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Shahid Kapoor: High on potential and intelligence

The actor, who completes 20 years in the film industry, on pushing the envelope with diverse choices, rediscovering himself as an artiste, staying relevant, his learnings over the years, and why his best is yet to come

Kunal Purandare
Infographics By Pradeep Belhe
Published: Jun 20, 2023 12:02:37 PM IST
Updated: Jun 20, 2023 12:24:46 PM IST

Shahid Kapoor: High on potential and intelligenceShahid Kapoor seems to have pushed the envelope as far as the roles he’s essayed on screen are concerned. Image: @mayank_mudnaney

Shahid Kapoor saunters into a five-star hotel suite with a spring in his stride. Dressed in a white shirt and trousers—apt for the harsh Mumbai summer that’s extended to the month of June—he greets everyone with a chirpy tone and a beaming smile. Within minutes, he makes himself comfortable on the couch and instructs the crew to reposition the camera. The setup has to be slightly readjusted to focus on the actor, who’s promoting his latest film, Bloody Daddy, an OTT release. The 42-year-old knows exactly what he wants—both from his life and career—and explains that lucidly as he revisits his 20-year journey in the world of films.

“I am extremely comfortable with who I am today. I am fortunate to be in the headspace that I am in now because I feel settled and surer than I was earlier. It will be difficult for something to derail me. I am pretty, kind of, zoned in. And I know what I want to do,” the actor tells Forbes India. Kapoor, who was 22 when he made his debut with the romantic comedy Ishq Vishq (2003), concedes that he was figuring out who he was for the first 12 to 15 years of his career as “a lot gets thrown at you”.

Today, he emphasises, he is clearer with his choices. And in the past few years, the actor seems to have pushed the envelope as far as the roles he’s essayed on screen are concerned. From playing the lead in Kabir Singh (2019), a surgeon with severe anger management issues, to an aspiring India cricketer in Jersey (2022), an emotional tale about a father-son relationship, and from making his OTT debut with the web series Farzi (2023) to releasing a film on a streaming platform this year, he’s let his craft do the talking.

“I don’t want to do content that’s limited; I want to be able to take good content to a wider audience. That’s something I’ve always craved to do,” says Kapoor, going on to explain how it took a while for him to move the needle during his initial years in the industry. The success of Ishq Vishq made him a much-loved chocolate boy of Indian cinema, but the romantic hero tag stuck with him. The actor reveals he tried to break the mould with films like Fida (2004), but he couldn’t do much since those opportunities rarely came his way. “I had to wait till I grew a beard… meri daari nahi aati thi,” smiles Kapoor, who’s now sporting substantial facial fuzz.

Shahid Kapoor: High on potential and intelligence

He credits filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj for helping people change the perception about him with Kaminey (2009), which was completely contrary to what the actor had done till then. And then the ball got rolling with Mausam (2011), Haider (2014), Udta Punjab (2016) and Padmaavat (2018), to name a few. “It sometimes takes time for things to come together. I don’t think there is a huge change in intent. In the last five or six years, I would say things have been falling into place more often than not,” says Kapoor.

Actor-filmmaker Pankaj Kapur concurs with his son. “Though initially he was only perceived as a chocolate hero, over the years Shahid has proved himself as an actor of certain mettle and of certain potential,” he says.

Though his father is a respected artiste, Kapoor was adamant that he wanted to make it on his own. “I was close to my dad, but I didn’t have the relationship with him to tell him to introduce me to some of his colleagues. I had too much self-respect for that. And dad was a self-made man, so I wanted to be self-made, I didn’t want to go about asking for anything or ask anybody else for anything,” says Kapoor, who lived with his mother Neelima Azeem after his parents separated.

Shahid Kapoor: High on potential and intelligence

So, the skinny youngster took the route that any Bollywood aspirant takes: He left his photographs with various production houses, went for interviews, gave auditions after auditions, and waited on the side like everybody else for that break. Kapur slowly gathered that his son harboured dreams of becoming an actor. He recalls that Kapoor did a seven-day acting workshop with him and actor Naseeruddin Shah, and that was indication enough that he was inclined towards the medium. The fact that he was training for dance under Shiamak Davar at that time only reaffirmed the path he was going to choose.  

“I always saw great promise in Shahid because even when I was directing something, he would randomly come and audition like the others, just for fun,” says Kapur, jogging his memory back to those days. “As a father, I was proud and knew that he’s a fine actor. That he’ll make it as a big star was something I never knew. But he had great potential as an actor.”

Also read: The cult of Shahid Kapoor

Potential is a word that director Imtiaz Ali uses frequently when he speaks about Kapoor. The filmmaker and the actor collaborated to give one of the most popular films and biggest hits of their career, Jab We Met, in 2007. Ali says he was struggling to make the film for a long time and reveals that it was Kapoor who made it happen.

