Shahid Kapoor took a big but calculated risk when he signed up for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmaavat, for there was a chance his character would be eclipsed by the author-backed roles of the lead pair, essayed by Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh. But Kapoor was determined to dispel the notion that his was the ‘third role’ in this magnificent period drama. Not only did he stand his ground and come out with flying colours, but he also earned the respect and applause from within the industry and the audience along with the label of being a ‘secure actor’. Here’s the man of the moment, Shahid Kapoor, in conversation with Vajir Singh and Bhakti Mehta
Vajir Singh (VS): Shahid, let me start by asking… what is your state of mind right now?
Shahid Kapoor (SK): To begin with, obviously, your first sentiment is for the film. Then the next sentiment is for the filmmaker who has made this movie. We are talking after the second-day collections of the film have come in and we can see that the film is receiving so much love. It is showing tremendous growth even though the film has not released in many states. That has affected 35 to 40 per cent of the overall business. But I am so happy that the film is finally out and we are getting these numbers.
Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) sir has poured his blood and sweat into this film, just as everybody else has. The second thing I was aware of was that my role was not as author-backed as the other two. It did make me wonder ke log kya bolenge when they walk out of the theatre. Now, I am very relieved with the amount of appreciation my performance has received because it is difficult to play a role like this, where the other two roles are more author-backed than yours. It is also difficult to play a hero in the film where the villain is larger than life. These are dangerous areas to enter. But I have worked for 15 years in this industry and I am very secure as an actor. I just spoke to you about Sholay…
SK: In that film, Gabbar Singh was the ultimate villain but when you look back, you think of Mr Amitabh Bachchan. His performance in Sholay is one of the finest performances in his filmography, one of his best films. It is films like these that have made him the legend he is today. You have to learn from seniors like him, you have to learn to make smart decisions. You also have to learn to build relationships with good filmmakers. And, most importantly, you have to learn to participate in films that go down in history. This film was an opportunity like that and I am very happy to have been a part of it.
Of course, I was always told that tu actor bada achcha hai lekin tere numbers kyun nahi aate? (Laughs). I am not blind to things like that. I understand that it’s important. For every actor who has worked with Sanjay sir, you can compare their numbers before and after they worked in a Sanjay Bhansali film. He simply takes you to another level. It is important to recognise that. It is important to participate and create that kind of film for yourself.
VS: Were you hesitant before taking up this film because both Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone had done two films with Sanjay Leela Bhansali before this one?
SK: I was not hesitant or else I would not have done the film. I had this thing like, ek woh keeda hota hai na ke chal yeh karte hain. I had just done Udta Punjab at that point and a year or so before that, Haider had happened. I had won a lot of appreciation and awards for that, so I had seen all that before. I wanted to take up a challenge. And that is exactly what Sanjay sir told me. He said, ‘Shahid, this is going to be a challenge.’ So I said, ‘Chalo, theek hain, karte hain.’ Something inside me told me I was ready.
If this role had come to me four or five years ago, I probably would not have been confident enough to do it. But, now, as an actor I felt confident to do it. And, honestly, I really wanted to work with Mr Bhansali. I felt that even though this third character was not very author-backed, this film would not work if all these three characters did not work. I think people will see that when they watch the film.
VS: No wonder, then, that within just two days of the film’s release, people have already labelled you a secure actor.
SK: (Laughs). Yes, I think you need to be secure if you want things to work out. The industry is not about two years or three years, one hit or two hits. There are various phases you will go through in your career. You will see very big highs and you will see a lot of lows. And you need to be able to back yourself and believe in yourself to be able to perform consistently. I am at the stage in my career where I think I have worked enough and I feel very secure as well as confident. I am happy to do roles and films that I feel I should be a part of. This was a film like that.
Even though Udta Punjab and Haider have given me memorable roles, the kind of mass appeal a film like Padmaavat has, adds to my overall position. It is very important to do that. I can very proudly say that I feel a complete sense of ownership over this film. I don’t think this film would have worked if any of the three characters didn’t work.
VS: But you already have mass appeal. That’s why R…Rajkumar worked so well.
SK: Yes, but uske baad maine thodi Haider type ki filmein ki na. I think it’s very weird, how it all works out in the end. After R…Rajkumar, a film like Haider came to me. And after Udta Punjab, a film like Padmaavat came to me. So you don’t know what a filmmaker likes or what connects with someone on what level. They may look at something and think of you in a completely different capacity.
