Arjun Kapoor is riding high on the praise that the trailer of Kuttey — his January release, produced by Vishal Bhardwaj, and starring powerhouse performers like Naseeruddin Shah, Tabu and Konkona Sensharma — is getting. Year 2022 also marks the 37-year-old’s 10 years in the movies. Reason enough for The Telegraph to catch up with Arjun for a chat.
Kuttey has one of the most standout trailers of recent times, and has you in a role that we don’t seem to have seen you play before. What have the reactions been like so far?
I got a message from Adi sir (Aditya Chopra) who said he loved the trailer and he loved me in it. I got David (Dhawan) uncle calling to say that I look like I belong to that world completely with all those actors. People might have questioned the fact that how will I blend into this world because this is the first time that I am doing a film like this, but I am really, really happy that the look has been praised so much... I do look like the character vs just being Arjun Kapoor trying to fit into that world.
Would you say that this is the most badass script you have read in the last few years?
(Laughs) ‘Badass’ is a term that can also be used in a strange sort of way. But ya, it’s on the edge, it’s pushing the envelope, it’s really about the duality that people have when it comes to money... it’s about greed, it’s about selfishness.... Before this, I hadn’t discovered a script which had so much of human choice-making when it comes to circumstances that are driven by financial gain. So it was very fascinating to do a film where everyone is after that one particular thing that I think we all are after subconsciously. It’s such a conscious script that makes you realise that human beings can make terrible or complex or clear-cut demarcations when it comes to money. It’s a script that’s fascinating. It definitely caught my fancy.
What have been the biggest takeaways for you in 2022?
Doing an ensemble like Kuttey and holding my own and having a blast, whether it’s been with Tabu, Radhika Madan, Kumud sir (Mishra), Naseer bhai (Naseeruddin Shah)... just shooting with all of them for such a different film where I am playing a character and not the hero, and enjoying that.
I liked how people reacted to me in Ek Villain (Returns). That was something to hold on to because I had worked really hard in changing myself and to be able to tell people, ‘Listen, I am at it. I want to entertain you all on the big screen and I would want you to feel that you are getting your money’s worth when you watch me.’
Along with that, a high has been doing a film like The Lady Killer (with Bhumi Pednekar) and Mudassar’s (Aziz) film (tentatively named Mere Husband Ki Biwi). These are two very different worlds... The Lady Killer is an intense romantic thriller and the other is a light family rom-com. These are so many ends of the spectrum to touch upon and discovering new characters to play. These films have taken me to places as diverse as Nainital and Scotland and the back alleys of Mumbai. It’s made me realise that there is so much more to explore and discover.
This year marks a decade for you in the movies. Do you remember your first day on set?
Oh, ya ya... very clearly! Ishaqzaade’s night shoot... October 23, 2011. I was waiting in the van, wearing a white kurta and I got called for the shot. I think it was about 10.30-11 at night and the cameraman sat behind on the pillion of the bike and I was supposed to ride the bike into the garden where I was coming to pick up Chand Bibi (played by Gauahar Khan) and also abuse Parineeti (Chopra, who played Zoya).
I was told that the cameraman would take the shot from behind my back and having a couple of crores worth of equipment and a human being behind my back and to go and give my first shot with it... that’s something I will never forget (laughs). Eventually, the first day did end up going quite well because not only did I not do any damage to the camera, we also got the scene done in no time.
Arjun Kapoor with Parineeti Chopra in his debut film Ishaqzaade, that turned 10 in 2022
What would you tell the Arjun of that day if you met him today?
Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life!
At the trailer launch of Kuttey, you said that it’s been a 10-year journey of finding your groove. What have been the biggest challenges of finding that groove?
I definitely think I had the groove even starting out because I did make interesting choices in 2 States, Gunday, Finding Fanny, Ki & Ka, Aurangzeb, Ishaqzaade, Tevar.... But I think that when you are going through a high, then you also lose a little bit of judgment of the work that you should be doing impulsively and following your gut and emotion and not just looking at the analytical or the stardom side of it. So you do lose your bearings a little bit and make choices that maybe come from the right place in your head, but perhaps not so much as an audience member.
It’s not to say that you lose your groove or gain it... it’s just that the clarity that you have is impacted. Sometimes, in this profession, going with gut is far more suitable when you are making creative choices as an actor because you have to feel fulfilled also, and doing it for the craft and not just the commerce, to find that balance is difficult. It’s a quest that’s continuous, but I am definitely more at ease knowing that I have the choice to do a Villain and a Kuttey. I can now touch both sides of the creative spectrum, without doing it for the wrong reasons. I don’t want to do a film just to be different and at the same time, I don’t want to do mainstream material just for the sake of being relevant. The journey has been full of ups and downs, but I have learnt to connect with my inner audience and my inner child and stay more honest to that side of me.
If you did a SWOT analysis on yourself, what would you say are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
I don’t know how to analyse my work on such a technical level. My biggest strength is that I am unconventional... in my choices as well as how I look and the approach that I have towards my roles. I can look like I can cook breakfast for my wife in Ki & Ka and also be a gangster in Gunday. I don’t consider myself to be the archetypical boy-next-door. I perhaps have the psyche to play an MCP in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar and yet have the emotional fertility to absorb that that is not who I am. It’s a strength to be able to understand and to be unique in that sense.
I don’t think I would ever want to be clean-shaven because even I wouldn’t recognise myself! And that could be a weakness for certain roles. I am an overtly emotional person when I am working and that sometimes comes in the way of me being able to process the work that I have to do. I am very selfless and it could be a strength, but right now, I feel I need to be a little selfish with my craft.
I think I have a lot of opportunities today to turn the tide of peoples’ thinking, who feel that I am not very serious about the business or the fact that I don’t choose all kinds of material. My choices right now are very diverse and will allow me to showcase different aspects of my work and work ethic.
The biggest threat to myself is me. There is a lot of untapped potential within me that I haven’t been able to explore because of my physical ups and downs. But now I have learnt how to take care of myself.
Would you say you are the fittest today than you have ever been?
I feel fitter than I have been in a long, long time. I feel more active and agile and more physically adept to be in the profession I am in. There was definitely a period of stagnation because I felt I wasn’t physically fit enough to do certain things and that reflected in my work... even the nature of offers that I got changed.
Right now, I bring a certain energy to my work. The pandemic did teach me that I need to rejuvenate and reinvigorate. I have learnt the value of physical, mental and emotional fitness. I am still a work-in-progress, though I have to pat myself on the back for rising from a situation where I could have given up.