India Today


Inside the life and mind of India's new Rs 150-crore superstar

- By Kunal Pradhan

It’s a rainy evening in Mumbai. Ranbir Kapoor, dressed in a beanie and boxing gloves, is sizing up his tattooed adversary in the mirrors that line actor Jackky Bhagnani’s private gym on Bandra’s Pali Hill. He gingerly moves forward, thinking too hard about his technique and his footwork as he throws a few opening jabs. A blow catches him smack on his head, forcing him to let out a groan; and then another. Screaming to motivate himself, Ranbir lunges forward, now hitting harder and with more purpose as he exchanges blows with mixed martial arts fighter Ash Singh, who has flown in from Kenya especially for sessions like this one. Soon the gymnasium is reverberat­ing with the sounds of a pitched battle. The thuds are getting amplified, and so is the tension. A few minutes later, when master and trainee are taking a break, Ranbir asks with a grin: “That was hard, wasn’t it?” He takes a sip of water, breaks into a smile as he checks his messages, and gets ready for another round of punishment.

Ranbir Kapoor, 30, is India’s new acting superstar. His latest film Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, released on May 31, has notched up collection­s of Rs 170 crore at

last count, on the back of another Rs 100- crore blockbuste­r, Barfi!. His new custom- made Mercedes Benz G63 AMG now gets chased down the Bandra- Worli Sea Link by teenagers who recognise him through his lightly tinted windows. There is a gaggle of girls waiting at the gate of his Pali Hill bungalow for an audience; some so persistent and regular they’re on first- name terms with his watchman, particular­ly because Ranbir gets pictures clicked with each one of them. Sanjeev Lamba, the CEO of Reliance Entertainm­ent, which is funding his film, Besharam, describes him simply as a “rocket”.

but in the middle of all this adulation, Ranbir seems strangely unaffected. “I don’t know what’s wrong with my son,” his mother Neetu Singh, 54, tells INDIA TODAY. “This boy is as relaxed when his film doesn’t do well as he is when it’s a smash hit. I sometimes wonder if I gave birth to a yogi.” His father Rishi Kapoor, 60, a bullish patriarch who admits he had gone on a wild streak after his own debut film Bobby had smashed boxoffice records in 1973, describes Ranbir as his polar opposite. “I marvel at what keeps him so grounded,” he says, swelling in equal measure with pride and bewilderme­nt.

Ranbir, who is back on the gym floor now, jokes about how his state of Zen is being seen as a character flaw. His six- month training programme with Ash Singh is being sponsored by Anurag Kashyap, the director of his next film Bombay Velvet, in which Ranbir plays a street fighter. The idea purportedl­y is to teach him how to move like a boxer. “In reality, it’s more than that,” says Ranbir. “I’m too calm for the role. They want me to gradually build aggression.”

But stoic or not, Ranbir is more calculatin­g, and unabashedl­y chasing success, than he lets on. Afternoons in his vanity van are spent cruising through one film promo after another. He watches them again and again, seeking opinions on how they are. “Did you see the Chennai Express spot?” he asks about the new Shah Rukh Khan movie. “Good or run- of- the- mill? What about Lootera?” That’s the new Vikramadit­ya Motwane film starring Ranveer Singh. His Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani director and closest friend Ayan Mukerji, 29, says it is Ranbir’s way of constantly testing waters, analysing, and trying to break down how his own promo will stand out from all the others. “He has his ear to the ground,” says Mukerji. “How can my film be different, that’s the only question on his mind.”

It’s this constant craving to be different that allows Ranbir to do the kind of roles he’s done: From Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year in 2009 to Barfi! in 2012, at a time when everybody around him was telling him not to. “I chal- lenge any star,” says Rishi Kapoor, “from my time till now, to take the kind of risks this boy has taken.” Rishi, sitting in a vanity van next to Ranbir’s on the sets of Besharam, which also stars both him and his wife Neetu, is now speaking with a passion that automatica­lly amplifies his volume. “A lot of people did different cinema but that was when they were working with four other regular films on the side. They didn’t put their careers on the line like Ranbir has, working on one project at a time,” he says, getting louder with every pause. “I can’t tell him what films to do now, because what the hell do I know? A lot of people prove their detractors wrong, but he has proven his well- wishers wrong.”

Not prone to such passion when off camera, Ranbir looks at his odd choice of roles a little differentl­y. “The first time I thought I should be an actor was in school. I thought at least this is something for which I won’t have to study,” he laughs. “But I’ve realised that an actor needs to be constantly unsure about what he’s doing, and about what’s going on around him. The moment you think you’ve nailed it, you’re dead.”

