique,not contrived. He should still be a character not a hero doing heroism because cinema is a form of entertainment with a sense of realism.
The character I play (Adil) is a good-hearted guy. Hes more complex than any of the characters I have played before. I always wanted to play a cop and I said,if I have to play one I will do it with Prakash. We have a great tuning.
Even when I am doing an ensemble cast,I dont think of what others are doing. I look at the part I have to play and the film in totality. If you try to make it centred around you,its bland and seldom works. It may work once or twice and then you get stuck because you are not being creative. And I dont want to get stuck.
Was there any scene which was particularly tricky?
In Chakravyuh there was this one scene,really beautifully written in which I am explaining to the villagers why the government wants them to come together against the Naxalites. We had a window of just 15 minutes to finish that speech because Prakash wanted the light falling on the village in a certain way which could be done only during that particular time. I was a little stressed because of that thinking,I am going to f*** it up and sure enough,I messed up. We finished the scene but I was really depressed. I went to my room,feeling very low,thinking how I would request Prakash to re-shoot the scene.
Just then there was a knock on my door and Prakash came in. Beta,kaisa hai tu? he asked me. I requested him to give me another chance. And he did. Four days later,he told me to be ready. We were going to the village again. The second time we got it right and in time too.
Was there anything you changed about yourself to get into the skin of the character?
The joy of acting is when you can change completely. People talk so much about losing and gaining weight etc; I believe that you should just do it! Do whatever is necessary to get into character grow your hair,a moustache,whatever it takes. Dont harp about it. Let people come and experience it when watching the film. For me when I see Adil,I see him for the person he is,not as Arjun though it is me doing it,harnessing the emotions which I have felt in situations or using memories of emotions that I have seen in others to convey the character of Adil.
Before I started on Chakravyuh,Prakash and I did a lot of readings. I discussed it a lot,because I take my characters extremely personally. So all this while I have made it a point to not tweet one bad thing about the government because that is the sort of rule abiding guy Adil is. When I was doing Raajneeti,my family was happy not to have me around,because the character I played in Raajneeti was a hyper person! You dont realise it,but you begin to internalise the characters and the experience never leaves you completely.
Enough said about the gritty cop drama,but now tell us something about your glamorous superstar avatar in Heroine.
In Heroine,which deals with the insecurities of an actor,I play a superstar who is in a marriage which has soured. He is in love with Kareenas character (Mahie) but because of his image,he doesnt want to bring it out in the open. Shes a bit bipolar and because of him not outing their relationship,she starts going a bit crazy on him. They separate and then how this relationship comes together at a certain point. You see the change in this guy and his attitude because now he is single. Its quite a sad love story. You try to bring in certain sad anecdotes of people you know. I have done it in a subtle way. I think people who know themselves will know. I have borrowed from people who I have seen go through such things. I have tried to work that in my expressions.
Are you nervous about the reactions Chakravyuh will draw?
I think fear brings out the best in me. Everytime I have been scared about my role,I knew it would end up being good. Every time I think its going to be a cakewalk and easy,it turns out bad.
You were crticised for the lack of acting skills,so have your recent films and the National Award changed that?
One thing I really wanted to prove to people was that anybody can act. (Laughs) Its not rocket science. Its just that you have to be true to it. You make mistakes. The reason films dont work is because there is a reason. You havent paid attention to the detailing or understanding a point of view. Or maybe you did it for a reason which has nothing to do with creativity that filmmaking involves. And it doesnt work .I am lucky that I am in a space to work with people who really allow me to push the envelope.
When did you reach the tipping point in your career?
There was a time when I worked on The Last Lear
with Rituparno Ghosh and at the same time I was working on Om Shanti Om with Farah Khan. And both films were completely opposite. One was a complete potboiler,but a tough character for me to play. For the first time I played a guy who is young and then old. At the same time,I was doing a film with Rituparno who has a completely different approach to cinema. He taught me a lot about how to layer a particular character.
You have worked with directors that have very different sensibilities,so why such disparate choices?
I get bored very fast so I have to keep changing. I would hate to not know which film set I am on! When I started my career as an actor,all films were love stories,a triangular love story and sometimes they graduated to being a quadrangle love story! These were the kind of one liners that would come to me- ek ladka hai aur do ladkiyaan hain. But at that time there was a new breed of directors that were emerging. What has also happened is that the audience has changed in the last 10 years. Today there is a different market,and this is the golden period for cinema where a Gangs of Wasseypur and a Rowdy Rathore or Ek Tha
Tiger can all do well. There is enough space for everybody. When I worked with Farhan Akhtar for Don,I saw a sensibility very similar to mine and then I got Rock On!. I fell in love with Joes character. Directors like Farah,Farhan,Prakash,Sudhir,they all add something new to me.
Do you follow the industry practice of working primarily with friends?
I am an easy person to get along with. I like friends,they are very important,but if you make friends with an agenda,then it is never going to work out. So I never dive into a relationship wanting something. You go into it because you are attracted to that personality.
You dont have a regular publicist to keep you in news in the present scenario,isnt that professional harakiri?
I hate to be a paper tiger. I feel I can never pay for my publicity. If you want to write about me,do so. If you dont think I am exciting,fair enough. I cant go out there and start talking about what I charge. All of that is just not me. Also the danger is that you start living in that world. I have seen people begin to believe all the make-believe news which they have created. They start living that myth which is dangerous.
And you dont move around with security either?
If I am going to walk around with bodyguards then I will be out of touch with what people think and feel. For The Last Lear,I went to Kolkata 10 days before we started shooting. I sported a beard,bandana and big shades, dressed like a hippie and went around taking pictures,talking to people. There would be car behind me and if people recognised me,I would just get into it and leave. You have to be familiar with what people like or dislike or how they are reacting to cinema.
You are also supposed to be a sharp businessman,yet another anomaly.
People say I have business aptitude,but I think any business is a creative pursuit too. I ask myself three questions 1) Am I going to be proud of what I have created? 2) Is it going to make me and those around any money? and 3) What is the longevity of this business? Does it grow into something bigger or is it just this much? And that applies to films as well as the business. With Lap too,I think in the same way,can I take Lap to Mumbai and Singapore?