On a rocky road

On a rocky road

After a string of average releases and failures, actor Shahid Kapoor is hoping for a strong comeback with Prabhu Deva’s ‘R...Rajkumar’. The actor talks to Rajiv Vijayakar about his latest release and how he deals with his career lows.

A decade after he started out with Ishq Vishq (he was a child model and did several ads, of course), Shahid Kapoor is in the space where he is always praised for his work even if his films under-perform. Yes, he would like to change the second part, and hopes to do that with Prabhudheva’s R…Rajkumar, made by the maverick choreographer-filmmaker, who put on track the careers of Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar after lean phases.

In this film, where he is doing his first hardcore action and also romancing and dancing to chartbuster songs, Shahid has put in his all. As he puts it, “I enjoy the action genre. Beating up baddies is everyone’s dream, as is anything that you cannot do in real life. And I am excited about this movie. Prabhu sir is a stylised director, and with him, normal action too becomes stylised and larger than life. Unhonein to meri band bajaa di in terms of making me fulfill his vision.” And Shahid’s countenance breaks into a crinkly smile and a guffaw — two aspects that frequently embellish a 20-minute conversation that often goes off-track with casual banter.

Across genres

Working with Prabhudheva clearly seems to have been a life-changing experience for the actor, despite a past track record of eminence with names like Sooraj R Barjatya (Vivah), Imtiaz Ali (Jab We Met), Abbas-Mustan (36 China Town), Priyadarshan (Chup Chup Ke), Vishal Bhardwaj (Kaminey — a dual role), Rajkumar Santoshi (Phata Poster Nikhla Hero), Mahesh Manjrekar (Waah!...Life Ho To Aisi) and his father Pankaj Kapur (Mausam).

“He is a genius,” Shahid raves about his director. “He knows the common man’s fantasy and the tapori-mawwali space like no one else does. I am sure that he must have been a quiet, bottled-up child storing experiences, because he once told me, ‘I make films about real characters,’ even if he fulfills a larger-than-life fantasy in what they do on screen.”

About his modus operandi as a director, Shahid says, “A day before the shoot, he would introduce me to something completely new and make me rehearse it for hours. Prabhu sir is a man of few words, who would summon me and say, ‘Come! See!’ and ‘Yeah, come start!’ Since he knew that I was a trained dancer — though our styles could not be more different — he would push me to do things people would not expect from me, but never ever praise my work. And the same applied to his action sequences. Prabhu sir keeps reinventing his action by changing his action directors in each film and discussing shots with them for days.”

The actor grins and adds, “Prabhu sir even gave me some friendly advice: That after the film was over, I would be mentally and physically drained and should take a long holiday — and he was right. After 50 days of action, 16 days of songs and 30 days of talkie, I really wish I could take a break.” 

Clearly, the actor is on an anticipatory high even if all his films in the last few years have been rejected at the box-office. Getting a tad sober when we mention his bad run post-Jab We Met in 2007, he says, “I need lots and lots of luck. I know that people have always said ‘Shahid was good but the film was bad,’ and I am thankful for their support, but things have to change. I am asked what went wrong with Phata Poster Nikhla Hero. My only thought is that maybe the second half got too serious.”
He goes on, “It’s like this: A film’s success is most important. Even in a cricket match, a player scoring 55 runs in a winning team gets more attention than a guy who scores 125 runs when his team loses.”

About his character and the mystery in the R… of the title, he wants the audience to wait until they watch the film. “After we could not use the title of Rambo Rajkumar, Prabhu sir decided to go along with this for a reason that will be clear when the film releases,” he grins. “As for Rajkumar, he is a very clear guy with two fundas as mentioned in the promos: pyar pyar pyar or maar maar maar.”

Role play

Admitting that while he had done some challenging roles in his career, like in Kaminey, Shahid says that they were a cakewalk compared to this one. “Such a character is much more difficult to essay,” he declares. “As an actor, you are tested at every level. The body language has to be perfect, as you are neither a cool dude nor someone who is like a larger-than-life star. For example, in keeping with my character, I was given this special vest to wear, which was so incredibly tacky and cheap that I wondered if anyone wore such things. And then while driving to Film City one day, I actually saw a chaiwalla boy wearing something identical. And yes, it actually helped me get the body language right.”

Shahid is generous in his praise for co-star Sonakshi Sinha, who he terms a “super actor and a warm human being.” Terming her one of the “few complete heroines we have today,” the actor recalls how she picked up the dance steps and remembered them so fast when he was fumbling. “That was the first impression she made on me, as it was the song, Saree ke fall sa that we first shot together.”

He is also affectionate about the song’s creator, his music composer Pritam. “With few exceptions, Pritam has composed music for all my films since Jab We Met, and irrespective of how the films turned out, he has been consistent in his music for me. We have known each other for ages. I remember he once gave me this ring to wear for luck, something that looked like an ugly emerald, and I told him, ‘Dude, that’s not cool,’ but he insisted I wore it.”

About on-screen antagonist Sonu Sood, he says warmly, “We were shooting when I had six to seven cuts on my leg and he had multiple fractures on his, so we were actually protective towards each other during our fight sequences so that we did not hurt each other,” he recalls. “Action is like dance, synchronised and with a strict rhythm that if accidentally missed can be dangerous. That is why we see professional fighters reverently touch the ground and perform a small puja before they begin work.”

Shahid is now working on Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider. How does he plan to ensure that his films to come do not go wrong? “I think a filmmaker’s vision of the characters is crucial,” he replies thoughtfully. “As an actor, however, I cannot see the eventuality of the completed product and have to make a commitment on the limited information given to me and available at the time.”

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