Thursday, November 19, 2015

Arjun Kapoor

“My life has been an adventure in that sense – I’ve seen quite a few highs and lows”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the Diwali/anniversary issue of Super Cinema)

Three years in the movies, the rising popularity, lots of highs and a few disappointments later, Arjun Kapoor still has his head in the right place. He brought back qualities of raw and broody in a Hindi cinema hero with ‘Ishaqzaade’, but is just as fun-loving and vulnerable off-screen. While this year may not have been as great for him at the movies, with ‘Tevar’ not meeting expectations; he’s a happy man who keeps learning every day. Now just as he’s set to make his small-screen debut with ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’, this young Kapoor is a bundle of excitement as we talk about the show and other aspects of being an actor in this freewheeling chat…

Photo credit : Prasad Naik

Last year was great for you in terms of three very different films which did well. This year though, 'Tevar' fell short of expectations. But do you still look at it as a learning?
I didn’t plan anything, last year or this year. Whatever happened, was supposed to happen organically. The best part is, when you don’t plan things, you don’t mind seeing the results. It’s not like I had an expectation, that 2014 was great so 2015 has to be great too. For me the expectations are about trying to get better with each film which I do feel I am getting better. The box-office is not in my hand. But every year I am growing regardless of how the film does. Obviously a film not doing well affects you a little, emotionally, because you’ve put an effort but you learn from it. So, yes, I just look at it as another year of new learning for me.

Talking about new things, how excited are you about your new role - that of a host on 'Khatron Ke Khiladi'?
It’s definitely something which excited me tremendously. For me, it’s a cool, energetic, young show that allows me to be on a platform where I can connect with so many people. Here within a season I might connect with the number of people that I would after five-seven years with my films. And of course the show’s format - whenever I thought if I would do a show, I knew it would be something like ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’. And incidentally, that was the show offered to me!

Not to mention, the show will also give you a chance to be yourself unlike your films where you’re a character.
Which is great, isn’t it? Because at the end of the day, the audience should know the real you, so that they can differentiate between what you are and what your characters are. But, I don’t think it will be a bigger deal than hosting an award show. I got some great feedback when I hosted IIFA also, and I thought that was just a trailer of things to come from me, so I took it up. I think if I can do it live in front of so people for a couple of hours, then I’m sure that everyday I can come in front of the camera, be myself and enjoy that and hopefully people will enjoy it too.

How adventurous are you for real? And for me, being adventurous isn’t just about doing stunts…but also about how you deal with life in general…
My life has been an adventure in that sense – I’ve seen quite a few highs and lows. Everyone’s life has those roller-coaster moments. But it depends on how you look at it. I agree with you, that it’s not always about doing a stunt or something risky. Sometimes it’s also about traveling to a new country, meeting new people, living and trying new things, just having an open mindset. In that sense, I am an adventurous person to a point where I’m intrigued by the world, and I love the idea of going to new places that I’ve never been to. That for me is a very cool aspect of being an actor. The adventure also lies in just visiting a place which you don’t get to do very often. Being adventurous is not always about going to the extremes, it’s about enjoying the journey sometimes.

Do you think you’ve also been adventurous in terms of your film choices?
I’m an actor who got chosen for his first film, I didn’t choose it. So, since then I’ve never tried to follow the pattern. Even my first film might be a conventional film in terms of Romeo and Juliet but it wasn’t a conventional character, it had a lot of shades. Having said that, I don’t rate films as commercial, non-commercial, conventional or whatever. Anything that makes you wake up in the morning and show up on set, is good enough for you to say yes to. For me, a ‘Finding Fanny’ is as exciting as a ‘Gunday’, because both are on different spectrums and you get to live two different roles. My basic thought is that the world of the film should be exciting. Those are the reasons that should excite you, not the commerce because that you cannot predict.

