'Ishaqzaade released on May 11, 2012. It has been seven years.'
'But if you had spoken to me on May 10, 2012, and said that I would do 13 films with so many good directors and actors, I would have said, 'Chal jhoota.''
Arjun Kapoor stands tall in the trailer of India's Most Wanted, which is getting good reviews.
Directed by Raj Kumar Gupta, the film tries to trace 'India's Osama' but largely keeps quiet on who that might be.
Arjun looks back proudly at the film and tells Patcy N/Rediff.com, "I am not playing the quintessential agent in a James Bond uniform."
Your simplicity comes out in the film...
It’s because of Raj (Kumar Gupta, director) sir.
When I signed the film, he had categorically said that he did not want me to play it like a hero.
I found that fascinating. That’s one of the reasons why I took up this film -- because of its tone and realism.
The film is devoid of song and dance and jingoism.
It does not give speeches and entice public opinion.
It’s a film about people who actually do things, people who are very normal.
They live a normal life, go to a 9-to-5 job.
When you see them, you are not supposed to know they are IB (Intelligence Bureau) officers.
When I met some IB officers, I realised they have certain blending-in abilities and we have tried to incorporate that in the film.
The tone has to be appreciated -- it's the clothes, the way it is shot, the way it is performed, the way he imagined it ... this man is still alive; he is waiting for his pardon.
The sad part is that our government is respectful of our worst terrorist. They are feeding him biryani.
But these men who put their lives on the line without having any kind of support -- not even ammunition -- nobody knows them.
They are normal people and roam around in public normally.
Nobody will ever know these people.
What was your reaction when you heard the story?
I thought this would be the right way (to present it) because this is how it would be believable.
Such officers might be staying in our neighbourhood and we might not be aware of them.
I enjoyed playing a non-hero character, where the story, the journey and his deeds makes him heroic, rather than hitting someone and asking him, ‘Bataa, kahan hai terrorist?'
That is not how you find a terrorist.
Espionage and covert operations are unique. They need a lot of finesse, a different mindset.
You need to conduct yourself in a certain way.
When we met IB officers, we realised they have to be very social with their informers and agents, the people who get intel for them.
You cannot intimidate them. You have to spend time with them.
Was it difficult playing a 'non-hero' role?
I played a villain in Ishaqzaade.
I played the darkest character possible, so I didn’t have much stress.
When I did Aurangzeb, one of the characters is non-heroic and a coward.
In Ki & Ka and Finding Fanny, I was not heroic at all.
Because I am a producer’s son, I am seen in a lot of commercial films and my image is like that.
How did Raj Kumar Gupta approach you?
Raj sir and I were supposed to do a film called Revolution 2020. That was on Chetan Bhagat's novel but it did not happen.
Raj sir was the first director I met after Ishaqzaade.
When the trailer of Raid came out, I called him and said that I loved it.
I was happy that, after Ghanchakkar, he was getting an opportunity to make a film.
He asked me what was I doing, and when I said ‘nothing’, he said he would send me something to read.
I still remember that it was 2 pm on February 14.
At 5 pm, I told him I was doing the film.
I got a Valentine Day’s gift from Raj Kumar Gupta and that was India’s Most Wanted.
It was a commercial film in my mind then because the story is regular.
I did not think about the tone of the film or the commerce.
The only thing I thought was that I am an Indian who has an understanding of the world, of life and of what happens in our country.
I didn't know this story, that this man is responsible for killing 400 plus people.
The government worked its ass off to find him but could not get him because he was out of the country.
But these guys went without caring for their lives, without any guns, to bring him back.
Five years ago, I would have given it a thought before signing up.
Now, I’m more secure as an actor and said yes immediately.
Also, I felt I suited the role.
I feel that there is a certain brawn that I have and that there is also a certain brain that this character needed. I liked that balance.
I felt I could bring in that nuance of not being over-the-top and yet be convincing.
Did you meet the people who did this?
No, we were not allowed to meet them for security reasons.
We have met other IB officers.
People like your performance in the trailer.
The credit goes to Raj sir because he wrote it and he chose the graph.
We sat in office for 10 days and worked on the material.
If you are seeing the maturity in the role or in the performance, the non-heroism, the believability, it stems from his clarity.
Before this, he has made many character-driven films like No One Killed Jessica, Aamir and Raid. Even those characters were not superheroes. There was something very believable about them.
I am not playing the quintessential agent in a James Bond uniform.
Tell us about the shooting experience.
Yeh film mein producer ka beta hone ka maine pura advantage uthaiya (I took full advantage of being a producer's son) because I realised this film is impossible to shoot again.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, where you shoot the film on location without spreading the word.
We were as discreet as possible.
We knew that once we leave the location, we cannot come back again to shoot.
We cannot even reshoot the scenes in Mumbai.
When we went to Patna, I realised that if we shoot a wide shot in Golghar and a close-up in Mumbai, a boy sitting in Patna will say we never went there to shoot.
