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Cover Story
November 27, 2017

“I Am Still Figuring Out Who Shahid Kapoor Is”

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographed by Rohan Shrestha. Styling by Shweta Navandar. Assisted by Ojas Kolvankar. Make-Up by Gladwin James. Hair by Team Hakim’s Aalim. Location Courtesy: JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu

The experimental actor indulges in a freewheeling conversation — on movies, marriage and Misha

Years ago, I had spoken to him for an interaction with Verve. Ever since, I have watched him grow from strength to strength with some arresting performances in out-of-the-box projects on the silver screen. So, it is with a huge degree of interest that I wait for him in the lobby of the JW Marriott Mumbai in Juhu, keen to catch up with the chocolate hero who has matured into a thinking actor-star. Shahid Kapoor (formerly Kapur) walks in quietly — his manager and retinue in tow, and, still caught up with the last-minute shooting schedule of the December release, Padmavati — instantly gets down to the business at hand.

The actor, who is poised to play Maharawal Ratan Singh in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s mega-drama, is known for his attention to detail and penchant for perfection. As the hours roll on, I — along with my team — am witness to his concentrated focus, even as music blares from the iPod and we indulge in small talk in between shots and changes. Kapoor stays in the zone, till the last frame is captured.

And, after we call it a wrap and leave the venue after hours of intense work, I bump into him and his always helpful Girl Friday Akanksha outside the hotel — he calls out to me, to exchange pleasantries. Those few moments prove fruitful for my young colleague, who pulls out a treasured paper with his autograph on it — taken a decade ago and saved with the diligent adoration of a fan. Touched, he obliges her with a quick selfie, and we depart in our different directions.

Kapoor dives back into his sets and shoots, and I get occupied with the daily routine of work, till it is time to connect once more and complete the unfinished conversation. So, early one morning, before he gets into Padmavati mode, morphing into his reel avatar, Kapoor rewinds to some moments that have made him the man and actor we have watched over the years. Excerpts from the conversation:

“My journey is reflective of my state of mind.”
As far as my growth is concerned, I don’t want to use the word ‘mature’. My choice of films is indicative of my intent, the work that drives me, the kind of cinema that inspires or excites me, the kind that I want to participate in. So, the work I do will always indicate my mind space at that particular moment in time.

“How many times am I supposed to turn?”
I’m hearing the phrase ‘turning point’ after a long time! Most people told me that moment was when I did my first ad; I heard it again when I did my first film. Then there was no turning point for some time for I was doing such bad movies. Later, I heard the phrase at different times when Vivah (2006), Jab We Met (2007) and Kaminey (2009) happened and a few years later with Udta Punjab (2016) — and now with Padmavati. I think I’ve named all my significant movies.

“I faced many challenges in Padmavati.”
For me, it was a leap of faith to do a film with a team that has worked together before and been highly successful. When Sanjay Sir (Leela Bhansali) met me, I asked him ‘Do you think this is worth my time?’ He answered, ‘Do you think I would have asked you if it wasn’t?’ I am in awe of him, for he has been relevant as a filmmaker for over 30 years. I told him that if he wanted me to do it, I would. And that was it. Beyond that, the journey of the film has been magical — extremely challenging, but also extremely magical!

“Intense films sap you of your energy.”
I don’t think I carry work home, but my wife sometimes tells me I do. When you do films that are pretty taxing and demanding, they take a toll on your personal life. When you reach home, you don’t have much energy — and can only eat and pass out. My job is all about passion; if something excites me, I do it. I don’t see the ramifications. But, honestly now, after getting married and having Misha, the awareness of the intensity has become much stronger in my mind. Earlier, I was doing my own thing; I wasn’t sacrificing anything substantial to be on the set. Now, I feel that if I’m sacrificing time with my family, it has to be worth my while.

“I am not like any of my characters.”
I’m very simple, and at the same time very complex. My nature is layered. I don’t think there’s been any character which has been similar to my real nature, even though I have given a part of myself to every character. Tommy Singh of Udta Punjab was nothing like what I am. I’ve never done drugs in my life, I’m a vegetarian, I’m a teetotaller, I’m decently disciplined as a person, I like being healthy. I’m basically humble. Tommy Singh had none of these qualities. Though he was obviously the farthest from anything that I am, I don’t think there’s any character that’s close to who I am. Maybe someone can someday write a book about me.

“I don’t take brickbats or bouquets seriously.”
If you want to be here for 25-30 years, you must have a really thick skin. There is no balance in the industry. If you’re good, you’re God. If you’re bad, you’re scum. So you should just keep on doing, what you are doing. If it works, it’s mind-blowing. If not, who cares? My focus is on the craft. Sometimes it’s not in proportion to my efforts, but I believe in the larger scheme of things, it comes back to you. Eventually, the credibility you gain becomes a part of the janta’s subconscious.