It is not a time when you should do the same thing, over and over and over again. People will get bored if you do that. You have to keep trying different things. Every shot is not going to be a sixer. Sometimes, it is going to be a sweep, one run or two runs. Sometimes, you have to hit a four or over the bowler’s head. In an over with six balls, a batsman has to have different shots. Every ball is not going to be the same. I think films are like that.
Every year, different opportunities will come your way. And you have to have the kind of repertoire as an actor, to have that flexibility. You have to do different things because different things come at different times. I think when filmmakers recognise that, they are not afraid to imagine you in any kind of role. It is not as if they will say that if an actor is doing this film, well then he will only do roles like that from now on. Now they say that if he has done one type of role, then he will play a different part too. That’s the kind of actor I want to be.
Bhakti Mehta (BM): It’s a huge compliment when filmmakers can think of you in so many different ways.
SK: It takes many years. Sometimes, it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. It really is a matter of luck also; you have to seize different opportunities. Sometimes, one thing works for you and you keep doing the same thing because it is working. But when you look back, you feel, ‘Shit, I have become so uni-dimensional.’ The day that thing stops working for you, you have nowhere to go. But if you have given hits and misses because of which you have done different types of films, then you have become strong because, over time, you have a variety to offer. I am happy where I am right now.
VS: Your filmography across 15 years shows that you have been playing different characters throughout, starting with Ishq Vishk to Padmaavat.
SK: I have been lucky. In the first few years, I didn’t think I would be offered anything other than ‘chocolate boy’ roles. I carried a ‘romantic’, ‘chocolate hero’ tag. I used to feel that yehi dete rahenge toh kab tak chalega. The day this goes out of fashion, I too will be finished. But it all changed with Jab We Met, where I did something different… I wore specs, I played a serious character, someone who wanted to commit suicide. Then, Kaminey happened, and it was a big one. I played a character very different from my previous image and people liked it. Things changed with these two films.
I also think that in the last three or four years, our industry has opened up and filmmakers have started taking chances. People have realised that the same formula doesn’t work any more. You have to keep providing new content, which is what Vajir and I were discussing the last time we met.
VS: Yes, we did.
SK: It is all about content now. You get good content, you have to participate. When I took up Udta Punjab, nobody wanted to do the film. It was an ‘adult’ film and a dark film. But it was one of the best films of 2016. So you have to do good films.
VS: Even though it had leaked, people still went and watched it in cinemas.
SK: It leaked and it still took such a big opening, despite being an ‘adult’ film. It was the biggest opening for all of us. So you never know. Today, you just have to do different things and take up challenging roles. You have to back yourself, be confident and create your own trajectory. Every actor has a different trajectory and you never know when you will start peaking. So you just have to keep working.
VS: Coming back to Padmaavat… tell us about the first time you met Mr Bhansali and also about your first day on the set.
SK: He eases you into it. On my first day on the set, he did just one shot with me. We were shooting for the Ghoomar song with Deepika (Padukone), and he said to me, ‘You just come and get a feel of it.’ You know, one of those shots where I am standing and watching her, he made us shoot that first. My real work actually started in the next schedule. We were shooting all the schedules that were in Padmavati’s chambers… all the romantic scenes and all the emotional scenes, the song Ek dil ek jaan, all my body shots, etc were in that schedule.
It was also very cold because we were shooting in Film City, Mumbai, in December. We were shooting all night shifts and I remember how hard it was because he (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) takes only two or three shots a day. I would just keep sitting there, eating my salad. But my best memory is that on the second or third day of the shoot, I came out and asked what was happening. I was told that there was an issue with Deepika’s costume and they had to work on it all over again and it would take two to three hours.
I was, like, what do I do now? It’s already 12 am and the shooting won’t start before 3 am. So I went back to my van and booted up my laptop. I don’t remember when I had told my manager to put Mughal-E-Azam on my laptop but it was obviously something I was thinking about subconsciously. I saw it there and I started watching it. I watched the whole film and I was only looking at Dilip (Kumar) sahab. And when the film ended, I told myself, ‘Shahid, he has to be your inspiration.’ In Mughal-E-Azam, the drama is actually between Akbar and Anarkali. Dilip Kumar’s character is affected and he is the quietest of the three characters.
