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From Ranbir Kapoor in Jagga Jasoos, to Salman Khan in Tubelight, stars aren’t afraid to experiment

Editor’s note: With Shah Rukh Khan’s Fan and Salman Khan’s Tubelight not quite hitting the mark in terms of box office success, there are some crucial question we found ourselves thinking about. Is Bollywood’s male movie-star bound by his ‘image’? What happens when stars experiment, and give their fans something ‘new’? What happens when their experiments fail and how do the stars themselves react to this failure? This is part two of a three part analysis on this very idea — what is bigger, the star or the image of the star? 

Also read parts one and two of this series. 

In the just-released Jagga Jasoos, Ranbir Kapoor plays a Tintin-esque detective. The film itself is cast in the mould of a Broadway musical, not seen before in Bollywood, and includes 21 songs.

Ranbir’s played varied roles before — be it the coming-of-age Wake Up Sid or the everyman in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, and even Tamasha. Still, Jagga Jasoos is an ‘experiment’ for the actor.

What’s interesting that this ‘experimentation’ is being engaged in by actors across the spectrum in the Hindi film industry. Just a few weeks ago, we had Salman Khan playing a man with developmental difficulties in Tubelight. While that film flickered out at the box office, it was an attempt on Salman’s part to do a role different from his usual larger-than-life onscreen image. Meanwhile, his contemporary Shah Rukh Khan is also trying something different with Aanand L Rai’s next, in which he plays a dwarf; while Aamir Khan has — yet again — transformed himself entirely for his role in Thugs of Hindostan. Images of Aamir sporting long hair and a nosepin are already doing the rounds on social media.

A mere four years in the industry, and a Varun Dhawan can pull off a Badlapur, while a Sidharth Malhotra an work on an experimental thriller like Ittefaq.

Ranbir Kapor in Jagga Jasoos; Salman Khan in Tubelight. Images via Facebook, Twitter

Meanwhile, Ranveer Singh can charm viewers in an offbeat Lootera and play a rapper from the streets in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boys. And an ‘outsider’ like Sushant Singh rajput can break into the Bollywood big league with unconventional films like Kai Po Che, Shuddh Desi Romance and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! 

Forty years ago, this would have been unimaginable. One could hardly conceive of an Amitabh Bachchan or Dharmendra — at the height of their superstardom — playing differently-abled characters in a film that had no romantic angle. There would always be a song-and-dance routine with a Rekha in Ghazab, or the metamorphosis of dim-witted Kallu into dashing Kaalia. They would, undoubtedly, give the greatest of performances, but in conventional vehicles like Deewar, Pratigyaa and Chupke Chupke.

But playing a differently-abled character in a realistic drama… well, that kind of experimentation was best left to a Sanjeev Kumar, as in the 1970 release Khilona. It was up to a Balraj Sahni to play a landless labourer in a stark drama like Do Bigha Zameen, while a Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor — as great as they were — displayed their histrionics in larger-than-life films like Mughal-E-Azam and Awara. Or Naseeruddin Shah, who played a visually impaired man in Sparsh, while Vinod Khanna or Jeetendra bashed up baddies and romanced heroines in their films. But today, if Randeep Hooda or Nawazuddin Siddiqui are experimenting with their roles, so are the big stars like Salman, Shah Rukh.

It is not at all a coincidence that Aamir’s Lagaan, a film where a major Bollywood star experimented with both form as well as content, came within a decade of economic liberalisation, exposure to satellite television and invasion of the internet, followed by the multiplex revolution. The audience was changing and the stars were quick to realise it. Aamir tried to follow the same experimental route with Mangal Pandey — and though it proved less successful, he continued down that route.

Shah Rukh made the attempt with Swades, although it was Chak De India that proved to be his first major ‘experimental’ success. He continued walking off the beaten path with Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan and more recently, Yash Raj Films’ Fan. Salman may have started late, but he seems to be making up for lost time with Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Sultan and Tubelight. And if an Ajay Devgn has a Drishyam in his kitty, then Bollywood’s ultimate khiladi, Akshay Kumar has made it a point to pick unique subjects with films like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Padman and Gold. 

