‘I gave blood, sweat, tears and my hair for Haider’

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His hair is barely a mil­lime­tre long, his face pale with fa­tigue, and half-cov­ered with an un­kempt beard. The broody brown eyes are vaguely fa­mil­iar, but in the haze drift­ing in from the moun­tains, and the shroud of un­ease, it’s hard to recog­nise Bol­ly­wood heart-throb Shahid Kapoor on set in his guise as Vishal Bhard­waj’s Haider.

While the world raves about Shahid’s per­for­mance in this stun­ning adap­ta­tion of Wil­liam Shake­speare’s Ham­let, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to be blown away by his bril­liance in one blink-and-you-will-miss-it scene. It hap­pens early in the movie when Shahid’s character Haider comes back home after learn­ing that his ge­nial doc­tor fa­ther has been taken away by the army for treat­ing a mil­i­tant. Ex­pect­ing to find his mother dis­traught with worry, he walks in to catch his un­cle flirt­ing with her, and she is clearly en­joy­ing the at­ten­tion.

For mo­ments that seemed like a lifetime, there is no di­a­logue. Shahid’s eyes do all the talk­ing, re­flect­ing shock, pain and dis­may with such heart-wrench­ing sub­tlety that you can­not but cry for the in­no­cent boy who in one tragic mo­ment be­comes a scep­ti­cal man. In that in­stant Shahid Kapoor, a Bol­ly­wood star, grad­u­ated to be­ing an ac­tor of un­ques­tion­able reck­on­ing.

Haider is a world away from the kitsch and com­edy of Shahid’s last hit movie, the block­buster R… Ra­jku­mar, a film that aptly showcases his skills as a dancer. And it is this ver­sa­til­ity that makes one won­der how a songand-dance man could take on one of the great­est works of Shake­speare. But be­hind the glossy ve­neer of the Bol­ly­wood star is a man who bears the bur­den of the rigours of fame; the deep-rooted scars that come from be­ing a child of di­vorce.

His ac­tor par­ents – fa­ther Pankaj Ka­pur and mother Nee­l­ima Azeem – ended their re­la­tion­ship when Shahid was very young. Both par­ents went on to marry other ac­tors and start a fam­ily with them. “Even though my mother and step­fa­ther [Ra­jesh Khat­tar] got di­vorced a few years ago, I am still quite close to him and my kid brother Ishaan,” he says.

Shahid’s in­ner con­flicts have read­ied him for what is a ca­reerdefin­ing role, as he steps out of the world of com­mer­cial ex­cess and overblown histri­on­ics and into the per­for­mance of a lifetime, in Bhard­waj’s film. He is stripped bare as the Hindi Ham­let, lit­er­ally ex­pos­ing the brood­ing By­ronic fig­ure that lurks within – a role he knew he had to play. “There are very few op­por­tu­ni­ties when you get to ac­tu­ally act so much [as he does in

Haider] and when­ever I’ve had that op­por­tu­nity I have tried to grab at it,” he says.

He ad­mits that he started his ca­reer with his first lead­ing role in a very con­ven­tional love story, Ishq

Vishk, and says, “that’s how a lot of ac­tors in In­dia get in­tro­duced, when you come in with more of a ro­man­tic im­age”. But Shahid, 33, is quick to add that he was happy do­ing those roles at the time as he con­nected with a young gen­er­a­tion.

“I loved do­ing those roles. That said, I think be­com­ing a star hap­pens by de­fault. I’m lucky that it hap­pened

‘I think be­com­ing a star hap­pens by de­fault. I’m lucky it hap­pened with my first film, IshqVishk’

with my first film Ishq Vishk. It’s also simultaneously a jour­ney where I wanted to be an ac­tor.”

The son of clas­si­cally trained stage and screen ac­tor, Pankaj Ka­pur, who won crit­i­cal ac­claim for his por­trayal of King Dun­can in Maq­bool, Vishal Bhard­waj’s adap­ta­tion of Mac­beth, Shahid is not un­fa­mil­iar with the world of Shake­speare, hav­ing grown up in a mi­lieu where the clas­sics were lov­ingly pored over as a mat­ter of course.

And while his ear­lier movies made Shahid a star, with Haider, he’s on the brink of be­com­ing some­thing far greater: an ac­tor of dis­tinc­tion, like his fa­ther.

Although Haider is Bol­ly­wood’s first sig­nif­i­cant adap­ta­tion of

Ham­let, Shahid knew that he was step­ping into the shad­ows of some of the world’s all-time great stage and cin­ema leg­ends such as Lau­rence Olivier – who di­rected and acted in the 1948 film that went on to win Best Film and earn him the Best Ac­tor at the Academy Awards – and John Giel­gud, the the­atre icon who played Ham­let more than 500 times.

