By Asjad Nazir
Actor Arjun Kapoor has come a long way in a very short space of time and continues to find himself headlining high-profile films including this week’s major release Mubarakan. He plays a double role in the predominantly London-set comedy, which promises plenty of laughs and big musical numbers.
The versatile hero stars alongside Ileana D’Cruz, Athiya Shetty and Anil Kapoor in the Anees Bazmee-directed masala entertainer. The big projects, stardom and adulation haven’t gone to Arjun’s head.
He still has his feet very much on the ground and was on fine form when Eastern Eye caught up with to talk about Mubarakan , comedy, future hopes, stardom, his hot leading ladies and more.
You have starred in mostly story-driven films; what made you want to act in a comedy?
Mubarakan is a situational comedy and more about the confusion caused because of the circumstances. It’s actually not about slapstick, running around and the physical comedy. It’s not a gag-driven film, but actually story-driven. It was exciting to do comedy that was situational and that got me really into it.
Of course there was also the opportunity to work with director Anees Bazmee and Anil (Kapoor) chacha (uncle). The little bit of comedy moments I have had in some of my films, I enjoyed making people laugh and felt this presented me with an opportunity to explore that whole-heartedly.
How was it playing a double role again after your film Aurangzeb?
This was a different space altogether because in Aurangzeb the two characters didn’t share any screen space until one scene in the end, where I come face-to-face with myself. That interpersonal relationship wasn’t there because they didn’t share screen space, but here I needed to have a dynamic between two brothers. I am completely with myself through the film so there is a very different approach and take.
The VFX was important because it is completely co-related to how I perform to enable them to make it look seamless. So I had to develop both characters from scratch, but have an inter-personal relationship between them, which I explored thoroughly. So it was a different experience, but exciting none the less.
Is it difficult to keep the two personalities apart when you are in a comedy?
It took a day or two, but the turban really helped. The turban would take 15-20 minutes to put on but it would calm me down and get me into character. My body language and demeanour would change. So it automatically allowed me to breathe, which is very important. When you are doing a film like this, you need to breathe and hold on to how you thought the character would be beforehand. So the turban wearing would allow me to breathe into Charan and breathe out of Karan.
Have you got used to being the headline act in a film after five years?
(Laughs) I am trying to get used to it and it feels surreal sometimes. After five years to achieve, certain things are always part of your agenda, but when you see them get achieved you feel happy, yet get surprised by the fact you put your mind to something and managed to achieve it. To have an identity and being the face of a film in the broadest of terms, without making it seem it is all about me.
What do you mean?
I enjoy the film being a product of everybody’s hard work. I never try to look at it as baggage that I have to carry. Of course, business means you have to carry a certain kind of load on yourself, which I am okay with. I am happy and enjoying doing good films without thinking about the fact I have become the main or solo lead. Those terms bog you down from time to time. For me the sum of the film is bigger than the parts. I always try to maintain that thought as much as possible.
Your uncle Anil Kapoor is seen as a force of nature. Was it easy or difficult to keep up with him?
It was great fun because we needed that energy in this film. He gave the film that energy, which comes in very handy when you are doing this genre because you need a certain ambience, attitude and approach.
One where you are making sure there is a smile on your face in these situations. He kept our spirits high. I really enjoyed working with him because his energy translates on set, not just with the actors, but the entire crew.
Everybody used to be happier and in a more energetic space because we had him providing us with that ammunition.
What was the experience of shooting Mubarakan in London?
Honestly, it was absolutely fantastic. I have been there many times for holidays, film promotions and various other work, but it was my first time shooting in the city. I have to commend the local crew, cast and team who made it an absolute pleasure and seamless. They made it as comfortable as possible. The UK government deserves full credit for what they provide us with. That is why so many films enjoy shooting in the UK. It feels like a second home to us. Even though we shot in winter, I still had a blast and managed to survive because of the team we had.
What was your favourite location?
My favourite location has to be the Gurudwara in Kent. It is beautiful and stunning. It is remarkable and leaves you speechless. In a way, I am glad we got to showcase it to the rest of the world, that there is a Gurudwara in the heart of England that is one of the biggest in the world and so well-maintained. There is such an amazing energy that it exudes and has positivity all around. I was very proud to be shooting there.
You have had an incredible run of leading ladies you have worked with. How did Ileana D’Cruz and Athiya Shetty compare to the others?
(Smiles) I keep saying this to you and you are absolutely right Asjad! I feel very lucky. You make your own luck with the material you select. I have been fortunate enough to work with amazing actors, and not just the female leads. Look at Manoj Bajpayee, Rishi Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Amitabh Bachchan, Pankaj Kapur and Anil chacha now. Every experience just teaches you.
Both these girls are very nice people and that makes your work so much easier, when you have like-minded people to work with. I had a blast working with them. It wasn’t an easy film for them also because of the double role. They had to be very patient.
What were they like on set?
Ileana is tremendously professional and is always very sorted on set. It is always good to have a co-actor like that, who knows exactly what they are doing. It allows you to improvise with them because they are so prepared. I think the innocence Athiya had as a newcomer allowed us to work on set so nicely because she is such a willing learner. It was two different dynamics and tremendously enjoyable.
What kinds of comedies do you like watching yourself?
I like all kinds, but most enjoy situational comedies like Mubarakan . If I had to sum up Mubarakan, it’s No Entry meets My Big Fat Greek Wedding. For me, situations always provide more laughter than just trying to make people laugh. If you are doing it seriously and people are laughing at the situation, it automatically makes it interesting.
Do you have a favourite double role film?
I really love Aankhen and Kishen Kanhaiya , which Anil chacha did some years back. The double role is a very Indian concept at heart.
Looking ahead, are you going to continue being the unpredictable force of nature?
I would like to remain that way, honestly. I would not like to get into a comfort zone. I think the first few years define how people look at you. If they start seeing you as someone who does only one kind of cinema, what happens is that it’s very difficult to break that notion. I would rather not have an image or a perception because that can bog you down, with the kind of films that are offered to you.
I would like to do all kinds of films. I am very happy and excited that after Mubarakan I get to do a Dibakar Banerjee directed film. That is how I want to explore the two ends of the spectrum’s, going from an Anees Bazmee to a Dibakar Banerjee. I want to be able to do that for the rest of my life. That is very exciting for me as an actor and doesn’t allow you to breathe and rest easy.
A whole new generation like you are helping redefine Indian cinema; what is your future hopes for it?
That is difficult to put in a particular answer. I want to see a balance created between the new age and the conventional cinema. I sometimes feel we skewer either too far towards one or the other depending on the mood of the nation and audience. I would like to believe all actors want to find that balance and make that choice to keep pushing the envelope, but still entertain.
A lot of people often forget the audience in India is vast with different varied tastes. I hope the younger generation still keeps connected to the pan-India audience as well. I hope we don’t disconnect with the smaller pockets of India. We should still engage with the whole country. We can’t just make films for selected audiences. I would like to believe the younger generation will entertain each and every person who comes to the theater, and not just the selected few.
Can you give a message for your fans?
Firstly I would like to say thank you to each and every person who has enjoyed and watched my work. That is the main reason why we are here as actors. It makes me very grateful and happy.
I was so happy when I was shooting Mubarakan in London to know that so many people had so much love there. I hope with Mubarakan that love grows. If you enjoy watching Hindi films I am sure you’ll enjoy watching Mubarakan . It’s a complete pure, simple, clean family entertainment.
Mubarakan is in cinemas now.