Somewhere in Ranbir Kapoor's head Sanjay Dutt smells like cedar. And if he doesn't now, he will by the end of the shooting scheduled for the Raju Hirani-helmed biopic. Yes, the 34-year-old star, darling of critics, seller of a thousand tabloids, widely hailed as the actor of this generation, has an unusual tool he uses as part of his character immersion: he will use a single scent, a fresh cologne for every character he plays while he plays it. He says, and science seems inclined to agree, that engaging his scent memory is part of his process.
Ranbir Kapoor in a still from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
So for his character Ayan in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, he utilized a "young" cologne, for Barfi he chose something local from the area he was shooting in - Darjeeling. Music and smell he says affect him the most (so much so, he's even toying with the idea of launching his own signature scent someday) and are perhaps the clearest indicator of how emotional his attachment is to the world he gets to work in (Fun fact: he didn't even need glycerine for those crying scenes in ADHM.)
Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor on the sets of Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
"Over the years, my process has just been very simple - is to fall in love with the director and make sure that the director is in love with me. There is this little sense of a soul, a new soul which comes with every film, and you can't tell what it is. I can't describe it, but it comes in the second or third day of the shoot with the sense of surroundings, the unit, your clothes, the director, the cameraman, this new perfume. I usually wear a new perfume with every character, so you know, your sense memory and all puts you in that one phase. So, there are very small, simple things," he says.
Or not that simple. He is, easily, the most acclaimed young actor in the business. I actually boast the distinction of being the first person to ever conduct a red carpet interview with Ranbir Kapoor. It's not a great distinction, I grant you, but you will admit it is one. It was, of course, the premiere of Saawariya and its then 26-year-old leading man had just stepped out of the car with his director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I pounced (let me add, in a totally appropriate, not at all stalkerish way), very before he had time to blink. He was shy, a little awkward, certainly nervous and terrifyingly polite and respectful. And while over the next three hours I couldn't find a compliment for the film, to a man, the refrain was that a star was born.
It's nine years later now and Ranbir is fresh off the success of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
and it feels as though everything and nothing has changed. This hit was a crucial one for an actor who has put a hat-trick of less than stellar successes behind him. But again, no matter the reviews, the box office returns or lack thereof, the skills of this particular star are somehow able transcend it all: the indulgent scripts, the sketchy cinematography, the flawed directions. His films may get torn to shreds, but I'm not sure Ranbir Kapoor has ever had a bad review. You can put a group of the most hardened, cynical entertainment journalists together and they (we) will be bitchy, snarky, awful about most stars, but mention Ranbir's name and a sigh and dreamy shake of the head follows. ("That boy.")
But here's the interesting part: for those reading it and thinking this is a puff piece aimed at pandering, let me clarify that the one person who won't be flattered reading it is the man himself. There is nothing he is more suspicious of than what he perceives as empty, gratuitous praise: "I judge myself as somebody who's very mediocre and eighty percent of the times when people compliment me, I believe that they're not saying the truth. And, I think it's also a little bit of that, that I don't believe them. So, I'd rather not listen to something that I don't believe in."
There is an essential absurdity in being this skeptical of praise while mainstreaming in an industry that relies on exactly that, but Ranbir Kapoor believes it's not dichotomous, it is in fact essential. "Because we are in this field of arts that it's so important to be honest. Otherwise we all live in a delusion. We try to think that we're saving people but we're actually just entertaining."
