So for his character Ayan in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil he utilized a "young" cologne, for Barfi he chose something local from the area he was shooting in - Darjeeling. Music and smell he says affect him the most (so much so, he's even toying with the idea of launching his own signature scent someday) and are perhaps the clearest indicator of how emotional his attachment is to the world he gets to work in (Fun fact: he didn't even need glycerine for those crying scenes in ADHM.)
"Over the years, my process has just been very simple - is to fall in love with the director and make sure that the director is in love with me. There is this little sense of a soul, a new soul which comes with every film, and you can't tell what it is. I can't describe it, but it comes in the second or third day of the shoot with the sense of surroundings, the unit, your clothes, the director, the cameraman, this new perfume. I usually wear a new perfume with every character, so you know, your sense memory and all puts you in that one phase. So, there are very small, simple things," he says.
Or not that simple. He is, easily, the most acclaimed young actor in the business. I actually boast the distinction of being the first person to ever conduct a red carpet interview with Ranbir Kapoor. It's not a great distinction, I grant you, but you will admit it is one. It was, of course, the premiere of Saawariya and its then 26-year-old leading man had just stepped out of the car with his director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I pounced (let me add, in a totally appropriate, not at all stalkerish way), very before he had time to blink. He was shy, a little awkward, certainly nervous and terrifyingly polite and respectful. And while over the next three hours I couldn't find a compliment for the film, to a man, the refrain was that a star was born.
It's nine years later now and Ranbir is fresh off the success of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and it feels as though everything and nothing has changed. This hit was a crucial one for an actor who has put a hat-trick of less than stellar successes behind him. But again, no matter the reviews, the box office returns or lack thereof, the skills of this particular star are somehow able transcend it all: the indulgent scripts, the sketchy cinematography, the flawed directions. His films may get torn to shreds, but I'm not sure Ranbir Kapoor has ever had a bad review. You can put a group of the most hardened, cynical entertainment journalists together and they (we) will be bitchy, snarky, awful about most stars, but mention Ranbir's name and a sigh and dreamy shake of the head follows. ("That boy.")
But here's the interesting part: for those reading it and thinking this is a puff piece aimed at pandering, let me clarify that the one person who won't be flattered reading it is the man himself. There is nothing he is more suspicious of than what he perceives as empty, gratuitous praise: "I judge myself as somebody who's very mediocre and eighty percent of the times when people compliment me, I believe that they're not saying the truth. And, I think it's also a little bit of that, that I don't believe them. So, I'd rather not listen to something that I don't believe in."
There is an essential absurdity in being this skeptical of praise while mainstreaming in an industry that relies on exactly that, but Ranbir Kapoor believes it's not dichotomous, it is in fact essential. "Because we are in this field of arts that it's so important to be honest. Otherwise we all live in a delusion. We try to think that we're saving people but we're actually just entertaining."
His Next Role
Which is what he was busy doing when I caught up with him on the sets of Jagga Jasoos, lolling back atop a colorful truck with Katrina Kaif by his side. It's the final 'patchwork' for a film that's been a long, long time in the making. It's also his first as a producer. Possibly, he confesses, his last. "To be honest, I'm not cut-out to be a producer. An actor thinks that you know, you can do everything. Producing is a job, you know it's a qualified job. You need a person who understands what producing means, I don't. So maybe, this is my first and last. I don't think I'm cut-out to be a producer," he says. That being said, he believes he is privileged to have produced this one. This is the cinema he loves, that he cleaves to, a labour of love at many different levels. "I know it's been too long and it has tried all our patience but this man, Anurag Basu, is a precious genius. The kind of world he is trying to make, it's like a cartoon film made with live action and characters. It's adventure, it's mystery, there's a musical, there's romance, there's comedy and it's the kind of films that I will always want to make on screen if I was a director. I am so possessive, I don't want any actors to work with him. I go outside and I spoil his reputation - 'He's so that, he's messed up, there's no schedule, there's no script' - because I don't want anyone to work with him because I understand his genius." Filming began early 2015 and it's taken a while because he says the film had to be nurtured a particular way. The movie tells the story of a teenage detective in search of a missing father. "You know, there was a point where I told (Anurag) Basu that should we shelve the film? Is it happening? And he was also in a dilemma, but we kept coming back to it. Because there was the soul of the film, the story he was trying to say...the world, the characters were just not leaving us. But thankfully, we have a sequel in the cards."
