Arjun Kapoor
Arjun Kapoor Image Credit: Rohan Shrestha

Bollywood actor Arjun Kapoor is pragmatic about clocking nine years in the Hindi film industry since his 2012 acting debut‘Ishaaqzaade’.

“In these nine years, I had my moments of feeling great and feeling bad. I have experienced that entire gamut and right now I am just glad to have survived in this profession for so long,” said Kapoor in an exclusive interview over the phone with Gulf News.

Arjun Kapoor
Arjun Kapoor Image Credit: Twitter

Thriving in an industry like Bollywood, which looks at box-office success and star power as yardsticks to success, is no mean feat.

“But being here for nine years also means I am accepted and liked by the audience. It also means that I have stability now in my professional life and love coming my way. The key is to find a way to connect with the audience,” he adds.

Currently, the 36-year-old actor is on an upward climb as he basks in the success of director Dibakar Banerjee’s seminal class drama ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’ streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.

The son of prolific producer Boney Kapoor and the late Mona Shourie believes that he is in this industry for the long haul.

“When your films like ‘Finding Fanny’, ‘Aurangzeb’ and ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’ finds appreciation, it empowers you as an action ... I also did a ‘Ki & Ka’, which had a progressive idea at its core,” said Kapoor, alluding to the film in which he played a house husband who was comfortable with his wife bringing home the proverbial dough.

“As an actor, I want to always step out and chase films with credibility. It’s simple, I am just so happy to be here,” said Kapoor. While the actor has always been mature, he claims he’s now more comfortable with the work that he’s doing now. He’s also in a sturdy relationship with model and actress Malaika Arora Khan.

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“Life has come full circle,” adds the Yash Raj Films discovery.

Excerpts from our interview with the actor as we talk about his messy, but glorious drama ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’, the rise of Over-The-Top platforms during the pandemic, and how he wants to be a ‘minimum actor’ ...

There were no tidy and neat ending to ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’ and that’s being widely appreciated. Plus, you two lead actor didn’t fall in love at the end of the film, which is a departure for any Bollywood romance featuring two attractive runaways?

In the most unconventional way, this film had a happily-ever-after for its characters. Both Pinky and Sandeep got their happy endings in their own unique ways, don’t you think? I am glad that people are appreciating the movie’s ending where we don’t fall in love. It shows that our audiences are evolving at a pace that we don’t often give them credit for.

Plus, Parineeti Chopra and you were appreciated for playing the title roles with such panache. Do you feel validated?

I feel life has come a full circle with this film. I started my Bollywood acting career with Parineeti [Chopra] nine years ago with ‘Ishaqzaade’ and we both have seen highs and lows in our lives. It has been a roller-coaster ride for both of us. But with ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’, we are back together today and we both feel validated because of the amount of hard work we have put into our work and this film. We have always respected our audiences. But some things don’t pan out and they are not always in your control. I am just happy about finding ways to improve as an actor, hone my craft, keep my head down, and work my [expletive] off.

Sometimes, all that hard work gets undermined when you look at purely box-office number or external circumstances such as projected numbers. Honestly, I am just happy to be here because I want to hone my craft and grow with every film that I take up wholeheartedly. I am just happy that ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’ has opened people’s eyes to realising those factors. I am here to play parts, having fun on sets is peripheral because all I want to do is give audiences some of my most memorable performances and characters.

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Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra in 'Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar' Image Credit: Yash Raj Films

‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’ was a celebration of flawed and messy characters … And are messy movies of Bollywood back?

Messy movies aren’t back because I don’t think they went anywhere … One of the reasons why ‘Sandeep Aur …’ did so well, it’s because we have all realised that this world is a messy place. Both Sandeep and Pinky are like chalk and cheese, but they operate in the same realm of chaos where class divides and the absolute play of power and struggle to survive continues.

