Anupama Chopra: We have this amazing audience of film lovers, film students and I thought we’d just use this opportunity to talk about acting.
Ranbir Kapoor: When you do a film, then there is this marketing period. You have to really sell the film, get the audience in, and it’s the most tiring process. You may do films like Gandhi and Last of the Mohicans which can tire you as an actor but that five days of promotions can just kill you.
AC: Deepika (Padukone) always tells me that don’t ask me about my process. I don’t like to talk about it. Do you like to talk about it? Can you describe how you transform into other people? Are there any rituals you follow?
RK: With every film, each character comes with its own method. There is a new set of procedures that you have to follow, and most of the times I forget, so I’d love to share some stuff.
AC: So that means you forget what you use?
RK: Yeah, because that’s an old you and you’re just constantly evolving, trying to better your own self, your craft, your skill. If you become too skilled it becomes boring, and you start becoming repetitive. So if you have one fixed method for every film, you just start repeating those same nuances that set in.
Jagga Jasoos was pretty simple and basic but there were a lot of complications behind it to make it look that simple and basic. I think we had too much on our plate because it was a detective film, the character stammers, it’s a musical, he is finding his father, there is a love story, its episodic.
AC : I really thought Jagga Jasoos was so lovely, and it really broke my heart when it didn’t find more takers than it did. How did you face that?
Ranbir : It broke my heart also and my bank. Anurag Basu is a very different species of director. When we were working on Barfi, many times Priyanka, Ileana and the actors used to sit waiting for a shot and we had no idea what was going on. There was no script, there was no blueprint of the story. We all knew what the story is, but Dada always improvised. The good experience we had on Barfi lent itself to the making of Jagga Jasoos. Jagga Jasoos was pretty simple and basic but there were a lot of complications behind it to make it look that simple and basic. I think we had too much on our plate because it was a detective film, the character stammers, it’s a musical, he is finding his father, there is a love story, its episodic. I’m not good with dialogues, so I’m very happy because I was talking less, I didn’t have to memorize lines. But here I think the challenge was to not make the stammering sound irritating. Also when you sing, it was meant to be said like a dialogue so it’s not like you’re performing a song, which is in a surrealistic zone, it’s very real.
AC: You’re saying its complicated, but I’ve seen you right through from Saawariya, where you just lit up the frame, in spite of how dark that film was. And what I’ve figured out is that I can never see you acting, which is what is so amazing. What is the complication that goes behind?
RK: What we see on screen is the magic of cinema, there are so many people trying to get your character alive. My method is basic. Two things I always follow- one is to marry the director’s mind. It’s important because I am that Bandra boy who has lived a very luxurious life, travelled all over the world but I don’t know my own country, my own people, so I always have to steal their personalities, their experiences. That love story between me and the director is important. He has to fall deeply in love with me and I have to fall deeply in love with him. Then comes that trust. That’s an amazing relationship you form between that six and eight months of shoot. The second thing is to understand the text. There are so many things a writer and director have been through, creating every line that you have said. So I think once you know the director’s space, when there is love and you understand the text, then the job becomes easy. But courting the director is harder than courting a girl. Because it’s not like you befriend him for life, it’s just for this project. But I really enjoy that. I also enjoy some stupid, superficial things – I use one perfume for every character.
AC: Vidya Balan said she does that too.
RK: Then I’m in good company! My sense of smell is very strong and any sensation – touch, smell, feel – if it can kind of remind you a character, it helps. Sometimes you do two films at a time, I was doing Wake Up Sid and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani simultaneously. When the overlap happened, then this thing started helping me, one perfume for each character. When I put it on and stepped out of my trailer, it gave me a certain perspective. I like particular shoes for different characters. Now this is all pseudo-intellectual stuff, we are not trying to save the world, we are just trying to make ourselves believe, ‘Haan, we are doing so much preparation.’
AC: Can you instinctively tell when a shot is not working and when it is?
RK: I stopped looking at myself in the monitor, because I started cringing a lot and started becoming too aware of myself. Many times, I have realized in the last ten years, in the fifteen films I have done, whenever I have gone home and said ‘Oh I’ve done such a great job’, that’s never good.
AC: You said in an interview that creative energy comes from nature, isolation and sacrifice. What did you mean?
RK: I think isolation is important for every actor. You can look deeper within yourself, you can understand certain things better. As an actor, once you take in nature, the world will be represented through you. It keeps me peaceful, balanced and makes me understand my value in the universe. The third thing is sacrifice. Sacrifice is something I learnt from Mr. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, he always instilled in me that you need to sacrifice your personal life, fun, or something that stardom will give you, because it will take away from a certain believability and empathy that you feel for your characters. Sacrifice holds a great value in my life. I think its detrimental that you’re giving up your life for something that is not real, but then you have to choose your path.
AC: Ranbir, what have you sacrificed?