As a Punjabi boy from Bandra, Ranbir, who went to study film in New York, admits he doesn’t fully understand the world outside his tiny bubble. “What do I know about my character from Rockstar, Janardan Jakhad, or Rocket Singh, or Samar Pratap ( Rajneeti, 2010), or the deaf and mute Barfi? The idea is to use the experience of the people who do know. I can relate to Sid ( Wake Up Sid, 2009) or Kabir from Yeh Jawaani but that’s about it. I’m fortunate to be working with directors who’re willing to invest in my education,” he says. Anurag Basu, who Ranbir calls Dada, talks to him regularly about new ideas and new characters. Imtiaz Ali, concerned that he doesn’t have the command over Hindi or Urdu needed for good diction, and by extension good dialogue delivery, sends him books by Premchand or poetry by Faiz. “You don’t need to go through every life experience yourself when you have people to share them with. I have my own point of view and my own understand­ing through my relationsh­ips with women, and my exposure to world cinema. The characters I portray engage me, and I assume they would engage an audience,” he says.

Today Ranbir’s star meter is at a point few actors have reached before. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is a rare, epochal moment that comes along perhaps once in a decade, when the audience starts believing that the person they’re seeing on the screen is not the character, but the actor himself. It happened with Shah Rukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge ( 1995) when viewers thought Raj was a physical embodiment of Shah Rukh. They thought he was a passionate lover who would go to any lengths to win the girl of his dreams, charming his way past any opposition. Shah Rukh emerged from that film as a funny, confident, upright, master- of- all- trades who women wanted to fall in love with and men wanted to be friends with.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani has struck a similar chord. The movie- watching public somehow believes that the man they see on screen is not Kabir, but Ranbir. That he is naughty and fun- loving. That he takes life lightly. That he

is loyal to his friends but wouldn’t give up on his dreams for the woman he wants to share his world with. That he is the life of every party and the soul of every song. “It’s too soon for me to analyse the film,” says director Mukerji. “We had thought it would do well but fall short of being a blockbuste­r— like, say, a Cocktail ( 2012). But something multiplied its business. Perhaps it was Ranbir and how the public saw him as Kabir.” Unlike any other Bollywood superstar before him, Ranbir’s USP is how he reins in his emotion, rather than how he lets it out. He’s not a master of tragedies like Dilip Kumar, or an angry young man like Amitabh Bachchan, or a fervent lover like Shah Rukh. Ranbir is a new hero for a new age. Sociologis­t Shiv Visvanatha­n, professor at the O. P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat, and senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, says: “Ranbir is, first, part of a legacy, a nostalgia— Raj Kapoor incarnate, a clown but an adolescent clown. Second, he is a subject of gossip, which sees him as playful and light, and with a roving eye. If Aamir Khan is a social project and Salman Khan is a muscular project, Ranbir is an individual project. He is narcissist­ic without being selfobsess­ed, which makes him connect with the India we are becoming, and the India we want to be.”

This change in perception now follows him everywhere he goes. There is a smile on the faces of the Besharam unit when Ranbir walks on the set at the Richardson & Cruddas Mills in Byculla, where they’re shooting the film’s climax. The assistant directors and grips watch him through tints of rose as he bends down to touch the feet of veteran action director Shyam Kaushal or refers to the cinematogr­apher Madhu Vannier as “Madhu sir”. They gather around as he raps with co- star Javed Jaffrey between shots. They want to know what Ranbir’s room is like, who his friends are, which restaurant­s he goes to, what turns him on, and what has made him this friendly, humble superstar who throws no tantrums and remembers everybody’s names.

Ranbir’s bedroom on the first floor of the Krishna Raj bungalow, where he chooses to live with his parents despite a bank balance now estimated to be in the range of Rs 200 crore, is a strange mix of young and old. His king- size bed, covered by high threadcoun­t sheets, sits on a wooden floor. The lamp on the side table is perched next to The King Of Oil: The Secret Lives Of Mark Rich by Daniel Amman. “I read autobiogra­phies because there is too much fiction in my life,” says Ranbir. There is a beige three- seater sofa for friends, and small tables all around which hold his numerous awards. The decor is inspired by film and family: A poster of Barfi!, a photograph of the first shot of Mughal- eAzam featuring his great grandfathe­r Prithviraj Kapoor, a mosaic of his grandfathe­r Raj Kapoor’s face created from movie stills, and a 3,300- image mosaic of his own face presented to him by the Ranbir Kapoor fan club.

The centrepiec­e of the room is a 103- inch TV on which he’s watching the Netflix series House Of Cards. He has an Xbox 360, on which he plays FIFA 2010 and Halo 4, and a Playstatio­n 3, on which his latest favourite is Uncharted 3. His mini- refrigerat­or is stacked with beer, caviar, sardines, and his favourite chocolate wafers, Quadratini. “When I’m in this room, I vegetate,” says Ranbir.