Film chaley ya na chaley, ek apnapan toh aana chahiye, if I am playing a Bihari (Whether the film works or not, people should identify with my character if I’m playing a Bihari and the film is shot in Bihar).
So I made that choice as a producer’s son and as an actor that we must shoot there (on location).
We had planned to shoot in Nepal for 35 days.
It’s not that difficult because in Nepal, before they realised a shoot was happening, hum aage badh jaatey (we would move ahead).
All I needed to do was not get irritable about the fact that we had to wait for the right moment to take the shot.
While waiting, I would sit in my SUV and chat with my team members to keep my mind diverted.
The team was amazing; we finished the film on time.
Shooting in live locations... has your perspective changed?
Of course. I was sitting in an air-conditioned car with my team.
If I am thirsty, I can get water.
I can eat my food whenever I want.
After my break, I can go back to my hotel.
But the IB officer, when he sits for intel, woh bathroom bhi wahi karta hai (his loo is right there)... They have to hide in the fields... They have to sit at tea stalls for six-eight hours...
They live in these conditions and look for people and information all the time.
They have to be among the public but not get caught.
They have to live in the same clothes for 10 days.
If we don’t take a bath in the evening in this Mumbai weather, we feel the whole day was bekaar, we don’t find peace.
So when I was in these live locations, you get a sense of what a difficult job it is.
When they travel, they take one bag with one change. They wash their own clothes, live in small hotels, all together.
One person sleeps for two hours and the other is on watch.
It's a very difficult life.
I had been to Patna when I went to promote Tevar. I realised that people have created terror about Patna for no reason.
The police protected us really well.
The crowd was very respectful, warm and kind.
The people who came to meet me at Golghar just wanted me to wave at them.
How did your father Boney Kapoor react when he saw the trailer?
My father's reaction surprised me because he got emotional.
He is also a commercial viewer and he said that his son had taken a mature decision to do a sensitive film.
There is a underdog texture to the film rather than the boisterous 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai.'
Will you keep balancing good cinema with...
Listen, Mubarakan was also good cinema.
You are making people laugh.
When I was in Bihar shooting for this film, a lot of people told me they liked Gunday. For them, that is good cinema.
Different people like different things, that’s why every kind of film does well.
Andhadhun did well, and so did Simmba.
So avenues are opening up today.
I can do an India's Most Wanted without a lip sync song or a heroine.
In today's times, audiences are happy if there are no songs.
I know people who check their WhatsApp when a song plays in the theatre. Ninety per cent people go to the bathroom when the songs play.
Our audiences have become Hollywoodised; they like their two hours of entertainment.
I think the interval (culture) will also end in some time. Intervals are to profit the theatres but there are so many films that do not need an interval.
Do you think you have an edge over your contemporaries?
My last Friday clearly states I don't (laughs).
Every year, things change.
Every Friday, things change.
Today, someone is doing well; tomorrow, someone else will be doing well.
A Vicky Kaushal does a Rs 250 crore business because his film motivates you and inspires you to watch it again and again.
We are bound by directors and producers now more than ever before because the vision of the film should not be compromised.
If a producer had asked Raj sir to add two songs to it or a flashback scene where my character has an affair and the girl has left me -- to add songs -- the film would have been destroyed.
You have done 12 films so far.
I feel old now!
I am finishing my 13th film, Panipat.
I am a senior now and, with all my experience, I can advise newcomers (laughs)...
It doesn't feel like that. Seven years is a long time but it has flown by.
Ishaqzaade released on May 11, 2012. It has been seven years.
But if you had spoken to me on May 10, 2012, and said that I would do 13 films with so many good directors and actors, I would have said, 'Chal jhoota.'
It’s not easy to imagine a career like this.
I am not talking about hits and flops, I am just talking about the journey.
I feel I am part of a very fortunate section of actors and we have all lived the dream.
It’s a club of eight to 10 of us, and we’ve shared some wonderful moments together.
Tell us about Panipat.
I had to go into a shell and hide my look for six months.
It’s not easy living with a cap all the time.
I want you to experience my look in the costume because of the drama of playing a peshwa -- the ghera shendi looks weird without context.
Because we are shooting at N D Studios and Jaipur, you feel you belong to that world, where all the actors have shaved their heads.
We have these big sets put up on maidans... the Red Fort... then he (Ashutosh Gowariker, director) made a big creation for a romantic song, a real garden was erected...
He is such a stickler for perfection that if he does not like your shirt colour, he will wait for 20 minutes while you get the perfect shirt.
He’s an actor himself. He has worked with the best like Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan.
When he tells you it’s a good shot, you should believe him.
He is very thorough. He chose to make this film because he has done research on the story.
I chose to do this film because it’s an overwhelming story.
It’s a story about the Indian Army against the Afghan invaders. It’s a war film, the politics of it.
It's a patriotic film of another kind.