“To let someone down, to let audience down; that’s my fear”
By Ankita R Kanabar
(This interview has been published in the January 12, 2013 issue of Super Cinema)
Over the last few years, the man has demanded your attention. He’s made you sit up and take notice of the actor he has proven to be. Most definitely, with a variety of roles in his body of work, he’s broken the stereotype, ‘models can’t act’. You can’t help but notice Arjun Rampal’s range as a performer when he does an ‘Om Shanti Om’, ‘Rock On!!’, and then goes on to a ‘Raajneeti’, ‘Chakravyuh’ and now ‘Inkaar’. Also, notice the kind of filmmakers he’s been working with. Arjun, though, continues to remain modest. Amidst all the maddening promotional work for his forthcoming film ‘Inkaar’, he makes time for a lengthy chat. In his plush and beautiful apartment, he seems in a relaxed mode as he sips on coffee, dressed in a casual white shirt and denims, looking as handsome as ever. He smiles, and breaks into a contagious laughter every now and then. His dimples coupled with his husky voice add to the charm. He laughs even while I tell him that women are drooling over his hot avatar in the promos of ‘Inkaar’. Anyway, let’s get going then. Here we have, Arjun Rampal talking about this Sudhir Mishra film, the subject of sexual harassment, about films, films and more films in a completely candid chat
The way you’ve been promoting this film, or perhaps, any other film, it shows how necessary it is to do so, isn’t it?
Today promotions are very important. You have to put your best foot forward just to make people aware about the movie and why they should come and see it. Yes, it’s hectic but one has to do it because it’s very important.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen you doing characters and films that are unique and more concept-driven. That’s been a conscious decision?
That’s what I look for. That’s what excites me. That’s what I want to do. I love to get a part where I don’t see me and I see my character. It’s fun to build that character. I like to do a film that has more to say than entertain. Of course a film has to entertain, that’s very important. But the story must entertain, the screenplay must entertain. It must grip you. Also, you get to know a lot through that process. If I get to learn a lot from a film while we make it, I’m sure the audience will get to learn a lot while seeing it. And if I find films like that, well and good. I’m totally comfortable with these kinds of films. But otherwise it’s also good to do completely commercial, larger-than-life films. But again, over there, there should be something new.
Moving from one character to another…do you have to go through preparations while doing so?
Any good performance comes from hours and hours of rehearsal. Really! It’s a lot of preparation. And that also helps you to understand a character better and get more clarity. Especially, when you do a film like ‘Chakravyuh’, or even an ‘Inkaar’ or ‘Rock On!!’ For ‘Rock On!!’ when I had to play Joe Mascarhenas, I didn’t know to play a guitar, but I needed to learn it to get the whole vibe. So, I went through three months of training, to be into the character and get a feel of it. For it to look that effortless, on-screen, it is about getting into the skin of it. It requires some kind of training and very few films allow you to do that. Even for ‘Ra.One’ I had to create a look, an image which would get stuck in people’s minds. To be robotic and to be that kind of a character was not easy. Then, in ‘Raajneeti’, to be this wild guy, get that whole madness, be negative and then, he’s also good. He could kill for his brother and also die for him. In ‘Chakravyuh’, to be that cop to be fit, be single-mindedly focused to get this job done. To bring to the audience a message and then to entertain them – to get that mix is a very tough job. And that’s a similar thing in ‘Inkaar’ too.
So, how did you have to prepare for your role in ‘Inkaar’?
I don’t know anybody who is like my character Rahul. I’ve never sexually harassed or been in this kind of situation. So, you speak to people, and you read them a few scenes. Sudhir and me spent a lot of time on the script. When he showed me the script, it was very linear format. I liked certain things, but wasn’t completely satisfied and neither was he. And I wasn’t working that time, had a month and a half off, so I thought if we could sit and work on the script and get these two point of views nicely, make it in non-linear format, treat it like a psychological thriller, it would be exciting. Spending that time with him on the script, by the time I was on the set, I was already into the character. As a director Sudhir is great with layering characters. He brings various nuances to that character. What’s really nice about working with him is that he easily brings you into that zone of being effortless where everything looks real. It’s nuanced.
