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Interview Hindi

Not trying to portray Sanjay Dutt as a god: Ranbir Kapoor

One week before the release of Sanju, one of the most awaited films of 2018, Kapoor talks about 'an honest depiction' of the controversial Dutt diving into the dark and complex phases of his life and a mysterious 'question mark'.

Suparna Thombare

It's a rare moment in Hindi cinema when a young star like Ranbir Kapoor will be seen playing the role of a veteran like Sanjay Dutt, who is not only alive, but also active. For this reason, and the fact that the much-loved Rajkumar Hirani is directing it, Sanju becomes an important film in contemporary times.

One week before the film's release, Kapoor promises that unlike certain biopics in recent times Sanju is not a "PR exercise to clean up" the controversial star's image. "If you make a biopic it should be an honest and human portrayal of a person," he asserts. "We are showing his mistakes. When you see me putting that commode [seat] around somebody’s neck, you find that character to be wrong. You are seeing the bad side of him."

Obviously, getting into the big, stylish and controversial shoes of Dutt was no cakewalk, but Kapoor does not like to boast about the hard work that has gone in behind the scenes. "I don't need to show you that. You need to see the result and that's what's important," he says.

If Kapoor, who hasn't tasted box-office success since Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), is feeling the pressure and responsibility of playing the lead role in this biopic directed by Hirani, who is yet to see commercial failure in his career, he does not show it. The actor is known to be quite zen, so it's not surprising that he looks happy and relaxed when we meet him at Hirani's office in Andheri, Mumbai.

Speaking to Cinestaan.com, Kapoor opens up about the most complex scene in the film, depicting the father-son relationship with Paresh Rawal, and a "question mark" which the audience will discover when it watches the film. Excerpts from the conversation:

We see you copying Sanjay Dutt's style and mannerisms to the T in the trailer. Was that the brief?

I tried my hardest not to mimic him. I tried to actually be him. There is a fine line between mimicking and actually being somebody because Sanjay Dutt as we know is so relevant. People still copy him, he is still working in films. So it was a harder task for me to play him. I didn't want it to look caricaturish or that we are making fun of him. You actually had to see a vulnerable side to Sanjay Dutt, a human side to him.

This is not the film where you see the Sanjay Dutt that we all know and have seen on screen. This is Sanjay Dutt off screen. What was his dynamic with his family, his friends, at every juncture in his life? So I have tried my hardest to remind the audience that this is me playing Sanjay Dutt. I have tried to stay away from mimicry.

How do you think this film will influence the younger generation?

We have so much to learn from his mistakes. Starting with drugs, where drugs take you and ruin your life. How hard it is to come out of it. How much family support you need. This will teach you about your mistakes. What mistakes he made because of the stardom he had, because of his immaturity, because of bad influence, bad company. Lot of lessons it will teach you and also it will teach you the value of family and friends. How they stood by him and he could rise every time he was falling down. So it's a story of a fallen hero who kept rising and coming back, but kept making mistakes because of his own immaturity.

What is your relationship with Sanjay Dutt like?

Ranbir Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt. Photo: Shutterbugs Images

I have known him ever since I was born I think. My grandfather and his mother had lovely creative collaborations on screen and my father and he have been colleagues. So he has always been close to my family.

But I remember the first time I met him up close was in Kashmir where my father was shooting Sahibaan (1993). I was on set that day and he was this tall man, long hair, earrings, wearing a pathani [suit], and I was mesmerized by his personality. When anybody sees Sanjay Dutt in his different phases in life you get attracted to just what his energy is. Since then I was fascinated by him. I had a poster of him in my cupboard.

Apart from the look and the style, what was the process of getting the emotions right?

The material Sanjay Dutt gave Raju sir and how he has put it in a two-and-a-half-hour narrative, it's so rich in content. It's every actor's dream to have that and to enact every emotion. If it's sadness, if it's despair, intensity, if it's laughter, entertainment sab kuch bhara hua tha. And then you have the cushion that Rajkumar Hirani is making it so you also have the trust. So it was a brilliant experience.

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There is a very important scene in the trailer where you put the commode seat around the neck of Sonam Kapoor’s character. There are good and bad things about every person. Were there any such moments where you couldn’t identify with the dark side of Sanjay Dutt’s character?

First of all, if you make a biopic it should be an honest and human portrayal of a person. We are not trying to portray Sanjay Dutt as a god. We are showing his mistakes. When you see me putting that commode around somebody’s neck, you find that character to be wrong. You are seeing the bad side of him. And it had actually happened.

When I read the scene I went to Sanjay Dutt and asked him if it did happen. He said that this girl came to my house later and told him what he had done. He was deep into drugs at the time and he had no idea what he was doing. That is just one moment. There were some 2,000 moments like this where it was hard for me to believe at first that this actually happened and how will I be able to perform it.