His Next Role
Which is what he was busy doing when I caught up with him on the sets of Jagga Jasoos, lolling back atop a colorful truck with Katrina Kaif by his side. It's the final 'patchwork' for a film that's been a long, long time in the making. It's also his first as a producer. Possibly, he confesses, his last. "To be honest, I'm not cut-out to be a producer. An actor thinks that you know, you can do everything. Producing is a job, you know it's a qualified job. You need a person who understands what producing means, I don't. So maybe, this is my first and last. I don't think I'm cut-out to be a producer," he says. That being said, he believes he is privileged to have produced this one. This is the cinema he loves, that he cleaves to, a labour of love at many different levels. "I know it's been too long and it has tried all our patience but this man, Anurag Basu, is a precious genius. The kind of world he is trying to make, it's like a cartoon film made with live action and characters. It's adventure, it's mystery, there's a musical, there's romance, there's comedy and it's the kind of films that I will always want to make on screen if I was a director. I am so possessive, I don't want any actors to work with him. I go outside and I spoil his reputation - 'He's so that, he's messed up, there's no schedule, there's no script' - because I don't want anyone to work with him because I understand his genius." Filming began early 2015 and it's taken a while because he says the film had to be nurtured a particular way. The movie tells the story of a teenage detective in search of a missing father. "You know, there was a point where I told (Anurag) Basu that should we shelve the film? Is it happening? And he was also in a dilemma, but we kept coming back to it. Because there was the soul of the film, the story he was trying to say...the world, the characters were just not leaving us. But thankfully, we have a sequel in the cards."
On Love, Life And The Media
Yes, they're ending on a cliff hanger. But, of course, there's another cliffhanger that fans and the media had been hanging on to (he would argue for far too long) which was, of course, the one revolving around his co-star and former girlfriend, the lovely Katrina Kaif. Their's was the ultimate Bollywood romance and the pair at the heart of it were subjected to Brangelina levels of scrutiny: every step that could be chronicled, was - from the holidays on the Spanish coast to cosy clinches on the balcony of the home they shared. And in fact, while he has nothing but praise for "the single most influential person in his life" he will not extend anything close to that to the headline-makers and clickbaiters of the world. "You know, these websites like Pinkvilla..." He pauses, "Name them, haan?... Pinkvilla, Bollywoodlife, some weird website called SpotboyE who kind of just cook up stories and lies. They hide behind a source or question mark and lot of news channels pick up from there because that's their source. There is no iota of truth to it and yeah, it's sad. Because my grandmother sits and reads papers, she believes it. And if my grandmother believes it, I'm sure like, India's believing it too."
And yet, he's more candid on the subject of Katrina now than he ever was when they were together. "When I was in a relationship, it was polluted with misconceptions. Now when I'm not, I didn't want another set of misconceptions to start. So, you know, I wanted to have a dignified closure to it. To give it the respect I felt. And I'm not even a percent of the respect that I think I need to give it." And part of that is dispensing once and for all with the playboy tag that has dogged from the beginning. He says he is a romantic, who isn't just ready he's waiting to settle, not down necessarily but into something. "Being single is boring. It's boring, frustrating, it's extremely lonely, and happiness is only there when it's shared. When you have somebody, it kind of just ground you, brings a sense of balance to things. Yeah, so being single is no fun," Ranbir says. And while he maybe sort of ready to mingle now, he won't be picking out the placemats just yet. "I could have a family at the age of 40, 45, 50. I don't think my time is running out."
Katrina Kaif and Ranbir Kapoor walking the ramp at a fashion show in New Delhi (October, 2009)
On Kapoor And Sons (And Grandson)
He's actually been staying with his grandmother for some months at the Kapoor 'Cottage' in Chembur - there's space for his two dogs (mastiffs, Lionel and Guido) to gambol around and he has suggested many times that the Kapoor table remains the one to beat. It sound like an odd mix - the 80-year-old matriarch and her trendy, young, much in demand grandson - until you imagine all the things they have to talk about: the cinema that has spanned generations of a single family, the mistakes and missteps, the triumphs, the lessons learnt and passed on all the way to our subject of the day: the inheritor of so many legacies.(Raj, Shashi, Shammi, Rishi and mother Neetu) "Of course, being from the film family gives you a lot. All the exposure and surroundings it helps you form your own personality. It helps you develop your own exposure towards reality, from life, from relationships, with the women that you have been with. It's an amalgamation of everything that you come to in life."
Ranbir Kapoor holidaying with his parents Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh
Ranbir Kapoor with his grandmother Krishna Raj Kapoor
- Aneesha Baig