It is no secret that Arjun Kapoor’s body, now structured around his abs, was once all a flab of 140 kilos. Back then if somebody had told him that one day he would be in Bollywood’s list of top actors, he would have probably guffawed at the absurdity of the statement. His tale from fat to fame goes back to the time he failed his 11th standard. “I flunked only because of mathematics. I passed everything else, but I just don’t understand numbers,” he honestly says.
At that juncture, the obese teenager decided to turn his back on the education system. And so, the luxury of having nothing constructive to do lead Kapoor to pursue his passion in filmmaking. He started working behind the camera and assisted in the making of Kal Ho Naa Ho, Salaam-E-Ishq, and two films with his father. “Practically being on set, being an assistant, and now living as an actor – these factors have comprised my education. But along the way I have been watching a lot of films, and that has been my primary education.”
Around this time, when he was flirting with a career in films and dating Salman Khan’s sister, Arpita Khan, Arjun developed a friendship with the philanthropist who is better known as the beloved actor for the masses. Walking down the passage of a thickening relationship together, the older actor inspired and motivated the then younger assistant director to live healthier. “When a Salman Khan says that he will make you lose weight, you want to ride on his conviction more than yours.”
While the beefed-up Khan may have been one reason to keep Kapoor continuing the healthy living, the ultimate goal was to ‘get laid’. “That was at the age when all your friends are suddenly getting action and you’re just sitting at home eating burgers.” With a change in his perception, four years later and 50 kilos lighter, he enrolled himself in Barry John’s acting classes. The rest, as they say is history.
Now that he is fit and can probably get almost any girl he fancies, you would think he throws his swag around with the ladies. Au contraire, he actually blushes as he denies this postulation and forgets the star-power he now owns. In his head he believes that his face is atypical to the orthodox, run-of-the-mill, hero-like appearances. “I used to think it would be an uphill task to convince the female population of the country that I’m decent looking. But after Ranveer Singh broke the convention in Band Baaja Baraat, it has kind of softened the crowd. The audience is showing an interest in seeing different faces on screen. I’ve been told that women find my smile interesting, the fact that I don’t shave is interesting because I look scruffy or that I’m the kind of guy you don’t take home to your mum but do other things with,” he hides a grin behind his cup of black coffee.
It must have taken a lot of adjusting to accept these flirty compliments. Back in the days, his teenage self was more reticent – that’s a widely recognised verity. Clubbing never excited him. “Even if I go to a nightclub, I stand in one corner with a drink and five friends. You’ll never see me trying to start a conversation with a girl.” In spite of being an inherent introvert, and sharing his thoughts to the effect of preferring to be stared at when in an assumed garb, instead of when he is in his real-life avatar, he can’t help but feel the warmth when swarmed by fans. “I am working hard for that recognition after all.”
I discovered his rather jovial style that didn’t let a good chance to take a jibe pass. It was a little bit of a surprise after hearing rumours about his aloof demeanour. “It (opening up to people) is getting better, not easier, but better. I don’t deny that. I’m still a little moody about certain things. Trying to create an illusion or perception of how I am is not something I believe in. It is unnecessary because I’m prey comfortable with the way I am; but it’s not like I just sit and don’t say anything to anyone. I’m much more welcoming and open to people in my life now.”
All this work suddenly seems redundant when you position him right in the middle of a circle made up of his core people; this self-confessed goofball suddenly jumps out of his inhibited cloak. “I like pulling their leg and cracking jokes…I’m a fun person around people with whom I’m comfortable.” Even as a child, he has always had this penchant to play clown to his peeps and his growth into becoming an actor has let this desire to entertain breathe. Meet him four or five times, and you just might be witness to the uninhibited Arjun.