“To be hon­est, when I agreed to do the role, I didn’t re­alise that I was go­ing to be do­ing one of the most com­plex roles of my ca­reer,” he says. “It was only after we were about half­way through the film that I be­gan to seek ap­proval from Vishal as I didn’t want to miss out on a nu­ance, mainly be­cause it is a character with so many lay­ers to it that it be­comes too dif­fi­cult to an­a­lyse if you are do­ing it right or not. So when­ever I felt con­fused I would look at Vishal

after each cut and if he was happy, I would be sat­is­fied know­ing what­ever I had done was right.”

The film is set in 1990s Kashmir, against the back­drop of po­lit­i­cal un­rest in the peren­ni­ally war-torn re­gion. When Shahid’s character Haider re­alises that his mother and his fa­ther’s younger brother – played by the for­mi­da­ble tal­ent of Life of Pi and Name­sake star Tabu and ac­tor Kay Kay Menon – could be hav­ing an af­fair and his un­cle could be re­spon­si­ble for his fa­ther’s death, what en­sues is a tragic tale of re­venge, be­trayal and over­all mis­trust.

“For me, Haider is somebody who rep­re­sents the choice that ev­ery hu­man be­ing has and how you deal with a loss that you fail to be able to make peace with,” says Shahid. “That’s the jour­ney of Haider.”

The role sees Shahid shorn of his trade­mark shock of hair, leav­ing him bare to por­tray his in­tense angst and con­fu­sion, which bor­ders on be­ing ma­ni­a­cal. It’s a huge com­mit­ment for a com­mer­cial Bol­ly­wood star to hack off the locks, which are such an in­trin­sic fea­ture of the con­ven­tional hero’s im­age, but it was an easy choice for Shahid, who is known to be very par­tic­u­lar about his hairstyle.

“We ac­tu­ally shot only four hours and that’s all I needed to shoot for that bald scene. I had my team try­ing very hard to con­vince me to try pros­thet­ics. They told me ‘Just for four hours of work are you go­ing to shave your head and sit at home for three months? No one is go­ing to cast you in any role be­cause of your bald head’.

“But there are cer­tain films where you need to do that be­cause it comes from here, from the heart, with your tears, sweat and blood, and a lit­tle bit of hair,” he laughs. “This film needed that and I think it makes a dif­fer­ence.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be Ham­let with­out the iconic “To Be, Or Not To Be” scene. Shahid con­tended with the weighty un­der­tak­ing of de­liv­er­ing the soliloquy by dis­tanc­ing him­self from the orig­i­nal work.

“I ac­tu­ally for­got about Ham­let once we prepped. I thought it would be the wrong jour­ney to take. I needed to think about Haider, his world, his fam­ily, his angst, his anger, his pain.”

Just as Haider be­comes con­sumed by his in­ner tor­ment and con­tem­plates the sweet sur­ren­der that he sup­poses might come with death, con­trary to his pub­lic im­age of an all-singing, all-danc­ing boy next door, Shahid re­veals a pro­cliv­ity for deep con­tem­pla­tion, fre­quently suc­cumb­ing to his own pon­der­ous mus­ings about the hu­man con­di­tion, in the quiet sanc­tu­ary of his bach­e­lor pad in Mumbai.

“I’ve had that side to me al­ways, ac­tu­ally, it’s just that those things are kind of per­sonal, so you don’t show them to peo­ple who you might not know so well. It’s some­thing that’s largely shared with peo­ple who are very close. Like your in­ner cir­cle. They know me for that per­son, but a lot of the world might not. Be­cause I don’t show it.

“I have th­ese two very op­pos­ing sides to my­self. The brood­ing side is be­cause of life and my take on it, and the other side has been fed

‘I know I’m ready for a re­la­tion­ship. I just need to find some­one I like and am able to con­nect with.’

by the job that I do. I re­alise that it is very im­por­tant to com­mu­ni­cate and con­nect with peo­ple, and I have learnt over the years that it’s an amaz­ing thing, that as a celebrity you can make peo­ple smile. To carry that en­ergy with you is very, very im­por­tant.”

While Shahid’s first lead­ing role in Ishq

Vishk made him a star overnight with his limpid brown eyes and slick dance moves – and won him Film­fare’s Best Male De­but Ac­tor award – it hasn’t al­ways been easy. That ini­tial fizz of suc­cess fell flat with the re­leases that fol­lowed.

Un­able to de­liver a hit for the next three years, Shahid was prac­ti­cally writ­ten off by the trade pun­dits as a shoot­ing star in Bol­ly­wood’s galaxy that is ob­sessed with box of­fice num­bers. He starred in about seven films – some, in­sipid come­dies, oth­ers, numb­ing thrillers – none of which made any dif­fer­ence to his fail­ing ca­reer.

Shahid re­turned to star­dom in 2006 with Sooraj Bar­jatya’s Vi­vah (Mar­riage), a typ­i­cal Mills & Boon love story of a rich, care­free boy who agrees to marry a de­mure small-town girl.

The mar­riage is ar­ranged by his fa­ther, but it turns out his character falls in love with the lead­ing lady be­fore they even­tu­ally tie the knot – the type of plot that is con­sid­ered to be the safest bet in Bol­ly­wood for stars as well as film-mak­ers.