RK: I have sacrificed friendship, my school gang – I meet them probably once a month they meet each other three-four times a week. As you go there, you’re lost in conversation. There are new beats of laughter that they have which you won’t know about. I don’t want to sound like a crybaby. I have only sacrificed because I am benefitting. It’s not because life has given me no other option.
Sacrifice is something I learnt from Mr. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, he always instilled in me that you need to sacrifice your personal life, fun, or something that stardom will give you, because it will take away from a certain believability and empathy that you feel for your characters.
AC: I had once asked Aamir Khan how he has such great creative instincts. He said he thinks like a producer, not like an actor so he is able to see the full picture and not just his part in it. From your choices, can one say that they are dictated by the fact that you look only at your part?
RK: Maybe. But since Saawariya, and every film I have done since then, every choice has been mine, I am responsible for every successful film, I am responsible for every failure. I can’t take a third perspective on the script, if I should do it, box office, whether commercially it will do well, because if I’m not connected to the material or the character, I won’t be able to do anything about it. I don’t have that skill set that Aamir sir has, and that’s why he is who he is today. I guess that is something that you develop with experience. I don’t think a Bombay Velvet or a Jagga Jasoos, or Barfi or Wake Up Sid or Rocket Singh were experimental films, I felt like they were commercial films.
AC: But those were worthy experiments. I’m talking about something like Besharam?
RK: Well Besharam, was again I guess the only film in my career which was by design, because I wanted to do, as people say, a ‘masala film’. It’s the hardest genre, you can make a nice story, say like a Wake Up Sid, or a Rocket Singh and there are very less chances of you going wrong. You may go wrong commercially but there is a large section of audience that considers it to be a good film. Shah Rukh Khan used to tell me that he never saw the potential in DDLJ, he always thought it’s silly, and see what that film did. And I did Rocket Singh, and thought it would be the next Munnabhai. When I did Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, I thought I was screwed, I thought no one would offer me more movies, my career was over. So you don’t have the formula, no one knows, and that’s the magic of movies, because if everybody knew, everyone would be a Khan.
AC: You said that the next phase of your career will be about entertaining audiences rather than proving your acting chops. Are those two separate things?
RK: For me, yes. When I do a film like Tamasha, or Jagga Jasoos, I’m first looking at my character, or what I can do through them and not necessarily at the larger picture. You need to understand what value your film is talking about, who its talking to, what the budget of the film is, how much money you’re taking. Filmmaking, is an expensive medium and you can’t do things solely because this is your passion project. Raju Sir has this deep desire to entertain audiences. He doesn’t want to bore them, he doesn’t want to force down moral opinions. He just wants to make you laugh and cry. Movies are for entertainment, once you realize that, your choices also change. And I’m still striving…see I am doing a Rajkumar Hirani film. I haven’t chosen that, he has chosen me. So if Sanju is a big commercial success, I really can’t take credit for that, that it’s my choice.
AC: I was talking to a director who told me that you carry the burden of being Rishi Kapoor’s son, of being a Prince. So you won’t do a two hero film, you aren’t hungry enough like Ranveer is. Is that true?
RK: Absolutely not, I have the luxury that I don’t need to work to feed myself, and have a roof over my head, but I’ve always been extremely passionate about the movies. Because you’re born in a film family, the perception of your hard work and success is kind of a little snatched from you. I have worked really hard these last few years and I’ve given myself to every part that I have done, and not taken my job for granted. So my hunger is there. This two or three or four hero doesn’t matter to me. I did a film called Raajneeti which had so many heroes. I’m not insecure. I’ve never been offered a two-hero film that I have liked and the other person has liked.
AC: But you said that you can’t audition for a film, so you’ll never audition for a film.
RK: I don’t think I am that confident about myself. Today thankfully, I have a body of work that I don’t need to audition. But if you send me to Hollywood, and tell me to audition for this film-maker, I don’t know if I will be good at it.
AC: But you’re supremely talented.
RK: I don’t think so, I don’t regard myself as supremely talented and I have to work hard for a film, I know my shortcomings. I know where I can be really bad, and I have been terrible in couple of my films, where I have probably worked 80% and not given my 100%.
AC: Where have you been terrible?
RK: Like Besharam and Anjaana Anjaani. I am as good as my film, if the director is good I am good. I don’t live in this fool’s paradise that a film works because of me. In Rockstar if the film worked, and if my performance worked it was because of Imtiaz Ali. If I directed that film, I would be terrible. I am insecure, everyday I go to set, I’m sitting in my van, trying to learn my lines, and I’m confused and I have anxiety about whether I will be able to do this shot well, if I will be able to surprise my director. I’m not happy with what I have achieved today and I have lots to do. I think that drive is important, that insecurity creates that drive, that desire. And I think if that dies I will die as an actor.
I don’t regard myself as supremely talented and I have to work hard for a film, I know my shortcomings. I know where I can be really bad, and I have been terrible in couple of my films, where I have probably worked 80% and not given my 100%.
AC: What’s the most number of takes?
