Ten years after his “towel-dropping” debut, and 14 films later, the grandson of Raj Kapoor and the son of Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh is candid enough to admit that both box office success and memorable cinema are fickle because “fortunes change”.
With just days to go before the release of Sanju, Ranbir Kapoor, in an exclusive chat with The Indian Telegraph, reveals that the entire Raju Hirani experience is “as taxing as it has been enjoyable”. He says, “I’m not as successful as I was a few years ago. Sometimes when you’re doing well, you just expect the sun to keep shining on you, but it doesn’t.” Excerpts…
What does ‘Sanju’ mean to you?
Ranbir Kapoor (RK): A tremendous opportunity – it is a part that I am really thankful, stoked, lucky and yet nervous about. Sanjay Dutt is a very special man in my life. When Raju (Hirani) sir told me about this film, I didn’t have the confidence because I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. I didn’t think I had the courage, the understanding or the acting chops to do it. This is not an acting gig for me. I haven’t tried to show good acting, bad acting or showcase my talent. I think it was just the opportunity to be part of a story of a person who I consider to be my icon. Apart from being a fan, I really respect him. I am happy that after seeing the trailer, they (the audience) seem to have accepted me as Sanjay Dutt, hopefully that feeling will prevail when they see the film. I have never received such a response for any other film.
What was your reaction when Rajkumar Hirani first called you?
RK: I told him please don’t offer me the role of Sanju, I’ll do anything else. Sanjay Dutt is an idol for me, has always been. The whole idea of stepping into his shoes was preposterous for me. I was sceptical. I wondered how you could make a story on a superstar who is still working. Would I be able to do it? I had performance anxiety. I was scared as hell, I admit it!
So, what convinced you?
RK: The story. It was an unbelievable life; one man could not have been through just so much. When I read the script, it was very different from the Sanjay Dutt I knew. It was an emotional connect. While reading the script, I would keep asking Raju Sir, whether the things actually happened. He has been my neighbour in Pali Hill, but it seemed as if I did not know him at all till I read the script. I had known a completely different Sanjay Dutt, a family friend who always treated me like a younger brother and pampered me. Six years ago, he gifted me a Harley-Davidson on my birthday. He would pick me up on random nights and take me out on drives in his Ferrari. After reading the script, I discovered a new Sanjay Dutt. And I started admiring and respecting him all the more, not just for the life he has lived but also for the fact that he has given the story of his life to be portrayed on screen so honestly. Sometimes while shooting, I would call Sanju Sir in the night to prep for how I should approach situations where he used to hallucinate under influence when talking to his father, or how he befriended a rat in jail. Perhaps it was difficult for him to keep reliving those moments when I asked him, but he was so encouraging that the whole process of shooting for it became all the more memorable for me. This project for anyone is a dream come true. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The resemblance between the two of you is uncanny…
RK: The work I do occupies my life. I like to take the character home with me, and submerge myself in it. The script was merely the first step. For the next six months, we were doing things like make-up and prosthetics trials. I was trying to imitate him and failing miserably every day. Apart from the superficial training of body, prosthetics and make-up, which is relatively easier, it was important to understand someone’s soul and someone’s being, how he is as a person. Sanjay is like a teddy bear, a man-child. He’s a wolf from the outside and a puppy from the inside, and to really get that on screen was very important. I went to Sanjay’s house and borrowed his perfumes so I could smell like him. In fact, I always use one perfume for one movie. Very often, when I shoot intermittently for a film for a year, a particular perfume helps me stay connected to my character all through its making. My sense of smell is very strong, somewhere, subconsciously, it connects me to the part. Sanju Sir uses a strong one called Tom Ford Oud. I do these silly and stupid things. Shoes are also very important. I borrowed his boots too, but he wears two sizes smaller than me. So I told the designer to make similar boots for me. Even the jeans he wears are specific boot-cut ones; his kurta-pyjama too has a ‘Sanjay Dutt’ style. Certain things do help you to get into the skin of the character, but more than that, you have to understand the heart and the mind of a character. Superficially, people will like one or two scenes, but it is ultimately the nature of the character that people connect to.
Moving on, if I were to address the elephant in the room, what about Alia Bhatt?
RK: Alia won’t be happy you called her an elephant. But I have never denied anything, ever. I never will. It needs time to breathe and it needs space. As an actor, as a person, Alia is just so spontaneous, so vivacious. When I see her work, when I see her act, even in life, what she gives is something that I’m aspiring for myself. It’s new for us, so let it cook a bit. But I will repeat what I have been saying so far – it is very new, it is very fresh.
So, what’s next?
RK: I am looking forward to the next phase of my career. I am working with my best friend Ayaan Mukherjee again, who has worked on the Brahmastra script for five years. It is part of a trilogy woven around an amazing idea. I am also excited about the star cast that has Amitabh Bachchan and Alia Bhatt. There is also Shamshera, a Yash Raj production, directed by Karan Malhotra, set in the 1800s, about tribes and dacoits. I am working with YRF after almost a decade.
What about reviving the RK Banner. There was a fire at RK Studios last year…
RK: I find the word “revival” a bit pompous. RK Studios was what it was because of my grandfather – I don’t think I have the talent or the storytelling abilities to fly that particular flag. What my grandfather has done is very close to my heart but I don’t want to adulterate it.The fire was sad for my grandmother especially. I went to the studio with her – she was in a wheelchair and had tears in her eyes when she saw the damage. Perhaps this accident will spur my uncles and my father to think about doing more with the space.
What if somebody asks you to do a biopic on Raj Kapoor?
RK: I will most definitely do it. It would be an honour to play him. But I feel a biopic should be made only when you can honestly portray a man’s full life. I hope my family can give that permission to portray the real person that Raj Kapoor was. Not many people know who he was beyond his movies. They do not know him as a person who had such an interesting life. Two biopics I really want to do are Raj Kapoor’s and Kishore Kumar’s.