Even towards the end, when he is drunk and all those things are happening with him, Anarkali is being taken away, it was a perfect reference for Rawal Ratan Singh. Since I was in a film where my part was so understated, so quiet, the presence that Dilip sahab had, even when he had no lines and he was just standing, was amazing. When he talks to his father in the movie, who is the king, whose character is so much more powerful, he stood with so much dignity and goodness. For the first time, I realised that goodness can be powerful. Usually, we feel like the angry characters are powerful but here, looking at Dilip sahab, I realised just how strong goodness can be. That was my reference for Rawal Ratan Singh, that he must be powerful in his sense, in his goodness.
VS: You played your role effortlessly, especially when you said that dialogue, ‘Jab sar kat jaye, lekin dhad ladta rahe…’ What was it like to shoot that scene?
SK: Oh, it was fantastic! I was waiting to do it. Mere waise bhi chun chun ke dialogue hai picture mein so whenever I got some lines, I was excited because I was, like, ‘Yes, aaj main bolunga’. Honestly, there are three characters in the film, of which two are very famous. A lot has been written about them. A lot has been said about them. They are remembered for who they were. Khilji is remembered for how aggressive he was and how brutal an invader he was. He was unmatchable in his war tactics.
Padmavati was this goddess of beauty who made a huge sacrifice and is revered even today. I knew that, historically, two characters are giving their energies to the two actors who are playing them on the screen. Somehow, I had to give my own energy to Ratan Singh because very few people know about him. So, for me, those scenes were my homage to all the Rajput kings and the entire Rajput dynasty.
There were those small areas where a very big message had to be given. It seems very simple. People think that Ratan Singh lost and Khilji won. But it was not a fair battle. It was a battle of a man with no rules against a man who stood by his rules. A man who had morality and character. And those rules are far superior to victory. It’s not just about winning; it’s about how you win.
It was very fascinating for me to play a character who was so righteous and so fearless, that even though he knew he was up against someone who was much bigger than he was, he didn’t let go of his rules. In life, the character of a person is defined when a major obstacle comes their way. You have to hold on to your beliefs. It was so amazing that there was this man who was so respectful of his wife even in the 13th century. Today, we talk about women’s empowerment and equality; this man, 700 years ago, would listen when is wife was saying something.
VS: Yes, there is also a scene where you touch her feet.
SK: Yes. I had to present him in the best way possible. It was my duty as an actor to give respect and dignity to that character.
VS: Another USP of the film is the chemistry between Deepika and you. There is not much drama there but it still hooks you from the very first scene.
SK: Yes, there is not enough of it. After he watched the film, even Sanjay sir had said, ‘I wish there was more romance. I want to see you guys doing more romance together.’ But there is no better place to start than with Sanjay sir. I mean, the magic he creates with his romance and the purity of the love between them is very aspirational. In today’s times, you cannot make a love story like that because love doesn’t happen in the same way. It was too pure and beautiful. It was amazing to do that for the first time with Deepika. People really liked seeing her and Ranveer (Singh) in the past, so we knew what we were aiming for here. And unlike the other films, there was less space for romance. We knew that there were only a few scenes but we still had to make an impact.
VS: So that the audience feels for the jodi.
SK: Yes, absolutely.
BM: Shahid, there are some scenes where you are very commanding. There are shots where you have this strength in your voice but it is not a shout.
SK: To be strong without shouting is very difficult. (Laughs). I used to talk to myself about that every day. I would keep telling myself, ‘So, I can’t shout because I am a very correct person but I have to be very powerful. Ab yeh kaise karenge?’
BM: Yes, exactly. Rawal Ratan Singh has a powerful voice but even in the most difficult of situations, he is calm.
SK: Let me tell you what my thought behind this was. From a very physical, geographical, situational point of view, there is this husband and wife who are facing this guy whose army is ten times bigger than theirs. The former’s army is one tenth of their opponent’s but he has a fort. So the only thing he could do is hold his ground. He can’t run because the opponent has him covered; he can’t leave and go to the other rajas (kings) for help, and return with their armies to win the battle. So the only thing that character did was wait it out. And when I thought about Rawal Ratan Singh, I didn’t want Allaudin Khilji to ever make out that this person was worried about anything. He just wouldn’t show it. And Khilji’s character is trying to do all sorts of things, to figure out how he can shake up this other person. But Ratan Singh just stood his ground. It was so difficult to imagine it, I don’t think I can ever do it in real life.
To just stand there when there is a guy 10 times bigger than you, who can walk all over you but you’re just standing your ground. That was the thought behind this behaviour. You will never know what I am thinking, you will never scare me and will never be able to intimidate me. That is why the character had so much inner strength. He had the character to stand in front of someone physically stronger than he was and be powerful without saying a word.
