Making a grand entrance

Janhavi Kapoor and Ishaan Khatter

Hindi cinema has had a hallowed tradition for almost five decades now: a lead pair that is brand-new. And that’s how many stars were made, all the way from Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia in Bobby to Hrithik Roshan and Amisha Patel in Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai and Tiger Shroff and Kriti Sanon in Heropanti. And, the latest example is of Janhvi Kapoor, Sridevi and Boney Kapoor’s daughter, and Ishaan Khatter, son of actors Rajesh Khattar and Neelima Azim, and Shahid Kapoor’s half-brother.

Their debut film treads hallowed terrain too — it is the Hindi remake of the 2016 Marathi hit Sairat, one of those rare films that did extremely well with non-Marathi audiences. What makes things interesting is that Ishaan got a break in the Iranian film, Beyond the Clouds by Majid Majidi, and producer Karan Johar graciously let him shoot the film before Dhadak’s debut. 

Getting the act

So, how did the two get this film? Wasn’t Janhvi supposed to start off with Karan’s Student Of The Year 2? “Never,” she says categorically. “Karan had come home, and soon we commenced reading scenes, monologues and poems, like a form of mini-audition. I think he was gauging whether he should invest in me, and I came to know that Dhadak was a prospect. Then, I met Shashank Khaitan, writer-director, and organically we did readings too, and things began from there,’’ she says. 

As for Ishaan, he wisecracks, “I hopped onto the film with one leg.” Seriously, he continues, “One day, Shashank picked me up to show Sairat, whose screening he had arranged. He dropped the news that he was planning to remake it, and that he expected me to do the lead role. I then took my mom to watch it and confided in Shahid. My mom said that she was very happy for me, though it was a big responsibility as it was such a beautiful film, while Shahid told me that I was with the right people and in the right project.”

Both of them mention that they have not watched Sairat more than twice. Shashank forbade them from that as he did not want undue influence coming in —he was actually taking the core of the film and transplanting the plot to Rajasthan.

Janhvi says, “The culture, the background and therefore the characters’ choices were all bound to be different.  My character comes from a royal lineage and a political family. We have converted our heritage houses into a hotel. I am strong, snobbish and resilient.” Ishaan, on the other hand, plays an innocent, ambitious yet naïve young man from Udaipur.

Obviously, both youngsters want to make their families proud. Did Sridevi get to see some parts of Dhadak?  “About 20 minutes of rushes,” admits Janhvi. What did she say? “Lots of things, but I am not going to tell you!” she says. “As a mother, she will obviously say nice things. One of the things she told me earlier was to make sure that I had an identity of my own so that people wouldn’t compare us.”

Ishaan, of course, was a frequent visitor on Shahid’s sets. “That is how I happened to do a small role as a kid in his Waah! Life Ho To Aisi in 2005. When they found me comfortable with the camera, they actually extended my role.”

Shahid, says the actor, always teaches by example. “My mom shared a lot with me, teaching me about good performances, cinema, and lots of nuances about expressing because she is a trained Kathak dancer. From my father, I learnt voice modulation, while Shahid advised me to work honestly, without pretence.”

With their passion for cinema, films as a career seemed a given for both the youngsters. Ishaan says that he wanted to act for as long as he could remember. “When I saw eight kids acting with my brother in Waah! Life Ho To Aisi, I recall thinking that it was sacrilegious that I was not in it, which made Shahid coax the makers to have me,” he chuckles.

Right place, right time

Janhvi says that she tried to do fashion designing and even something in history. “But I was passionate about acting, and after I took acting classes, lessons in dance and so on, I realised that is exactly what I wanted to do. My mother had left it to me. Acting is not just a job — it is a lifestyle, and you have to maintain good habits to look good. My parents noticed my obsession.”

A unique aspect of this film is that both of them make their debut and play young parents to a five-year-old. How did they handle that? “I shot those scenes in the last leg of the shoot, and in some ways, they seemed to compensate for the loss of my mother,” admits Jhanvi. “I was never someone who was fond of kids before, but now there is a funny maternal feeling, as if it has made me closer to mom.”

Ishaan reminds us that we said ‘young parents’,“It was all about feelings inside as well as the physicality. There is a long phase, from the newborn to a five-year-old boy, and it was everything from how to hold the baby to being a dad to an older child later.”

Neither of them has signed any new film, but Janhvi would love to do a comedy next. The agenda for their commitment has been laid out, with Jhanvi remembering everything her iconic mother has taught her and Ishaan stating that he must work and prep on his characters even if, when required, he has to be a spontaneous actor. The world awaits — and it won’t be a surprise if both of them turn out to be dynamites on screen. After all, what can be more lethal than a blend of heredity, talent, application and passion — and yes (with apologies), a strong tang of nepotism.

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Making a grand entrance

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