Again, the concept of ‘Inkaar’ isn’t something that we’ve seen on-screen before. Tell us about it.
In ‘Inkaar’, it’s a scenario which is very relevant in today’s times. You explore the dynamics of a man and a woman, today in modern India in an advertising agency. What happens in the working environment between them? What happens when a woman is too powerful? What happens when you’re slammed with a sexual harassment case. And what is sexual harassment really? Where have you studied about it? What is the knowledge you have about it? It’s not molestation. It’s a mind game. Why would someone go through that mind game with you? What are the dynamics of that and when does flirting become harassment? I asked someone the other day, as to how would they define this relationship between a female boss, and a male intern? So, someone called it a toy-boy situation. Someone called it cradle-snatching. And when asked how would you define a male boss sleeping with the female-intern, the general perspective would be that she’s sleeping with the boss to get promoted. That’s what the way the whole perception would be. But nobody said it could be love. The film answers a lot of question and explains a lot about what a man or a woman needs to do. May be a man needs to be more sensitive towards a woman. People generally say that women don’t make good bosses. Why? Because women tend to get very emotional and it’s easy for them to over-react. Also, why does a woman have to become a man in a work environment? She just needs to be herself and the focus needs to go into productivity. And when you talk about sexual harassment, there’s a fine line as to when it can be termed as sexual harassment. But how do you find that out? You don’t know what the rules are. The film is about all of this.
Do you think ‘Inkaar’ would break the stereotypes and perceptions that generally people have towards an issue like this?
It will genuinely make people think. Anything that is offensive sexually becomes sexual harassment. If you call someone hot or sexy or beautiful, a girl could find that offensive, or a guy could find that offensive. A work environment today is becoming unhealthy. People do stuff like that. There’s nothing being defined correctly. A man still thinks he can get away with that. A woman still keeps quite. While making the film, we did a lot of research and found that in some IT companies, they have 60 sexual harassment cases in a month. They have an in-house department to iron them out. Now, that’s healthy if there is some solution to it. At least you have something where people say, you can do something. So, I think the film will make people think and make them aware. The most interesting part of the film is the screenplay that spans over seven years. It’s about Rahul and Maya’s journey through these years. It’s a non-linear story so you keep going back and forth. That’s very exciting. You will not know who’s right and who’s wrong till the last scene in the film. It has very equal perspectives from a man’s point of view and a woman’s point of view. So, that would make the film entertaining, and I hope people connect to it. Also, if a film is based on sexual harassment, you’d instant think it’s an adult film, but it’s not an adult film. It’s got a U/A certificate and me as a father today of two girls, if my girls were 15-16 which they’re not, I would take them to see the film. To show them that if anything like that happens, it’s important to take a stand. These things need to be spoken.
People are raving about your unique pairing with Chitraganda Singh? How has it been working with her?
It is certainly a very unique and clean casting. She’s really beautiful and a fine actor. She’s worked very hard and acted very beautifully in the film. And it’s also very well written. Even my wife when she saw it, she said the chemistry between the two of you is very good. So, it’s nice that the pairing looks fresh.
One notices, that lately, you’ve been working with directors whose films have these complex characters and have a slightly dark side. Be it Madhur Bhandarkar, Prakash Jha or Sudhir Mishra…
I work with directors who see me differently. That’s what excites. That’s the surprise. I work for the surprise. And if a director can see me in different light and wants to put me in that kind of scenario and situation and has the belief in me, to give me that kind of a part then that’s the challenge and that’s exciting. I get bored very fast, that’s my biggest problem and may be my biggest plus point. You should feel like you’re on a different set. You can’t do similar things. Directors like Prakash Jha, Sudhir, Farah…all the director I’ve worked with in recent times, they have all seen a different side to me. And when they see how you work, they want to give you something different next time. For instance, from playing Prithvi in ‘Raajneeti’, I went on to play this tough cop in ‘Chakravyuh’ and now, in ‘Satyagraha’, Prakash has again given me this different character. I play this ruffian kind of a guy. And then, there’s Sudhir who wanted to bring out my sensitive side. He told me, I want to bring out the woman’s side of you (laughs).