Emotionally, it does disturb you like when you do those jail sequences or when he is really deep into the drug zone. But it is also a lot of fun to play that. When you emotionally surrender to something, there is a part of you which goes into your work, it is always better than when you are superficially working on a film. Like a film like, say, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016), it's easier. You go there and you are having fun. You cry on the surface, you laugh on the surface and that’s important too. That’s also entertainment of a different kind. But sometimes you get parts where emotionally it really tires you, takes so much out of you, but at that time you feel alive, I am doing something good.

You recently shared a series of pictures from your films where the father-son relationship has played out in many different ways. How does it play out in this one? And how was it working with Paresh Rawal as your father?

Paresh Rawal. Photo: Shutterbugs Images

First of all the father-son dynamic in our country is really important because it is very complicated. Every father and son relationship... because it is very complicated. You know it's not like the mother-son or the father-daughter relationship. There is a certain complexity to it.

I have worked with Farooq Shaikh saheb, Anupam Kher, my father in Jagga Jasoos (2017) Saswata Chatterjee... all of the men. I have really enjoyed it. And you know, a filmmaker like Ayan [Mukherjee], he understands that dynamic well. But with Sanju the biopic, the father-son dynamic between Paresh Rawal and me, which is Sunil Dutt saheb and Sanju, is the backbone of the film because it was a very complicated relationship. It was a relationship where Sanju sir used to fear him. He used to hide from him.

I remember when Raju sir was interviewing the police officer who was interrogating Sanju sir, he told Raju sir Sanju sir’s only request during the interrogation was ‘please don’t tell dad’. It was so vulnerable, at the same time really stupid in a way that the world is going to get to know what trouble you have got into and you are saying ‘please don’t tell dad'. So that dynamic is very important. Also, it is something I relate to because my relationship with my father is also complicated. There is a lot of fear and we aren’t best of friends. But still there is a lot of love and respect and admiration for him.

And Paresh Rawal is Sir Paresh Rawal. He has been acting for long and has done such amazing work. And he is a true actor because you can actually see it — apart from the movies he does, he has so much passion for theatre. He does Gujarati plays, Hindi plays... he is culturally so involved in entertainment. And that’s a mark of a true actor. I am really happy that I got to work with him so closely.

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Paresh Rawal says you are zen otherwise and suddenly light up when the camera comes on.

I am a bit of an introvert. I am shy. I find it very hard to express myself to people. With cinema and with the camera switched on and a character, I get that chance to be somebody so I guess that’s why.

What is your takeaway from the film?

Two things — the father-son relationship and his relationship with his best friend, played by Vicky Kaushal. Those, I think, are the key relationships in the film.

The film is based on three things — father-son, friendship and a question mark. The question mark you will know when you see the film. These are the core or the spinal cord of the film.

What was the most complex part about playing Sanjay Dutt?

I had a lot of fun doing the Munna Bhai section of the film. The complicated part was the drug part because he went really heavy into drugs. There are stories I used to hear which are not in the film. That he used to do drugs at home, and the help at home would tell him that Sunil Dutt is calling you. And he would already be high and meet his father. At one time he is looking at his father and sees him melting and sees a candle which is coming out of his head and burning his entire face. Then he ran to him and started hitting him [in an attempt to douse the fire].

So, he went that deep into drugs. It was sad to see someone go to that point. Dutt saheb basically sacrificing his life... his wife battling and succumbing to cancer and actually taking responsibility of getting his son out of this. That was quite disturbing. But for an actor that is really an opportunity to do good stuff.

How has this role affected you? Has it caused any changes in you?

That thing about if a film changed you, it happens subconsciously after some time. It's not like I have completed the film today and tomorrow I am a different person. Subconsciously, this film will stay with me. And my respect and admiration for Sanjay sir has increased. Having said that, you will not see a propaganda film, showing you a film on Sanjay Dutt where it is a PR exercise cleaning up his image. You will find a story of a faulty man. You might hate him also. But you will see an honest portrayal of a person in a way that ‘is it actually possible to have a life like that’?

Rajkumar Hirani hasn’t seen failure yet as a director. How was the experience of working with a much-loved director like him?

[He has] a basic quality and deep desire to entertain the audience. He is one of the few filmmakers whom I have met and interacted with who is not making the film for himself. He wants to give you a message, entertainment, he wants laughter, he wants drama, he wants to make you cry, and in a very simple way. There is no show-off 'ke yaar look how I have taken this shot and look at this, look at that'. It’s very simple storytelling. It’s a story that you will relate to.

He is also somebody who is connected to his country, his own people. He comes from a small town. His emotions are also very simple. And I think that’s quite amazing for any director to have those qualities.

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Do you have any favourite biopics?

