Unconventional and aiming for the stars, Ranbir Kapoor has broken the rules that superstars swear by
—and we love him for it
Shonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata
Film critic Anupama Chopra once asked Ranbir Kapoor, “Do you ever have a moment of panic when you hear ‘Ek Tha Tiger made Rs 180 crore, Rowdy Rathore made Rs 150 crore…’?” His reply was, “An actor brings in the commercial viability of the subject….let me act in different kinds of films, challenge myself as an actor and one day my film will do Rs 500 crore, my film will make Rs 600 crore….” His co-star, Priyanka Chopra, sitting next to him, laughed: “Look at the way he jumped to Rs 500 crore, not Rs 150, not Rs 180 crore….”
The moment could typify Ranbir’s cinematic ambitions, whether at the box office or in the roles he takes on. He has set his sights high — be it acting, the audience’s perception of him and how his films do commercially.
An appraisal of his body of work would show he’s done a lot already. There was the unconventional debut in Saawariya, a complex, dense love triangle, in which he didn’t even get the girl. In the next six years, he has done only a handful of films but has gone through a gamut of roles: the brooding Michael Corleone in Rajneeti, the boy-man in Wake Up Sid, the goofy small-town kid in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahaani, the geeky sardar in Rocket Singh–Salesman of the Year, the angst-ridden Rockstar and the hearing-and speech-impaired boy in Barfi.
What is it about Ranbir? Just when you think you have slotted him, he does something other Bollywood actors don’t — take risks.
The other big guns in Bollywood, the Khan triumvirate, listen to what their audience tells them. Salman needs to keep his shirt off. Shah Rukh has to keep his hands outstretched, professing undying love. Aamir needs to look different in every movie — that’s a given. But Ranbir, he has always defied audience and critic predictions.
From Rocket Singh to Rockstar, he sheds his skin like a chameleon and moves on to his next role, whether the audience wants him to or not. The audience would love to have him playing the romantic, chocolate boy hero, as his father did for decades, but does he care? Apparently not, and it is paying dividends.
When he was shooting Barfi, phrases like ‘cinematic suicide’ were bandied about, but it gave him his first Rs 100 crore hit. And with his latest movie Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani crossing Rs 100 crore in a week, he’s being touted as the ‘next superstar’.
This begs the question; he’s been a superstar for quite some time, then why, at 30, is he still not recognised as such? He’s goodlooking, is a great dancer, has wonderful screen presence, and possesses that trait so rare in today’s Hindi films: talent. Even among his contemporaries, he is the first choice for directors like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Imtiaz Ali, Anurag Kashyap and his brother, Abhinav, who resurrected Salman’s waning stardom with monster hit Dabangg.
If he wasn’t perceived as a superstar earlier by the media, it’s because, in the Bollywood hierarchy, you don’t do ensemble films, you don’t do films with unconventional stories, you don’t act outside the established production houses, if you want to be a star. Ranbir broke all the rules.
When he acted in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahaani, he chose to go with Raj Kumar Santoshi, a great storyteller but not the first choice for the rest of his new-gen contemporaries. Rajneeti was a film filled with a host of acting and star talent, but he stood out in this ensemble piece. Even though the biggest hit of his career, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, has come with a Dharma production tag, it doesn’t alter the fact that the audience went into the movie hall not just to see a Karan Johar production but to see a Ranbir Kapoor film.
Even in the fickle world of movies, this means something — maybe we like Ranbir not because he plays himself over and over but precisely because he does not. We like him not because of his Kapoor lineage, but because he endears himself in a way that we, the middle class, can relate to. We like him because, even in the straitjacketed format of commercial cinema, he gives us something new to look forward to — Friday after Friday.