Lights, Camera, Action!
Director S S Rajamouli is indeed a whiz and the success of his blockbusters – Bãhubali The Beginning and Bãhubali The Conclusion- tell a tale of their own. At the Mauritius Cinema Week, SS RAJAMOULI gives a glimpse of his amazing techniques at his Master
His film Bãhubali has been the biggest grosser of the year shattering prior Box office records of the Badshahs and Sultans of Bollywood to smithereens. In fact, worldwide over, this blockbuster has captured the imagination of the audience and has grossed over a mind-boggling figure of 1,000 crores. But if you do get to meet the director of this incredible film, you’ll be blown away by the humbleness of the man. …Yes, we are talking about SS Rajamouli who is the director of this mammoth blockbuster. Unassuming to the extent of being even a little shy, Rajamouli normally shies away from interviews. However, he was at the Mauritius Cinema Week held in Mauritius where his films – Bãhubali The Beginning and Bãhubali The Conclusion - were heralded for their amazing visual power and originality. Incidentally, this visionary was a great draw with the public, and people from all walks of life in Mauritius were hankering to get his autograph or take a selfie with him. We were fortunate to attend his informative master class there and pick up a treasure trove of information on the man himself. …Presenting the magnificent SS Rajamouli … his thought process, his take on his stint in television, his writers, music and more.
Creatively I think, everything comes more from observation of people or subjects around you or from reading and observing.”
You began your career with television. How did that prepare you for the big screen? Yes, I did begin from television. And it did help me a lot. For instance, it helped me get some practical knowledge on how to deal with my technicians, actors or even day to day issues. But creatively, I don’t really think it helped me that much. Creatively I think, everything comes more from observation of people or subjects around you or from reading and observing. But of course, starting from television or even the ad films I made helped me master the practical knowledge of my art.
You didn’t write your first two films - StudentNo.1 was written by K. Raghavendra Rao and M Ratnam, and Simhadri was written by M Ratnam. But you have worked closely with them. How was the experience….?
A small correction… the first film was written by Pruthvi Raj. K Raghavendra is the producer. He’s also my mentor who gave me the chance to direct my first TV serial also my first film. The second film and most of my films since then were written by my father who is a scriptwriter. I work very closely with writers. Definitely, very closely because the writers are people who give you the foundation to build on. So with every writer that I’ve worked with, I really like to understand what their vision is before I put my vision into it. Agreed, a story is a story but I definitely would like to know very closely from them, how they envision the final product. It might be a little bit different or whole lot different from how I’m envisioning it. But before anything else, I’d like to hear how they’re visualizing the film, and then build on it. Mind you, it’s not just that the writers give the script and their job is over. Even throughout the shooting and the post production process, I go back to them to check whether they had envisioned the scene the same way it was shot or whether that particular sequence was different from their vision. Was their vision better or was my vision better? And that keeps us on our toes… and this process goes on throughout the film. So it is a fact that I work very closely with my writers.
How important is music for your films? My cousin M M Keeravani, who’s a music director, has loads and loads of experience not just in terms of music but also in terms of storytelling, and he is normally my ‘go to’ man for music and I depend a lot on him to get the right sound. And when it comes to music, particularly the background music of a film, you have to be extra careful. For instance, there are times when I like a particular sequence of music very much but then I find that it is not gelling with the scene. So what I try to do is that when I’m sitting in the seat of a director, I try to see whether the music is conveying what the scene is about or enhancing that emotion that I want to tell in that particular scene or sequence. So it’s not just listening to the music but also seeing if the music fits in that particular scene. But this is a department I admit I’m weak in so I depend on very good technicians to do their job.
From a stupendous act in Kaminey to an incredible stint in Haider; from the high voltage OTT Tommy Singh in Udta Punjab, to bringing in a quiet dignity, courage and regal tone to his character as Maharawal Ratan Singh in the magnum opus Padmavati, he has proved that he is indeed Bollywood’s best and in a league of his own. Perhaps it’s in his genes or maybe it’s his passion for his art but Shahid Kapoor has been quietly weaving his magic in the film industry and coming out with some mind-blowing performances. But if you think he believes in tomtomming this to the world and sundry, think again! Understated even to the extent of being restrained, Shahid doesn’t let his PR machinery go on an overdrive to announce his exploits, instead he lets his films talk volumes about his talent.