Does it make you nervous when the audience starts expecting something from you?
It’s now happening that the audience is expecting a certain kind of work from me. I’ve consciously tried to make that happen and hopefully they should continue to do so. Hopefully, I’ll continue to entertain them and not let them down. To let someone down, to let audience down; that’s my fear, because you’re trying to do something different. People are investing money to do something different. But the biggest pressure is the day you say yes to a film, and it continues from that point. You have to be focused and you have to feel it through completely. The film I believe in, I can give it 3 months, 4 months of my life. I give it everything to bring it out to the audience. On Friday, you have to say bye to it, because then that’s for the audience to judge and except it. After that, it is destiny. It’s like sending your child to the boarding school. For me, as an actor, what I walk away on that Friday I think about how the experience was. If the experience is a good one and healthy one, you don’t feel that bad. Of course, you want all your movies to do well. Who doesn’t want that? Because that’s what you work for, you want people to like your work, you want that adulation and work. But for me, I think, the films I’ve done for the last few years have been quality films, they’ve been respectable. They’ll be films which I could watch even few years down the line and be proud of them. So, it’s important to make the right choice while choosing a film.
So, now you’ve got more conscious while choosing a film?
Yes, very conscious! That’s the toughest part. Choosing a film is the toughest part, but once you say yes, you give it all.
Today, the line between niche cinema, and out-and-out commercial cinema, is fading away. What’s your take on that, as an actor and a producer?
There’s an audience for everything. I believe, every film gets watched. Hopefully, people watch it on big screen. Or else, there’s satellite, or DVD. Most films get watched, because through social media and all, you come to know. A film that released two years back and someone’s talking about it now. But yes, you’re right! It’s a great period for us as actors, filmmakers, people who want to do all kinds of cinema. There’s an audience who’s gone larger and beyond a single screen or a multiplex. There’s no such divide now. It’s a great time for us.
2013 looks interesting for you as well. Tell us about your line-up of films…
I have Nikhil Advani’s ‘D-Day’, in July. It’s a thriller, with lots of action, so that was fun doing. There’s ‘Satyagraha’ which I think would release on August 15. Then, there’s another film that I’m doing with a new director called Sam Ahmed, which is titled ‘Villain’. I’ll start with that film once I’m done working on ‘Satyagraha’.
When not working, how do you spend your time?
I love to travel. Spend time with close friends, mostly at home only. I like to read. But I think travelling is the best way. The best is when my kids are on summer holidays, we go somewhere. I don’t take up any work at that time. That’s the time I completely de-stress. And even the gym, when you work out, that’s like a good de-stress every day. So, that’s what I like to do.
After achieving the kind of success you have, how much does success mean to you?
It means a lot. It means that I will get more opportunity to do something more than what I want. For anybody, success is being able to create more. Success is growth for me. I always look upon growth as…like my first unit had 50 people, today, when I work on a film, there’s a crew of 500 people. So, that many more people are getting employed because of that growth. That’s success for me, when more people can get employed if my film does well. For instance, I have my club Lap. If it’s doing well, I can open another branch, and that can employ more people. It’s about how many more people will grow with me. That’s why success is important to me.
Acting, producing and being a businessman. What do you love the most?
I’m the happiest when I’m in front of the camera. So, that’s what I love the most I think.
Do we see you produce another film soon?
For sure, I would concentrate on that, sometime soon. The thing is, right now, I’ve very good parts which I’m liking to play as an actor. If I produce, I’ll only have to concentrate on that and won’t be able to do anything else. I can’t multitask. So I rather concentrate on one thing at a time.
And would you be producing a film, similar to the kind of films you do as an actor?
Yes, of course. I still don’t understand when people categorise cinema as niche and commercial. For me cinema has always been big. The whole experience of watching a film on the theatre is big, so a film has to be like that. It must give you a nice theatre experience. So, I would love to may be produce a biopic or something. Or may be a unique subject or a larger-than-life film and at the same time keep it real.