‘I am the DiCaprio to Vishal’s Scorsese’

As Shahid Kapoor gets busy with the shoot of his next film, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati, it’s time for early interviews for his next release Rangoon. In the living room of his sea-facing Juhu apartment he talks about his working equation with Vishal Bhardwaj, about internalising the emotions of Haider, about going high on drugs as Tommy in Udta Punjab despite being a teetotaller and on not having to dance a single step as Nawab Malik in Rangoon.

So is Rangoon third time luckier with Vishal Bhardwaj?

So far so good. Hoping for the best.

You have done some of your best work with him. What gives?

I think the films speak for themselves. Kaminey was our first brush with each other. He helped me discover a side to myself which I wouldn’t have otherwise. He helped me get in touch with the actor in me, the purer part of me as an artiste. Beyond the trappings of stardom he helped me connect with the craft, with my inner self. Haider was a step ahead in that direction. Kaminey still had certain parameters which would be considered commercial. Haider was more honest, pure and unadulterated. It was a much more scary film to make. It was much more challenging, bolder and braver. Very few were interested in it to begin with. I don’t think either of us thought hit or flop when we started on it. We just wanted to make the film.

So where do you go from there to Rangoon? Is it scarier?

Rangoon is scary in its own way. It has scale. It needs to be viewed by a larger audience. It is much more accessible, relatable. It’s not a dark, edgy, experimental film. I would call it a Vishal Bhardwaj mainstream Hindi film. He creates a world that is very unique. The relationship dynamics that he creates have many layers. They are complex. There are a lot of unsaid areas, grey zones.

There has been lot of speculation around the film from whatever one has picked up from the trailer, music, articles —there is the early Indian cinema, the war, a sense of history, a love triangle. Is it all of it? What is it?

It is not so simple. With filmmakers it’s a sum total of all their feelings and experiences. If people think that it’s a film made or conceived now that’s not true. I have heard [Vishal Bhardwaj] talk about this film six-seven years back. It has been an evolving piece of work. Then it reached a place when it was ready to be made for various reasons best known to him. I think I can say that Rangoon will be a unique experience. I think it will be different from what people have seen of him. It also has a lot of what people expect of Vishal Bhardwaj. And it has a lot of what people expect of a Hindi film.

You explained in detail what Vishal brings to the table for you. What is it about you that clicks with him?

You should ask him. I always say that I am the [Leonardo] DiCaprio to his [Martin] Scorsese. That’s me being very adventurous with my words. We just hit a good note together.

How does it work? Are you very confident working with him?

No, I am shitting bricks. He is always challenging you and pushing you so much.

When he comes to you with any project do you blindly get into it?

[I am] almost blind.

There is this assumption that perhaps the film is more about Kangana than the two of you…

What makes you assume that? Is it because it’s two against one? Who do you think Sholay was about? For me there are three central characters in Rangoon — two male and one female. Each is extremely crucial to the film. Beyond that people should see the film. What matters is what you take away from a film. Irrfan [Khan] sir had some six scenes in Haider. But I walked away with him so strongly etched in my memory. There are people in the film who had 37 scenes who you wouldn’t even remember. Even title of a film is no criteria that the film would be centred around the character. I think Tabu’s part was more fundamental to Haider than mine. The film starts and ends with her. She is so entrenched into Haider that I don’t think the film would have been the same without her doing what she did. It’s like saying Mr. Bachchan’s was a secondary role in Piku because of the title.

There’s a very strong sense of history in Rangoon

It is inspired. The film is based in a period, against a backdrop, which is real. But the story is fictional.

Do you also do research about the period or is it all a spontaneous act as a performer? Like the soliloquy in Haider which is so political, so full of references. Did you look into the Kashmir issue a lot yourself?