I Don’t Think Actors Who Don’t Have The Capacity To Do Something Extremely Layered And Of A Certain Standard Would Be Okay Working With Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
I am not the kind of person who waits for a film to release to decide how he feels about it.”
Read on as Shahid Kapoor candidly talks about his magnum opus Padmavati, controversies and rumours, life as an actor and of course, his cute as a button daughter Misha.
Congratulations Shahid, the first look of Padmavati is fabulous! And you especially have brought in a lot of dignity and subtleness to your character. So how was the experience of working in Padmavati? Padmavati has now been one year of a journey. And I think this year has been dedicated entirely to my baby Misha and Padmavati. Padmavati is a huge part of my journey and is very close to my heart because I’ve literally put my blood and sweat into the film. It’s also my first experience working with Mr Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and I think words would fail to express how much gratitude I have towards him for teaching me everything and helping me in becoming this character. I also would like to say that it really is a privilege to play Maharawal Ratan Singh, a Rajput king who was a great warrior and a great king. Shahid, you look fabulous as Maharawal RatanSingh! Thank you! But honestly I think it’s premature to talk about my look because looking good in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film is really nothing of a great achievement. He makes certain that every character of his looks amazing. I think the true experience for the audience will be when they see the film and judge for themselves because like you said Maharawal Ratan Singh is a character who is restrained and dignified.And therefore he needs to be discovered in the film. But yes, I am very excited to know what people think about the film and about my character in the film. More so, because it was a huge step to create this character
and it required one year of my life. And I am at a stage in my career where I know that people expect me to do work of a certain quality and play characters which are different and new. And I think I have been able to do that in the last two to three years, especially with Haider and Udta Punjab coming in back-to-back. Maharawal Ratan Singh, is definitely a character that would be in that league if not better, if I may say so myself. It was an extremely iconic character and an extremely difficult character to play because he is very dignified and restrained. He is not going to jump and shout but there is a lot within him. There is a lot that the character goes through in the film, I guess with Maharawal Ratan Singh, it’s all in his eyes and I hope I portrayed that!
Do you think Padmavati has tapped the ‘ultimate powerhouse performance’ that you’re looking for as an actor?
Well, that’s what Sanjay sir told me when we met. He just looked at me and said, ‘Shahid just do this film, it is right for you at this point in your career. This character is right for you at this point in your career. And I really didn’t think of anybody else to play the character of Maharawal Ratan Singh except you. I think you’re right for it, and you should do it. And trust me, you will do it’. And there was so much honesty in the way he said that. There is so much credibility that comes with him as a filmmaker that I didn’t really need to think at all. And honestly, I signed the film without hearing the script. Obviously, he sent me the script and insisted that I read it (laughs) because of course, it was important for me to read it before I start. But I said ‘yes’ to him just on the basis of the two lines that he said... ‘Trust me, you’ll be proud of being a part of this film and you will be proud of the role that I am offering you’. And I said ‘okay’, coming from you this is more than enough, and I just did it! Yes, I am not somebody who likes to talk prematurely. But I feel very content and excited, and I feel I took a very good decision by doing this film. I feel it very strongly because it’s been a year’s journey and then when you look back, you ask yourself was it all worth it? I am not the kind of person who waits for a film to release to decide how he feels about it because the reaction then is coloured with so many factors which are not really relevant beyond a point. Once I am done with the film. I ask myself, ‘Do I feel satisfied as an actor? Do I feel it was the right film for me to do’? And I can very proudly say that I am very, very happy and in fact, very grateful and thankful that I am a part of a film like Padmavati.
Though Ranveer and Deepika are friends, on the sets, we were our characters and that’s it!”
Deepika Padukone had once said that Sanjay Leela Bhansali is one director that makes an actor feel uneasy to the point that he or she gets creatively tuned. Do you agree with her?
I understand what Deepika is saying and why she is saying it and I am sure she has her own way of expressing it. But I never felt uneasy with him though I always felt that I needed to up my game. I always felt like he is going to push me beyond what I have been pushed to. That’s just who he is - his standards are very high. And since he is very passionate about the film he makes and therefore, his focus is so strong, and his understanding is so detailed and complex that he makes you work at many levels. I don’t think actors who don’t have the capacity to do something which is extremely layered and of a certain standard would be okay working with him. I don’t think they’d be able to get through it because his standards are very high. So I felt challenged and pushed myself all the time. But I have been doing this for 15 years now and in the last few years, I’ve played some very complex characters. All of which I felt I was not good enough to play. (Laughs) So for me, I seek that kind of scenario, where you have to raise the bar, you have to get into spaces which are challenging and difficult to justify. And I feel my best work comes out of situations like that, for example, the speech in Haider…
Yes, that was phenomenal! When Vishal sir gave it to me, I was blown away! He has worked with my father, Naseer uncle, Irrfan Khan, and Tabu…
I’ve played some very complex characters. All of which I felt I was not good enough to play.”
