TWO MEN ON THE BLOCK

ALL THAT ARJUN RAMPAL AND SONU SOOD BOND OVER

Society - - CONTENTS - By Arwa Jan­jali

Arjun Rampal and Sonu Sood share a lot in com­mon, in­clud­ing dreams. Let­ting their guards down for a heart-to-heart with So­ci­ety, the good look­ing men with ir­re­sistible bod­ies reveal them­selves in the var­i­ous roles they play be­yond the ones on screen

Arjun Rampal and Sonu Sood share a lot in com­mon, in­clud­ing dreams. let­ting their guards down for a heart-to-heart with So­ci­ety, the good look­ing men with ir­re­sistible bod­ies reveal them­selves in the var­i­ous roles they play be­yond the ones on screen

Arjun Rampal is in for a big sur­prise when we walk into his of­fice with a copy of his first So­ci­ety cover, shot in ’94. He was 21 and a su­per­model, be­ing touted as the next big face in the fashion in­dus­try af­ter Milind So­man. With both his hands pulling his silky, flow­ing hair be­hind, his close-up look on this cover shouts out ‘hunk’, the ti­tle he has been so lov­ingly be­stowed with, both on the ramp and on screen. The child­like in­no­cence on his face is un­mis­tak­able. What’s heart­en­ing to see though is that even af­ter pil­ing on about two decades to the for­mal ag­ing process, Arjun’s child­like in­no­cence and en­thu­si­asm is still in­tact. He is super thrilled to see the mag­a­zine and quickly takes his mo­bile phone to cap­ture some screen­shots of the cover and the in­side pages. A pic­ture of him pig­gy­back­ing his then girl­friend Malini Ra­mani pops up on one of the pages. Un­de­terred, he con­tin­ues click­ing. “This was my first big mag­a­zine cover af­ter mov­ing to Bom­bay. It opened a

lot of doors for me,” he says in his trade­mark bari­tone, the mini shut­ter­bug in his hand still in ac­tion. Af­ter a few more clicks, he set­tles on the chair. There is an easy air around him. He can’t stop talk­ing about the cover as he nar­rates his vivid mem­o­ries of meet­ing the writer of the story, Rehmat Mer­chant, at Taj’s cof­fee shop. “I re­mem­ber when Rehmat first called me for the in­ter­view. I told her, ‘I don’t do in­ter­views, I only do cov­ers’,” he guf­faws, his in­fec­tious laugh­ter filling the room. “I had never done a cover in my life,” he adds with an­other ‘haha’ and con­tin­ues, “She cracked up and said, ‘But it is a cover.’ So I was like okay good, then we can do it.” Join­ing our bouts and bursts is a faint gig­gle. Sonu Sood has been in the room as well… lis­ten­ing, smil­ing away and wait­ing for the ap­pro­pri­ate mo­ment to add to the con­ver­sa­tion. He comes across as a man of few words and is con­trolled… mak­ing up for quite the foil to Arjun’s mis­chief. But there’s also a lot that’s com­mon be­tween the two, who may other­wise ap­pear as dif­fer­ent as chalk and cheese. The com­mon­al­ity starts with their con­nec­tion with mod­el­ling. Both have en­joyed the hey­days of the fashion in­dus­try be­fore en­ter­ing films and have known each other since a time when ramp walk was the buzz word. All the drama un­folded there, with some of the best faces that the Hindi film in­dus­try has to­day, com­ing from there. Al­though the cou­ture in­dus­try con­tin­ues to boom, it’s no longer gov­erned by that quin­tes­sen­tial breed of models that once took the fashion and ad­ver­tis­ing world by storm. That breed has sadly be­come ex­tinct. But Arjun and Sonu have clearly moved on from be­ing models to ac­tors. In fact, quite re­cently, both have been busy liv­ing their shared dream—of be­ing sol­diers and fight­ing for their coun­try. Well, okay, we are talk­ing about J P Dutta’s up­com­ing war drama Pal­tan. Based on the mil­i­tary clashes be­tween In­dia and China along­side the bor­der of Sikkim in 1967, this is a film based on a true story and real life char­ac­ters. It has Arjun play Colonel Rai Singh, the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of this ‘Pal­tan’. While Sonu plays his right hand guy, fondly called Tiger Nathu La. “It was nice to