The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013). I saw that film and I was like wow! So biopic doesn’t mean it's only sad and intense. The Wolf Of Wall Street was so much fun. And you’ll see that fun in Sanju also. Out here Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013) and Gandhi (1982).

I knew the responsibility, I love Sanjay Dutt. I became too obsessed with it. Whenever I met Sanjay Dutt I was only looking at him, how he is scratching his ear or how he is wearing his clothes. I used to collect pictures also. See, I am playing Sanjay Dutt from 20 to 60 [years of age] so in a way I am playing six parts. So it wasn’t just like playing one character. So I had to do my homework.

It was my basic job as an actor to understand how this guy was and his phases. If you see the 1980s, his style had not developed. He was very awkward, he was very simple and raw. His style really came in the 1990s when he did his body, his long hair — his image changed. So there were these various nuances that we had to incorporate from different phases in his life. How his shoulders kept drooping lower and lower as he got older. His hairstyles kept changing and the way he spoke, too. We were very careful and very detailed.

Was there any moment in the film which drained you emotionally?

There was one moment in the film that really got me emotionally. It was the day Sanju sir’s mother died, because at that time Sunil Dutt had told Sanjay Dutt to stay in the hospital and look after her when she was in a coma because he had to attend to some work. And he was in the hospital for 4-5 days when his mother was in a coma. He was alone there and he started doing heroin. And suddenly one day his mother wakes up, calls him and looks at him and says something to him, and then she dies in front of his eyes!

After three days was the premiere of Rocky (1981). And they couldn’t cancel the premiere because his mother had said that even if I am not here I want you to keep the premiere. While the premiere was going on, he ran outside and was hallucinating and shivering. Dutt saheb came out while the film was on and asked what had happened. He told him that when mom died, she woke up and spoke something to me, but till now I don’t know if she actually woke up or I was imagining that. If you just think about that... you don’t know if your mother actually woke up or she died like that, it's very disturbing... to even think of something like this.

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How was the physical transformation for the part?

It was very hard. When I started this film I was 70 kg because I was doing Jagga Jasoos. I had to put on 20 kg because we shot this film in reverse. I started with 60-year-old Sanjay Dutt and kept losing weight in phases. I have always been thin, sukda insaan hoon. So putting on weight is really hard for me, but I can lose weight fast. So I had to eat 10 meals a day. Wake up in the middle of the night and have protein shake, work out for two hours every day. And then when we used to take a month-and-a-half's break between each phase of his life, I used to lose weight and we used to start the next phase.

Do you think you will enter a commercially successful phase with a line-up of films like Sanju, Brahmastra and Luv Ranjan's untitled project?

I have been lucky and privileged that even if I was in a good phase or a bad phase I have managed to work with good people, big filmmakers, big studios have given me opportunities. So the good phase and bad phase is mostly about perception.

But for me, I am always excited to be a part of all these films. I don’t take success to my head and I don’t take failure to my heart. So I don’t take all these things seriously. I am born in a film family, mujhe pata hai ke yeh industry kya hai, yahaan ugte suraj ko salaam karte hain [I know how the industry works, here only success is saluted]. Tomorrow if your films are not working, people will forget you and you will be a nobody. And I have that reality check about myself. So I don’t take success or failure that seriously. I am just happy doing my job.

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You never really speak about your craft and process as an actor. Is there a conscious effort to keep that to yourself?

No. I come from the school of thought that if I am working, am actually trying to work, say if you have asked me to sweep this floor, I am not going to sweep it only when you are looking at me. My process is a process because it becomes easier for me to do my work. I am selfishly doing things for myself as an actor. I don't need to show you that. You need to see the result and that's what's important.

I like to keep it that way, that if I am working on a film and what my process is, I don't want to burden you with it saying 'dekh maine yeh sab kiya hai, yeh kar raha hoon woh kar raha hoon [look, I have done this, I am doing that]'. If you have come to ask me questions, I am sure you have thought about this film and questions and my life and the controversial questions and the non-controversial questions, questions about current girlfriend, next girlfriend, all that. But I won't ask you how did you do it, did you have a coffee, did you sit at a café, were you lying down when you thought about it. It doesn't matter. What matters is the truth. So I see it that way.

Many of your co-stars say we only see Ranbir coming in front of the camera and delivering a great performance. How he reaches that point they don't know.

I am very happy they say that. I am very happy they feel that there is a process... because koi itna bada process nahin hai. I understand I am an actor. I am not saving the world. I am not a doctor or a scientist. You can't take yourself that seriously... ki aaj main emotional scene kar raha hoon to sab mujhse baat mat karna [I am performing an emotional scene today, so no one speak to me]. You go and you act and you come. If I am dying I am not really going to die. It's acting. It's as simple as that. So I have that reality check of what my profession is.