His face lights up when I talk to him about the reactions and comments his portrayal of Maharawal Ratan Singh in Padmaavat is receiving. Shahid Kapoor is beaming from ear to ear and the reason is pretty simple - all that hard work has paid off with Padmaavat emerging as his biggest box office hit and first Rs 100 crore film. For someone who never went by the promise of numbers and instead chose his characters to fill his eclectic resume, Shahid has been consistent in doing one thing - being different. His choice of roles in the last few years have showcased a realtively unknown side to his mostly reclusive personality. “I am being asked to go out and talk about my film,” he tells me over a hearty laugh. For someone who enjoys his personal space more than being on the media merry go round, Shahid admitted that doing Padmaavat has caused a certain shift in him as a person. Here are some excerpts from our conversation...
Tell me what made you take up a film like Padmaavat where you are sharing screen space with two other actors? Do you remember the day you decided to be a part of the film?
I would like to begin by saying that till recently the film was called Padmavati and all the time we shot it it was called Padmavati. So the film is a role written for the actress, for Deepika, and if Ranveer had said a 'no' to playing a villain who will be hated and if I had said a 'no' to playing a hero, who was an underdog, Padmaavat would never be made. I think we are in a time - with the way we are seeing the film and the response we are getting - we are in a time where brave choices are needed to make great films. I think everybody needs to lose their ego and their selfish personal motives. To go beyond that and learn to understand that we are all here to participate. Great films are not made by individuals, they are made by a team. You have to learn to be a team.
Were there people who asked you not to do the film?
Everybody told me not to do the film except my wife. There were two people who said, 'Do the film,' one was Mr Bhansali and one was my wife.
What did Mira tell you? What was the conversation like?
She essentially said, 'I just feel he is a great filmmaker and you are an actor, who needs to be put on a certain platform. You have done work which has been loved and liked but you have not done that work on that canvas and on that scale.' She said, 'This will be a beginning for you to put yourself on a certain platform where people will see you in a certain light and in a film of a certain scale.' She constantly kept saying, 'Shahid, you should do that and that’s the only thing that hasn’t happened to you yet. You need to be a part of a film of this size and scale and you need to be seen as an actor who can pull off a character like this. You have to take the challenge.' She was very optimistic and supportive.
In a recent interview you said you felt like an outsider on the sets of Padmaavat. Can you elaborate on that?
That bit is pretty clear if you read the interview. I said after 15 years of work I felt like I am a newcomer on the set because the team has worked together before. So for me, it was a new experience, and everybody else kind of had done this together before because Bajirao was also historical and they have done two films together so I was the new one on the set, which is an interesting feeling after 15 years of work. It is as simple as that.
How was the interaction with Ranveer, given the fact you had scenes with him and what was your approach to play Ratan Singh?
We worked much later. Me and Ranveer didn’t really interact much because we just got down to doing the film. It took a lot of time for the film to be put together and finally get on the floors but that I do not want to get into. I got to work with Deepika a lot more because all our scenes is what we started with. And I mean those are thoughts that you have and once you get into the film you do, it doesn’t really matter. Every film is a new experience. You will get it right, you will get it wrong, individually. It is not directly related to how much work you have done in the past. So once I got into it, my sole objective was to satisfy Mr Bhansali’s vision and to be able to represent this very little known character in history. Maharawal Ratan Singh is a guy who nobody really knows about and for me it was an opportunity for the world to view this character and his journey and his sacrifice and who he was and his values, goodness, virtues, inner strength, dignity. And I think those were great qualities - very inspirational and aspirational - and in today’s time, it is spectacular to be able to play a character like that because I doubt any contemporary film will be able to have a character like that.
Which was the most emotionally challenging scene to do in the film?
Well the scene in which Allaudin asks to see my wife and the scene in which my wife says that...
When Deepika and you have a conversation...
Yes. And the scene where Allaudin wants to have a glimpse of Padmavati that was very difficult for me because by then I was already in Maharawal Ratan Singh mode. It was a painful moment.