Talking about your characters, somehow most of your roles so far have possessed that innocence or child-like vulnerability, despite having grey shades. Does that come from a part of your own personality?
I hope so, because every character will have some essence of you, eventhough you might not be exactly like that. No actor can turn around and say that there’s nothing of them in the characters they play. Whether, it’s your eyes, vulnerability or anger, certain facets of you subconsciously come in. The innocence that you’re talking about might be there because it’s inherently in my personality. But I guess the material and the performance add to it. The same innocence might not come to the forefront if the character is not well-written. I think eventually, it comes down more to the film you’re doing. For example, in ‘Ishaqzaade’, that boy was innocent, because he himself wasn’t realising that what he’s doing is so wrong. He was like a child, just trying to get attention. When it comes to a ‘2 States’ also, he’s vulnerable because he’s seen so many things in life. There’s innocence in the material itself. So I think somewhere it stems more from the characters.

And you also love underplaying?
Yes, I don’t tend to overplay my performances. I think the way to connect with your audience should be through your eyes!

When you’re in the public eye, so many people will have different perceptions about you. How do you not let that affect who you really are?
Anything written or spoken is all from a third person perspective. Eventually, you just have to truly know yourself. If you know yourself, then what people say about you, won’t affect you after a point. But I understand what you’re saying. You feel emotional momentarily but it can never hold you back or make you feel down for too long. A third person’s opinion cannot really bog you down or change you as a person, whether it’s positive or negative. You also cannot get the love that you get from people go in your head, because you’re loved for a reason so you should be yourself. It’s difficult sometimes, but you need a good foundation for it. You need people around to keep you grounded. May be in my case I’m fortunate that I’ve grown up in the industry, so I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, and seen people change with time, so that kind of helps you to not get caught up in the web because it all changes Friday to Friday.

Is that why most actors today come across as probably more real or accessible? Also, do you think that whole idea of stardom has changed with time?
In the past eras, just once in a while you got to see stars or got a glimpse of them. Today, barring going to the bathroom, people know everything that’s happening in an actor’s life We’re accessible, available and that’s what even the audience appreciates. We’re their friends. In today’s day and age, we’re not quintessentially the stars that descend once in a while, we’re just regular people. That evolution has happened, thanks to the social media, television, media. And that’s because of a cultural change also. Now people don’t like younger people who behave like prima donnas and are arrogant. Now it’s a more simplified state that people want to see the real you. They don’t want to see some starry behaviourial tantrums. Also, while social media is a great way to connect to people, it doesn’t reflect your stardom. If you start believing that the number of followers on Twitter equates to stardom, or will translate in every film you do, then that’s silly. It doesn’t translate at the box-office. So, that bubble should not exist.

Lastly, tell me something about your next, R. Balki’s ‘Ki And Ka’.

It’s a sweet, romantic comedy that deals with today’s relationships. It’s about a married couple who has their own ups and downs. The film deals with role reversal, where the house is run by a man and the woman goes out to work. With Balki sir’s interpretation, it should be interesting for the audience. I’ve just completed that. When one journey ends, another begins, so now I’ll start with ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’ and I’m nervous. I feel like it’s my debut again because television is a new format. I will have to put in effort to make sure I remain myself all through and entertain people. 

Sonam Kapoor

“For me, the most gratifying is not the accolades that come with good work; it’s the work itself”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the November 14, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

Last week, when we met Sonam Kapoor, we caught up with her in a jiffy, right before she was off to Delhi. This time around though, our tête-à-tête was a lot more candid and in-depth, in her vanity van at Mehboob studio, after a long day promotional activities. Dressed in an ethnic, red-and-green Gaurang Shah outfit, she was in her graceful ‘Maithili’ avatar from her latest release. Presenting part two of our interview with the actress where she discusses the intricacies of her craft, and defies the popular notion of being a star kid…

In-between movies, why do you go into your shell, slightly away from the media sometimes?
I am not great at PR. I am too forthright and people take it in the wrong way. My PR is instructed that there should be no negative story to be put out about anyone, or there should be no stories about me that aren’t real. I don’t think it’s necessary because fortunately for me I am in the news most times for some reason. I do covers or photoshoots because I enjoy it. Also, I am on social media so people just pick that up as well. But I have to cut off from the media when I’m shooting.