Re­al­is­ing that love sto­ries are what peo­ple like him for, Shahid topped the suc­cess of Vi­vah with Imtiaz Ali’s

JabWe Met in 2007 with his then girl­friend Kareena Kapoor. Shahid plays a grief-stricken young man who runs away from home after his fa­ther’s death and his own failed re­la­tion­ships with his mother and girl­friend. He then meets a feisty and vi­va­cious girl who is a foun­tain of pos­i­tiv­ity.

The chem­istry be­tween the lead­ing ac­tors and the film’s script made it a run­away suc­cess, not only at the box of­fice but at all the award cer­e­monies. Since JabWe

Met, Shahid has done about a dozen films, each com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the other. But what is clearly ev­i­dent in each of the films is his sin­cere con­vic­tion to­wards the char­ac­ters he por­trays and his peren­nial will­ing­ness to push the en­ve­lope.

It is this sin­cer­ity and his downto-earth at­ti­tude to­wards his own star­dom that has made Shahid a hero to mil­lions of Bol­ly­wood fans, never mind his chis­elled vis­age that adorns bill­boards from London to Mumbai and ev­ery­where in be­tween.

But he seems to yearn for the nor­mal­ity of an or­di­nary ex­is­tence; the love and mar­riage that have so far eluded him.

“Men­tally I know I am­ready for a re­la­tion­ship. I just need to find some­one I like and am able to con­nect with. Once that hap­pens, I might even tie the knot, who knows?” he asks.

Love can be elu­sive, even when the me­dia hails him as one of the most el­i­gi­ble men in In­dia. The de­mands of star­dom are far eas­ier to tra­verse than the quag­mire of mod­ern re­la­tion­ships, and for now his ca­reer is the fo­cus of his be­ing: it’s per­haps where he is able to make peace with his own life.

After his muchtalked-about break up with ac­tress Kareena Kapoor in 2007 – ap­par­ently dur­ing the mak­ing of JabWe Met – Shahid went into a sort of hi­ber­na­tion, only to be seen on screen or at of­fi­cial events. But since then he has been linked to sev­eral Bol­ly­wood ac­tresses, in­clud­ing Priyanka Chopra, Vidya Balan, Bi­pasha Basu and Son­akshi Sinha, but nei­ther Shahid nor any of the women ever con­firmed the re­la­tion­ships.

But while seek­ing some de­gree of nor­mal­ity, Shahid lives quite an ex­tra­or­di­nary life, one that has seen him travel to all cor­ners of the globe; per­form be­fore 20,000 peo­ple at London’s 02 arena for a star-stud­ded Bol­ly­wood en­ter­tain­ment show; earn the ado­ra­tion of an army of hard­core fans, 4.6 mil­lion of them on Twit­ter who call them­selves the ‘Sha­nat­ics.’

And let’s not for­get, he’s even shared the stage with a sarong-wear­ing Kevin Spacey for an im­promptu ‘lungi dance’ at the lat­est edi­tion of In­ter­na­tional In­dian Film Academy Awards, held in Tampa, Florida, US, ear­lier this year. Con­sid­ered to be one of the most pres­ti­gious award cer­e­monies on Bol­ly­wood’s cal­en­dar, it’s at­tended by in­ter­na­tional film-mak­ers and ac­tors too. “Man, Kevin is so cool,” Shahid re­marks. “He’s so chilled out. I re­mem­ber just be­fore the show we were walk­ing around to work off the ner­vous­ness that sets in when you are host­ing a show of such mag­ni­tude. I was try­ing to get into the zone, drink­ing en­ergy drinks and keep­ing the en­ergy up, be­cause when you do th­ese live shows you pretty much don’t sleep at all be­cause ev­ery­one wants to re­hearse and by the time

‘I live alone and I don’t like that. That would be the one thing I would say I re­ally want to change’

you get on stage it’s re­ally late in the night.

“Kevin was just tak­ing pic­tures, and when he came on stage he was spon­ta­neous. It was amaz­ing to in­ter­act with him. He couldn’t un­der­stand the lan­guage be­cause we were speak­ing in Hindi, but he was just con­nect­ing with peo­ple and par­tic­i­pat­ing and was charged. That kind of en­ergy is un­be­liev­able.”

Now, as Shahid be­gins to come to terms with his fame and is able to earn re­spect from the fra­ter­nity, we won­der if there is any­thing that he’d like to change.

“I live alone. I don’t like that. So that’ll be the one thing I’d say I want to change,” he says. That’ll leave a lot of his fans heartbroken, but with his brown eyes and charm, they’ll for­give him soon enough.

Shahid, who stars along­side Shrad­dha Kapoor, is barely recog­nis­able in Haider

Shahid has an im­pres­sive list of lead­ing ladies, in­clud­ing Son­akshi Sinha, his co-star in R… Ra­jku­mar

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