An in­sider’s look at the life and times of Bol­ly­wood’s best look­ing ac­tor... too good-look­ing to be loved by all!

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - Text by Nikhil Khanna Pho­tographs by Dab­boo Rat­nani

A RJUN RAMPAL is a don, or at least he’s pretty good at play­ing one. Now es­say­ing the role of the don Arun Gawli, he is shoot­ing for di­rec­tor Ashim Ah­luwalia’s film Daddy at the Ma­ha­rash­tra Po­lice Head­quar­ters in the heart of throb­bing Mum­bai. His make-up, done by two Ital­ian makeup artists flown in es­pe­cially for the movie, is as­ton­ish­ing. Blink, and you could think the gaunt face, the droop­ing mous­tache and the lazy eyes are the true-life Gawli.

Ex­traor­di­nary pros­thet­ics hold ev­ery­thing up but it is Rampal who brings elec­tric­ity to each scene. Un­der the great dome of the po­lice head­quar­ters, with huge por­traits of Shivaji, Babasa­heb Ambed­kar and Jawa­har­lal Nehru look­ing down on the busy shoot be­low, Rampal sits with head bowed, wait­ing for his next shot.

Any ac­tor worth his salt will tell you how te­dious it is get­ting a shot right – it takes many takes, no pun in­tended. Rampal mas­ters this with sheer con­cen­tra­tion and by go­ing over the script count­less times with the now ex­hausted script ed­i­tor. He re­hearses each scene with great in­ten­sity even though it’s not the fi­nal take; this is hard work at its purest.

Ah­luwalia, an award win­ning film­maker (Na­tional Film Awards, Cannes open­ing films, Ber­lin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val and many more), is an ex­act­ing di­rec­tor who could pick a fault in the man­ner in which a hat is peaked. He calls ‘Cut!’ at the drop of, well, a clap­per­board. The shoot starts at 8am and con­tin­ues for 18 hours.


The next day, at an event for a bev­er­age com­pany, Rampal is to mod­er­ate a dis­cus­sion with a panel of fash­ion de­sign­ers, in­clud­ing Masaba Gupta, Man­ish Arora, Shan­tanu and Nikhil, Ra­jesh Pratap Singh, Shane and Fal­guni Pea­cock, and mu­si­cian Gau­rav Raina. Be­fore the event, he locks him­self up in a suite at the St Regis Ho­tel (where the event is hap­pen­ing) and makes ex­ten­sive notes on what he’ll ask each per­son. His prepa­ra­tion is ex­act­ing and pointed – he makes co­pi­ous hand­writ­ten notes in sev­eral it­er­a­tions. He then slips into very ex­pen­sive black jeans and an asym­met­ric t-shirt by Rick Owens and a Ra­jesh Pratap Singh jacket with a burnt si­enna pip­ing, as­sis­tants spritz­ing here, teas­ing a col­lar there. Once he’s on stage, he lights up the panel and the au­di­ence, ban­ter­ing and teas­ing and ca­jol­ing. He makes the de­sign­ers squirm when he asks each to name their favourites! This, any­one will tell you, is just not kosher in the rag trade. He asks the Di­et­rich-voiced Man­ish Arora where he got that very par­tic­u­lar tone that Arora is known for. There are two an­swers to that ques­tion and one is un­print­able. Every­one on stage has smiles on their faces. The ques­tions are gen­tle but bor­der­ing on the wicked. He’s an in­sider and the in­jokes are nu­mer­ous.


What did it take a boy – for that was what he was then – of ex­traor­di­nary beauty, youth and form (the Greek ideal re­ally), make his way from far-off Ja­balpur to the top ech­e­lons of Bol­ly­wood? Was it just the looks and that deep bari­tone, or was it the con­join­ing of all forces – charm, luck, looks and more?

