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10 years of Ranbir Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone — what made them click

Film critics evaluate how the three actors, who made their big screen debut on the same day — 9 November 2007 — have managed to carve a space for themselves in the Hindi film industry.

Sonam Kapoor in Neerja (2016), Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar (2011), Deepika Padukone in Piku (2015)

Suparna Thombare

It’s only serendipity that three young actors would make their Hindi film debut on the same day, and go on to not only thrive, but make a big mark in cinema in the next decade.

Deepika Padukone (Om Shanti Om), Sonam Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor (Saawariya) entered the Hindi film industry on 9 November 2007. Ten years hence, their careers have gone in different directions. While Sonam has worked hard to prove herself as an actress, Padukone has gone on to boast of a very high success rate and Ranbir has been a story of a highly talented actor taking big risks with his choice of content.  

Author and film critic Mayank Shekhar feels that Sonam and Padukone’s rise as stars in the last decade has a lot to do with them riding the wave of actresses starting to carry films on their own shoulders. 

“There are various instances in the recent past with female actors in central parts and title roles, which without a doubt is a function of commerce. These films have been commercially successful apart from being critically acclaimed. The actress gaining prominence instead of just being a prop in a mainstream films, and sometimes even carrying an entire film purely on their own name, which we saw very little of in the 1980s and even lesser in the 1990s. Now, it’s becoming more and more common. So they joined that brigade of female leads like Kangana, Priyanka Chopra, or for that matter Vidya Balan. These are actresses who can have an entire film riding on them. And then we saw that happening with Deepika and Sonam. For them it's also been the question of being in the right place at the right time,” said Shekhar. 

After making a not-so-successful debut in a muddled film like Saawariya and a role where she didn’t have much to do, Sonam went on to be known more for being a fashionista than a good actress. 

Being Anil Kapoor's daughter came with certain expectations too and Sonam has had to work hard to create a space for herself.

Film critic, festival programmer and author, Aseem Chhabra feels that Sonam hasn't evolved enough as an actress over the years.

"Deepika has evolved into such a fine actress. If you look at Priyanka Chopra of how she started and where she was when she did Bajirao Mastani or Rani Mukherjee from her early days to now. Sonam, except for Neerja, hasn't evolved much," says Chhabra.

Her slow growth could be attributed to her not pushing herself during the initial years of her career, where either by choice or lack of choice, she did unsubstantial parts in films like Delhi-6 (2009), Thank You (2011), Mausam (2011) and Players (2012).

“Sonam has always been very likeable. There’s something very charming about her. She is best when she is not speaking and the camera knows how to shoot her like in Delhi 6 (2009) when there is a song playing in the background and she is just doing her thing. She has become a model and walks the red carpet at Cannes and has endorsements like L'Oréal, and that’s great. But either her acting talent is really limited or she has not been lucky enough where directors mined into her talent,” opined Chhabra. 

But the fashionista image she has built isn't necessarily a bad thing. It has definitely worked in her favour in a way, helping her create a distinct identity for herself and upping her star quotient. 

“She has pushed that fashion icon image through her movies too .So when she does a film like Khoobsurat (2014) or Aisha (2010), people want to know what she’s wearing and imbibe some of that style. There is a lot of branding going on in general, right? Somewhere there has been a seamlessness between her on-screen image and off-screen image. It seems deliberate and it probably is," observed Shekhar. 

In the recent years though, Sonam has made more impact starring in films like Raanjhanaa (2013), Khoobsurat (2014) and Neerja (2016), which won her critical and commercial success. The expectation is that Neerja's acceptance may motivate her into pushing herself into newer territories.

"From that perspective Neerja was a huge turning point for her. The fact that she pulled it off, and it has a lot to do with many things coming together — the story telling, the script and the director,” said Shekhar.

It's perhaps true that the super selective Sonam (she has done 14 films in 10 years), known for being smart, outspoken and opinionated, hasn't shown her sensibilties in her choice of roles.

"I see a gap between how intellectual she sounds and the kind of roles she does. There is a gap that I presume is deliberate. Maybe she will shine with stronger characters that she picks up later in her career," added Shekhar.

There is a certain baggage that you come with when you are perceived as a fashionista or a pretty face by the audiences and critics. It creates a mental block when it comes to being perceived as great actors. The looming public image is that of someone who would walk the ramp or red carpets or be seen looking great. It also becomes a mental block from the filmmakers' perspective sometimes — whether they can see them in gritty roles or certain characters that need them to tranform themselves. 

While Sonam has had to fight that constantly, Padukone, too, has had to evolve as an actress to combat the "models can't act" image.

Padukone is, without a doubt, one of the biggest stars of our country today and one of the most beautiful actresses of our times. But she, too, was perceived to be a pretty face, a model with minimal acting chops at the start of her career.

Despite a blockbuster debut with a big project, Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om opposite one of the country’s biggest stars, Shah Rukh Khan, her acting potential was often under doubt.

"Deepika has done some really bad films in the beginning. Chandni Chowk to China (2009) was an awful one in every regard. Karthik Calling Karthik (2010) wasn't good either. She didn’t make the best choices, initially. She has grown with her peformances in Imtiaz Ali's films [Love Aaj Kal (2009) and Tamasha (2015)]. She was very good in Tamasha. The film had a lot of issues, but Deepika was terrific in depicting pain in that film. She was a complete revelation in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013) and her chemistry with Ranveer Singh was amazing in that film. And then Bajirao Mastani (2015), although Bajirao Mastani, I personally feel belongs to Priyanka Chopra despite a smaller role," said Chhabra. "But Deepika grew as an actress (over the years)," he added.