CHOOSING HIS BATTLES
Now his jocular disposition may not exactly be loud either. It is as if placidity is what makes up his personality. Rarely does one remember him to have let out steam. “I didn’t lose my temper so much earlier. But now what has happened is that because I’m fatigued all the time, my mind gets tired and I can’t always control it – but I’m trying. And when I react, it’s at people who are my own.” Even then he would rather not. It is the confrontation bit that puts him in an awkward spot though. It’s not so much about him not wanting to fight his case; he just couldn’t be bothered trying to advocate his reasoning when you believe yours is a solid one. But pin him against the wall, and as he explains, “I’m boisterous enough to put my point forward, and vehement enough to argue it till eternity.” Even then, he is thankful that his arguments have never got down to an ugly screaming match. “First you must have a valid point. That’s where the true power is. But you must rationalise what you’re fighting for as well. Now if I’m fighting with my sister about something that’s not a big deal, and I know that eventually I have to live in the same house with her, I’ll make my peace.”
Even in the film circle, as is the nature of the paparazzi to add zest to any occurrence, Arjun hasn’t hit the headlines for having picked a bone with anyone from his workspace. His self-assurances keep him from being sucked into juvenile ego battles, and sharing screen space with actors “is just part of the job”. Since he and Varun Dhawan had enrolled in acting classes at the same time, he even looks forward to doing a movie with him; exuding the same excitement that he had when a script wanted to star him and the overtly animated Ranveer Singh together.
He has built his goodwill by being conscious about keeping his civilised side alive, being professional and sticking to commitments even if he is exhausted. He knows where he stands today, what makes and breaks reputations, and isn’t fazed by how individuals behave around him. “If I’m going to be grumpy and irritable about it, that’s not going to look nice. They’re not there because they love me. They’re just doing their job, just like I’m doing mine.” He believes in maintaining that level of compassion for everybody. “You have to be a human being around people. I’ve grown up in this profession, so I’ve seen tantrums being thrown, how they’re perceived, how they’re looked at and I find that repulsive and appalling. I can say I’ve learnt at a very young age.”
In spite of having found his foothold in the film industry as an actor with a skilfully capable future, Arjun hasn’t let go of the dream to one day direct his own movies. The bug to direct bit him a long time ago and that itch still burns ferociously. But at the moment his dreams are a far away eventuality with all focus on becoming a better actor as of the present moment. “When I direct, I won’t be acting in my film. I don’t think I see myself like that kind of a director.” Even now he conscientiously lets his hankering to direct rest, allowing his directors to do their job. “I don’t like to mix both those things because I’m very new in this profession. My desire is not to tell my director how to direct the film because that will not help either of us. It won’t help the film and it won’t help the performance.”
When you describe his life as a little bit of a struggle with his parents’ divorce, weight issues and mum’s demise, he stops you right there. His deduction of the word is that it holds a negative connotation. “I think mine has been a journey that has taught me a lot about myself, the ability to act, being someone you’re not in front of the camera, learning how to be that even off camera so you feel the world and the character. If you’re struggling, you become a martyr in your own head.” Just try and knock him down and his attitude is promising enough to let him get up again, never giving it up.
GETTING UNDER MANY SKINS
Since his launch in the industry, we have seen him do the gritty roles – Ishaqzaade, Gunday, Aurangazeb, we have seen him in an avatar closer to home – 2 States – and now we will see him as a dysfunctional person – Finding Fanny. “When you’re aspiring to be an actor, the idea, always, is to play different characters,” Kapoor says in his quintessential matter-of-fact way. As someone true to his profession, he isn’t looking to typecast himself into any label just yet. “I’m still very young and very new. I still am in a position where I can break all those myths about pigeonholing myself. I have had a chance to work in different ways. 2 States and Finding Fanny are cleaner, younger, fresher and edgy in their own way, different than my earlier three films. If my audience prefers to see me in certain roles, that obviously is a very positive thing. But it won’t stop me from taking a chance and doing roles that I’m not comfortable with because I think, as an actor, it is your duty to experiment. That’s the beauty of a creative profession.”
Like any other in his fraternity, if he reckons people will spend three hours of their lives to watch his script play out on the big screen, he will do it. Yet, before he signs any movie, he has his close circle ready to advise him when asked – his father Boney Kapoor, sister Anshula Kapoor, director and producer Aditya Chopra…. “I listen to everybody but take my own decision in the end. I’ve always been that sort of kid. I mean I wouldn’t want to turn around and blame anyone else for my failure or even success for that matter.” So, that being the case, kudos to him for making it to Bollywood’s list of top five actors to watch out for today.
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