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Interview Hindi

In Batti Gul..., I am the opposite of what people like in a Hindi film hero: Shahid Kapoor

The actor explains why he did not try to make his Batti Gul Meter Chalu character more likeable, and what he fears before the release of every film.

Suparna Thombare

In director Shree Narayan Singh's Batti Gul Meter Chalu, actor Shahid Kapoor will be seen playing a small-time lawyer in an Uttarakhand town, fighting to get justice for his friend (Divyendu Sharma) against a big energy company.

Going by the trailer, Kapoor plays an eccentric, cocky guy who does not care much about what is happening around him but evolves into a better person as his circumstances change.

Speaking to Cinestaan.com, Kapoor admitted his Batti Gul... character is not the most likeable he has played. Case in point: in the last scene in the trailer, Kapoor's character gets back at a female lawyer (Yami Gautam) with a blatantly sexist remark: 'Facts toh sab mere paas hain, aur aapke hote hue figure ki baat mai kaise karoon madam [I possess all the facts, but with you here how can I talk about figures]?'

"He is this kameena [wicked] lawyer who is full of himself," Kapoor explained. "He finds himself driven to fight for his friend because he goes through a loss. And takes up something that is actually way beyond him. So even till the climax you might find it difficult to take him seriously. You will always doubt that 'ke yeh banda kuchh kar payega ya nahi kar payega [will this guy be able to cut it?]'.

"He is street-smart and a jugadu [resourceful guy]. He is overconfident, cocky, but he is smart. And later in the film he is emotionally passionate about what has happened, and that’s probably the only thing going for him. Otherwise you are going to sit through the whole film thinking this guy can’t do it."

Kapoor also believes his character, Sushil Kumar Pant, is the most unhero-like hero he has played in a mainstream commercial film. And he explained why he did not try to make the audience like him either.

"This is a different kind of character for me," the Padmaavat (2018) star said. "Usually, as an actor you think about the things people like. Maybe they like my smile, or they like the way I talk, or the way you carry yourself, or the clothes you wear, or how nicely you treat a woman. Those are the things that are related to a Hindi film hero. He [Sushil Kumar Pant] is the opposite of all that."

Kapoor added a warning: "So please go with the awareness that yeh joh character hai yeh total raaste ka hai [he is a man off the streets], not very articulate and rough around the edges. His language is very raw and imperfect and not necessarily attractive or charming. I have tried to play the character as honestly as possible. I have not tried to add any heroic elements or to find smart ways to make people love him. I have been very honest about what I feel this guy is, his journey and transition."

With rising electricity bills as the film's central conflict, Kapoor asserted that Batti Gul Meter Chalu is a "non-preachy commercial film with a social message".

"I really enjoyed the fact that the film was not trying to be preachy," he said. "I like that the film is accessible and the effort of the filmmaker was to make a Hindi entertaining film.

"During the course of that, as the film unfolds, the real issue comes to the fore. And in the second half you start feeling the issue and connecting with it. So I would say Batti Gul Meter Chalu is a very commercial film."

Kapoor knows that people are thinking of Batti Gul Meter Chalu as a film with a social message, like Shree Narayan Singh's previous directorial Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017), but he said the tonality of the film is "very accessible".

"It is meant to entertain," the actor said. "It is meant to be fun. The film has very accessible songs. It promises everything that people would want to see in an entertaining fun film. They can go with their family. But it is not devoid of substance."

The actor has chosen some diverse roles in his 15-year career — from depressed business tycoon Aditya Kashyap in Jab We Met (2007) and Charlie and Guddu in Kaminey (2009) to the militant Haider Meer in Haider (2014) and drug-addled pop star Tommy Singh in Udta Punjab (2016). He will next be seen in a remake of the Telugu film Arjun Reddy (2017) and a biopic on Asian Games gold medal-winning boxer Dingko Singh.

Kapoor said that despite having been a part of Hindi cinema for a decade and a half, he is scared about how the audience will react to his character in Batti Gul... and to the film because he doesn't like to play safe. 

"Over time I have realized that I have dropped my guard as an actor and I don’t try and play safe," he said. "So I feel very scared before every film of mine comes out. I don’t have starry considerations in my head when interpreting my characters. I don’t know if it's good for me, honestly. I just do what I feel when I read a script and what it is saying to me. The person that is in there, I just try to bring him to life.... 

"I try to do whatever is best for the role. Later I start worrying 'ke maine kar toh diya' but will people like it? That’s a big fear I have. And it is challenging to see what people say once they see the film, whether they like the character or see him for who he is. And they don’t have a set expectation."