Is that also because you’re always doing workshops before every film?
Yes, my process for each film is quite similar. I do a lot of workshops, I sit with an acting coach, I memorise everything. Anything you want to be good at, is difficult. I sit with the director, do back-stories, my script is filled with post-its and notes, so yes there’s a lot of hard work. But people don’t realise the hard work that goes in. Even during ‘Raanjhanaa’, people thought it must be easy for me. But it’s never really easy.

Do you ever think about the perception that the audience has about you?
I think they start believing I’m my character. This happened after ‘Aisha’. They thought I am that character and it wasn’t true. I am nothing like her. I don’t speak like her, I don’t dress like her, my life isn’t about getting married. People think I’m spending my dad’s money and that’s not true. I have never actually done that. Then I did ‘Khoobsurat’ and people started thinking that I’m Mili. Despite some of my good performances like ‘Saawariya’, ‘Delhi 6’, ‘I Hate Luv Storys’, people didn’t really remember, most of my roles, but with ‘Raanjhaana’, things started changing.  When I play really simple roles without any make-up or without too much happening people think that she can act. So, this is the misconceived notion of it. But strangely, I thought that would happen with ‘Khoobsurat’ where people would think she’s playing herself but they loved it. So, eventually, I realised that I have to find a balance because – there’s a certain persona I have, off-screen, and then there’s a certain way where people like me on-screen. My directors see my as this simple girl. It’s very strange, but the media perception, the industry perception and the public perception, it’s all very different about me.

Sometimes, does it bother that despite putting in so much effort in each film, your fashion sense is more of a talking point than your performances?
What do you do, it’s the nature of the industry? One thing is very clear with everyone is that I’m very straight-forward. So they might have all these ideas about who I am and what I am, but then it is about being yourself. Maybe it’s my own fault, because I love dressing up, going out, having a good time, I’m very friendly with the media. They’re not negative about me at all. And what can they even talk about? I don’t even open up about my personal life, so they talk about my fashion. There’s nothing controversial that is happening in my life. All that has been spoken about me, apart from my films is my fashion. So, both have got equal weightage and sometimes fashion has got a better weightage because some of my films didn’t do well.

Which has been the most fulfilling role so far?
‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’ has been the most happy time of my life. But ‘Neerja Bhanot’ has been the most fulfilling and creatively satisfying. Eventhough it was just for 30 days, I had to push myself really hard for it. At this point, I can only hope people think it’s effortless. I think for me, my job is done when I finish a film. I had a couple of kids coming to take pictures with me today and they called me Aisha. Sometimes people call me Mili or Masakkali. So when that happens, I feel so good. I feel I did my job well. When people see me as my character as opposed to Sonam, I feel good.

That must be the most gratifying…
Yes, but, right now, I’ve realised that for me, the most gratifying is not the accolades that come with good work but it’s the work itself. Once I finish one film, I want to go back to doing another. Promotion is the most stressful part of it. I hate it. For me, all this is lovely, but being on set is the happiest time – just working, saying my lines, creating a chemistry with my all my co-actors, having some sort of give and take. I love that. The promotional bit is something I don’t understand. But my dad used to always say that, ‘don’t think about what is happening, or going to happen. Just live in the present.’ So, I follow that. And Salim uncle said something very nice to Salman that he was talking about recently. He said that, ‘For 25 years there was this man who was on stage and he had to say one line -can I have a cup of tea? Everyone used to laugh at this line. One day everyone stopped laughing, so the actor asks his director that why is it that people have stopped laughing. He said, because now you’re waiting for the laughter, you’re not actually asking for a cup of tea.’

You mean the focus can shift sometimes?
Not just sometimes, but always. So I realise that if I would always think about people’s reaction then I wouldn’t have made the choices I made. As soon as I started making those decisions to just do good work, my life started changing, because, I wasn’t waiting for people to appreciate me. Appreciation starts coming on its own. People will write about you or talk about you when there’s something to talk about. So the idea is to let it happen organically.