These are definitely good times to be a Bollywood (film) viewer. We are fortunate to watch our favourite actors in unusual and experimental roles in an image-obsessed industry. As horizons have expanded, and tastes have evolved, it’s no longer a stretch for viewers to see their favourite stars go from playing the typical romantic/action hero to ageing wrestlers — or dwarves.

Jagga Jasoos: Anurag Basu opens up about Ranbir, Katrina and shooting without a physical script

Anurag Basu is one of those people who has the habit of finishing his sentences very fast while communicating. This only means you have to be extra cautious while listening to him, lest you miss out on words.

When I meet him at the Disney office, he seems relaxed in a blue floral half-sleeved shirt and loose trousers. Along with Ranbir, he has just delivered a succession of TV interviews and is still raring to go. The relaxed vibe could also be attributed to a different technique that he has been employing for his films.

Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif in Jagga Jasoos. Image from Firstpost

“For both Barfi and Jagga Jasoos, I went ahead and shot the climax first. It gives you a sort of confidence and the entire film is clear in your head. I do this only because the climax of a film is the most difficult portion to shoot and if you are able to finish the most difficult portion first, then it’s like catching the bull by its horn,” explains Basu.

The germ of his latest venture Jagga Jasoos lies in his own daughter. After he showed Barfi to her and met with a disapproval, he was on the lookout for a subject that could appeal to his daughter and replace the Hollywood flicks synonymous with Disney and Pixar. Jagga Jasoos was thus born, a musical with a tinge of thriller.

The film also marks the second collaboration of Anurag with his ‘muse’ Ranbir Kapoor. “Ranbir is a great person and that’s why he makes a great actor” says Basu.

For the filmmaker, it was a task explaining the genre of the film to his investors. “It was very tough to explain, as there was no reference for this musical thriller. It was more like walking a completely dark path but then slowly as you move ahead, the vision became clear,” he says. Basu is a sucker for musicals and counts Mary Poppins, Sound of Music and the more recent La La Land as his favorites. He also cites a film that was made in his mother tongue Satyajit Ray’s Heerak Rajar Deshe, as one of his favourites.

To borrow words from Ranbir Kapoor, chaos is what best describes Basu’s sets. He reportedly never carries a ‘physical’ screenplay, as it’s all there in his head. Ranbir has admitted that when he was given the first narration of Jagga Jasoos, the entire movie was in his head but nothing on paper. “It’s just not possible to shoot a film without a screenplay. You have to have a graph with a beginning, middle and the end. You just cannot land on the sets and start shooting scenes. It’s just not possible. The script is definitely there somewhere, it’s either in the head, or in some drawer or in the back pocket of the director,” says the director, without revealing where he kept his script.

While the initial days of the film were marred with casting issues, there were also reports of some early scenes of the film being scrapped. As per Basu, only two small scenes were scrapped and nothing was reshot. The build-up to all this also resulted in negative publicity for the film.

“It’s difficult for both Ranbir and I to keep explaining and justifying. Ranbir is not on social media and I am hardly active. The film should speak for itself and there is no point giving justifications,” he clarifies.

Rumours related to Katrina Kaif’s commitment towards the film after her alleged split with Ranbir also did the rounds. Quiz Basu about it and he talks more about her professional commitments: “She has been amazing actually, and Ranbir and her compliment each other. They gave each other lots of space when on the sets. Both of them have behaved in a professional manner throughout the film.  It’s also very difficult for actors to give consistency when a film is in making for long. It was tough for them and they could have easily lost their interest.”

Basu also clarifies about the image of Govinda that’s been floating on social media these days. He clarifies that he did shoot with Govinda for a special appearance in the film, but because of some changes it could not find a place in the final cut.

Right at the helm of the film, I wonder what occupies the director’s mind. He jokingly reveals a grudge he has towards Ranbir. “I really want to work with most actors from the industry, but he is just not allowing me to. Kamina, karne hi nahi deta hai. There was a film planned with Shah Rukh Khan but something happened at the end moment, I am hopeful that after Jagga Jasoos it might just happen,” reveals Basu.