RK: I started with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and he doesn’t do anything less than 45 takes. So even if I have to turn my head, I probably will have to give 50 takes. In Jabse Tere Naina, I had to roll back in a certain way and the towel had to fall and my leg was showing and it was one shot where I had to get up and sing. He is very particular about what beat you catch; he is a very musical director. I did 45 or 50 takes one day and my back really broke and out of sympathy he said, ‘Okay I’ll manage’. The next morning, he said he hasn’t got it and I had to do another 70 takes. So now when somebody takes eight takes, ten takes, it’s nothing.
AC: You know gender parity has become an important conversation today and I have to ask, you’re doing a film with Luv Ranjan, whose are films are successful but are sexist and steeped in misogyny. Don’t you worry about the images that are going through?
RK: I have not been a part of those films. I am conscious about the parts I do, and ensure that it’s not a part which is belittling society, or something that is unfair. Understanding the position I am in, I have to be conscious, I have to be aware, I have to represent certain value system that I want to express. But the film with Luv Ranjan is not that.
AC: Benedict Cumberbatch said in an interview that he will sign a film only after he knows what the actress in the film is being paid. He said: It’s important for us acknowledge the pay gap and do something about deliberately making a stance to correct that. I think people need to know that men are supportive. I think it’s incumbent on me and my position to seek an understanding and that starts with transparency. Do you think men in Bollywood understand that they have a responsibility to ensure that we have a more equitable working environment?
RK: I think somebody just has to do it, if one person does it, it has a domino effect. But in our industry, nobody really reveals what they get paid because of income tax purposes. But Deepika or Katrina or Priyanka, they are right up there, it’s not like they are getting paid less than me. Today, there is so much awareness about your market value. This is one of the few industries where it is so market-based that if your films are doing well, you will get the money. If I’m on a project and I say, ‘Okay there is me and Deepika. And Deepika is as big or bigger star than me then there must be equality she has to get a bigger piece of the pie.’ somebody has to do it.
AC: And who is that?
RK: We will see.
AC: What makes you uncomfortable as an actor? Are there any lines you won’t cross?
RK: I don’t think so, I dropped the towel in my first film, what else is left? Being physically naked is not hard, being emotionally naked is – to get attached to a moment, feel a sense of truth. Because films are a true representation of you as an artist, you have to be aware of what you are standing for. But beyond that, whatever it takes to be good at my job, emotionally, physically I’ll do it.
In our industry, nobody really reveals what they get paid because of income tax purposes. But Deepika or Katrina or Priyanka, they are right up there, it’s not like they are getting paid less than me.
AC: In an interview with Rajeev Masand, you had talked about having three children and doing it the right way after you fall madly, deeply and passionately in love. But you fall in love a lot. Does that complicate your craft in any way?
RK: When you fall in love, everything is great. Water tastes like sherbet, and you seem like Uma Thurman. You feel great, so who doesn’t want to be in love?
AC: But what does it do to you as an actor?
RK: It does things to me as a human being. Acting is my profession, but if I feel good about myself and feel good about the day, it’s only because life is great and love makes life great.
AC: So then can you look at a scene and say that I was in a good space when I was doing it.
RK: No I can’t say what I was feeling on that particular day, but I can say that it’s a beautiful moment on screen. I have bad memory. I don’t remember myself when I was 15 and before that I think that my life has been wiped out. I was trying to give up smoking and I went to this place in Germany to get injections in your ear and I feel that’s messed with my memory in some way.
AC: So you’re off smoking?
RK: Yes, officially.
AC: I was there when Raju and Vinod showed your dad the promo of Sanju and he got tears in his eyes. What did you feel when you saw that? That your work has actually made your dad cry.
RK: He never really expresses what he feels about my work. He usually sees the films, three or four days before release and I’m really tense because he is so honest. Him also being an actor and such a fabulous actor, he will always have a good take. So (for Rockstar) he asked me “Woh end mein heroine mar gayi, ke wapas aa gayi?” And I said no it was her soul which came back, and he’s like “Yeah yeah okay, bye.” When he saw Barfi he called me two days before the film released and said “Ya, tu acting toh theek kar leta hai, but stop doing these arty films” and he put the phone down. He’s a hard critic to impress, so when Raju sent this video to me, it feels great at the end of the day when your parents are proud of the work that you do. But, post that video, he has never even mentioned it.
AC: Last year, you finished a decade in the movies. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about how to handle success and failure?
RK: I think it’s been a phenomenal journey, and I would like my younger self to discover this again, because it has been really awesome. Because I have grown up in a film family, I know this world. I know what success means, I know what failure means. I know what success can do to your head and failure can do to your heart. So somewhere I was well-equipped before I came into this world as a working professional. And gratitude is something I have learnt in these ten years. The fact that I am sitting in front of all these people, talking about my craft and my life, I credit that to myself. Not because I was born with a silver spoon, but because I worked really hard to be here, and I feel immense gratitude.