How have you managed to carve your own path despite the popular notion that you’re a star-kid and everything just fell into your lap?
It’s true that things come easy for us. But I had to audition, even for my first film. The only benefit of being a star-kid is that people respect your father and they will not misbehave with you or take you for granted. Otherwise this is movie-business, it’s all about money. If your name is on the marquee, you have to make sure you get the audience in, otherwise nobody is going to give you the job. Their money is riding on you. They are not going to put money in someone else’s child. All the producers or film-makers I’ve worked with, have never worked with my father.

So does the criticism, or the social media hullabaloo…ever bog you down?
I’m just a happy person. I get stressed out and hyper, but I don’t get low. I’m very positive, I always look at the glass as half full as opposed to half empty. It’s always better that way. Whether my films work, don’t work, whether my relationships work, don’t work; whether my life is working or not – be it any of those things, it’s so important to be positive and know that whatever happens, happens for a good reason. And if you’re a good person, you know what you’re doing is right, you can sleep well at night, nothing can bog you down. I don’t think I’ve done anything like that, because I’ve always tried my best.

Friday, November 13, 2015

“You need to live a normal life to be a good actor”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the Diwali/Anniversary issue of Super Cinema, dated - November 15, 2015)

He breaks conventions by debuting with a film based on sperm donation. The irony is, he loves those conventional ‘naach-gaana-maar-dhaad’ filled Hindi films equally. One look at him, and he might come across as just another regular guy…but the next minute you realise that it’s his natural charm and effortless acting prowess which makes him click. At heart though, he is a simpleton, and that’s what makes Ayushmann Khurrana stand out in the crowd. In this candid chat, the actor-singer talks about all things filmy!

Photo credit: Jay Samuel
How different is your new single ‘Yahin Hoon Main’ from your previous ones?
Well, for starters, this one is not in Punjabi. But it’s been a lot of fun doing it. It shall see me collaborating with Yaami Gautam yet again after ‘Vicky Donor’. So hope people like it.

‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ has been one of the most-appreciated films this year, so far. How does that feel and what do you think worked for it?
It feels great that people are still appreciating it even when they see it on television. It was a one-of-its-kind film in terms of its milieu with the backdrop of the 90s, and was still very progressive. It was an unusual YRF film because it was without any gloss and chiffon sarees. Real cinema is the in-thing and ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ wasn’t just real, it was also entertaining, so I feel that worked!

Do you have this streak of doing things differently, or just being different always? That sort of reflected right from the choice of your debut film.
I was always different, nobody in my batch expected that I would be a hero in the industry, because I was this silent kid in the class with braces and glasses. But I was always interested in theatre and music. I was the co-curricular captain in school. And yes, I also started with an unconventional film. We live in a day and age where there are actors coming out every day, so it’s difficult to build space for yourself. In these three years I’ve managed to give two really different and unconventional hits like ‘Vicky Donor’ and ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ so I feel fortunate. Having said that, I’ve always been a fan of the conventional Hindi cinema. I love those song-and-dance, strictly commercial films and to gratify that need of mine, we had that quintessential 90s song even in ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’.

When you write lyrics or compose music, it might be largely influenced by your own personality. Does that change when you act?
I think every art form you do is an extension of your personality. Even with the director, their films are a reflection of their own personality. I believe even actors put in their own individuality in their characters somehow. Every person gives his own heart and soul, his own touch to every character. For instance, in ‘Dum Laga Ke haisha’, I drew references from my real life. I’ve grown in a relatively small city and I’ve seen people who have problems in English. Or in case of ‘Vicky Donor’, just being a Punjabi really helped.