Paresh Rawal: ‘Ranbir Kapoor is terrific in the Dutt biopic, he’s a unique talent’

Actor-politician Paresh Rawal rarely sits down with the media for a chat but when he does, it is a no-holds barred interaction.

Ahead of the release of his upcoming flick Guest Iin London, Firstpost meets up with the actor in a suburban hotel and he answers every query ranging from movies to politics in his inimitable style, expressions and quirks.

The first part of the film – Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge was quite hilarious and funny. Now, in the second part, Ajay Devgn and Konkana Sen have been replaced by Kartik Aaryan and Kriti Kharbanda. Did you miss Ajay and Konkana especially since you might need senior actors with perfect timing to match your comic timing?

I never missed Konkana or Ajay in this story as it is a completely different film. Secondly, in terms of give and take, Kartik is equally competent, and even Kriti Kharbanda is a good actress. And I mean it, I’m not saying just to sound polite.

In the film, you reprise your role of a ‘bin bulaye mehman’, so what kind of a guest are you in real life? And how do you tackle unwanted guests?

As a guest, I never disturb the host or any of their belongings and I don’t like people tampering with my stuff as well. I like few people and I like them for not more than three to four days. I am pretty much upfront and straight-forward. I ask them right in the beginning about when they plan to leave, and when their tickets are booked. They know me well so they don’t mind me asking. But I don’t have guests who pester me.

You don’t seem to socialise much…

My job is to do good work. I am not here to maintain relationships. I am from theatre; you can call it arrogance, confidence or over confidence, but I never felt the need to network or party.

What kind of roles excite you? Which have been your most challenging roles so far?

Roles have to be well-written. It should scare me; it is fright that motivates me. Sir, Sardar, Tamanna, Mumbai Meri Jaan, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye — these are some of the better films I’ve done.

How’s your experience portraying Sunil Dutt in Sanjay Dutt’s biopic?

Oh, it’s so amazing. It’s all because of my director Rajkumar Hirani, because of Abhijat Joshi’s writing and because of Ranbir Kapoor’s acting that the movie is looking amazing. Ranbir is terrific, he is a unique talent.

What kind of preparation went into it?

Fortunately, I am portraying a character that doesn’t have any kind of set mannerisms or idiosyncrasies. Sunil Dutt was very human.  He never had any vibes of stardom around him. The film is essentially a story about father and son.

Ranbir Kapoor: ‘Not producer or superstar, I would always want to be known as an actor

Days before the release of a film, the idiosyncrasies of Ranbir Kapoor start resembling Aamir Khan: somewhat jittery, uneasy, impatient and restless.

The break slots between his various TV interviews are punctuated with mandatory cigarette breaks. The current persona of Ranbir Kapoor is a far cry from Ranbir Kapoor of last year or the year before that. Confidence, and a perpetual smile, have seeped into his body language, something that was missing till the time Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was declared a hit.

Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif in Jagga Jasoos. Image from Firstpost

So does that mean that success is the be all and end all? “Not at all. If you see any changes in me then it’s because of my failures. When I taste success, then my reaction is phew! This time got saved. Usually when failure hits you, it sort of sets your life in motion. You start thinking about your career, you get insecure. To be honest I don’t’ know what my existence is and as of now it is to be an actor,” says a pepped up Ranbir.

When it comes to adjectives for this actor, it’s always a dilemma. The man often comes across as the whole package, an amalgamation of all that’s best. So should we be calling him Ranbir Kapoor, the actor, the producer or the superstar?

“Of course I would like to be called an actor. I don’t think I am superstar but yes I am star. I get to work with directors like Anurag Basu. People are interested in my films, my life and my personal life so there is an interest in me but I would definitely like to be known as Ranbir Kapoor, the actor before anything else,” he says.