“I don’t think too much about how I got to be the way I am,” says Rampal light­ing a pipe, huge fra­grant bil­lows of smoke curl­ing above his head (he quit cig­a­rettes, but ‘pipes’ up now and then). “I got some at­ten­tion when I was in my 20s, but ba­si­cally I’ve al­ways got along with peo­ple, be it my fel­low army kids, col­lege friends or the glam­our crowd. There was never any stress with fame – I value it and am thank­ful for it to the ex­treme. But it didn’t drive me nuts.”

“My daugh­ters’ friends don’t drop in front of me and go all ‘Oh hi Arjun…’ In fact, they call me un­cle! I tell them not to be­cause I don’t look like one.”

In the 1990s, Rampal’s de­but in Delhi was as a rangy, six-foot­some­thing blok­ish bloke – more dude than the witty, so­phis­ti­cated man he is now, sprawled on a couch in Ro­hit Bal’s Golf Links apart­ment. Or in a swim­ming pool do­ing lan­guid strokes – a scene out of a David Hock­ney print. Or, in­deed, in Room 22 of Hindu Col­lege. Rampal was the ‘ je­unesse

doree’, a gilded youth who leaned more to­wards Ado­nis than Nar­cis­sus. His col­lege room was a den of bois­ter­ous in­iq­uity; clouds of or­ganic smoke bil­low­ing out, Pink Floyd on the stereo. It was the place to be. Crowds of anx­ious, wet-lipped girls would wait for him to show up at the col­lege en­trance. Rampal’s best friend in those days, the late, much missed Vikram Gill, was his San­cho Panza. They were a mag­i­cal pair, young, care­free guys burn­ing up the road be­tween Hindu and St Stephen’s Col­lege on huge mo­bikes, be­ing ir­re­spon­si­ble and lov­ing it. There were Hooray Henry just-on-a-lark trips to Simla, ut­terly un­planned, with the pho­tog­ra­pher Bharat Sikka and crowds of friends from the var­i­ous em­bassies dot­ting Delhi. It was a heady time.

Then came Rampal’s après col­lege years – the ramp and mod­el­ling and all that comes with it. The glitz, the lights, and then the sur­prise en­gage­ment to Malini Ra­mani. That the wed­ding didn’t hap­pen is an­other story, but that was then, and this is now and both par­ties moved on eons ago. Per­haps they grew out of each other but it was so long ago, it’s just a blip in both lives. After his New York years came his de­but in Ra­jiv Rai’s Pyaar Ishq

Aur Mo­hab­bat – never be­fore had a male ac­tor been lav­ished so much at­ten­tion on screen. It was the talk of the town.

Rampal, of course, has held his own. “Ev­ery­thing in life is a jour­ney,” he muses. “And I’ve had a very en­joy­able one be­fore the movies and now in the movies. I dis­like the word Bol­ly­wood and wish we could just call it the In­dian film in­dus­try be­cause that’s what it is – a mas­sive, roil­ing, cre­ative in­dus­try. Films are be­ing made with such pas­sion these days, with such ex­act­ing stan­dards, that it’s prob­a­bly the most ex­cit­ing time to be in the movies.” HOMING IN Back at the St Regis ho­tel, event over, Arjun Rampal slips on a large pair of film star dark glasses, slips into the driver’s seat of his black Range Rover (he’s given his chauf­feur the day off) and points the car home to his wife, Mehr, and his daugh­ters

Mahikaa and Myra (he has their names tat­tooed on his wrists).

The next day he will sit for 18 hours on the pro­duc­tion notes for

Daddy – he is also pro­duc­ing the film. He will then leave for New York that very night but not be­fore drop­ping in for two din­ner par­ties, squeez­ing a shoul­der here, kiss­ing a cheek there. Far re­moved from the rumpy-pumpy days of yore, this is an­other life in the day of Arjun Rampal.

Me­dia pro­fes­sional Nikhil Khanna is a well-known so­ci­ety in­sider, who has writ­ten for lead­ing news­pa­pers. He has been friends with Arjun Rampal for close to 30 years

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