How was it working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali because there is this whole image of him being a taskmaster and he is particular about a lot of things...
It is all true but people tend to talk about it in a negative way. I feel all the things about him are true but they are all attributes and advantages he has, as a filmmaker. I think he is a genius, you really need to have a lot of inner strength to work with him and I think you need to be at the top of it to deliver what he wants.
What has been the one piece of feedback that has stayed with you?
An actor is truly challenged when words are taken away from him. You have to just perform with your eyes and face - that is the most challenging thing for an actor. So, of course, people will look at Tommy Singh and say how did he do this but Maharawal Singh was a real challenge.
While Ranveer had the more popular role, you did have to hold your ground with a lot of conviction and belief, how did you do that?
That is why I said, after many years I feel like an underdog in this film. I knew what the stakes were.
What kept your faith strong?
I think it was very similar to how Allaudin Khilji and Maharawal Ratan Singh's situation was. As actors also it was very similar. One had to hold his ground against someone who had such a big army. Metaphorically it felt exactly the same.
Would you have played Khilji if the role had come to you?
I told him so many times I want to do Khilji. But I think Ranveer has done a great job and full marks to him for having created Khilji in his interpretation. Mine would have been different but in the end it is Sanjay Bhansali's vision. So I think everybody is catering to that.
So you are open to playing a negative character?
I just came out of playing a doped out pop star in Udta Punjab!
But still he wasn’t a villain - an out and out bad guy...
But my brief was different. The brief on Udta Punjab and Tommy Singh was, Abhishek looked at me and he said, 'In the first five pages of the film, Tommy Singh is doing everything obnoxious but in the first five minutes of the film you have to make people love you.' So he wanted Tommy Singh to be loved, he wanted him to be understood, he wanted him to be human and vulnerable, he wanted him to come across as a victim of his addiction. So that was the interpretation. So it depends on that.
The lead pair in a Sanjay Bhansali film usually has a lot of sexual tension and chemistry, that was missing between you and Deepika, was that intentional?
What I would like to say on that account is that a lot of care was taken to make sure that nobody’s sentiments were hurt. That was on the forefront of everybody’s mind and from before the film started, it was on his mind and in his heart. Because he had a very clean intent of making the film. Because of that everything is the way that it is because that was at the forefront. We are making a film for the people and the people who are seeing the film must love it.
You are a young progressive guy, there’s a scene in the film where Deepika seeks your permission before committing Jauhar, did that unnerve you? Did it clash with your own sensibilities?
In cinema we make films about different times. The social cultural atmosphere in those times was different, interpretations of what is right and wrong was different, understanding of what is progressive and regressive - it all needs to be seen in context of that time. We cannot judge it on the basis of as if it is happening today. If it was a contemporary film and something like this was said then it is up for discussion. But in context of when it happened people need to understand it in a context otherwise it is an endless argument for somebody who has not seen it. I cannot get into that argument. For me that is one of my favourite scenes because it took the relationship between them to another level. It was simple as the man had to go to war, so the wife had to decide what she does now that her man has gone to work - it was her choice. If the tables were turned, if the woman was going to war and the man asked her that I do not want to live without you and give myself to anybody if you are not here anymore...at a human level, it is the same situation. But people are viewing it in a certain way, with due respect to everybody’s point of view, I think it needs to be seen in this context.
Padmaavat is your first Rs 100 crore film and your biggest opener...
And mind you the film is running on 60 per cent capacity as it is not running in all states.
Yes, is there a sense of validation with the enormous box office success?
Throughout the making of the film the feeling was that because I was playing Maharawal Ratan Singh and I knew how he had been and who he is in the film and how Deepika’s character was being interpreted, my feeling always was that, 'Please see the film, we have done it for you, it is all about you and it is all about glorifying everything that you stand for.' I still feel that. Has there been anybody who has walked out of the theatre and said anything negative? It answers everything. You cannot stop people from giving their perspective. Everybody’s senses were heightened because so much has been spoken that everybody will be looking at it with and seeing it in major detail. Everybody has walked out saying that they feel so proud of seeing this legendary sacrifice.
