We spoke to Shahid Kapoor, who is gearing up for the release of his twenty-ninth film Kabir Singh next month, about five of his most iconic and career-defining roles. We showed him one scene from each film and asked him to deconstruct how he had created it.

Ishq Vishk (2003)

“We shot this scene on a twenty-three-hour shoot day. We had a very tight budget and long shoot days because Ishq Vishk was a newcomer film. This was Rajeev Mathur’s [his character] house. We had to finish all the work in that house in one day. I think we took this shot at one in the morning. I was extremely exhausted, that’s one thing I remember. It was ten or eleven takes; it’s me ranting, it’s a monologue. I was very nervous before this shot. I was more nervous before this shot than before my Haider speech. It was for the first time that I was going to do something like that and it was my introduction. I was like, ‘Dude, this is the first time people are going to watch me, and if they don’t like the first forty seconds of what I’m doing–!’ The director can’t even cut and go somewhere else, because that’s the shot. The director Ken [Ghosh] had also built it up, saying, ‘Bro, you know, you need to be an actor and you need to be able to hold this shot for thirty seconds’, so I was really nervous. It was raining really heavily that day. And we wrapped at three in the morning, having started at seven in the morning. But that used to happen quite often on this film, and we were all very happy doing it. We were all newcomers, we were super-enthusiastic, we were happy we were getting to be in front of the camera.”

Jab We Met (2007)

“Now that’s a legit nice scene, even ten or fifteen years down the line. It’s a memorable scene for most people. I remember this day was a bad day for me. It was toward the end of the schedule. I was just not being able to feel the emotion. I know people really like this scene, but I was actually pushing the emotion. And therefore it’s really out there, I’m really saying my lines — you can see the neck… Because I was not feeling it enough. So I felt the need to compensate for that and perform more. That happens with actors; it’s a very internal thing. I remember Imtiaz [Ali; director] once had a chat with me. We were in Manali and he took me for a walk. I used to take a lot of pride in the fact that I was very prepared. He put his arm around me and said, ‘You know, Shahid, you’re a good actor. Just stop thinking about it. Just be.’ And I looked at him and I felt damn upset: ‘Don’t you appreciate the effort I put in?’ This is one of my favourite scenes, but I did struggle a lot on it. Sometimes things that are limitations work in your favour.”

Kaminey (2009)

“Vishal sir [Bhardwaj; director], when he gets his dark sarcasm right, is untouchable. He’s at another bloody level. I can feel that tension in the room; I’m not even there, but I can feel it. And we used to be laughing before the scene. It’s so bloody funny, when you read the lines and when you read the scene! And then you have to go out there and do it! This was a very special scene. When we read it, we knew the writer, Vishal sir, had written a very good scene. It’s very dark; it’s really funny and entertaining and commercial. And we need to do it in a way where at no point do people think it’s a scene: they really need to feel like this is happening. The challenge was to make people feel how it is to be there. It touches you somewhere deep down. And that makes an impact. That would be more relevant than having a scene that was just funny.”

Haider (2014)

“What lines he [Vishal Bhardwaj; director] writes, man! I think it’s the lines that great dialogue writers have written that give actors the opportunity to show complexity, to be able to throw the audience off. [The line readings in this scene were] pretty instinctive because I was already entrenched in the character. It felt like something I can’t help, and something that pains me deeply. But it is what it is. Madness is a great tool: when you have too many things going on in your head and you can behave a little like you’re not all there, that kind of helps you observe and at the same time deal with whatever it is you’re dealing with. That was the kind of zone Haider was in. He’s smiling [in this scene] and saying things that are hard. That tends to happen. Because when you reach a certain level of numbness, where it’s too much to deal with, only sarcasm can save you. It’s such a simple scene; it happened very simply. We didn’t really work at it much, we just shot it. And Tabu is a great actor, she’s one of the finest actors of her generation, and she’s getting better with time. She’s still beautiful and young, she doesn’t have that motherly quality — that’s what made this [slightly Oedipal] equation work. I was very clear about the fact that I didn’t want to use it as a tool to titillate the audience: it has to be something that makes you uncomfortable. The characters can’t be uncomfortable, but the mood has to be like that.”

Udta Punjab (2016)

“Oh, this is a great scene, man! Love this scene! That’s probably one of my favourite scenes in the film, but people liked a lot of others. These are the kinds of scenes you do roles for. I had so much fun watching it, I haven’t seen it in so long. I find Tommy’s character very funny. My interpretation, in one line, of the character was that he was a five-year-old Punjabi child. If you don’t show him as an overgrown child, you can’t forgive him for the things he does. If he was hated, we would lose [our] purpose. The purpose was to take people through the journey of an addict. In this scene, I feel he is as childish and as vulnerable and as stupid as he can be. He’s literally shouting like a kid in a candy store, ‘I want that chocolate, I want that chocolate!’ That’s what he’s doing — ‘London jaana hai, London jaana hai!’ And Satish uncle [Kaushik] is so good in this scene, so bloody good. I had so much fun working with him.”

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