As Ranbir Kapoor turns 35 today, his film career stands at a crossroads. Since Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), the actor has failed to live up to his star billing. Yet, it is undeniable that Kapoor has emerged as one of the talented actors of his generation since his debut 10 years ago.
10 years of Ranbir Kapoor: The dichotomy of stardom and acting
Mumbai - 28 Sep 2017 13:00 IST
In February this year, the first pictures of Ranbir Kapoor as Sanjay Dutt broke the internet. In character as the mullet-haired, muscular Dutt, Kapoor cleared any doubts fans may have had about him playing the enfant terrible of Hindi cinema. It was typical of the actor who has lived every one of the characters he has portrayed on screen.
Since making his debut in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Saawariya (2007), Ranbir Kapoor has defied expectations to lead star vehicles and picked up projects that defy conventions. Whether it was his portrayal of the lovable loser in Wake Up Sid (2009) or the yuppie Sardarji in Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year (2009), the actor followed up his debut with characters that did not have 'star appeal' but made for great content.
Experimentation, however, does not guarantee success. With Ranveer Singh taking over the mantle of box-office draw with films like Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ramleela (2013) and Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Varun Dhawan turning on his charm with films like Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017), there is the gnawing question of whether Ranbir Kapoor deserves his position as one of the successors to the ageing Khans.
In a recent interview about the upcoming Sanjay Dutt biopic, actor Paresh Rawal had said, "When I was acting with Ranbir in the Dutt biopic, I got a feeling which I had experienced when I was acting with Naseerbhai [Naseeruddin Shah] during Sir (1993) 25 years back. There is an actor in front of you to whom you are reacting. The feeling was surreal and it happened after 25 years."
From suffering slaps under Sanjay Leela Bhansali to learning the guitar for Rockstar (2011) and now undergoing a punishing fitness and diet regime to transform himself into the hulking Dutt, the actor belongs to the rare breed of actors who get inside the character they portray in every film.
Not that he needs to. Unlike Rawal, Ranbir Kapoor is a blue-blooded scion of the Kapoor clan, the first family of Hindi cinema. He is the fourth generation of a family that has seen legends like Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor, and his cousin Kareena Kapoor Khan is a star herself.
This legacy does have its drawbacks. The actor has had to face the constant pressure of having to deliver a hit. There are also the looming comparisons, particularly with his father and grandfather.
But there is no doubting his ability. Films like Wake Up Sid, Rockstar, Barfi! (2012) and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani have proved the range and versatility of the actor.
However, in a filmography of 21 films, only Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) and Barfi! can be called box-office successes. The recent flop of his home production Jagga Jasoos (2017) was a body blow. While his father, the combative veteran Rishi Kapoor, spared his son, he waded into director Anurag Basu, calling him 'irresponsible'. An embarrassed Ranbir was forced to defend the director, saying, "My father is an emotional man. I think he was only protecting me."
Right after Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Ranbir Kapoor chose several films that were star vehicles. Of these, Besharam (2013), Roy (2015), and Bombay Velvet (2015) went on to be disasters. While the actor tried to reinvent himself in each of these films, they only added to his misery.
The desire to play the star stems, perhaps, from the burden of the Kapoor legacy. In the 2016 show Rendezvous With Simi Garewal, Rishi Kapoor quipped, "I would have never allowed him to do a film like Wake Up Sid or Rocket Singh or Barfi! Before and after Barfi!, people told me tere bete ko kya ho gaya hai? He is going the Amol Palekar way!" The reference was to the actor who became something of a cult figure in the 1970s playing Everyman in a string of softly comical films taking good-natured digs at middle-class life in Bombay and, occasionally, Delhi. Palekar's halcyon period largely coincided with Rishi Kapoor's own first decade as a leading man in Hindi cinema.
In an interview with film critic Rajeev Masand in 2016, Ranbir Kapoor admitted, "I would be lying if I said my confidence is not affected. When films don’t do well, actors are insecure. They think, 'Is the shine on my star fading? Was that it? Do I have anything else to offer?' All those thoughts come in, but then you have to fight it. I’m filled with these worrying thoughts."
Curiously, it is this vulnerability that lies at the heart of his appeal. Like his grandfather Raj Kapoor, Ranbir's best characters have been those that are broken and vulnerable. No wonder his most memorable performance was as JJ, the rebellious rockstar in Imtiaz Ali's 2011 film.
With Rajkumar Hirani's biopic on Sanjay Dutt, the actor steps into a character that embodies this dichotomy of vulnerability and stardom. Dutt's life story is intoxicating for the power, the falls, and the very human quality of hubris. In Ranbir Kapoor, the director has an actor who has lived these very elements in the span of a decade.