Sanjay Leela Bhansali told me, ‘I really didn’t think of anybody else to play the character except you’.”
the greats. None of them ever had a two and a half page monologue. And he gave it to me! The kind of pressure that created was immense but today when I look back, I feel it’s one of the most defining moments in my journey as an actor.
Shahid, are you trying to enter the league of your Dad Pankaj Kapoor, Nasseruddin Shah, Om Puri…
Arey yaar! I don’t think I can ever be in that league I can only learn from them.
As an actor, do you feel insecure?
Anything… like for instance, if your fave director Vishal Bhardwaj takes somebody else in his film or…
No, no that’s a very irritating way of looking at things yaar. My insecurities come from whether I am going to be able to do what needs to be done and whether I am making the right choices. I feel insecure about things like have I taken the right decision? Am I working with the right people? Am I doing the right content? I was very insecure when I did Udta Punjab because I’ve never had a sip of alcohol, forget drugs. I don’t even know what it feels to be intoxicated. And I was playing Tommy Singh who was permanently high. So I felt very inadequate to play that character on the basis of my personal experience as I had no way of drawing a parallel. The only thing I could do is depend on my filmmaker and my instincts as an actor. But yes… those kind of things make me feel insecure. But not where other actors are concerned. I actually feel very inspired when I see good performances. You have to see something special to feel driven. So my insecurities are never to do with other actors.
How was it working with Deepika and Ranveer?
They’re both great. I think the cast of the film is fantastic. I don’t know when else a cast like this will come together in a subject like this with characters which have gone down in History with moments that are spectacular and a part of Indian history so to say. And I guess it’s thanks to Sanjay Leela Bhansali who has put everyone together. I don’t know when else a cast like this would come through. Of course Deepika and Ranveer have been working from before and they’ve done great work together. I loved Bajirao Mastani and I loved everybody in the film.
But for me, honestly, I looked at them as actors on set and not stars. I think you need to lose your stardom and come on set because it’s all about being able to give that shot, create that moment, and satisfy Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s vision. So I don’t think there were any stars on set at least I wasn’t. I was just there trying to be Maharawal Ratan Singh and that was my only endeavour and I was acting with Padmavati. So for me though Ranveer and Deepika are friends but on the sets, we were our characters and that’s it!
Rumours are rife that you want a separate trailer as you felt too much emphasis hasn’t been given to you…
(Laughs) I heard about that! It’s funny… quite funny actually. I’ve been here for 15 years and I’ve never done something like that, why would I do that now? I actually asked people… do all these things actually work? (laughs) The funny thing is ki aaj kal kya ho gaya hai ke do mahine trailer banta hai, promos aate hai… toh matlab pehle se hi log baatein karna shuru kar dete hai. (Laughs) …Picture toh ab bhi baaki hai mere dost. Toh rukhna chaiye na
logon ko. I don’t think anybody remembers any of the trailers that they ever saw. What they remember is the film that they saw and the characters they discovered. My last film was Udta Punjab and I remember when I was Tommy Singh in the trailers, he was extremely loud. But after you see the film, you understand the nuances. So I have worked enough to understand that all these things are very stupid and not really important. All I’d like to say, first see the film! You know what’s happened with Padmavati is that it is so anticipated and people are extremely excited about it so it’s become a talking point. People want to dissect every part of the film and I take that as a compliment and that’s truly great.
Shahid, moving away from Padmavati… I’m curious to know how you got out of being typecast as the chocolate hero. I would have died if I was doing that. (Laughs) I don’t know how people do the same thing for years and years. I can’t do it. I need to evolve, I need to grow, and I need to do different things and that’s what defines me as an actor, so that’s me. What people’s perception of me can be their perception of me and I respect that, but my journey is of self-discovery. I need to discover myself. And I need to challenge myself. I need to do different things and succeed sometimes, fail sometimes. But hell, at the
I’ve been here for 15 years and I’ve never asked for a separate trailer.”
A still from Bãhubali