Despite some not-so-successful films, there’s not been a dip in your popularity, especially among the youth. The advent of social media, further fuels that. How do you see it?
You cannot really ignore the youth, because the majority of population in this country is that of the young. It’s the youngest country and the average age of the population is 28 or 29. So if you tap that segment, half your job is done. I am fortunate that I started with a youth channel and I’ve build it up pretty well for myself. I’ve been active on social media as well and my tweets reflect my personality. I don’t use social media just for my film promotions. Your personality should reflect well on social media, that’s very important. People should see the real you, not the celebrity you. I think I use social media as a platform for people to know me better unlike other people who might be there for just promoting themselves or their films.

Your sense of humour or positive energy is on display most often, even in your tweets, but all of us have our dull moments as well right?
Of course! But I’ve always tried to maintain a decorum – that is to not get over-excited by success or devastated by failure. But I’m human, I do get upset. The time between ‘Hawaaizaada’ and ‘Dum Laga..’, those 27 days were really nerve-wrecking. I remember even speaking to Aditya Chopra if it was a good time to release ‘Dum Laga..’. But I think it worked for me. In fact, it made people forget ‘Hawaaizaada’.  But it was a tough phase and I’m glad it only lasted for 27 days.

Are you also very ambitious?
I’m very ambitious, when I play that character, but otherwise you cannot always be ambitious, because you need to live a normal life to be a good actor. If someone says I’m passionate about acting, and I want to act 24/7, I think that person cannot be an actor, because you have to live that real life to get those real life references. To act naturally, you need to be real. And to be real, you have to behave normally. So there are times when I prefer being with people who are not from the industry, like my friends who are doctors or architects. I spend time with my family, or probably go watch a play, attend musical get-togethers. Sometimes, those things are far more interesting and evolving.

Talking about evolving, and being called multi-talented…how do you really gauge your own growth?
I don’t think you have to be multi-talented to multi-task. It’s the other way round. You have to multi-task to handle the talents you have. So sometimes I feel, it would be simpler if you just had one talent and concentrated just on that. Which is why, as of now, I just want to concentrate on being an actor. Oh, and also a singer (laughs). As far as the growth is concerned, I still feel that I have a long way to go as an actor. I want to do real roles but I also want to do those typical commercial films. I want to learn action, be versatile. It’s an ongoing process. You learn with each film, and I’m still learning! 

Richa Chadda

“Bollywood is still a very imaginary landscape for me”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the Diwali/Anniversary issue of Super Cinema dated, November 7, 2015)

If one had to define Richa Chadda in one word, one could probably call her ‘gutsy’. That stems from her choices and also what you take back about her after a rendezvous. She calls a spade a spade and isn’t scared of being herself. On the parallel side though, she’s also a vulnerable, sensitive girl at heart. With her hair let loose, dressed in a white t-shirt clubbed with denims and just a hint of make-up, Richa comfortably settles down as we have this freewheeling chat.

When you’re doing layered characters like in ‘Main Aur Charles’ or ‘Masaan’ especially, isn’t it difficult to deal with them emotionally?
That’s why I don’t do method acting. I’m very sensitive, so if I do that, then every film I do will leave me crazy. What if someday I have to play a murderer? I’d read that Danial Day-Lewis was working in a butcher shop for six months to prepare for ‘Gangs Of New York’. I would puke at that thought but that’s how real he wanted to get! For me, I work on instincts and spontaneity. But it takes a toll on you. After ‘Masaan’ I had to write a whole blog post, about detaching from the film. I was so irritated with the character because she couldn’t speak up and I’m a very vocal person. At that time, it was difficult for me but when the film was releasing and the process was ending, that’s when I realised that I was so involved with that character – her job, her father, her little house, clothes, backpack. You don’t realise it when you’re shooting, but eventually, you give a part of you to every part you play.

What is it that reflects such unique choices?
It seems unique here, but if you see globally, actors all over the world explore themselves. I’ve been lucky, that I’ve been in this industry and had the opportunity to explore myself like that, with films like ‘Gangs Of Wasseypur’, ‘Fukrey’, or ‘Masaan’.

