When you first look at Arjun Kapoor, you see a guarded man with a perpetual frown on his face. The minute you look into his eyes and greet him, his face melts into the warmest smile and you discover a potentially soft side of the otherwise tough guy. That is Arjun Kapoor for you.
In conversation with cover star Arjun Kapoor:
Arjun Kapoor’s approachable for anyone who manages to break the ice with him. Mostly, it’s just a genuine smile and few kind greetings away. We too have had similar experiences with him. You can sit and chat with him about anything under the sky and he’s got a grounded response to everything. He loves to talk about movies and food and we adore the twinkle in his eye when he talks about his family, especially his sister Anshul Kapoor.
But the world has seen him under a different light. His movies established him as the guy who can pack a solid punch but his family and friends have brought his soft side to the forefront. We’ve all seen how every single person on Koffee with Karan dials him up because that’s the kind of guy he is. He will pick up your call, he will have your back and he will lend a caring ear when you need it.
As he breaks the image that the movies have built for him, Arjun is a more vulnerable and approachable guy now. His fans know that about him. He’s a good son, brother and boyfriend and he’s as wonderful a friend as you can ask for.
We caught up with Arjun Kapoor, candid and carefree to talk about what changed his perceptive in life, the philosophies he lives by and more. Excerpts…
Firstly, how did you bring in the new year?
We all work hard the whole year to be able to have some time off in this profession. You’re sporadic in terms of being able to actually have quality time, where you don’t do anything. So I actually had not taken a holiday. I did go to Paris for five days around my birthday, and then I decided I want to do something big for New Years. I’m just happy that we managed to execute the plan because there’s so much pressure on pulling off everybody’s dates and time. So it was just eight of us. It was amazing. It was my first time in Ranthambore and my first time starting the year by spotting a male tiger walking around, strolling around right next to the Jeep. It was surreal. It’s exactly the kind of visual that stays with you forever.
Are you someone who believes in keeping a new year’s resolution?
Definitely used to be, I think four or five years back. I used to be that guy. But now I’ve realised I can’t wait for a new year or a Monday to start making a change. Life has changed drastically. I think post-COVID you don’t want to wait to make any changes. You never know when things change professionally or personally. Everything is very temporary, very fluid. I don’t like to wait till the first of January to change the way I think or make resolutions. Of course, there are lists you make of what you want to achieve in a year. So I think there are to-do lists that always show up in my head. It’s more like having an awareness and reminding yourself of it. Saying that, the first of any month for me is a new resolution sometimes. But if there’s one thing that I really want to do this year, it is to genuinely take time off for myself in a consolidated way, for my own mental, emotional, physical self to rejuvenate after finishing work. I’ve realised the value of that. Your life is not going to stop at the age of 37 in this profession, to be honest. There’s always something or the other.
This reminds me of something Trevor Noah said. He used to do a show that he quit. He said “You know we keep saying personal and professional life. We keep segregating it like it’s two different things but we are leading a life, it’s one life and in between that there are so many things. So you can’t always keep saying when I’m doing my personal stuff it can’t be professional. When I’m doing my professional stuff I got to keep pause my personal life because life is going on.”
What is Arjun Kapoor’s philosophy in life as someone who has seen a lot of ups and downs?
It’s difficult to put down n words because there are certain things you have to recalibrate as time proceeds, as you grow up and you get mature. But I would like to believe the way I’ve grown up, the way I’ve seen life. I matured at a very young age, so I always believed one has to be responsible for ones own actions, own choices, so you can wake up
in the morning and can live with what you’re doing. You don’t want to do something that you’re going regret or that you’re not comfortable with. And most of all, I believe in listening to what everyone is saying, but I always do what’s best for me. What anyone says may come from a place of goodwill, but eventually I have always tried to lead my life by making my own decisions, judging people on merit of what my interactions are, whether it’s personal or professional. Choosing to do a film comes from where I stand in life, where I am in that moment versus what my perception should be. I always like to base my behaviour with somebody on the basis of how they behave with me. You’d rather overthink a choice and make it rather than be over impulsive and regret things. That doesn’t mean I’m not impulsive, but I’ve always been somebody who’s thought about the bigger picture. I always think ahead. I always think about other people. I am designed like that. I do care about what others feel, and I’m not saying what they feel about me. I’m saying about a decision or a situation or the way I’m conducting myself. I keep other people’s feelings in mind.
People think of you as just the tough guy but the ones close to you know how soft you are. Where do you think this dichotomy comes from?