Playing the role of Veronica with gay abandon in Homi Adjania's Cocktail in 2012 was surely a turning point for Padukone, as filmmakers and audiences began to believe in her acting potential. Post the appreciation for Cocktail, she continued to shine with a string of box office hits in the form of Race 2 (2013), Chennai Express (2013), Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013), Happy New Year (2014) and Piku (2015), delivering solid performances in these films.

"I think Piku is perhaps her best. She has minimal dialogue. The way she communicates her fondness for Irrfan — it's just the eyes and smile. She is very understated in that film. Some people are just great in front of the camera. Besides being photogenic they just light up before the camera," said Shekhar.

Working with director Sanjay Leela Bhansali in three films in a span of just four years, portraying some iconic roles, has also helped her evolve into the quintessential Hindi film heroine. Not to rest on her laurels, Padukone has gone to expand herself by starring in Hollywood action flick xXx: Return Of Xander Cage this year, and will now be seen in a Hindi film, Padmavati, after a gap of two years.

"Despite going through a lot personally — many breakups and depression, it's quite remarkable where she has reached," said Chhabra. "You can trust Deepika to not do anything wrong in a film anymore," he added.

While Sonam and Padukone have had to prove their potential as actresses through the years, Ranbir was instantly lapped up as the next big thing. And while the two actresses were plagued by the audiences' perception of them being more beautiful than talented, Ranbir came with the baggage of being another actor from the illustrious Kapoor khandaan, which has produced greats like Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor and others, through generations.

While his film Saawariya was completely panned, everyone was impressed by his screen presence and ease of acting. 

“Ranbir Kapoor’s confidence and camera friendliness have been evident right from his debut. There is no doubt that he is a born star in the Hindi film mould, one who combines screen presence with acting chops. His box office performance has been less consistent, but I feel that this has to do with the films themselves rather than his efforts. He gave a superb performance in Jagga Jasoos, for instance, and one cannot fault him for the movie’s poor showing,” said Nandini Ramnath, film editor, Scroll.in. 

Ranbir has rendered some brilliant performances over the years, winning both critical and audience appreciation in films like Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009), Rockstar (2011), Barfi! (2012) and Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani (2013), among others.

Commercially, though, in recent years, he has had a very lean patch, with some of the biggest disasters like Besharam (2013), Bombay Velvet (2015) and Jagga Jasoos (2017) to his name.

"Ranbir was anointed a star too early both by the film industry and the media, but he is actually better at playing author-backed character roles," said  Nandini.

Shekhar agreed that the burden of being named the next big superstar very early on in his career because of his acting talent has led Ranbir to make some wrong choices. “I think we tend to anoint superstars far too soon. When we see really big numbers for a particular film or two-three films if not back to back then in close proximity to each other, we tend to anoint them supertars or stars, which might be unfair for some actors because then they begin to compete with Khans of the world who have been around for over 25 years and have built a captive audience and a fan base which has grown through generations," he said. 

"I suspect that's what happened with Ranbir, especially after Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani. He was anointed the star, which has a very interesting definition Aamir Khan gives. You can judge how big a star is not by how well his good films do, but how well even his bad films do. People love this guy so much that they will show up even for films they are sure they are not going to like. Maybe Ranbir hasn’t reached that level or may be he presumed he had, when he chose a film like Bombay Velvet and assumed that people will show up. They did not,” recalled Shekhar.

Ranbir has been an elusive star, staying away from social media and the media glare as much as possible (though his romantic relationships have always kept him in the news), something his contemporaries have lapped up. He continues to believe in the old school aura of a star.

“That era of stardom where people show up regardless of what film you do because they love you, that unconditional love from fans is going to be harder and harder for the newer generation to build. You see that with the current generation that they tend to concentrate on the scripts and work harder on characters, which is not to say that Ranbir did not. Those were poor choices and audience will punish you for poor choices," said Shekhar.

Ranbir's acting prowess, though, has never been questioned. He has excelled in goofball characters often and has also consistently blown away his audiences with his angst-ridden coming-of-age parts. Chhabra called him "the king of depicting pain." 

"Shah Rukh Khan was also good at depicting pain, but he would overdo it. Ranbir is more realistic," he observed.

"Ranbir has veered between the brooding, angst-bitten hero and the silent film hero-inspired goofball. He appears to be directly channeling his grandfather, Raj Kapoor, in some of his performances," said Nandini.

"He is just so good at what he does. Nobody in the Kapoor khandaan has given these kind of emotional, deep performance. He is born with all the genes but there is something more there too. He is brilliant," she added.

Whether his films have worked or not, Ranbir has consistently delivered brilliant performances. And critics believe that it's only a matter of time before he shines again.

“The numbers of Bombay Velvet were terrible so it almost made you believe that nobody wants to see this guy regardless of the film. Which is not the case because when he has been in a good film people have showed up. There have been issues with the films, but I have never heard anything but good things about him as an actor. He already has a fan base. He has been around for 10 years, which is not an easy thing to do in any field to begin with. I think it’s only a matter of time before he gets it right. And I hear that with [Sanjay] Dutt [biopic] he has apparently got it right.”