As a king, Rawal Ratan Singh had to represent his people and he had to stand tall, inspire others who might be worried. So he had to lead, which he did till the every end, till Khilji’s men shoot him in the back. He fought even then and in fact that is one of my most favourite scenes in the movie. His senapati says we should go to war and Ratan Singh says no, this is between me and him, after which he starts riding alone. He didn’t care who was in his path; he just started riding. Aana hai toh aaja!
BM: Speaking of this final scene, how physically difficult was it to shoot the sword-fight sequence?
SK: God! It was so tiring. We had a lot of sword-fighting lessons; we had to learn different kinds of sword-fighting because there were various types of it. There needed to be a different way in which Khilji and Rawal Ratan Singh fought because they came from different social backgrounds. Their training was different, their characters are different and so their behaviour is different. And, eventually, when you get there, it has to feel real. The idea was to choreograph it in a way where people felt this was actually happening.
And sir only used four shots. The entire fight between him and me, which is a good three to four minutes, is just four shots. Very long shots. We actually got tired, our legs grew heavy, etc, which comes across in the body language. We shot it linear, from the first run towards each other to the last one, where I go down. And I think things like my dancing really helped me. Your footwork and body language are very important. That was my favourite part of the film, although it was also the most tiring one. I had most fun shooting that. To wear those outfits and do a fight scene like that which you have seen in movies like Troy is amazing. You wait to do a scene like that. It was great.
VS: What kind of compliments are you getting from the fraternity?
SK: I have got a lot of positive responses and a lot has come from the film fraternity too.
VS: Which is very rare.
SK: Yes, that is very rare. But I think everybody, at some point, the biggest of stars or the simplest of actors, have been underdogs. When you get a script, you are offered a certain role. You know that this role is mind-blowing but I have just this space. Now I have to think about what I will do in the space given to me.
Everybody recognised that I had taken up something very challenging. When you are a new actor, 4-5 years old, there are a lot of scripts that come your way. Kami nahin hoti scritps ki. In that situation, to take up a role that is a little less author-backed than the role of the other contemporary, who is technically my junior, is what has given me recognition. They knew that he really did it, kar liya isne. I think they know that I was the underdog and realise how difficult that might have been.
It was a 125-day shoot, a one-year journey. To know that and to come out and give 200 per cent to it, people recognised that I did that. People in the industry have done films like that. Everybody has had ups and downs, everybody has done films that make them think that I will be amazing in this role, or that role will require a lot of effort on my part. So there was a lot of appreciation for the fact that I took up a film like this.
I did a movie where the character on paper has a lot more opportunity. I feel very proud that people have taken notice. People have felt what I have felt. Coming from people whom I have grown up watching and receiving compliments from them is something I will never forget.
BM: You said yours was not the most author-backed role in the film…
SK: (Cuts In) Am I wrong?
BM: No, you’re not. But since it wasn’t, did it offer a greater opportunity to improvise?
SK: My character didn’t go there at all. I could improvise as much as I wanted with Tommy Singh (from Udta Punjab). I could do anything once the camera started rolling, everything was allowed. It is like batting on a pitch that is batting-friendly, you can play whatever shot you feel like. But when you’re playing in South Africa, where the conditions aren’t all that easy, you have to think before playing every shot. (Laughs). It was a little like that. There was less improvisation, much less than in Udta Punjab or even Haider. There were possibilities to do that in roles that I had done before. Here, I knew that these were the things he could do and, within that, I was able to do whatever I liked. There were a limited number of tools I could use.
VS: Today, in the happy zone that you are in, how do you see your journey of 15 years?
SK: Lots more to do. After a movie like Padmaavat, if I can feel like an underdog for 15 years, I know there are all kinds of challenges that are going to come, all kinds of ups and downs, but the only thing I can say is that ab toh sirf shuruwaat huyi hai. Padmaavat was just a means to an end. It is very important to do films which will give you bigger opportunities. You have to have the maturity to recognise that it comes your way.
You have humility too. It is very important to have a realistic sense of how people perceive you. And you have to have the ability to change that perception. But if you don’t know what people think of you, how will you change that?
After working for a number of years, after seeing enough success and failure, I know that this is where I am, these are the opportunities and these are my choices. Now the choice I make will define how the next three years will turn out for me. Padmaavat was a very important choice in my life. I wanted to be a part of this film. I wanted people to see me in a film where I didn’t have the best role and yet I made an impact. Sir came to me with it and said, do it. So I looked at him and said, okay I will.