meet up with Sonu af­ter many many years and do a film to­gether for the first time,” Arjun says. To which Sonu chips in, “It was the bond­ing and chem­istry we shared that helped us sur­vive the chal­lenges of shoot­ing in a place like Ladakh.” The bond­ing and chem­istry is bound to hap­pen when people share the same dreams and goals. For Arjun and Sonu, do­ing this film was like ful­fill­ing one of their most cher­ished de­sires. “I al­ways wanted to be an ac­tor who is in uni­form, fight­ing for his na­tion. My dad wanted to be an army guy, but couldn’t due to reser­va­tions from his family. So he al­ways wanted to see me in uni­form. And when I signed this film, he was very proud. I lost him two years ago and I wish he was there to­day to see me play an army of­fi­cer,” Sonu re­counts. Arjun, on the other hand, has grown up in a can­ton­ment area (Devlali), with both his nana and dada be­ing dec­o­rated army of­fi­cers. “They don’t make men and army of­fi­cers like that any­more,” Arjun stresses. “Army has been very close to my heart. As an ac­tor, I have al­ways wanted to do a proper army war film. And I don’t think there is any bet­ter person to do it with than J P Dutta,” he says. The name J P Dutta trans­ports Sonu back to 2008, when he had signed Pal­tan. It was 10 years ago when the renowned di­rec­tor of war films called Sonu and of­fered him the film. “He said, ‘I love your work. I will be do­ing a war film soon and you will be in it’,” Sonu rec­ol­lects. When Arjun first met Dutta, he got the im­pres­sion that they might not click. “I thought we would prob­a­bly not have much in com­mon as people. But once we started hang­ing out, it was very un­canny how sim­i­lar we both are in many ways and how well we gelled and got along. Whether it was our sar­casm, our ob­ser­va­tions of people and tak­ing the mickey out of it... we were on the same page. So on that level, it’s been a very special film,” Arjun

re­veals. Sonu re­mem­bers his first day of shoot. “I had a run­ning shot when I had just landed in Ladakh. And you can’t run even a short dis­tance, it’s so tir­ing due to lack of oxy­gen. Ev­ery­one was con­cerned and were ask­ing, ‘ yaar tu theek hain?’ I don’t know how I sur­vived,” he nar­rates. To this, Arjun quickly adds, “So from the time I landed in Ladakh, I never left the set due to the ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion issue there. Sonu left the set about eight times,” he laughs out loud, “He had a show, had to go some­where, cut a rib­bon, do this, do that… he would come straight from the air­port to the set, get into his cos­tume and tell J P sir, ‘I am ready’. We were very con­cerned about his health but he went on smoothly. It just showed how super fit he is.” “In fact, Arjun was the one who was al­ways on his toes,” Sonu flashes a mod­est smile, adding, “I am sure there are people fit­ter than me. But it’s the con­sis­tency that helps you sur­vive for long. I am hard­work­ing and I have fol­lowed a chal­leng­ing rou­tine every day for so many years. I am very par­tic­u­lar with my diet and sleep. I don’t drink or smoke. Six packs are a trend now but I had them when I was a stu­dent and people used to tell me that I look like an ath­lete. But I thor­oughly en­joyed that. I have been maintaining that from the last 20 years.” Fit­ness has be­come quite the norm with ac­tors these days, what with toned and chis­elled bod­ies be­com­ing the cri­te­ria for ev­ery­one ap­pear­ing on screen. What do the two fit­ness freaks think about the phe­nom­e­non? “It’s very im­por­tant for an ac­tor to be fit. You in­spire mil­lions of people when they watch you on screen. Es­pe­cially in In­dian cin­ema, an ac­tor is idolised. So there is no ex­cuse there. It also gives you a high when you can sur­vive harsh cli­matic con­di­tions like in Ladakh,” Sonu smiles. Along with maintaining a fit body, an­other trend that has swept the film in­dus­try is an ac­tor’s phys­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion to suit a par­tic­u­lar role. One con­stantly hears of an Aamir Khan and Vidya Balan pil­ing on ki­los for a Dan­gal and The Dirty Pic­ture re­spec­tively and then los­ing it all for their next films. Arjun him­self had lost weight to play the skinny gang­ster­turned-politi­cian Arun Gawli in his last film Daddy. Is look­ing the part as im­por­tant as emot­ing the part now? “I think it’s great!” ex­claims Arjun.“When you are meta­mor­phos­ing phys­i­cally, your body lan­guage, at­ti­tude and mind­set changes as com­pared to what used to hap­pen in the ‘70s, where you were do­ing four films at the same time and there were four sets put up in the same vicin­ity. And I know cer­tain ac­tors—