You could be a nice person, but you will still use your power and privilege to get your way. And somebody else might be the worst person in the world, but he may not have the power to do anything. You are subservient to the world and divides around you. There are so many layers to your own existence and society and that’s what ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’ touches upon. Isn’t that what life is all about? When Dibakar Banerjee pitched the idea of this film, all he said was that he was going to make a film about India Vs Bharat. It was a very simplified way of putting it, but it was dreadfully practical too. Today, we have an India which wants to push forward and achieve all sort of things. But then, there’s also a ‘Bharat’ — a major part — which is trying to make ends meet and get through each day. Sandeep and Pinky are two opposite ends of the country put in a similar situation together. And that makes it grey and messy. These divides are unspoken, but we are all aware of it.

Arjun, you appear to shine as an actor if the director is good … Does it work like that with most actors?

Most actors bloom under good directors. But eventually we all want to refine our craft so that we can be ‘minimum actors’. For instance, if you are [actor] Anil Kapoor, there’s always a minimum you will get to watch because he has honed his skills over the years. Then, there are actors who are naturally gifted and some who become better as time progresses. Then there are few who start off as non-entities, but they learn swiftly on the job. Perhaps, they just had a spark to work with, but with hard work they learned to shine.

But eventually how you are presented in a film depends on the director and how he has envisioned that character. So, if you are at the behest of a good director, then you can create magic. But sometimes, a film doesn’t come together the way they had imagined and then your character suffers. I feel what happens as an actor in this country, you get a lot more recognition only if a film is appreciated at the box-office. But sometimes, a director may direct you well, but the film might not come together well and that’s a problem. You also witness stars getting more credit when films are doing well. Ideally, directors shouldn’t be blamed for everything.

For example, my film ‘Aurangzeb’ was such an underrated film. Its director was very good with extracting performances, but at that point the audience didn’t connect with the film the way they should have. There’s nothing wrong with that film or its direction. If you ever revisit the film, you realise that it’s a film that had a certain nuances and energy. The point here isn’t whether it was a great film or a terrible film – it was a credible film with good performances. But because the film didn’t come together as a whole and the audiences didn’t enjoy it at that point, all our performances didn’t get highlighted as much.

A still from 'Aurangzeb' Image Credit: Yash Raj Films

Do digital platforms give a wider berth for under-appreciated films?

OTT [Over-The-Top] and digital platforms in this pandemic have introduced a new viewing culture in a country like India. We are a country who used to watch films in the theatres and now these people watch them online. OTT is going to exist now because it will give people who don’t have time to go out into the theatres to watch films online, but that doesn’t mean that theatres will go out of fashion or that OTT will be the only way of life. We have a reached a time where there will be a healthy mix of OTTs and theatres which will bring about some interesting Indian content. But at this moment, stepping out even to a grocery story isn’t on your list of priorities, let alone go into a movie hall in the midst of a pandemic.

Right now, OTT is our present, while the future will be a nice combination of both. A nuanced film like ‘Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar’ got more connect after its release on an OTT. Even those people who are not a fan of my work or aren’t fan of these kind of films gave it a shot. This film is such an acquired taste. I feel privileged that a film of mine which was ready for two years, but did not see the light of the day got a theatrical release [in March 2021] and then went on for a digital release saw such euphoric reactions. So there’s light at the end of the tunnel for meaningful cinema.

So it felt gratifying …

Yeah, when you get a call from a director like David Dhawan saying that he loved the film and then you get a call from Ranbir Kapoor that he loved the film too. It feels amazing.

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Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra in 'Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar' Image Credit: Yash Raj Films

Unlike Hollywood, we don’t expect to have a summer of blockbuster releases this year. Has the whole Bollywood dynamic of box-office and festive releases changed due to the pandemic?

Right now, we are in the middle of a pandemic and it’s difficult to say if anything has changed. The real change is that we are learning to deal with living with Covid-19 and that’s our ground reality. Let me put it this way, when you were social distancing in the Gulf and you were only able to order food through delivery at home, weren’t you excited when things eased up and you looked forward to stepping out to eat out with family and friends again? Just like eating out, watching a film is a community experience. So the thrill and charm of going into a theatre will always be alive, but let’s not put a time line to it. It’s better not to put pressure on ourselves and live in false beliefs. We can’t hold these expectations that in six months things will go back to normal. We just have to keep the faith alive.