There is a lot of kindness in me because that comes from my mother. God has given me the genetics of looking like the way I do because I look like this big, tall, bearded, rough and tough guy with these eyes that always seem to linger and have thoughts inside them. So never judge a book by its cover is the simplest way of explaining myself. It’s possible that if someone sees me in an uncomfortable place, they might not get the warmest feeling out of me. Because that’s not something that comes across as a first impulse. I always come across as somebody who’s brooding, silent, and dealing with things. But if you actually interact with me, I’m quite easy. I always care, I’m always interactive, I do have the gift of the gab and my sense of humour always help me disarm people who got that feeling about me. But in this profession, to be fair, what happens is you are normally pictured without people actually getting a sense of who you are on a daily basis. Because you might see a photo where I look like this macho guy. So you will not know how normal I am when you talk to me or how emotionally evolved I am unless you sit down and chat with me. So I’ve always felt that when people watch me on shows like Koffee with Karan, they get a sense of who I am really.
You know you’re known as “Bollywood’s best friend”, thanks to Koffee with Karan, everyone’s speed dial is you. You’re basic Mr. Congeniality. What does that title mean to you?
I take it in the best way possible. I became an actor, I’ve grown up in this profession and I admire this profession. I live and die by entertaining people through the movies that we make. I don’t rely on myself individually to entertain, but I rely on making movies. I rely on people. I rely on telling stories. I rely on interacting with one another, getting better with one another. So for me to have equations and friendships today, it has come from working with people, from interacting with people in my profession. It’s not only the work that I do, it’s also as a human being. They have trust and faith that they can pick up the phone on me. I feel happy about having long standing equations and the relationships where I’m there for people. And it’s not that I expected from everyone that they should be there for me. But I know tomorrow all those people that perhaps will call me, they’ll also be there because I’ve given them the genuine feeling and connect.
Arjun, You earlier said you are cognisant of other’s feeling. Do you sometimes feel that you give more than you receive?
200%. But that’s how I’m designed. I’m like that by nature and by experiences. I’m somebody who nurtures. I’m somebody who’s always been the person who gives. I find it very difficult to take because I’ve grown up in that conditioning. It’s not like people have come to take from me. I’m just by nature a giving person. I will always be very cognisant of what the other person is feeling emotionally, because I’m an emotional person. I understand how people get affected by things. I would never do to someone something that I wouldn’t want done to me. So I always think about it from that point of view. It does get me. Unfortunately, I always feel like I’m shafted. It happened to me in the past. It’s happened professionally many times. But despite that, I never looked at it like a competition. And that’s why maybe I’m friends with everybody or people like me, because I’m not in a competition with anybody. I’m here to just make movies and have fun along the way. It’s a blessed profession. I’m not that bullish guy. I’m not manipulative or conniving. I’m not designed like that. Yes, it has bitten me in the back. This profession is very cutthroat and I’ll be lying that I don’t feel it. I don’t feel the repercussions of being Mr. Nice guy or being overtly aware. I feel sometimes it’s better to be detached..
Coming to Kuttey, how important is this film for you?
Every film is important and this is no different. I think I signed this film at a time during COVID, when the first lockdown was going on. I didn’t think about the consequences of doing the film. I just wanted to tell this story because it’s my favourite genre of this caper, Heist genre is my favorite genre. I’ve always admired Guy Ritchie films. I loved Kaminey when I saw it. So when Kuttey came to me, I just wanted to be part of it. I didn’t think of whether my role is big or small, I just wanted to do it. A lot of people look at me just as a mainstream hero because my conditioning is like that. I’ve done Gunday, Tevar, Ishaqzaade, Two States, and Mubaraka, but I’ve also done Finding Fanny, Aurangzeb, Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar, which got their due later. But sometimes that side of me gets lost and for me Kuttey is one of those films that I’ve done with that side of my personality as an actor, as a viewer. I like watching all kinds of films, I want to do all kinds of films and I want to connect with all kinds of audiences. So for me, Kuttey is a continuation of the kind of love I got for Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar. I do want to be known as somebody who can hold his own as an actor and is not only about presence, stardom and about being a mainstream hero. That part of me does exist. But there’s also a person who wants to play characters and seamlessly blend into an environment. For me Kuttey’s appreciation means that I blent into the environment. I’m certain when I signed the film or when people heard about me with the bunch of actors in the film, everybody wanted to see how I fit with these actors who are known to be performers of a certain calibre. The design of the character, the way I have performed, I’m just happy that it’s towards that credible actor space. Personally, I want credibility and I want people to respect me for my craft also.
With an ensemble that Kuttey had, did you feel insecure? How did you hold your ground?
By coming as prepared as I can. I did my workshops with Azma and I knew my lines. I knew what my character was, so I wasn’t trying to overstep or be detached. I was present in the moment. Only then you’re going to be honest and some magic happens with your co-actor, when you forget that you’re trying to showcasing you acting and actually just do something that is momentarily real, which the camera captures. So you have to come prepared if you’re gonna be insecure, which is a natural emotion. The only way to overcome the insecurity is to go ahead and be the best version of that character. But I always feel insecurity is not a bad thing. Feel concerned and feel under confident and work your ass off. One day I had, Kumud (Misra) sir, my partner in the film and I had Tabu to shoot with. No matter how how much I get along with Tabu, I know how how amazing an actor she is. So I just came very prepared so I don’t get confused and be in awe of somebody. I also have to deliver a performance for my character.