won’t men­tion their names—who would walk from one set to an­other set, chang­ing cos­tume on their way to the set and stand­ing in front of the cam­era and then be­com­ing the char­ac­ter. So there was no di­ver­sity in terms of style of act­ing,” he nar­rates, “Ac­tors to­day un­der­stand what act­ing is and they take it more se­ri­ously. What Aamir did with Dan­gal was phe­nom­e­nal. The way he put on weight and then be­came fit again. But when you see him, he is so ef­fort­less... the way he moves, the way he talks.” But there’s Vidya Balan too, who hasn’t been able to lose the weight she put on for her 2011 film and now, has a per­ma­nent health issue due to that. “Any­thing that you do very quickly is go­ing to af­fect you. You can­not say that in two months, I will put on and in the third month I will lose it for an­other film. You can­not shock your body to that level. Your body is the most wellde­signed ma­chine on the planet. You have to give it time. But then you may lose out on a film or a com­mer­cial. You can’t be greedy. I am not say­ing Vidya was greedy. Most im­por­tantly, even when you are not work­ing on a film, make your­self re­ally fit,” says Arjun. “I agree with Arjun. It is dan­ger­ous and I do get wor­ried when I see bod­ies change overnight in gyms too. I go up to them and tell them to be more care­ful and do things in the right man­ner,” Sonu says. Talk­ing about trends, the great shift is also with re­spect to con­tent. Biopics and his­tor­i­cals are the flavour of the Hindi film in­dus­try at the mo­ment. “Yes, en­ter­tain­ment is a big part of it and we are do­ing re­ally well with that too but with real life sto­ries like his­tor­i­cals or biopics, there is a lot of re­search and you get a lot of in­for­ma­tion to play with. That means you get a lot of homework and take stuff back with you to ab­sorb,” feels Arjun, who has a lot on his plate at the mo­ment. “There is some nice stuff that I am ex­plor­ing. I am do­ing an ad­ven­ture-fan­tasy film for my kids. My kids also like hor­ror. So there is one cool hor­ror film—I play a vig­i­lante kind of a char­ac­ter. There is a sports-thriller and a beau­ti­ful ro­man­tic film. There is a biopic on the cards. So it’s ex­cit­ing,” he in­forms, adding, “I am also fo­cus­ing on pro­duc­ing web se­ries, orig­i­nals and films as it’s a golden pe­riod for people who want to trade good con­tent with the sup­port of all the digital plat­forms.” And what about his other as­pi­ra­tions like de­sign­ing

and chore­og­ra­phy, as men­tioned by him in the ‘94 in­ter­view? “Did I say that?” he al­most chokes. “I don’t know what I was on about then but def­i­nitely not chore­og­ra­phy. Never! I had not even done any com­mer­cial at that time yet and I still wanted to run away from it. But that’s me. I am still like that,” he con­fides, say­ing be­ing in the in­dus­try for 18 years hasn’t changed him as a person. “I am a child at heart and I will al­ways be that. I get ex­cited very fast, I want ev­ery­thing re­ally fast and then just do it and if it doesn’t hap­pen re­ally fast, I get bored of it. But I am not the kind of person to get caught up in an im­age. I am a very easy person,” he con­fesses. From be­ing the drop-dead gor­geous looker to a bank­able ac­tor, Arjun has surely come a long way as an ac­tor. “I have climbed leaps and bounds,” he laughs. “When I see my first few films, I am like ‘Oh my god. What was I do­ing out there?’ But what­ever I have done in the last five to six years, people have been pos­i­tive about the per­for­mances,” he says con­fi­dently. Mean­while Sonu is prob­a­bly the only Pun­jabi who not only started his ca­reer down South but has also been im­mensely suc­cess­ful in the 50 to 60 Tamil, Tel­ugu and Kan­nada films he has acted in. He has man­aged to merge North and South ef­fort­lessly. “When I signed my first Tamil film, my mom Saroj Singh got me a book How To Learn Tamil. She was a pro­fes­sor in Pun­jab and said that it’s very im­por­tant to learn the lan­guage to ex­press well. So on my way to Chennai, I was study­ing the lan­guage re­li­giously as if I was go­ing to ap­pear for an exam. And I slowly started pick­ing up the lan­guage, then Tel­ugu and Kan­nada hap­pened. I am pretty good with all these lan­guages now. And work­ing in South has re­ally helped me learn the craft,” Sonu shares. He has three re­leases com­ing up in the next six months— Ku­ruk­shetra, Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi with Kan­gana Ra­naut, Simmba with Ro­hit Shetty and two Tel­ugu films. De­spite do­ing a ma­jor­ity of mul­ti­star­rers, both these men have held their own and had a strong screen pres­ence. But when it comes to online pres­ence, they are fairly in­ac­tive as com­pared to their col­leagues Priyanka Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan, or even Amitabh Bachchan for that mat­ter. Ev­i­dently, the enigma that a star was once upon a time has trans­formed into an ac­ces­si­ble in­flu­encer on so­cial me­dia. But they don’t shy away from giv­ing a thumbs-up to it. Sonu calls it a revolution which makes life both easy and dif­fi­cult and Arjun thinks it’s the fu­ture. “You want to think that you know ev­ery­thing about ev­ery­body but ev­ery­body is just mak­ing a fool out of you, by let­ting you think what they want you to think about them,” Arjun jokes and goes on. “I am very shy and not com­fort­able in the zone where I am get­ting pho­tographed by pa­parazzi and people in gen­eral while hav­ing din­ner at a restau­rant or catch­ing a flight. It’s be­come so easy for people to do it. They are not even shy or em­bar­rassed about it. The other day, some­body just shoved their cam­era straight into my car win­dow. So I don’t go out that much. In re­cent times, when I have ac­tu­ally stepped out, I have seen that there are so many places to visit and I have been liv­ing un­der a rock. But I don’t miss it ei­ther,” says the man who owned LAP, one of Delhi’s plush dis­cothe­ques and lux­ury lounge bars. When we ask him about his friends from the in­dus­try, Arjun clearly hints at not hang­ing out with any­body from the in­dus­try any­more, like he used to. “Be­cause ev­ery­body is busy. So mostly the people you hang out with are not from the in­dus­try, which is nicer, be­cause it’s re­fresh­ing. You can ac­tu­ally come back and stop talk­ing films and stop be­ing com­pletely con­sumed by some­thing,” he opines. Ac­cord­ing to Sonu, one must change with the times but one is not sup­posed to be ev­ery­where, like celebri­ties are nowa­days. How­ever, that doesn’t stop the friend in him to be ev­ery­where for ev­ery­one. He has a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing friends with one and all in the in­dus­try. “I have worked with ev­ery­one—from Sal­man, Shah Rukh and Bachchan saab to Hrithik and from Chi­ran­jeevi to Ra­jinikanth down South— and I was al­ways made to be­lieve that

