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“You cannot stop a good film”

As he readies to present one of his most challenging roles to date with Kabir Singh, Shahid Kapoor talks about the pressure that come with a remake, the journey of this film, and how he feels about letting go of regret. Here he is in conversation with Bhakti Mehta

How’s the Kabir Singh fever going, Shahid?

Good. But yes, hectic. It’s the last few days before the film is released. But I am okay answering questions and giving interviews. It is better to keep yourself busy, yaar, especially 10 days before the film.

So you still have that nervousness before a release…

Yeah, yeah. Every time you think it shouldn’t be there; it is always there. It’s the one thing that never changes. It’s not a fear so much as an eagerness to know how people feel about the film, how they view what you have spent so much time on.

Would say it is more relevant now than before, because reviews are out on social media so quickly?

That is actually a good thing, from a certain standpoint, because if the film is good then it also gets appreciated that much faster, regardless of the size of the film. To me, word of mouth is the most important aspect of how people perceive a film. And it is not an individual’s point of view. Earlier, it was very restricted because it was just five or six people who would define perception of your film. And that is not really fair because it should be perceived in the way the world is seeing it. I think it is actually more democratic now.

They say that it is the oldest and best trick in the book.

Yes, absolutely! And as I said, it is fair. If a film is good people will like it and you will see that. You cannot stop a film that is good, that is great. (Smiles)

Back to talking about Kabir Singh, had you already seen the original film?

Yes, I had already seen the film. The reason I had met Sandeep (Reddy Vanga, director) was because I had seen it and I was very interested. But my condition was that I would only do it with the same filmmaker. The reason for this was that I had loved Arjun Reddy so much that I felt no one else would be able to do justice to it. It would have to be his vision.

It was such an emotional film that it needed the same person to make it. It was not a narrative or story or plot-driven film that another filmmaker could then re-do. It was all about the emotion. The entire film was an emotional arc. The first time I met him, we just sat and talked for about an hour, or an hour and a half. I told him I would love to do the film and he had seen my work in Udta Punjab and loved what I had done there…

That’s how it happened?

Not really. No, it was not like that. It was not that simple. What actually happened was that after that meeting, Sandeep went back. Then I met him through somebody who had the remake rights for the film but it was not Murad Khetani. But then Murad Khetani finally got the rights. And when he did, Murad bhai came to me and told me that Sandeep had committed himself to another film. Then I said that I would not do the film if the same director was not making it. Then it all got lost in translation for a while.

It was another month or so before we came back to it. I got a call saying that Sandeep’s film was getting delayed and he now had the time to do this one. And since I hadn’t signed anything, we met to discuss it again and that is how it happened. So, it was a long journey. (Laughs) It was meant to happen like this.

Why did you stress on only Sandeep Reddy Vanga directing the remake?

It was amazing working with him. He is very passionate about what he wants to do, what he wants to show. And I think there is a lot of stuff that has happened with him personally. That is very obvious. Woh kam batata hai lekin samajh mein aa jata hai.

The biggest challenge for both of us was how to keep certain elements that are so crucial and integral to the original film and yet also rediscover it and bring it alive in a fresh manner so that it is a fresh experience for the audience. It doesn’t feel like a copy-paste job. Both he and I had to collaborate and to really find our rhythm together, because for him there was always a reference point to go back to and compare with. But once you start comparing while you are in the process, it can be very disorienting and distracting. So, we had to focus our energies on Kabir.

When we spoke to your co-star Kiara Advani about how one has a responsibility when one is doing a remake, she said you would be a better person to discuss that.

(Laughs) Nicely done! But that was the first thing that I also felt when I saw the film. I was like, yaar why make it again and spoil it. That was my very first reaction. But then everybody around me was saying, it is such a good film and has been seen by a limited audience. The film deserves to be made for a pan-India audience. When I saw it, and I am part of the pan-India audience, I am not from Hyderabad, I do not understand the language, but I could connect with it completely. Also, it is a great role. So they were saying, why would you not want to take this there?

I spent some time with it and I said, yes, okay, I will do it, but only if the same director is making it in Hindi. Then the same guy agreed and then I was like, ab toh yeh karna padega. It was one of those things, yaar. Of course, there is a flip side to it. But that flip side doesn’t mean that you give up on a challenge that has so much potential. There is always going to be a downside, the other side of the coin. You have to go for it and hope for the best and give it your best. Also, when you know the stakes are high, you know that you have to push yourself. And that actually helps you. You give it your best, it raises the bar and that pressure actually works.

You did have, if we can call it that, a reference point for your role…

(Cuts in) That’s a good choice of word, reference point.

You did have that after watching Arjun Reddy, knowing where the idea of that character stems from. But how did you individually approach this character?

I am an Arjun Reddy fan. I love Arjun Reddy. I think Vijay (Devarakonda) is spectacular in the film. But the minute I started working on Kabir Singh, Arjun Reddy ceased to exist for me. I ejected it from my system and my sole aim was to find Kabir Singh.