You understand the business side of Bollywood because your faster has been a producer for decades. Does the situation at the box-office right now make you anxious?
Yes, sometimes I feel it’s not the best thing in the world to know so much about the profession. Sometimes I feel it’s best to just do your job and now keep thinking about the numbers. But now, like you said, I don’t know. If the trailer not been appreciated, I would be anxious. I feel just just out of the fact that the material in two and a half minutes has spoken to people, it will find its audience. Now how big that audience is today, nobody knows. Maybe three years back pre-COVID, it would be easier for us to signify a reference point and a number to be specific about what the ambition of the film is today. You have to be open-ended about where the film lands. Now we need to see how big is the audience post-COVID, post culture changing in the last three years. Audience taste is changing, evolving. You always want to be positive, but you have to be realistic too.
Let’s talk about the experience you had with Sandeep aur Pinky Faraar. The film did not do well in theatres but got its dues on OTT and it still getting praises…
I would honestly hope that nobody ever has a ‘Sandeep experience’ where the film releases and doesn’t find its audience. That’s the saddest feeling in the world that you can’t even judge your own work, there’s no reference point. So the film got its due on Amazon Prime eventually, and I’m really happy it did. I’m sure every actor goes through that one film where he feels it deserved better but then eventually it got its due. I feel when actors evolve and become stars, sometimes they’ll do films just to work with certain people. Sometimes they’ll do it because you think it’s the right kind of film to do. Sometimes the story will work for you so much that you have conviction and do it. At the end of the day, you’re going to be through all those highs and lows that everybody goes through. There is no exception to this rule of the highs and the lows roller coaster. I worked with Dibakar Banerjee because I was dying to work with him. And I’m just happy I did it. People did point out that he’s not always made mainstream cinema while I’ve been considered a mainstream actor. Why would I want to do this kind of film at that time in my life? And I did it, and perhaps for a long time I wondered if it was the right choice because the film was doing well. But now after it got its due, I’m feeling happy and grateful that I took that decision. So I feel vindicated.
It’s what had happened with Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha in Lootera?
Exactly. Or even for that matter, like a Tamasha. Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone might not be remembered for The Yeh Jawani hai Deewani audience, but there is a certain audience that really admires that film because they connected and resonated beyond its theatrical run. And I’m not comparing, I’m just saying every actor goes through one or two of these films in the journey of their career. Even today for Aurangzeb and Finding Fanny, I meet people who tell me are they enjoyed the film
A cultural change has happened because of OTT in the last two years. Realism and real people are what the audiences what. Do you think the era of those superstar demigods is over for Bollywood because of this shift?
I think stardom for us has become very temporary. Social media has made us very accessible. The awareness of the audience today is too high of what we look like, what we’re doing, what we’re up to on a daily basis. So what happens is that shine goes away because you’re seeing us everyday. There is no allure of watching us after maybe 6-8 months, one year, two years is not there anymore. Very few stars have been able to retain that allure, and that’s a very important part of the problem. Because of the amount of brands we have to do, because of the amount of marketing on a film today, there is content availability that we’ve created. Few years back when I started my career and I’m talking about 10 years back, there was lesser awareness of what we did on a daily basis. So it was still more exciting to see us on the big screen. It was still more exciting to tap into us as characters on the big screen and you didn’t know everything about us. I’m not saying that I can’t still choose to not put up stuff about me. It’s not that I can’t, you can choose to use it. In general the allure of stardom has changed completely.
Moving away from your professional life, you have finally found stability in your family as well. You’re also opening talking about your relationship with Malaika. What changed and how did it affect your personal life?
I think most importantly, personal or professional, any aspect of life, you do want stability, right? You look for stability at the end of the day. So in the chaos that I’ve seen over the course of my life, losing a parent, seeing my father lose out on somebody he loves so much, seeing Janhvi and Khushi, both lose something that me and Anshula have gone through, that brought us closer out of the circumstances.That point, it was very rocky, but it somehow created a feeling of family. So the starting point came from a very rocky and uncertain space, but it led to stability. l think that has allowed me to be calm about my relationship with my girlfriend. It’s allowed me to be stable about my own life because I know that I have got people watching my back. They’re taking care of each other also, so I don’t need to always worry about everyone. I can also look after my own interests in my personal space. Obviously, having somebody like Malaika in my life has given me an ease, a sense of belonging. I feel that I have a friend in her, which has always made things simpler for me. She’s seen every single side of me. She’s seen every aspect of me. So having a family life that was stable, having all my family members being welcoming, being kind, being warm has allowed me to have a very good relationship with Malaika. It’s happened because my family’s life reached a good space and of course, along with that I have to give credit to the fact that Malaika has come in been very graceful, very dignified.