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    Ahead of Shamshera, celebrating Ranbir Kapoor’s insatiable appetite for risk-taking

    Ahead of Shamshera, celebrating Ranbir Kapoor’s insatiable appetite for risk-taking

    Ahead of Shamshera, celebrating Ranbir Kapoor’s insatiable appetite for risk-taking
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    By Sneha Bengani   IST (Published)


    It’s remarkable how Ranbir Kapoor is as much of a mainstream Bollywood hero as the scion of Hindi cinema’s most illustrious family can be, and yet, he is not, courtesy his massive capacity to take risks and his unconventional movie choices.

    In November this year, Ranbir Kapoor will complete 15 years as an actor in Hindi films. Of the 17 movies that he’s starred in during this time, there have been more misses than hits, but his filmography is peerless in a way few are.
    Ranbir has had a curious cinematic journey thus far. Several of his relatively safe choices — seasoned directors, big mounting, stellar casts — have met with a fate so tragic at the box office that they have become legendary cautionary tales. Saawariya (his glorious debut outing), Bombay Velvet, Jagga Jasoos. But every time he has experimented, put his faith in a director still finding his footing, and in a story no star of his stature would have dared to touch, he has flourished.
    The examples are many and have contributed immensely in shaping the millennial popular culture. Wake Up Sid, Rockstar, Barfi, Ye Jawaani Hai Deewani, Tamasha. Wholesome as they are, each of these films deserves the love that they continue to receive. They are as watchable today as they were when they released years ago. These are films that beget repeat viewing, that fill you with a sense of cushy comfort each time you watch them — much like FRIENDS — on cold winter nights, rainy evenings, or weekends when you’re too lazy to go out.
    But Ranbir had little idea that Wake Up Sid would become what it has when he said yes to its debutant director Ayan Mukherji. For the coming-of-age story of a young, spoilt, clueless brat has been told so many times in so many different ways, that it was beyond banal even 13 years ago. And yet, this actor-director duo did it with such refreshing innocuousness and charm that they redefined what adulting truly means for an entire generation and made them fall in love with Mumbai all over again.
    The same was true for Barfi. Until its release, director Anurag Basu was best known for making gritty, grey love stories such as Murder, Gangster, and Life in a Metro. Betting on him for an endearing slice-of-life film in which the main man is deaf and mute and the leading lady is autistic was nothing short of brave. Despite his father Rishi Kapoor making his misgivings about his film choices publicly known, Ranbir took the plunge. Aren’t all of us glad that he did?
    But ahead of Shamshera’s release, I want to discuss two of Ranbir’s films that didn’t do as well commercially but are rare, underrated cinematic gems that he decided to back despite knowing that they may not do much to bolster his stardom. The first was Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year. Produced by Yash Raj Films, it’s the story of a young Sardar graduate wanting to make a career in sales. Released right after Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahaani, it’s a no-nonsense take on how an ordinary fresher with no experience or fancy college degree can still find his way in a ruthless business world on his own terms. As the naïve Harpreet Singh Bedi, Ranbir is solid, restrained, and vulnerable, sans any regular Bollywood frippery. This Shimit Amin film, I strongly feel, released 13 years too soon; it’s the stuff of streaming. Had it released today, it would have reached a larger audience and fared much better than it did in its day.
    Another gem of a film that released before its time and would have made for a blockbuster series on streaming is Jagga Jasoos. Ranbir’s second collaboration with Anurag Basu after the stupendous success of Barfi, this movie is as experimental and heart-warming as a piece of cinema can be. Essentially the story of a boy searching for his missing adoptive father, it’s delightful in the way children’s stories are and thoughtful as films for adults should be. Ranbir, Katrina Kaif, Saswata Chatterjee (remember Bob Biswas from Kahaani?), and Anurag Basu are all in terrific form. The outcome is a labor of love unlike any other you’ve seen in the Hindi language.
    It’s remarkable how Ranbir is as much of a mainstream Bollywood hero as the scion of Hindi cinema’s most illustrious family can be, and yet, he is not, courtesy his insatiable appetite for risk-taking and his unconventional movie choices. You could argue that he is able to take the liberties that he does because of his cushioned positioning in the Hindi film industry. But your last name can take you only so far. It can give you a few films but it cannot build a formidable, lasting career. At the end of the day, it is your talent, hard work, and the ability to persevere that takes you places and gets you more meaty work.
    It is also nothing short of astounding that it has taken Ranbir 15 years to finally play the hero that his late father had always wanted him to be on screen. In an interview with Film Companion, he was asked what took him so long. He said, “I don’t think I had the conviction and the confidence to do it (earlier). I had to build the confidence of the audience for them to like me, and accept me as an actor for me to take the next step in my career. I didn’t have the confidence early on in my career when I was playing the parts that I was playing that I could do a film like Shamshera.”
    It kind of worked that Ranbir decided to take it slow. Because in the process of finding himself and his conviction, he ended up doing films that most stars are too conscious to touch. But to be fair, Ranbir never had any of the starry trappings. There is a lot more to him than he lets out. There is a line in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year in which his business partner tells Ranbir’s character: “Tum yaar jo lagta hai wo hai nahi. Aur jo hai, wo maloom nahi."
    There’s another in Rockstar in which Shammi Kapoor’s veteran musician tells Piyush Mishra’s slimy music producer, “Ye bada jaanwar hai. Ye aapke chhote pinjare me nahi samayega. Ye apni duniya banaega.”
    Shamshera will be Ranbir’s first film in four years after Rajkumar Hirani’s 2018 hagiography Sanju. As massy as it may look, it is the first of its kind in Ranbir’s inimitable career. After stirring up a dust storm on earth in it, Ranbir will go for the stars. Brahmastra is coming up next.
    Read other pieces by Sneha Bengani here.
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