“When you have an attention for detail, you just have it!”
You’ve seen me in my work space; I’m a very different person at home, otherwise I would have gone mad! When you have an eye for detail, you just have it. You notice things that others do not focus on. It’s not a disease, it’s a problem. So the biggest journey as an actor is to let it go. Of course, I leave things to the director. But in every film, the journey is different. For instance, in Padmavati, I know the man I’m working with knows way more than I do. So it’s a process of submission, to give him what he wants from me, and to learn from him. But some films are collaborative, when you’re working with people of the same age, with the same experience, who you can chat and share perspectives with. Then there are movies where you feel that you’re the most experienced on set, so you feel a greater sense of responsibility to let people know. But if a star says something, it’s a big deal. Therefore you must never be overbearing. You have to learn to agree to disagree, and you have to learn to believe in other people’s ideas.

“There are those who are actors and those who are stars; some are both.”
There are actors who are popular and trying to discover themselves as actors. That is the best combination. I’m trying to excel at the ‘actor’ part, because I think the ‘star’ part is a by-product. I don’t know anyone who can sit down and answer the question, ‘How do you become a star?’ You can tell someone how to be an actor. Acting is often in your blood, but you can also hone that skill. Being a star is something that is either inherently in you or not — it’s related to your destiny. I don’t think there are any physical, mental or emotional attributes that make you a star.

“Acting is not as difficult as direction.”
Direction is a damn difficult job! As a filmmaker you’re literally managing everyone on set. You’re at the helm of things, there’s so much to handle and you are dependent on people for everything. As an actor, I know I can depend on myself to perform, but as a filmmaker, I would be dependent on the entire team. You shouldn’t consider being a filmmaker till you have a story worth telling and not just do it to add to your box of achievements. I would do it when I felt I had the undying need to tell a story which I feel I would really want to tell. Right now it’s not on my mind.

“I have become domesticated.”
The way marriage and parenthood have changed me can fill a book. Today, the two most important and relevant people in my life are both female. I have gained a lot of respect for women, not that I didn’t have it earlier. I was raised largely by a single mother (Neelima Azeem). Marriage and parenthood are enriching. I remember chatting with Farhan (Akhtar) when Mira was pregnant. I asked him what it was like to have kids. He smiled and said, ‘You will only know when you get there.’ I can totally understand why he said that, it’s very difficult to explain the feeling. It’s a huge change, because you’re not your own priority anymore. You don’t think of yourself first. As an actor you are so self-absorbed, everything is ‘my’ this or ‘my’ that. Suddenly that feeling disappears, and it feels so liberating. I’m an extremely emotional dad. I can’t control my emotions when it comes to Misha, my daughter, and I know that’s going to be a problem in the coming years because I’m not going to be able to be very logical or practical about her.

“I’m restricted by the roles that come to me.”
I find it very tiring to keep convincing filmmakers that I’m right for the role. I don’t understand why most filmmakers try to cast someone who looks like the character. I wonder what is so exciting about that. What I loved about Vishal Bharadwaj was that he took the actor who did Jab We Met and turned him into the guy in Kaminey. He saw how he would be able to reinvent a face and a personality. What’s most exciting to me is how I can change my silhouette and surprise people. The difficult part is to convince people that I can. And my hands are tied unless I get something with which I can break my shackles and do something spectacular or different or shocking or difficult. That is my biggest struggle.

“I need to give people visual satisfaction whenever I get the opportunity.”
My job is to make people happy. If I’m on the cover of a magazine, someone should look at it and say ‘Hey, nice!’ and not ‘Oh, not another magazine’. It’s not about being narcissistic. It is like when you are meeting some important people in office, you need to be well turned out. And today your appearance is a big part of how people perceive you. Through Instagram and other social media, it is a representation of who you are. So it’s important to do it correctly.

“I am still figuring out who Shahid Kapoor is.”
I’m very simple at heart. I’m an emotional being who has a very logical side to him. This causes a lot of confusion because people can’t understand which one they’re dealing with at times! The only way to rein my emotionality is to be able to create a structure; otherwise I’ll just be all over the place. Also, I have an overbearing need to do the right thing; I can’t fight it. I believe very strongly in God. My first priority in life is God’s realisation, and everything else comes after that. And, I’m a fighter. Every time I’m down, I manage to come back up. That’s how I have been made.

With inputs from Huzan Tata

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