“Stars can fade, actors can grow into being better”
By Ankita R. Kanabar
(From the April 2, 2016 issue of Super Cinema)
Just when we were done with the interview and I stood up, I told him it was lovely speaking to him, as always. He responded to that with a sarcastic laugh. When I asked why, he said, “Because people usually think I am moody and angry, but I’m not. My face is like that.” This seems true, because, as opposed to the whole laid-back, arrogant, grumpy image, I actually find Arjun Kapoor deeply philosophical and intense with child-like vulnerability. He’s also funny at the same time. That reflects in this conversation with the actor. At his casual best, he sips on coffee to cure his bad headache, and rests on the couch while we speak about his latest release, what’s his biggest fear and lots more!
R. Balki’s films have a certain tone and sensibility…how did you adapt to that for ‘Ki and Ka’?
When you read the material, you understand the tone and zone of a film. Then when you’ve seen his work and know his kind of showcasing of material, so you understand that even a loud scene won’t be shot in a loud manner, or a dramatic scene will also be under-played. And then there’s a certain intelligence that you acquire by meeting and interacting with various directors, so you add your own improvisations. For instance, in that Dharmendra scene, that little dance was just added by me impromptu. So sometimes those things add a new dimension to the narrative that you’re seeing. As an actor, you still need to be instinctive and impulsive when you’re there in front of the camera but you need to keep in mind a border that doesn’t cross the style or tone of the film. For instance, I couldn’t get the ‘Gunday’ tone in this film. So, you just have to know your range and curb your enthusiasm a little bit for Balki.
Is it the experience on different films that help you in being more instinctive or confident about adding your own improvisations to a character or scene?
I guess. The only film I didn’t do it for was ‘Ishaqzaade’ because we were really thorough with the material and it wasn’t my strength at that point. I had never been to a small town, or lived that life. You can only improvise something that you’re confident about, I wasn’t confident at that point, so I was like, let me at least do what’s written first. After that I got fairly comfortable because you do different kind of roles. For instance, ‘Gunday’ allowed me to improvise a lot and be spontaneous, ‘2 States’, allowed that, and ‘Finding Fanny’ definitely allowed me to do that.
I’ve told you earlier about how even your tough characters have that bit of vulnerability. In that sense, did ‘Ki And Ka’ require more of it?
Yes, he is a child, or let’s just say he’s a man child but he’s very good at running the house. Vulnerability is something which naturally comes out in certain situations, in front of the camera if it’s there within you. It can never be hidden. You might be straight-faced but your eyes give away that you’re vulnerable to something. It’s one of the rare emotions that you cannot hide. I’ve never consciously tried to show it but I guess it comes through the sincerity with which I work with towards my roles. But this role needed a bit more of that but it’s not the typical vulnerability! He’s proud of what he is and he doesn’t care about what the world thinks about him. That’s where the writing comes in. It’s usually the writing which adds these dimensions to a character.
Do you keep your audience’s taste in mind while picking up or playing certain roles?
You cannot keep a huge audience in mind all the time, because their taste pattern changes all the time, they’re evolving. They’re pretty open to interesting things. It’s an unspoken code of conduct between you and your audience – that if you give us something new, we’ll come and watch your film. Having said that, every film is like your marriage with the director and material. I have to live that life for a few months minimum when I’m shooting. So I have to love it first. Making it audience friendly is secondary.
And even the target audience for every film differs…
Yes, but even those lines are blurring now. Multiplexes give you the same range of money as single-screens. The audience will find a way for a good film always.
Does being appreciated give you the belief to further take risks, or experiment? For instance, do more films like ‘Finding Fanny’ because it was well-received?
In fact, ‘Finding Fanny’ is my most appreciated performance, strangely, in an ensemble which had far more superior actors. Not that I was praised more than them, but to stand and hold my own in a film like that was a big thing. Yes, that gives you validation and gumption that you should keep experimenting. It’s also about how you see it. A lot of people might feel ‘Ki And Ka’ was also an experiment but I just see it as a romantic comedy. I think the romance and chemistry in it was more important for me to bring in than bother about the role reversal angle.
So what is it that scares you before taking up anything? Or is that a wrong question to ask at a point when you’re doing ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi?
(laughs) I was actually scared to do ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’ but I am not scared of doing any film. I just react to the material and go for it when I like it and if I’m excited to work with a director. Also because films are like a home territory! Yes, you’re nervous before starting a film or when it releases; you have butterflies in the stomach and all that – but those are small fears which every actor goes through. The success or failure is not something which scares me. But the fear is that I hope people still want to come and see me in the theatre. If they stop showing up in theatre to see my film then I’ll be scared. My bigger fear is that I don’t want to suddenly become extinct in three years just because people have lost faith in me as an actor. And that’s why I push myself to do stranger characters because at least, they’re constantly guessing my range. I don’t want them to feel I’m saturated. That’s why I did ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’ because I don’t want to seem like a boring Arjun Kapoor. I wanted people to see the exciting Arjun Kapoor. A lot of people feel that I’m laid-back, sadooo and I’m constantly angry on people, but I’m not like that. It’s just that my eyes are droopy, intense and I don’t smile all the time so people feel I’m angry. But most times I’m just thinking something and I keep to myself.
But now the perception is changing I think…
I think post ‘Gunday’s’ promotions, it started changing because that was the first film in which I was allowed to have fun. Then there was ‘2 States’, we hosted IIFA, the roast also happened. And now with ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’ people have realised that I can have a lot of fun and I’m very filmy – that element had not really come out before that. But sometimes it’s better to not think or know so much. If you get to know everything about myself then you become too intelligent. Sometimes it’s good to be naïve and not know everything. Everyone tells me that ‘if you smile you look nice’ but if I smile all the time then I’ll look like a disaster (laughs).
Is that why you’ve not allowed the whole star thing to get into your head? Or is there a certain sense of pride owing to the popularity that you enjoy?
Being grounded has been the case with me in general, because I this profession is very fickle. The ‘Ishaqzaade’ Friday changed everything for me and I believe even the reverse can happen on one Friday. It’s easy for the audience to get fed up of you, but somewhere I feel, if you’re a good actor, they won’t get fed up. My constant hunger is to keep getting better as an actor. Eventually, in the longer run, you’re known for your performances, obviously your hit films also, but they will remember how you played your characters. People remember ‘Ishaqzaade’ because it was such a unique performance for a newcomer. ‘2 States’ they remember because it was so different from what I’d done. So the audience appreciates good acting and that’s what I want to work for. And I’ve got enough people to hit me if I get arrogant or go in the wrong direction. We’re all replaceable so you cannot take all this very seriously.
Which means you want to be known more as an actor?
Obviously, because I know a good actor will always have value. A good actor is more valuable than a star who is temporary. A good actor can become a star, a star may not necessarily be a good actor. Stars can fade, actors can grow into being better (smiles).