What has playing Maharawal Ratan Singh taught Shahid Kapoor - the person, one thing that you discovered about yourself during the course of this film...
You have to find that goodness, you have to find that power, you have to find that dignity - you have to find it within yourself. These are not emotions like shouting or crying also or you know those kinds of things you can do it physically externally. But emotions that are so personal, emotions that are so subtle - you have to truly feel them. So I truly had to find those things within myself to be able to represent Ratan Singh truthfully. He was not a character who could have jumped around and made noise. He had to be the way he was. He is not going to tell the audience what he is feeling, the audience has to see and feel it. The feeling has to come through the screen. So it is totally polar opposite to Tommy. Big difference. And I want to hold on to all those things. What a great character!
Padmaavat will be an important name on your film resume, do you feel your feelings for the film and role will be different as you look back at it down the line...
The idea, I feel, as an actor in today’s times, is not to have a very micro perspective towards yourself, as an actor. I think it is important to have a bird's eye view of your entire body of work. And I think the greatest actors have always been people who have done work like that. You cannot say who they are even in 10-12 years of work. They stay in the industry for 20-25 years they do something to say. Whenever they say is new and different and exciting. I think that is the kind of journey that I would want to have.
Not many realise but you have finished some 15 odd years in the industry, yet your name is also constant with the younger group of actors, what do you credit this to?
I started young and I do not look my age yet, so those things help. I have done lesser work and I think I have become more selective in last the 5-6 years. Even though I have been around 15 years, the amount of time people have seen me on screen has been limited and I think that has helped. It is important to make choices which are contemporary, which are ahead of their times. For any actor you need to make choices which make people say such characters can also be written and such films can also be made, such films are liked by people. Every year 2-3 such films do come. You have to keep attempting. That is how you stay relevant and fresh. Otherwise the process becomes a bit stale.
If you had two scripts on your table right now - one with a meaty character with a lot of depth and the second was a bonafide mainstream blockbuster from a director with a certified hit rate, which script would you say yes to and why?
I would choose a better film regardless of whatever is attached to it. I choose the film that connects with me, as an actor.
This has always been consistent in your choices?
In the last few years, yes. It is becoming more and more consistent and I am feeling more empowered to make those choices because whenever I have done it, it has worked for me. It is important to be honest with yourself to see what works and what doesn’t. Whenever I have made that choice I feel it has worked for me so I feel more empowered to make more choices like that.
Whose opinion matters to you?
Everybody and nobody. I listen to everybody but I eventually do what my gut and instinct tells me.
How important are box office numbers for you? Every actor has a Rs 100-200 crore film to his or her credit...
It is a nice marketing strategy. That is what it is. Marketing is a part of being a star. Why do I need those numbers? And when I say marketing, it holds true for filmmakers too. Most filmmakers are influenced by how much money our last film made. If you want to work with the best, the film has got to be good.
Do you watch your performances on screen?
Yes, of course I do.
Do you go back and say I could have done this differently?
It depends on my mood. Some films I might not want to see again because there is nothing more to see. And in some films I see some scenes and after a while, I say this could have been done that way. While I am seeing a film I start thinking how else I could have done it. It holds true for Padmaavat also. It could have been done better. When you are shooting a film and you do a scene individually and when you see it together you feel that way and you have more context to it and the emotionality of it starts jumping out and so many things become - you see it like a clean line. You do not see it as small pieces of a puzzle put together. The making becomes naked. And you can be honest enough to say this was good but this could be better. Those feelings are there.
Are you aware of the fact that your daughter has become a star on social media. Does she recognise you on screen?
(breaks into a big smile) She knows.
What can fans expect from Shahid Kapoor as a follow up to Padmaavat?
The Key word is 'different.' The scariest part is how do I have the continuous strength to do it. Also, it is important not to be different just to be different. In my next film (Batti Gul Meter Chalu) I play a simple guy and a lawyer and very regular small town guy who has his quirks, so I have to give him that sort of energy. Nothing like Maharawal Ratan Singh.
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