Bollywood actors Arjun Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor (not related) look picture-perfect as a couple in their latest romance, Half Girlfriend, but things weren’t so hunky dory while they were growing up.
“I was too overweight to be a Casanova,” said Arjun in an interview with Gulf News tabloid! during a press junket in Dubai to promote the film, a tale of a young couple from different social strata navigating the treacherous road to discovering each other.
Arjun’s fat-to-fit transformation is the stuff of Bollywood folklore. The son of prolific producer-director Boney Kapoor and step-son to actress Sri Devi hit the gym in earnest while he was 22 and shed 50 kilos before his film debut in the hit Ishaqzaade.
“I was not confident enough to speak to the opposite sex for most for my life. Actually, what happens to most people between the ages of 17 to 24 — like falling for a girl, finding out what heartbreak is and what inhibitions [are] during a crush or the physical elements of a relationship — were unknown to me,” he said. But his days of being a diffident boy in high school are a thing of the past. He claims he’s experienced the triumphs and trials of a relationship after he became an actor and courted fame in his twenties.
“Before I was just so conscious and was so caught up in trying to be a better physical specimen. It was unfortunate but that was the case with me. But I have had my heart broken... I have also heard all the Bollywood songs and cried to my heart’s content,” said Arjun. His go-to song from his break-up playlist is Bol Na Hal Ke Halke from Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.
“I don’t know why it makes me cry but it’s such a beautiful song. I think I am a closet romantic at heart. More than this perception of being a Casanova, the quest is to really find the one even now,” said Arjun.
For his lissom co-star Shraddha, the struggles were of a different kind. She remembers a time when she used to make blank calls to her crush so that he would pick up and she could hear his voice. It may sound like a creepy way to send feelers, but she couldn’t muster the courage to ask her crush out on a date during her gawky teen years.
“I have been heartbroken. When you want something to really work out and it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, it can be really sad. I have been in that situation and but that’s a part of life. Sometimes crying your heart out can be cathartic. I would also say cupcakes, jalebis… food in general can help,” said Shraddha with a laugh.
Her co-star quickly jumps in saying that Shraddha should ideally date food since she’s constantly discussing what to eat next and can polish off a Chinese buffet like a professional.
“Arjun, my man, you cracked it… everyone in my team is giggling because we are known as the food team,” said Shraddha, adding that she’s currently in a relationship with food and that they are going strong.
And why are we talking about love or who or what makes a sturdy partner?
Half Girlfriend, directed by Mohit Suri, is the movie adaptation of author Chetan Bhagat’s novel by the same title. Arjun plays Madhav, a Bhojpuri-accented Hindi-speaking lad from Bihar who secures admission at a swanky college in Delhi known for its sophisticated, Anglophone students.
His mates around him are a posh lot, while he is shown struggling to bridge the linguistic divide with his Bhojpuri-heavy Hindi. Shraddha plays Riya, the quintessential popular girl who’s out of his league.
“But that could be a facade because the girl may come to college with the perfect blow-dried hair and steps out of some biggest cars or comes from an affluent family, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have problems… Deep down, she isn’t actually happy, she is incomplete,” said Shraddha, adding that her character finds happiness in the simplest of things.
“She sees those little things magnified in him. Arjun plays a wonderful person, very open-hearted,” said Shraddha.
But such clarity did not come easy for her character. The film chronicles their struggles to reach their happy spot. The title of the film signifies that the two are in an ambiguous zone where they are not really ready to commit fully to each other.
“Half Girlfriend is an emotion — something that you experience where a friendship develops into a deeper bond… Perhaps, it’s a state you are in when the relationship hasn’t reached a point where you call each other as your boyfriend or girlfriend. Circumstances stand in the way or life has complexities that mar the relationship… Half is better than nothing,” explained Arjun.
He added that the zone where a couple oversteps the friendship zone, but aren’t ready to be tagged as a couple is when you touch half girlfriend territory.
“But it’s not a frivolous thing. It’s not friends with benefits or not something where you have physical intimacy… The society expects every relationship to be tagged and named. And somewhere the credit has to go to Chetan Bhagat for finding an appropriate tag,” said Arjun, who admits that he hasn’t ever read a novel of Bhagat. He’s the Salman Khan of the literary world. His books never curry favour with the critics, but fly off the shelves despite being called low-brow. Arjun has an interesting theory around Bhagat’s burgeoning hate brigade.
“You can never be too successful if you don’t have too many haters. I agree that criticism is often fair, it teaches you. But look at how many people he has managed to convert into readers. But nobody gives him enough credit. I feel he is where he is because he gets huge amount of love… If you don’t have haters, you are not famous enough,” said Arjun.
It’s a fair argument, since Bhagat’s novels often feature in the best-seller lists. But adaptations can be tricky. Haven’t films about rich girl-meets-poor village boy been done to death already in Hindi films and does this romance also legitimise stalking? Indian films often glorify stalking during courtships. A hero breaking down a woman’s defence through persuasion is considered romantic.
“To generalise that we glorify stalking in our films is to undermine the main core element of what our films are being made for. They are the replica of society. We are just showcasing what happens. We are just showcasing what happens in our society. We are not saying do it or don’t do it, that is for people to educate themselves… that’s where parents, school and society comes in,” said Arjun, adding that it was unfair to pigeonhole Bollywood films in that manner and an “easy way out to blame Bollywood for encouraging stalking.”
India has been courting global attention due to the rise in crimes against women, and there has been debate about whether films trigger copy-cat crimes.
“We are not telling that you should behave like this X or Y person. For example… most of the time in Hindi films the girl likes the attention, but is trying hard to get because that is the context of the character. Stalking is a very big word, when you are physically all over the person maybe… but to generalise is like pinning the whole industry and saying we are a terrible industry,” said Arjun.
Half Girlfriend isn’t dealt with a heavy, intense hand. It’s peddled as a breezy romance that highlights the glaring divide between the urban English-speaking populace and the Hindi-speaking people from small towns.
“This film shows that love comes and can smack you in our face any time. If you form a connection with that special someone, then nothing else will make sense. What happens between Riya and Madhav will be unique to the viewers,” said Shraddha.
Are you girls listening?
“Any girl who can make me great breakfast, I would give my heart to her anyway or who can take me to a great place for breakfast,” Arjun Kapoor on what makes him go crazy for a woman.
Don’t miss it!
Half Girlfriend is out in the UAE cinemas now.