But sometimes is it challenging to take the less popular road?
It has been a struggle, because you have to keep working, you have to make money and you have to be seen, but at some stage, you think should I even do this? It’s not like I’m averse to formulaic song-and-dance films. I’m doing a film called ‘Cabaret’. But I have a problem with being used as a prop in a film. That I don’t think I can do, and if someone gives me that then it’s a waste of my caliber. People will be like, you have 20 days free, do two songs, ten scenes and the film will get over. I cannot do that. But when I do a film like ‘Masaan’, I know that even 15-20 years down the line, I’ll be proud of the work I’m doing. It won’t be dependent on the weekend opening collections that you later forget about.

The good part is that you’ve got critical acclaim for most of your performances. You still don’t think of yourself as a star though…
In fact, my first review for ‘Masaan’ was bad – they openly said, ‘Oh she’s so terrible’. So, to each their own! But I’m trying not to get complacent, more than ever, because it’s so easy to get lazy. I have to keep improving each time because otherwise there’s no fun also. I think I have managed to stay grounded because I don’t take any of this too seriously. I don’t think I’m a star or I’ve accomplished a lot. When I sit in my apartment and see Shah Rukh Khan or Deepika Padukone on TV, I feel they’re big stars. And here I am, involved in my daily ramblings with my driver, hair-dresser and doing so many other things. There’s no time to think, ‘wow I’m so cool’ (laughs).

 So you’ve managed to stay out of the bubble?
I manage to act while leading a normal life. I am from a middle-class, educated, academic family. There’s no way they’re going to call me and say, ‘ab toh tum star ho.’ They’re still going to call me for those little things. There’s no opportunity to live in that bubble. I have experienced people close to me who have been engulfed by the bubble and who start believing they’re big stars. See, tomorrow if I start believing that I’m bholi punjaban and not Richa, and you walk into the room and I treat you like that, it won’t work. It means I’m taking my on-screen persona a little too seriously. Also, it’s risky to do so, because someday it will all end. So, to not limit myself in the bubble, I read a lot of news, read about different cultures, animals, politics and form an opinion. Even though, sometimes when you have an opinion on something, people tell you to put on a lipstick and shut up. That’s partly because I’m an actress. I think lots of people who you meet today will surely be grounded except may be some star kids. For me, a star kid is a completely different phenomenon.

Why do you feel so?
Because star kids are people who’ve grown up knowing that a Friday is something different. I’ve also tweeted about my life changing on a Friday because my life literally changed on a Friday. But does it mean that my life will change every Friday? No. Does it mean that someone else’s film is releasing on a Friday, so my life is changing and I’m crumbling? No. That’s what I mean. I don’t have this whole machinery around me to tell me it’s Friday, and what’s happening with someone else’s film. Also most star kids grow up in a filmy background and have friends from the industry. On the other hand, I mostly have friends outside the industry. Bollywood is still a very imaginary landscape for me in that sense.

And how do you see your growth in this imaginary landscape?
Finally I’ve come to a point where I’m more disciplined than ever before. I’m really working on making my craft better. So now I feel bad for directors who I’ve worked with in the past, because people working with me now are getting so much more. It’s more collaborative now. For instance, now I’m working with Pooja Bhatt, and I’ll see how she’s scripting, so meanwhile I’ll do something else. Or suggest that we could club two locations. So, it’s not like I’ve suddenly become a production assistant, just that I know so much better now. Earlier I was a dear in headlights. Now I’m more involved and it’s also important because film-making is such an expensive art form.

Your next film is ‘Cabaret’. How’s the experience been so far?
It’s great fun and I hope people are not terrified of watching me in a song and dance film. They shouldn’t say why is an art-film heroine doing ‘Cabaret’? But it’s challenging. For instance, during one of the shoots, I was wearing a wig, false lenses, lashes, heels and tight costume. Despite all this, you have to be in that zone and dance when the camera rolls. So, anyone who has ever judged an item girl or an actress for dancing really needs to re-access because it’s a difficult job.