par­ties are the place to be at to find work and sur­vive in the in­dus­try. But I am not a party person. I don’t drink or smoke. I haven’t grabbed any films be­cause of so­cial­is­ing. I have be­cause of my rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing a thor­ough pro­fes­sional,” Sonu clar­i­fies, adding,“I am not a con­tro­ver­sial guy who gos­sips on the sets. I was al­ways a back­bencher who would come, do his job and be nice to ev­ery­one. Slowly, people got the con­fi­dence that they could trust me and I could be some­one whom they could prob­a­bly call in the mid­dle of the night. But I don’t con­sciously think about the equa­tions people share. There are no hard and fast rules that I fol­low. I am the way I am.” Apart from all the role plays, there is one role that both Arjun and Sonu play very se­ri­ously, that of a dot­ing dad. Men­tion the chil­dren and both turn into proud fa­thers rat­tling away praises about their kid­dos. Arjun is not just proud of his daugh­ters Mahikaa and Myra be­ing lov­ing, grounded and child­like in a world of toxic in­for­ma­tion, he is all praises for Shah Rukh Khan’s kids Aryan and Suhana as well and ap­plauds their up­bring­ing. “They are the most won­der­ful chil­dren that you get to meet be­cause they have a lot of tehzeeb. I hope if my chil­dren are go­ing to come to this in­dus­try or go to any other in­dus­try, they will carry cer­tain val­ues and prin­ci­ples. They have had easy ac­cess to travel, a good school and got to learn so much so eas­ily. They haven’t let that go to their head,” the fa­ther beams. Sonu is wait­ing to ful­fill his dream of be­ing a crick­eter and play­ing for his coun­try through his son Ayaan, who is ap­par­ently very good with the game and plays with pro­fes­sion­als at the age of eight. Ask them about their other per­sonal in­ter­ests and there are se­crets tum­bling out of their clos­ets. “I am very good with writ­ing,” Sonu re­veals. “Most direc­tors swear by the dia­logues I come up with. I can chal­lenge any­one that they are ir­re­sistible. There have been quite a few big hits with iconic dia­logues, writ­ten by me. I have never taken any credit be­cause I don’t want to take that away from the writ­ers,” the di­a­logue writer, who main­tains a diary to pen down his thoughts, baf­fles us with this piece of info. So does he plan to take up writ­ing in fu­ture? “Maybe it’s too early to take it up full-fledged,” he re­sponds, fu­elling our cu­rios­ity fur­ther about the ‘iconic dia­logues’. “I love read­ing bi­ogra­phies and fic­tion,” Arjun says. “I also love spin­ning, jam­ming on guitar with my guitar teacher, trekking and trav­el­ling,” he shares. And oh, all of this only when he is able to pull him­self away from his two new pups. Both these out­siders, without any god­fa­thers in the in­dus­try, are stand­ing tall with their re­spec­tive bod­ies of work to­day. Here’s a toast to the hunk and the hulk!

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