And there is the fact that Kabir Singh is not Arjun Reddy. I have said this before: they could be cousins but they are two different people. It is because we have based the character of Kabir Singh in Delhi and Bombay. I think Delhi University is very different from Hyderabad University. It has its own vibe and its own energy. Also, being an alcoholic doctor in Mumbai is very different, your upbringing is different. And of course, I think a Singh and a Reddy are very different. Then you have to forget about everything that you had liked in the film and get into the reality of what you are creating now. Kabir Singh stems from that reality.

Is it emotionally taxing to play this kind of angry, destructive character? Or are you one of those actors who can effortlessly detach from a role?

No, I had to learn how to detach. I think this film helped me learn how to detach because I had to come back home to my kids and I couldn’t carry that baggage home with me. This film is possibly the one that helped me learn how to step in and step out of a character like this.

You also said that you don’t like loud characters…

(Cuts in) I said that I don’t like loud performances, not loud characters.

But there are people who would consider Kabir Singh loud, over-the-top. How do you make sure that your performance is not loud even if your character is?

You will have to see the film for that. Once you do, we can talk about it at length. What you feel after you see the film, you come and tell me.

You are an actor known to stay away from substance abuse. What do you think it is that attracts to you characters that are diametrically opposite, like Kabir Singh or even Tommy Singh from Udta Punjab?

See, I am eating a vegetarian sandwich here with vegan cheese, so I have no freakin’ idea why these roles come to me. I remember telling Abhishek (Chaubey) during Udta Punjab that the character is very good and the script is very good lekin tu mere paas kyun aaya hai when you know I do not do anything! He looked at me and said, kaisa feel hota hai I will explain to you, I know it, but I want you as an actor for this film. So that is how that happened. And I think because that happened, today Kabir Singh has also happened.

When you play roles like these, you have to play with many personal barriers and you have to break your own limitations to grow as an actor. These kinds of roles have provided me the opportunity to do that and they do make you feel a lot more confident, because if you can pull off something that is so far away from your own reality, it gives you a lot more self-belief. So I am really happy that I did them and I am very thankful and grateful that people have liked them.

In fact, Tommy Singh is one of your most memorable characters.

I love Tommy! I find him damn entertaining. Even now whenever I catch the film Udta Punjab yahan wahan, I watch him and I laugh. I find him extremely funny. With all his madness, he was quite entertaining.

I remember you saying that you have to make these obnoxious characters lovable.

You have to! You have to make people forgive flawed characters. The biggest thing in life that you can do for yourself or anybody else is to forgive. It is important to make films about such characters.

16 years in the industry for you as an actor, are you satisfied with your career graph?

Arre yeh graph and all kuch nahi hota hai, yaar. The films that you do should be good, they should be different. You should always be able to do something new. You should be able to make a good film. If you do that, the graph will form itself. I don’t think about graphs and plan life like that because too much happens. Every film comes with its own destiny, so you cannot predict where you will be after a release. I never plan too far ahead. If something excites me instinctively and makes me feel like I can give six to eight months of my life to it and dedicate myself to it, then I say yes to it, because I do one film at a time. That’s it. More than that, I don’t think about it.

There are actors who have told me that they keep their audience in mind and their image in mind when they choose scripts. What about you?

I wouldn’t say that I am smart enough to know how the audience will react. (Laughs) Some people might just be that legendary, and know how the audience is going to react to a particular scene. They might be able to tell ki yeh scene mein yeh hoga. (Laughs) Who knows, yaar?! I don’t know how I will react to something when I am stepping into a theatre, so how can I know what someone else is going to feel. Like I said, I only pick my scripts when I strongly feel that I really want to be  part of this. Then I do it. That’s it.

If you had to go back in time and give some advice to the young Shahid Kapoor just starting out in this industry, would it be this?

(Laughs) I have to sit down and write a book about that. I will make a notepad full of notes and make it into a book full of advice. But if I had to summarise, I would say to my younger self, beta, tu bahut saari galtiyan karne wala hai and you must read this notepad every morning when you wake up.

Any regrets throughout this journey?

No, none at all. No regrets, but yes, a lot of lessons. Regret is a negative emotion, you should not hold on to it, says Kabir Singh. Irony of life! (Laughs)

Coming back to Kabir Singh, the buzz around the film is quite high.

Thanks for the pressure, bro! No, but jokes apart, that is okay because, I mean, I would rather be in this place than in a place where people are not interested in it. So I am very happy that they are interested. We will deal with the pressure. (Smiles)

When the audience watches this film, they will see that it is definitely one of the most challenging characters that I have played. It is very intense, very passionate, very flawed and very real. And it will bring back a lot of memories for a lot of people, of phases that they might have gone through in their lives. Also, it might help some people deal with a dark phase they might be going through or have gone through. I think sometimes just knowing that you are not the only one, makes a big difference. And Kabir is as honest as it gets about how he feels. Sometimes it is good to see a character like that. It just helps to let it out.

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