Can Ranbir Kapoor escape the vortex of typecasting?

Even as the Kapoor scion prepares for the release of Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, he finds himself facing the familiar conundrum of playing the same tune differently.

Shriram Iyengar

In a recent interview, Ranbir Kapoor said he faces a daunting question: 'How do I become new, more of a surprise, more engaging'?

After the first trailer of Karan Johar's latest, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, was released recently, many of the young star's fans are also wondering how and when he will reinvent himself.

The film features Kapoor yet again in the role of a musician, struggling through his career and his emotional relationships. The actor, who is in desperate need of a hit, was previously seen in a similar role in Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar (2011).

As an actor, Kapoor has been blessed with both pedigree and talent. In a short career, his resume is studded with some daring choices. Wake Up Sid (2009), Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year (2009), Raajneeti (2010), Rockstar (2011), and Barfi! (2012) were films which marked him out as an actor willing to take risks. 

Despite this willingness to try new things, Kapoor seems to have got stuck playing similar characters for a while. While his debut film Saawariya (2007) established him as the next chocolate-boy romantic lead, films like Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008), Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (2009), Anjaana Anjaani (2010) and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) saw him play variations of the same character. 

In all these films Kapoor's characters have shared a common trait, which has only become more pronounced over the years: that of a cad who realizes love after suffering heartbreak. As a romantic lead, Kapoor is perhaps the most rejected lover. Films like Rockstar, Barfi!, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, and Raajneeti had plots involving unrequited love. Coincidentally, some of his most popular songs like 'Kabira' from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, 'Tu Jaane Na' from Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, 'Phir Le Aaya Dil' from Barfi!, and 'Nadaan Parinde' from Rockstar are also ballads on unrequited love. 

In many ways, Kapoor is a representative of the millennial generation. His characters represent a strong desire for freedom, imbued with a sense of loneliness and heartbreak. It is no surprise that Imtiaz Ali found him to be perfect for Rockstar. The film told the tale of a young musician, an outsider to society, whose music emerges from his deepest pains. The film brought Kapoor the Filmfare award for Best Actor and the Filmfare critics award for Best Actor. Kapoor embodied the creative angst of an artiste and his inability to express it in any way other than through music. The film ended with Kapoor's character losing the one thing that drives his career: his love.

This inability of the artiste to express himself comes across in Imtiaz Ali's Tamasha (2015) as well, in which Kapoor plays a shy storyteller. It is an emotionally complex character which carries angst and frustration against society and the world within. Even in his commercial exploration of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Kapoor portrayed a youngster who dreams of travelling around the world, only to find himself alone in this pursuit. 

Another common theme is the conflict between the heart and the mind in these characters. In Wake Up Sid, he plays a young man struggling to come to terms with the freedom he needs and the responsibilities it brings. In Rockstar, his desire to be a great musician results in loss of friendship, love, and relationships. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani saw him confront the career versus love theme again. Incidentally, it was his first film with Deepika Padukone, after their much-publicised breakup. In Tamasha, the actor teamed up with Padukone again to portray a tale of self-discovery resulting in heartbreak.

It would be unfair to say that Kapoor has chosen to remain typecast. There have been occasions when he has veered from the beaten path and tried films that portray him in a different light. However, not many of these have been successful. Raajneeti, Besharam (2013), Bombay Velvet (2015) and Roy (2015) are films that fall in this category. Sadly, they all failed to generate any interest at the box office.

Perhaps it is this failure that has prompted the young star to return to the shelter of tested directors like Anurag Basu, Ayan Mukherji, and Karan Johar. Incidentally, Kapoor has completed two films with Basu, two with Mukherji, and two with Ali. He has already acted with Karan Johar in one film (Bombay Velvet) and now features in Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.

In a decade-long career, Kapoor has seen both the agony and ecstasy of stardom. It has come at the price of his own personal life. In many ways, the story of his life runs parallel to that of some of the characters he has portrayed.

Yet, as an actor, he bears a different burden. As he himself admitted in the interview with film critic Rajeev Masand, "My purpose is as an actor, so I’m in that phase where my films have to change, my expressions, the tricks in my magic bag have to change." Yet, with Kapoor, the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same. Perhaps Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil might reveal a new trick in his bag?