If you’ll indulge me a bit: When a journalist makes that all-important call to an actor to learn more about his latest film, the interview follows a certain pattern: Questions about the film, the plot and why we should watch it are thrown at the principal actors.
In response, the hero makes all the right noises, makes his project sound like the best invention since the iPhone and lavishly uses (or should I say abuses) the word ‘different’.
My interview over the phone with actor Arjun Kapoor, who stars in crime saga ‘Aurangzeb’ out this Thursday in the UAE, followed that predictable course.
The one-film-old star started by saying director Atul Sabharwal’s ‘Aurangzeb’ is not Bollywood’s answer to ‘The Godfather’ (he finds that idea sacrilegious) and that his latest family crime drama set in Gurgaon in north India is filled with action, twists, confrontations between gangsters and cops and ‘full-on dialoguebaazi’ (one-liners that pack a punch).
But five minutes into the conversation, Kapoor suddenly announced: “Watch out, the drama king of all-time has just arrived into the Yash Raj Studio”.
Before we knew it actor Ranvir Singh — who is currently working with Kapoor in the project ‘Gunday’ — grabbed the phone and declared: “Hi, this is Ranvir Singh. Arjun Kapoor is a mind-blowing actor. ‘Aurangzeb’ is a mind-blowing film.” Kapoor then came back on the line.
“Wow! Ranvir just finished his workout. He just came, grabbed my phone and has now run off,” said Kapoor. barely masking his fondness for the actor.
Such camaraderie between actors belonging to the same league is rare. If you have been a follower of celebrity gossip, then you will realise that something as trivial a question like ‘who is your favourite star?’ will elicit responses about idols belonging to a different generation.
For instance, ask a Deepika Padukone or a Katrina Kaif on who their favourite Bollywood actor of their time is and they would inevitably name their seniors such as Madhuri Dixit or Sridevi. Acknowledging your own contemporary is akin to extracting their gleaming teeth, it seems.
But Kapoor said such camaraderie is all about attitude.
“I am not overly competitive like most of them. I look at actors for inspiration. I try to better myself as an actor rather than trying to put them down,” he said, adding that he felt lucky a production house such as Yash Raj Films had the faith in him.
Such token quotes are expected from rising stars but what we didn’t expect was a voice booming on the other end of the line which went: ‘blah, blah, blah … blah, blah, blah’. Clearly, Singh was on a runner’s high after his workout.
But this time around, I was more prepared for the second hijack of the day.
“Where are you calling from, ma’am?,” asked Singh, back on the line.
The moment I said that I was calling from Dubai, the actor, once crowned Bollywood’s next big thing, exclaimed in a high pitch: “I love Dubai, Everybody knows I love Dubai. Why don’t I give Arjun a break and let me talk about [him].”
Something told me fighting this enthusiasm was going to be futile.
“Let me tell you, he is in the best shape of his life. His six-packs are almost hopping out of the screen. I like his hair-cut in Aurangzeb, it’s different. I like it,” continued Singh.
He repeated his observations, just in case it didn’t register. And he was leaving no stone unturned to drive home his point.
“He is looking good. I am interacting with lots of people in the film industry, all of them are saying that Arjun’s intensity is scorching and it’s palpable.”
“You know what I love about him? He does it all and he’s so cool about it. He never goes about this swagger which says I have do so much hard-work. He’s so good looking but such a sweet person. You have see his performance in ‘Aurangzeb’ and all the things I said will make sense. It’s a tough film, it’s not easy to play two guys in one film. Imagine playing two different guys in one film, switching body language. But people are loving the promos, posters and trailers,” Kapoor, if you haven’t figured it out, plays a double role in the film, on the run from south Indian idol Prithviraj’s character of an idealistic cop.
Any attempt to interrupt his monologue was ignored until I managed to ask him about the women in Kapoor’s life.
“Oh, now we are talking. So that’s the subject that we really want to talk about,” said Singh teasing. “That’s the subject we really want to talk about. But he will punch me so hard that I will go flying out of the first floor of Yash Raj [Studios]. So before he thrashes me with his humongous muscles, it was lovely talking to you Manjuji.”
He repeated my name at least four times before signing off: “Please catch ‘Aurangzeb’ and say wonderful things about my baba.”
The whole episode was surreal, to say the least, even after having done this for quite a while. And since Singh had taken up most of our 10-minute interview slot with Kapoor, there was not much the lead hero could add.
“Nobody knows what trip he is on but I hope you got a double bonanza.”
Aurangzeb releases in the UAE on May 16.
Prithviraj on his role in Aurangzeb
‘Aurangzeb’ is a big one for south Indian superstar Prithviraj. This crime drama about gangster clans and cops is a far cry from his debut Hindi film ‘Aiyyaa’. In the latter, all he was asked to do was to look sexy and brooding. But in ‘Aurangzeb’, he plays a police officer Aarya on a quest for a crime-free city.
“Playing a cop is right up my alley. This film is intense where performances and drama is important. I am used to doing that. What I am not used to was what I did in ‘Aiyyaa’,” said Prithviraj.
The star of over 70 south Indian films played second fiddle to leading lady Rani Mukherji in his previous Hindi film. But for his second feature, there’s more scope for acting.
“Since I play a north Indian cop, I had to get the accent and diction right. For that, I worked with a diction tutor called Vikas Kumar for six months. He spent a lot of time with me and was present during the shoots. I hope it has paid off,” said Prithviraj.
For the first time in his blockbuster-laden career, he said he attended acting workshops.
“When Yash Raj told me that they are conducting an ‘Aurangzeb’ workshop, I was curious to know what they did in them. I don’t know how they helped in my performance but it broke ice among actors. We were all strangers the first day and in one week, we were on first name basis.”
Ask him about the significance of the title and Prithviraj says the title – which was a name of a Mughal emperor – could apply to his character Arya or to Arjun Kapoor’s character Vishal.
“Aurangzeb was an emperor who gained notoriety when he turned against his own family to gain power. So our tagline, ‘kingship knows no kinship’, will tell you the path our characters will take in the film. I can’t think of a better title,” said Prithviraj.
He cautions us not to expect a typical Bollywood cop.
“The film is real. It’s set in Gurgaon [in north India] where megalomania and struggle for power plays out.”