Seven years into his Bollywood career, Arjun Kapoor is already ranked among the biggest stars in the Hindi film industry. But attaining stardom was never his objective. He speaks to Bulbul Sharma about what inspired him to take up acting, and what motivates him to keep going.
Q. Many see your latest film, India’s Most Wanted, as an attempt to break away from the commercial hero image. What’s your take on that?
A. Perception sometimes becomes more important than reality. I have done Aurangzeb, Ki & Ka and Finding Fanny, which for me weren’t commercial films. Ishaqzaadewas a commercial success but it was gritty and real at the same time. But because I am a front-footed commercial hero—in the sense that I have made a living by doing “Tune Maari Entriyaan” [a song in the film Gunday], along with doing “Hawa Hawa” [from Mubarakan] and “Mai Phir Bhe Tumko Chaahunga” [in Half Girlfriend]—people tend to think that I lean towards commercial cinema. But I have tried my hand at all kinds of stuff.
I think India’s Most Wanted is still a commercial film, it is a credible commercial film and that is what is so unique about it… So there may be a perception shift that I am doing serious cinema now. But I have always been doing different kinds of film. Even in 2 States, I didn’t play a quintessential hero. But the film crossed 100-crores, so it was a commercial success. Yet in this film I didn’t play a boy in a leather jacket coming to woo a girl. I played a nerd who is an introvert.
Still, I am happy having the tag of commercial hero, because that means I am saleable and that I am an entertainer.
Q. Are you now more open to taking risks as an actor?
A. I was taking risks all along. For my second film [Aurangzeb], I played a double role and the film was without songs. I did an English film [Finding Fanny]. I played a stay-at-home husband [in Ki & Ka] when people only looked at me as a masculine hero and thought I should do action. They told me back then that I shouldn’t do this film. But I have taken risks. I have also enjoyed doing commercial films and I would like to strike a balance…
When you mature as an actor you are able to process a lot of material in a better way; you are able to understand the sensitivity of subjects and are able to perform better. With time you are able to hone your skills and look for challenges.
Q. You once said in an interview that when one grows up watching a particular kind of cinema, it restricts you in a way and instils a certain mindset that needs overcoming. Did your early exposure to Bollywood hold you back as an actor during the initial phase of your career?
A. I have always been open to watching all kinds of cinema. I have been very fortunate in that way. But I have grown up watching commercial films, so what happens is that your go-to impulse is towards commercial films… Today our audience is global. We appreciate the same kind of cinema that the rest of the world does. Earlier, Bollywood had a different kind of cinema that would work with our audiences; and “world cinema” was a different world. But now a merger has occurred and it was made possible by the advent of digital platforms. It is an even playing-field now. So it has become far simpler to make a choice without thinking if the audience would understand a particular kind of content or not…
Q. You have completed seven years in the industry. Are you happy with your career graph?
A. Of course. If seven years back, you were to tell me that this is how my career would progress, I wouldn’t have believed you.
But it has not been that easy. There is a lot of sacrifice you have to make to keep doing your thing, with self-belief, for seven years. Surviving the highs and lows is difficult. Maintaining equilibrium, striking a balance between personal and professional life is not easy. Growing, improving, maintaining your dignity—it is all very difficult. I think it has been an amazing seven years and I am looking forward to the next seven years.
Q. Of late, many films starring A-listers have also tanked at the box-office. Does that make you insecure as an actor?
A. I have never been an insecure person. My last film didn’t do well but that doesn’t make me insecure. It makes me introspect and reinvent myself. I respect the audience’s verdict. I don’t disown the film but I try to learn from it. One Friday can’t define and decide what happens in my life. I have seen so many ups and downs that one Friday can’t decide whether I am a success or a failure. It will hurt, it will bother me, it will upset me because I am emotional and attached to the work that I do and to the team, and I feel that every film deserves to do well because of the effort that has been put into it. But I don’t feel insecure and nor am I scared. If one film doesn’t work, I will put more effort into the next one. As long as the audiences want to see me, I will keep going…
Also, I never entered the industry because I wanted to be number-1 or number-2. I just came to do films. I just want to do good work… If I become insecure I will spend too much time thinking about the things that are not under my control, and it is exhausting. So I’d rather just embrace what the reality is.
Q. Being a producer’s son, don’t you think about box-office numbers?
A. Of course, I do. But insecurity comes when you are not confident and when you have doubts. Making mistakes is a part of life. A hit is when you get it right and a flop happens when you make a mistake. But the best people make the biggest mistakes and this is how they become successful. They take risks.
I am not saying that I don’t feel apprehensive at times, but it doesn’t affect my behaviour and choices. I don’t go to sleep feeling insecure at night. I don’t see other people’s work and start wishing them ill… I know I will get my share of opportunities. Everyone’s journey is different and you have to enjoy and live your journey. Maybe I am secure enough because I know what I am doing.
Q. You recently spoke about the gender pay gap in the Hindi film industry, about how actresses need to be given their due. Do you think the onus now lies on the filmmakers and scriptwriters to come up with stronger lead roles for women?
A. Pay parity shouldn’t be about gender. It is about what you bring to the table. So if you have value, then you should be paid for that. And today, girls are doing great films that do well at the box office, and portraying great characters.
You should be able to pay well and equally to actors who have proved their value and have real merit… And only actors are not the benchmark of parity and equality. [In that interview] I was talking about credit being shared equally and that’s the starting point. Both male and female actors need to be given equal credit for a film. They need to be given an equal part in the film. … And we need to give female actors equal respect for the work they have done.
Q. Your next film, Panipat, is due later this year. How is it coming along? And what is it like working with Ashutosh Gowariker?
A. Panipathas been great. He [Gowariker] is a fantastic filmmaker, he is a visionary. He is somebody who understands storytelling and emotions very well. He is a stickler for perfection. Going bald for a film is always a challenge and he could see me as a Peshwa [the character Kapoor plays in the film] when I couldn’t… And to be able to stand in front of Sanjay Dutt [who also stars in Panipat] is a beautiful challenge. So I am really enjoying working with him.