We have grown up with it. I don’t think there is anybody who wouldn’t have any idea about this part of the country’s history. What happens as an actor is that you start connecting with it. I was feeling everything Haider was feeling. You have to engage with that person and his world. It’s not about me expressing my feelings, it’s about me truly and honestly expressing Haider’s state of mind. My personal opinion doesn’t matter there. The beauty of Haider was that there were so many things that were political and yet it was a human journey. It’s essentially about a boy trying to look for his lost father and what he goes through in the middle of the search. I think people connected with that emotion. That’s the beauty of cinema, that it rises above everything and becomes simply about being humane.

Would that hold true of Rangoon as well?

I feel it’s different. Haider was soaked more in it. Rangoon has a touch of it but it is more a love triangle.

Abhishek Chaubey, again of the Vishal Bhardwaj school, took you into an entirely different zone with Udta Punjab

They literally push you. You have to make sure you don’t fall over. They keep you hanging on the edge (laughs).

It was about the issue of Punjab’s drug problem

Unlike Haider I had no idea about the issue. I was shocked. I discovered it during the narration. I have never been high in my life. I have never had alcohol, I am a teetotaller. I found the character fascinating and exciting. It’s unique in Hindi films. So original and out of the box. I was very affected by the issue. It wasn’t just about Punjab. The issue for me was drugs and the youth, the accessibility that the youth has to drugs. It is too easily available. That for me was the fundamental, core issue. The film brings it out there and talks about it. Youngsters don’t like being lectured but a film is a popular medium. If it entertains and gives a message I’ll still sit through it. Someone was telling me yesterday that it was one of the three most googled films of the year. There was a hope that the message will percolate and go out. That happened because of the controversy. So thank you controversy.

Going back to the past, you started off as a professional dancer and of late there has been ‘Bismil’ in Haider which is arguably one of the most well choreographed dance sequences…

It was magical. In fact it’s my favourite set piece in a movie. But I don’t have a single step in Rangoon. In fact I have a dialogue in which I say “Mujhe naachna nahin aata (I don’t know how to dance)”. My Nawab Malik is a soldier, he can’t dance. Kangana will do all the dancing.

Has your inherent youthfulness gone against you?

Absolutely, totally. That is so true. It’s all destiny. In the last 6-7 years there has been an influx of the new, whether it’s the content, technicians, talent. A new bunch has arrived. Being new today feels safer than being established. When I came in, there were the old and the established. There was no Google back then. There were hardly any new people. It’s helpful to have so much new available now. Because of the Internet the exposure has gone up so much. It’s much easier to be known, to reach out. You percolate into everywhere. Everything is out there. Earlier it was good to have an aura and a sense of mystery. Today people like relatable, accessible stars a lot more. I was a part of the transition.

On the one hand there are Kaminey, Haider, Rangoon; on the other R… Rajkumar and Vivah and then there is Jab We Met somewhere in the middle…

I hope my daughter doesn’t go through my filmography when she grows up and say “couldn’t you make up your mind?”, “what’s going on here?”, “were you bipolar?” I hope post 2010 she will start seeing a pattern. That I figured myself out somewhere. Now I am just following my heart. Kids today are really well advised. I didn’t have too many people around me to advise. I wasn’t experienced enough. I didn’t really grow up in a filmi background. My parents separated when I was three. I lived in Delhi, then I came to Mumbai. It was a middle class life, away from films and sets and parties. I had no exposure. I was a lost kid.

You never took advice from your parents who are amazing performers in their own right?

I always asked them. But a script takes three hours to read. My mother was very much into my career in the first year or so and then I had to branch out and figure it out myself. It is very different being born to actors than being born to a film family that has had a legacy, or a filmmaker family that has seen how things work.

Are you in a much more comfortable zone while picking up projects?

This profession doesn’t ever make you feel comfortable. When you are feeling comfortable it’s time to worry. I think I am following my heart and keeping it simple.

So the heart is taking you in the right direction?

I hope so. It doesn’t take long for things to turn around in this profession. I need to take decisions that I need to take. I am ready for that.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 2:23:05 AM |

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