His polished upbringing, and impeccable manners reflect in his soft voice. The usual tantrums one witnesses when stars are around are missing and instead one gets to meet a bundle of talent whose head and heart are in the right place. Once its revealed to him that this interview will involve no camera, like a typical college goer, Ranbir decides to shift the venue to the fourth floor smoking lounge of Disney’s swanky office.

Though a non-smoker, his favourite ‘Dada’ is there to give him company. And the two in sight together brings me to my next question — if the jodi of Ranbir Kapoor and Anurag Basu is akin to the jodi of Martin Scorcese and Robert De Niro?

“That’s a long shot and it’s better to take one film at a time. We have done only one film and the second is due next month. To compare with a jodi of such a stature, you need to make at least four to five films.”

The last time the two came together; the end result was Barfi, a film that was all heart and carried no false notes. The camaraderie that Ranbir Kapoor and Anurag Basu shared during the Barfi phase looked genuine, and was smeared with the right amount of mutual respect of each other’s craft.

And now they both are back with Jagga Jasoos. So is Anurag Basu addictive?

“When you are working with him, he is not addictive but the result he brings is amazing. To be honest, people loved me in Barfi probably more than they liked me in say Rockstar or any other film of mine. I worked 200 per cent more in a film like Bombay Velvet but in Barfi whatever I did, was channelised by him. He takes too much of responsibility on his shoulders be it music, acting, cinematography, make up, choreography, he takes care of just about everything. We only have to support him and he will do the work for you.”

Ranbir furthers, “He is a pain in the ass to work with because he works under extreme chaos. There is nothing called a schedule or a first assistant director on his sets. There is nothing like bound screenplay, which you normally get at your house on the first day of the shoot. Everything is full of chaos and everything is all heart too. I have no memory of anything that did on the sets of Jagga Jasoos or Barfi.”

Jagga Jasoos also marks the debut of Ranbir Kapoor as a producer. If the very first film takes more than three years in making, it’s bound to make any producer jittery and nervous. When asked if the unexpected delay was heartbreaking, he has a different take on it. If one were to take a close look at the poster, it’s apparent that under the producer credit, Ranbir’s name is mentioned before Anurag. Did he discuss this issue with Anurag? “Absolutely, I pointed this out to him and he said No. He said it would be Siddharth, Ranbir and then him. We had this conversation earlier and he was very clear about this.

Jagga Jasoos trailer: Ranbir, Katrina rock a goofy avatar in this dreamy Anurag Basu film

Ranbir Kapoor says literally one line in the entire trailer of Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos (and Katrina Kaif says nothing at all) and yet the trailer speaks volumes about the film.

Before we spill our judgment of the trailer, here’s something one must acknowledge.

It’s a well made trailer, especially at a time when trailers have started to present the entire film on a platter. It’s one that doesn’t reveal too much, but much like a kaleidoscope, through fast moving images and moments, reveals the tone of the film, and what we can expect.

We are told from the official synopsis of Jagga Jasoos that a young detective sets out to find his missing father, and an unusual series of events unfold.

jj social 2

The trailer begins with an introduction to Ranbir and Katrina’s characters and while the film seems to be shot all over India, they first meet in Manipur. Ranbir is a quirky guy, and in essense, so is Katrina, and we are taken through a dreamy, whirlwind journey — with ostrich rides, bike rides through the dessert, races with elephants, and much more adventure.

The look and feel of the film gives you a whiff of Basu’s earlier movie with Ranbir, Barfi! mostly because Ranbir is seen in school clothes and as a hosteler. But then we see him in multiple avatars. Not much is revealed about ages, or any other character details.

However, with Disney producing the film, you definitely get a sense of watching a children’s film. Whether that is a pro or con for Jagga Jasoos, only time will tell.

Amid all the visuals, the last 30 seconds of the trailer *finally* reveal something about Katrina and Ranbir’s chemistry.

From Rajneeti to Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahaani, this is the first time they looked relaxed as two goofy but affable lead protagonists. Maybe the hype around their personal life has helped them on-screen much like Jab We Met worked for Shahid, and Kareena Kapoor.

With Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, it seems Ranbir is remaking Rockstar with different directors

Think about it for a bit, and you’ll recall a stock shot that Ranbir Kapoor seems to have in so many of his films. You’ll recognise it when you see him walking towards the camera, which linearly tracks away from him. In this shot, there’s usually emotion writ large on his face, as he leaves something behind. And then, as you think about it some more, you realise that Ranbir seems to have made *that* pain – of unrequited love – his pièce de résistance, so to speak.

In his films — while he may or may not have ended up with the person he loves in the end — when he’s pining for that person (or for whatever it is his character is seeking) Ranbir emotes like no one else. Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar, of course, was the crowning glory in this regard.

Ranbir-Kapoor-ADHM

While the cult of Rockstar endures, it is still a film that seems to have more haters than (passionate) lovers, and that will always be one of the tragedies of Ranbir Kapoor’s career. He had famously gone into a depressive phase post the intense shoot of Rockstar, and somehow, he gives the impression that he isn’t done with Imtiaz Ali’s mystic ode to eternal unrequited love quite yet.

It seems, in fact, that since Rockstar, Ranbir’s choices have veered towards characters that need a desperate sense of validation from love. (Think Barfi, Bombay Velvet and Tamasha.)

And here’s the thing — no film suggests this more than Ae Dil Hai Mushkil does. In so many ways, ADHM is basically Rockstar made less cryptic and esoteric, more universal and accessible (and hence, more ‘commercial’). In fact, once you start counting them, the similarities between Rockstar and ADHM will astonish you.

There’s Ranbir playing the talented but devoid-of-success aspiring singer, who’s yet to grow up and come of age. He falls in love with a gutsy, full-blooded woman, but doesn’t get her because she marries someone else. Thus begins the saga of intense one-sided love, which causes him to channel his pain into his art, infusing his talent with that magic element it hitherto lacked. Success follows, but life isn’t done playing games with him yet. He’s destined to run into his love again, only to feel more pain, and then some. (I must stop there, because anything more and I’ll run into serious spoiler territory.)

So much about Ae Dil Hai Mushkil will make you feel that both films are actually the same story told in two different ways; and the difference between Rockstar and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil lies in the difference between the filmmakers whose vision the respective films are.

If Imtiaz Ali’s film was complex, nuanced, tinged with Sufism and left with you with a sense of crippling loss, Karan Johar’s film is frothy, contemporary, set in a significantly upper class milieu and eschews intensity in favour of breezy palatability. Rockstar versus ADHM is essentially grungy love versus glossy love. (ADHM, though, does give you a glimpse of how Rockstar could have been, if the character of Heer Kaul had a more accomplished actor – or just *an* actor – in place of Nargis Fakhri.)

In the commercial compromises, so to speak, that Johar makes with his film, he ends up missing out on some heft for sure. Rockstar was never meant to leave you with a happy feeling, while ADHM tries hard to make sure that no matter what, you don’t really walk away from the film primarily in pain.

Make no mistake, some of the sequences and character interactions in the film are loaded with life-changing advice about love and loss for the more ‘filmy’ folk among us; but the film firmly caters to an audience that comes for a Hindi film with only one expectation – ‘paisa vasool’.

Karan Johar’s efforts to make the film more universal, though, might just go in vain. Because it seems like those who liked Rockstar will probably like ADHM too, while those who hated the former may just dislike the latter as well.

Hence, ADHM will probably just end up being a fair one-time watch for most, unlike Rockstar which, for so many, keeps pulling you back to it again and again, as you discover more love and more pain hidden within it with each successive viewing. (Then again, who knows. Perhaps ADHM has more depth to it than is apparent in the first viewing? Only time will tell.)

It is Ranbir Kapoor, eventually, that deeply links the two films together. You get the impression that a piece of Rockstar is still stuck in Ranbir’s heart, and it’s going to make him go back over and over again to it, until he gets some closure. Perhaps there really is no escaping what Imtiaz Ali and Ranbir reminded us with Tamasha – that it’s always the same story.