With Panipat, Arjun Kapoor has ticked off period drama from his to-do list. He is happy that it was Ashutosh Gowariker who was on the director’s chair for his first historical film as “he is the one who knows a lot about history.”
In this exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com, Arjun talks about his prep to play Sadashiv Rao Bhau, comparisons with other period dramas and fringe outfits creating problems for makers of historicals.
Excerpts from the conversation:
This is your maiden period drama. Was it nerve-racking to get on board? Did you have any inhibition or fear?
I was very excited as every actor dreams of starring in a period drama once in their career. What was nerve-racking was Ashu sir (Ashutosh Gowariker) picked me to play a Peshwa. I never imagined I would play a Peshwa as that’s a unique community. Going bald was a big deal. Getting into the mindset of the character was challenging but very exciting. The story is so amazing that I was shocked how has nobody told this story yet. This is just like how I never knew the story of the Battle of Saragarhi until Kesari happened. Panipat is exactly that. After watching the film, you will ask why did we not read about it in our history books. This is as important as any war in the history of the country.
Were you a fan of history as a subject back in school?
I was a fan of the subject history but didn’t know about this story. I always wanted to know things. I didn’t do well in any subject barring language and history.
What makes Panipat different from period dramas we have seen in recent times?
The story makes it different. You cannot compare the two stories. The setting might be the same, but the story is different. As an audience, you have to realise that there were so many stories in that particular time of the Maratha empire. We have to embrace the fact that our history is so rich and to know we live in a land that has people who made sure India becomes what it is. As you walk out of the theater, the feeling of pride might be similar, but storytelling and journeys are different.
It has become fashionable for fringe outfits to create problems for makers of historical dramas.
I always give the benefit of the doubt to everyone saying everyone should have the freedom to express their concerns. But it is the way you do it that matters. If today, I feel concerned about a story that is being made, the dialogue should be me sitting across Ashutosh Gowariker and asking him, ‘Sir, how have you presented XYZ situation in the movie?’ Creating ruckus should not be the agenda. Also, you would not jump to conclusions just by watching a 3-minute trailer. We live in a democracy, and everyone has freedom of speech. But nobody likes to upset others while doing so. We also need to embrace that it is cinema. Why should people create a ruckus for that?
What is your take on the comparison with Bajirao Mastani?
I was prepared for the comparisons from the day I signed the film. It is set in the same time. You cannot change history. I am playing Bajirao’s nephew, so it’s just like how there will be similarities between Anil Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor. It’s just that story of Panipat is 20 years ahead of Bajirao Mastaani.
But, I didn’t foresee comparisons with Padmaavat. I never thought people will compare Allaudin Khilji and Ahmad Shah Abdali. However, the truth remains the same. Abdali came from Afghanistan and Khilji came from Afganistan. So their get-up will also be similar. We cannot change that since that would be unfair to history.
How did you work on your dialect, mannerism etc. for Panipat?
I have grown up in Mumbai and Marathi lingo is not new to me. But the language was very different then from what it is now. We had Ashu sir on the sets whose knowledge of Marathi helped a lot. I understand Marathi and have studied Marathi in school, so that comfort was there. We didn’t want to create a dialect because it is a very dialogue-based film. There’s a lot of information in it, and you cannot put in too much dialect to take away from the real understanding. A non-Maharashtrian should understand what someone is saying as much as a Maharashtrian would. We had to balance it for the sheer amount of information that is transferred in every scene.
For body language, the moment I was told I am facing Sanjay Dutt, I had to transform into a man from a boy. In period dramas, most of the people assume that people of those times were stiff. What they don’t understand is they might stand stiff, but while talking, I am sure they must also have had normal movement. The stiffness came naturally with the costumes. I didn’t need to be stiffer than that. So, I tried to keep it casual in those terms.
Any actor you thought performed exceptionally well in a period drama? Has anyone influenced you?
I have appreciated many actors, but I think this is where it should stop. The influence should never exceed the limit because then you are aping and copying someone. Enjoying a performance is important, but one should not let it influence their performance.