The very versatile Shahid Kapoor has given us many memorable performances in some really good films like Jab We Met, Haidar, Udta Punjab and several others. He started out as a background dancer in Dil To Pagal Hai and Taal and then went on to become an overnight sensation with Ishq Vishk. From playing that college-going chocolate boy in his debut film to getting into the skin of an enigmatic historical personality – the actor has come a long way.
A far cry from his previous on-screen avatars, Shahid donned the character of Maharana Rawal Ratan Singh in Sanjay Leela Bhansali‘s latest offering, Padmaavat. He romanced Deepika Padukone aka Padmavati and was pitted against the antagonist Alauddin Khilji played by Ranveer Singh on celluloid. Many had warned him against being the third wheel in this project as opposed to his last few releases, where he played the central character. And I don’t even want to get started about the controversies that this movie grappled with.
But despite all the hurdles, Shahid has emerged triumphant as the period drama has turned out to be his highest grosser till date. Plus, his performance has been lauded by many. Naturally, all the initial reluctance and worries have now been replaced by a sense of validation.
I managed to catch up with him during his happy phase for an interesting chat. As I entered the room at his Juhu office, he asked me to pull my chair and sit closer to him for better audibility. In the process, I ended up moving the carpet from its place and he immediately quipped, “My wife got the carpet. So if you mess it up, I will give her your number.” I almost believed him until I spotted that mischievous grin on his face.
Here are the excerpts from our conversation.
I wish we were busy promoting the film instead of sitting at home because it was very difficult to keep waiting. I guess everybody thought, ‘Waah, iis film mein promote nahin karna padega.’ But I would rather be busy than twiddling my thumbs at home because there are too many thoughts that cross your mind. Many people asked me many questions in the last year and a half. What is my role in Padmaavat? Why am I doing the film? Do I have a special appearance? Am I there only for a couple of scenes? I really wanted the film to speak for itself and I wanted my performance to speak for itself, even though I was kind of an underdog in the film. I knew that I had taken up the role of a character who was a great man but very little was known about him in history. And I wanted him to be known for the sacrifice he made, for the warrior he was, for the values he stood for and the journey he had. It was an amazing journey that Maharana Rawal Ratan Singh had but nobody knew about it. People knew about Padmavati. People knew about Alauddin Khalji. But no one knew about this guy who was at the thick of this story, right in the middle of it. So I was just praying for people to see everything that he stood for. They say that the true test for an actor is when words are taken away from you. This was that role for me. It was a big test.
A lot of it was discovered with Sanjay Sir. I won’t say that it was all me. There was a lot of him in it. And this being my first time with him as opposed to everybody else in the film, it was a new experience. It was a fresh relationship. And I was a part of a movie which wasn’t about my character only. There were a lot of very important characters and there was a world that he needed to create. So I had to steal time from him whenever I could to ask him questions that I needed to ask. And beyond that, you can only truly reach out to people as a character when you feel him in your soul.
So what happened during the first couple of days of the shoot was that I was waiting in my van, then I was ready and I came out only to find out that the shoot was delayed. It was a night sequence and there was some issue with some costume so they needed 2-3 hours more. I was like okay and I went back to my van and took out my laptop. Then I was wondering what to do because there was no network on that location. I couldn’t even surf the internet or whatever. Then I saw this little folder, it said Mughal-e–Azam. Then I remembered that I had told my manager to put Mughale-e-Azam as a reference probably because it was also a historical drama. I started watching it and it was almost like it was Godsent. No one called me for my shot till it got over. The film finished and I could only think about Dilip (Kumar) saab‘s performance. And everything that I was searching for came from that performance – silence, grit, presence, power, communicating without many dialogues, everything… I cannot explain it. That kind of became my Bible. I was like, ‘Okay Rawal Ratan Singh, I think I understand a little bit about you and now, let’s do this!
