On a recent rain-soaked evening at the Yash Raj Films studio in Mumbai’s Andheri West neighbourhood, interviews about the upcoming action extravaganza Shamshera were in full flow. Lead actor Ranbir Kapoor, who plays a double role in the period drama, could barely catch his breath between conversations.

He dove into a plate of cheese toast. “It’s very greasy but very good,” he said while offering me some, his legs shaking with nervous energy. Or was it caffeine?

“I have consumed a factory of coffee,” Kapoor said with a smile before settling down to talk about his career between his last release Sanju in 2018 and Shamshera (July 22) and a life-changing 2022.

He was shooting for Karan Malhotra’s Shamshera and Ayan Mukerji’s Brahmastra when his father, Rishi Kapoor, died of cancer in 2020. Earlier this year, Ranbir Kapoor married Alia Bhatt and they’re on the road to becoming parents.

“My father’s illness was a huge setback for us as a family,” Kapoor recalled. “We went through a lot. Then Covid hit. We spent half of those Covid times in the hospital. I was jumping between my father’s treatment in New York and the shoot of Shamshera. The whole world went through a difficult time with the pandemic. I was also shooting Brahmastra. Then, as you may know, I got married this year and I am going to be a parent.”

Life is filled with curveballs, the 39-year-old actor told Scroll.in. “I have learned to value the important things,” he said. “When you are younger, you are more ambitious and focused on your work and success. I am still ambitious and I believe I work very hard. But you also realise that your family has to be your priority.”

Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt at their wedding in April. Courtesy Alia Bhatt/Instagram.

His mother, Neetu Kapoor, made a comeback with the recently released Jugjugg Jeeyo. When talking about his mother, Kapoor’s tone shifted from doted-upon son to a proud family member.

He described this as a “role reversal” where the child becomes the protective parent figure. As a child, he was more comfortable watching his father in films than his mother.

“I was very shy about seeing my mom on screen, I could not see another man romance her or sing a song with her,” Kapoor said. “Now, after our personal loss, my sister [Riddhima] and I really want mom to be busy, to take her mind off things. I feel very proud and feel for my mother what one probably feels for a child.”

The shoot of Jugjugg Jeeyo began soon after Rishji Kapoor’s death. “She would call me before shooting some scenes and confer with me,” Ranbir Kapoor said. “She was used to a certain tone of acting, which was the norm in the 1980s. Now it’s a more natural style, without dialogue-baazi as such. That really threw her off. But it’s heartening that my biggest fan and supporter is out there enjoying her work, and now she has a big fan and supporter in me.”

Kapoor has excelled at playing confused young men, either coming of age or battling inner strife in such films as Wake Up Sid, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Rockstar and Tamasha. Shamshera is a departure. The action film is set in the nineteenth century during British rule and stars Kapoor as both the rebel Balli and his father Shamshera.

Shamshera (2022).

While Kapoor was initially offered the part of Balli, he was keen on playing Shamshera too.

“I loved the subject and what Karan was doing,” he said. “It’s an action bonanza set in the 1800s, an adventure, like an amusement park with thrills, and a great story and character. When I heard the script, the selfish actor in me woke up and I offered myself for both the parts. This was exciting for me as an actor.”

Kapoor likes to work on a single project at a time, preferring films that audiences “can enjoy collectively”. Working on Shamshera and Brahmastra at the same time was an exception, and exhausting too.

“I like to focus on the film in hand and I don’t want to sign many films ahead,” Kapoor said. “I was doing Brahmastra when I heard the subject of Shamshera. Such subjects are not usually offered to me. I am usually the romantic guy whose villain is himself and his inner conflict. Now here is a film in which there is actually a villain. That’s a first for me. There was Karan Johar in Bombay Velvet, but you know how that turned out.”

There’s an element of luck – as well as timing – to his acting choices. “I didn’t plan on becoming an action hero – in fact, my upcoming films include a hilarious family romcom and crime thriller Animal, which is my first grey role,” he said. “I don’t have a team that plans with me. I go with my instincts and understanding of cinema. Right now I am trying to understand my country better, so the stories I choose will hopefully appeal to a larger audience. I haven’t cracked the formula yet. It’s still a struggle.”

Some of his films might have missed the mark at the box office, but nearly all of them have popular soundtracks by AR Rahman, Pritam, Amit Trivedi and Vishal-Shekhar, among others. Mithoon has composed the songs of Shamshera.

Kapoor is known to take a deep interest in the music-scape of his movies. For instance, he spent 40 days in Chennai when Rahman was working on the soundtrack of Rockstar.

Ji Huzoor, Shamshera (2022).

“Very early on I realised that actors are known for their songs,” said Kapoor, who made his debut in Saawariya (2007). “For example, if you think of Shammi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna, the first thing that comes to mind are their songs. I have been very lucky and also involved myself in the music of my films, gone for recordings. I know the contribution of music, and music really inspires me. It gives my character direction as much as a script does. So singers like Mohit Chauhan and Arijit Singh or lyricists like Irshad Kamil and Amitabh Bhattacharya, composers like AR Rahman and Pritam have, without perhaps knowing it, contributed so much to my career. I am grateful for that.”

Among his potential projects is a cinematic retelling of the Ramayana. But his priority is mastering his real-life roles. “Keeping my movies aside, the other roles, of husband and parent, are far greater, most thrilling, exciting and scary too, because you are unqualified for parenting and don’t know what to expect,” he observed. “But I always wanted to have children and I am in love with somebody who shares the dream of starting our own tribe. It’s a blessing.”

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