Despite living with a strict father and an indulgent mother, Ranbir has a clearly defined personal space, borne partly out of rebellion and partly out of success. When he was in college, he would derive great pleasure in violating his 1.30 a. m. curfew. “I came home by midnight, waited for everyone to go to bed, then snuck out.” His girlfriend­s often stay over despite his folks living on the floor below. “I don’t take them for breakfast with my parents. But I’m sure they know who stayed over,” he says.

ranbir’s relationsh­ip with women is a little more complicate­d than he likes to admit. He’s been in five “meaningful” romances. His last girlfriend, Deepika Padukone, was his costar from Bachnaa Ae Haseeno ( 2008) and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. “We’re okay now. We sorted things out a while ago,” he says about her. The closure has come at a price, hinting that an inveterate romantic is hiding beneath textbook intimacy issues: Ranbir avoids riding the Segway he would use to go to her Bandra home when they were dating. “I associate it with her. That was my Deepika vehicle.”

But his inability to invest too much is obvious from how Ranbir has never been dumped. “I haven’t really gone in deep enough to allow myself to get hurt. I’m weak; I pull away when things start to stagnate. I’m aware that I’ve broken five hearts, and it’s not a good feeling.” Ranbir says he doesn’t really have a ‘ type’. “I like conflict— someone who challenges me, someone who I can look up to, someone who can keep me in check. Love has to be extraordin­ary, otherwise there’s no point in it. I just haven’t met anyone who’s made me feel that way.” At least not for long enough.

All this talk could also be a ploy to kill the rumour that has been raging in Bollywood— of his relationsh­ip with Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani ( 2009) co- star Katrina Kaif. “Everybody seems to think we’re together, but it’s not true,” Ranbir insists. “She gets along with Ayan as well so we hang out together. It gets tiresome sometimes to talk about what Katrina and I have, and what we don’t.” His fans, and somehow even his film unit, don’t seem to buy that.

But the defining relationsh­ip of his life is the one with his father Rishi Kapoor. It’s an awkward, uneasy connection though the distance between them is slowly reducing. When Ranbir was a child, his father would either be out shooting, or would get into loud drunken brawls with Neetu that stretched deep into the night. “There were times when my sister Riddhima and I would be sitting on the steps till 6 a. m., waiting for them to stop,” says Ranbir. It made for a difficult adolescenc­e, stemming from an early realisatio­n of how complicate­d a relationsh­ip between a

man and a woman can be. “I always knew Dad loved my mother. He is still deeply possessive about her. They would have long arguments and passionate reconcilia­tions. But he always held the upper hand in the house. He was the dominant force, and the rest of us had to cower.” It was only when Ranbir returned from college did he noticed the dynamic had changed. His mother had become assertive. “She now had a point of view and got her way,” he says.

His misgivings about alcohol spring from seeing what its overindulg­ence had done to his father. Ranbir is a reluctant social drinker but has smoked his share of weed, especially while at film school. “I used it again during Rockstar,” he says, “this time as an acting tool. It was hard to get in the moment on stage with 300 bored junior artistes posing as a real audience. Pot made those moments feel real.” But he says he’s quit now, partly because he’s too busy to get high, partly because he can’t afford the lack of concentrat­ion and short- term memory loss that comes with smoking up.

Rishi Kapoor acknowledg­es that his relationsh­ip with Ranbir remains somewhat strained. “I don’t believe a father and son should be friends. I don’t want him smoking in front of me, and I’m not comfortabl­e talking to him about his girlfriend­s. But maybe,” he adds, “I’ve missed something. Maybe I could’ve been a little different.”

Ranbir still wants his father to handle his acting contracts for two reasons. One, Rishi Kapoor is a hard nut to crack in the boardroom and always gets him a great deal. Two, he doesn’t want to let commercial negotiatio­ns come in the way of a partnershi­p with producers and directors, many of whom are his friends. His only condition is that any creative decision must be his own.

“Today Ranbir is a young actor making fresh films with new directors telling different stories,” says Mukerji. “To see how he changes as a superstar will be interestin­g. When he’s 40, will he still be open to meeting a young, unknown director with a new script, or will the Rs 100crore blood that he’s tasted force him to play safe? That, for me, is the question which will decide whether he becomes the next Shah Rukh or someone even bigger.”

It’s past midnight now. Ranbir is back in his room. The gym session is long over, and so is dinner with friends at Bandra’s new nightspot Nido. But he won’t be going to bed anytime soon. “I am too insecure to crash early,” says Ranbir. “I feel life will pass me by while I’m sleeping.”

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