At the top of my head, there are a few things that are going on. The first one is that I really hope it opens at the places where it hasn’t managed to open so that more people can see it now that the verdict on the film is out and people are saying that there is nothing bad in it. We’ve been saying it from the start. Now, people are also saying it. I wish that it releases everywhere because you want a film like this to reach out to as many people as it can. And I think Padmaavat deserves to be seen by many many people.
The second is a huge sense of satisfaction. I have seen the public response and it’s great. With God’s grace, silence has spoken with regards to Rawal Ratan Singh. My character has reached out to the people and they have felt it! So I am very thankful and ecstatic about the fact that the audience has absorbed that in the middle of all the noise.
The third thing that I feel is that the decision I took a year and a half ago has been validated. It could have gone another way. People could have said, “Shahid, we are used to seeing you play roles that are all about you. Why did you do this?” So something could have gone wrong. It was possible. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I feel very validated about that.
See, I am a very secure actor. This job is such that if you allow your insecurities to creep up on you, you’d turn into a very messed up person. The most important thing is to look at your strength, empower yourself and back yourself. All actors are surrounded by people who keep speaking into their ears like a makkhi. They keep breaking them down. I have seen that happen to me and around me. It happens to all of us. You have to learn to separate the noise. You can only do that when something deep inside you speaks very strongly. So you have to stay connected with your gut. We all lose that at some point. I have lost it and I have felt lost in the past. But I feel very centered right now. I have also come to learn that the only thing that can justify your choice is when you pull it off. So you have to get your ass over there and focus on it and make it happen. That essentially becomes your journey with any new film. You made a choice, now justify it. That was my journey with this film. I made a choice that everyone asked me not to make. Now, it was my chance to justify it so that all those people would turn around and say, “No, we were wrong and you were right!” It’s much easier for a lot of people to turn around and say, “We told you so!” And then your little voice gets lost. But you have to focus on that voice and back it with power. Honestly, I was really looking forward to working with actors like Ranveer, Deepika, Jim Sarbh and Aditi (Rao Hydari). There were a lot of very very fine actors playing extremely interesting roles. So I was excited about it.
The difference between the two male protagonists was established by Sanjay sir. He wanted Alauddin to be raw with a lot of beastly energy. He wanted my character to have a very aesthetically beautiful personality. He wanted me to look smaller, leaner. He wanted me to look like a warrior but he didn’t want me to have a larger than life personalty. When you see Rawal Ratan in the film, you see him as a lover. Till the scene when Alaudidin asks to see his wife, you only see his soft and romantic side.
I don’t think you have seen the movies from the first five years of my career (laughs).
It depends on what your standard of a bad performance is. I think I have given some really ‘bad bad’ performances. You know there’s a film where a dog bites me on my crotch and I am hamming.
I don’t feel better about the fact that somebody praised me and trashed my film. I would have been okay with someone praising my film while saying that I was only okay. You want your film to do well. There are so many people who work hard on it. When the critics write about me, their opinion is appreciated and absorbed but they are not the center of my focus. At the personal level, there are a few people whose opinions matter to me and I pay attention to what they have to say. On the professional level, I make the films for the jantaa. So it obviously disheartens me when they reject a movie. It’s a terrible feeling when you realise that you couldn’t give the audience some value for their money.
Are you jinxing my next film, bro? Don’t even think about it! If there’s one actor whose career has no pattern to it and no consistency in his graph, it’s me. I have done great work and shit work – all in the space of a few months. It has been pretty random.
I wish she has a part of Mira’s soul. I think she has a very special, very pure soul.
I think a lot. I don’t want her to be an over-thinker.
Representing yourself truthfully with style.
I have been told that I have an aversion to loud colours and outfits which are screaming for attention. A lot of times, they have tried but couldn’t get me to agree to wear those.
A lot of them are worried and wondering what am I doing in the film. So to them, I just want to say, “Chinta ko talwar ki nok pe rakhe, woh Rajput.”