On Love, Life And The Media
Yes, they're ending on a cliff hanger. But, of course, there's another cliffhanger that fans and the media had been hanging on to (he would argue for far too long) which was, of course, the one revolving around his co-star and former girlfriend, the lovely Katrina Kaif. Their's was the ultimate Bollywood romance and the pair at the heart of it were subjected to Brangelina levels of scrutiny: every step that could be chronicled, was - from the holidays on the Spanish coast to cosy clinches on the balcony of the home they shared. And in fact, while he has nothing but praise for "the single most influential person in his life" he will not extend anything close to that to the headline-makers and clickbaiters of the world. "You know, these websites like Pinkvilla..." He pauses, "Name them, haan?... Pinkvilla, Bollywoodlife, some weird website called SpotboyE who kind of just cook up stories and lies. They hide behind a source or question mark and lot of news channels pick up from there because that's their source. There is no iota of truth to it and yeah, it's sad. Because my grandmother sits and reads papers, she believes it. And if my grandmother believes it, I'm sure like, India's believing it too."
And yet, he's more candid on the subject of Katrina now than he ever was when they were together. "When I was in a relationship, it was polluted with misconceptions. Now when I'm not, I didn't want another set of misconceptions to start. So, you know, I wanted to have a dignified closure to it. To give it the respect I felt. And I'm not even a percent of the respect that I think I need to give it." And part of that is dispensing once and for all with the playboy tag that has dogged from the beginning. He says he is a romantic, who isn't just ready he's waiting to settle, not down necessarily but into something. "Being single is boring. It's boring, frustrating, it's extremely lonely, and happiness is only there when it's shared. When you have somebody, it kind of just ground you, brings a sense of balance to things. Yeah, so being single is no fun," Ranbir says. And while he maybe sort of ready to mingle now, he won't be picking out the placemats just yet. "I could have a family at the age of 40, 45, 50. I don't think my time is running out."
On Kapoor And Sons (And Grandson)
He's actually been staying with his grandmother for some months at the Kapoor 'Cottage' in Chembur - there's space for his two dogs (mastiffs, Lionel and Guido) to gambol around and he has suggested many times that the Kapoor table remains the one to beat. It sound like an odd mix - the 80-year-old matriarch and her trendy, young, much in demand grandson - until you imagine all the things they have to talk about: the cinema that has spanned generations of a single family, the mistakes and missteps, the triumphs, the lessons learnt and passed on all the way to our subject of the day: the inheritor of so many legacies.(Raj, Shashi, Shammi, Rishi and mother Neetu) "Of course, being from the film family gives you a lot. All the exposure and surroundings it helps you form your own personality. It helps you develop your own exposure towards reality, from life, from relationships, with the women that you have been with. It's an amalgamation of everything that you come to in life."
On What's Next
By this time we've shifted from the set to his vanity van where of course he's comfortable, at ease, kicked back in his swivel chair. He's also a good host albeit one who accuses me of stealing the lighter (he wasn't wrong). People come in and out, the phone pings, life at this point looks pretty good. A big hit to end the year and tremendous possibilities for the next. "A tiny bit of a relief, the media is off my back. People will stop calling me a flop actor. For the next 5 months till my next film!" He credits his ADHM director Karan Johar for making the film memorable "just spending time with him was the best part. They love him for a reason." He is, ever the self-critic, equally capable of putting his own successes under a microscope, examining what a hit means to him not the audience. "I think it's a mixture of a lot of things. Your experience working on it, the respect a film gets, and the longevity that it stays. I think three of these things. I have extremely high expectations from myself, so just a hit film from the box office doesn't please me much. It needs to have a certain love, a certain ability to stand the test of time. Like Barfi! or even Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani or Wake up Sid or even a film that didn't do well like Rocket Singh. I think that these kinds of films have stood and after 10 years, people will recognise me for it or will speak about it. So I think that's my mark of success."
If there is one criticism that can be levied against Ranbir Kapoor, it's that he hasn't allowed himself to break out, entirely, to demonstrate his actual range. Critics have argued that there have been one too many iterations of the same part: we've seen the dreamer, the lover, the musician, the young man searching of life/love/purpose but 2017 looks to mix that all up. We will see him disappearing into his first fantasy adventure Dragon (what does a superhero smell like?) and - with that cedar intact - into playing Sanjay Dutt in the Raju Hirani venture. He allows a glimpse of the look-tests they've been trying out and they're pretty darn impressive. "I am petrified by it. A) I don't think I deserve it, you know, to work with Raju Hirani so early in my life. B) I don't think I'm prepared to play Sanjay Dutt on screen who is actually still looming so large. So, it's a big responsibility and the good part is that I'm petrified. If I was confident, then probably that would be something I would question."
He seems to actively seek out the things that scare and challenge him and the next year holds plenty: he looks steady, assured in his gift and ready to take on the world, and a few others besides.