The filmmaker had approached the actor with another story, when the latter asked him about a ‘train story’ that he had in mind. “Shahid asked me who would you like to cast as Geet. When I told him Kareena Kapoor, he said I’ll ask her to meet you, and you can narrate the whole film in detail to us. I narrated it to both of them on the floor of Shahid’s house. It was then that I had a feeling that this film will happen now,” says Ali, adding that Kapoor believed in the film from the outset—he told the producers that Jab We Met will go places, to treat it with respect during the release, and that it will take them all further in their journeys—and he was proven right.

Ali hopes to work with a “completely different actor” when he gets a chance to team up with Kapoor again. “I believe Shahid is an actor of very high potential. Apart from that, he is a very intelligent man,” he says. “I believe Shahid is the kind of actor who will take a lifetime to achieve his truest potential. And he is on that journey for sure… he has that rare chance as an actor to become better and better with time. That does not happen with every actor,” continues Ali, who was impressed with the way the Kapoor etched his character in Bloody Daddy.

Shahid Kapoor: High on potential and intelligence

Kapoor feels one should trust himself as an actor and that most of what he does happens while he is on set—between action and cut. “I don’t like to be overprepared… I think it’s better to be slightly underprepared than overprepared because you leave space for spontaneity,” he says, adding that he prefers being a little anxious or nervous before reaching the set.

Gowtan Tinnanuri, the director of Jersey, reveals that the actor does a lot of homework before coming to the sets. “He is an actor who will read the script multiple times and rehearse the dialogues,” he says. Jersey had at least 40 minutes of cricket footage and was a physically challenging role. The shots were to be taken in multiple angles and the actor insisted on wanting to look perfect while playing every stroke.

Also read: The rise of South Indian Cinema: How Southern movies are going national

“Shahid hired a couple of coaches, and practised for three to four months at Khar Gymkhana in Mumbai. They had accompanied us for the shoot as well. Even on break days, he would take a list of the shots he’s supposed to play and train. On the days we shot the scenes, he would practise two to three hours before shoot… he would reach the location before everyone else and practise,” says Tinnanuri, who calls Ishq Vishq one of his favourite films and was spellbound by the newness Kapoor brought to the character in Kabir Singh, although it was a remake of a South Indian film, like Jersey.

Shahid Kapoor: High on potential and intelligence

My best is yet to come, says Kapoor, while conceding that he has made several mistakes in his journey. But it has been a learning curve for the actor. He, however, refuses to call himself underrated though he has heard people use that term for him often. His father differs. “I think somewhere yes [he is underrated]. The audience has been kind to him, so have been most of the critics. The industry, I had said many years ago, needs to wake up to his dramatic talent,” says Kapur. “But people who choose to move different paths are not immediately accepted by everybody. People always look upon them with a critical eye. When they start becoming successful, they realise what this person meant.”

The actor admits that it’s been a journey of ups and downs, but he’s managed to stay relevant. “You have to keep rediscovering yourself as an actor. You should not become predictable… that’s the one thing that the audience doesn’t like at all,” he says.

Industry colleagues attribute his longevity to his sharp mind and intellect. “The best part about Shahid is that he is intellectual and smart. His performances come from his heart. He feels for the character and indulges in what it does,” says Tinnanuri.

Ali says the probable reason for his longevity is the fact that he is interested in acting, in the truest way. “He loves what he does. He thinks about what he does. And he tries to do it well,” he says. “Shahid looks good, has great body language, has a good voice, is a very good dancer, and he is a very sensitive and perceptive person. Plus, he is intelligent. He can speak Hindi very well…  you will find that great speech is not the merit that many actors have today. I feel that is the USP that Shahid has and that has kept him extremely relevant and loved.”

Also read: Are steaming platforms and non-Hindi content stealing Bollywood's thunder?

In the 11 years between directing him in Mausam and acting with him in Jersey, Kapur saw his son not only grow in age but also in maturity towards approaching a part. “Acting had become a passion from a professional pursuit,” he says, adding that Kapoor’s honesty and commitment have kept him going for two decades. “He has been a constant learner. If you see his filmography, he always wanted to experiment and find new footings for himself, which he has successfully done.”

The actor acknowledges it is about survival, given the competitive nature of the business he is in, but he never felt like giving up. “I love it too much to give up,” he says. That does not mean it has been smooth sailing. Kapoor concedes that despite the fame and stardom, loneliness had crept in when he stayed alone. Now, he’s found strong support in wife Mira, and his children, daughter Misha and son Zain.

Kapoor calls his first film the turning point of his career because he never thought he’ll make it. “Once I got a shot, I was in the game,” he says. And he is here for the long haul if he continues to make the right choices. “I think the sky is the limit for Shahid. He can reach anywhere he wants to,” says Kapur, who calls his son an amazingly good dancer, a great mind and a doting family man. “He’s a mature person, very level-headed, understands the industry and its functioning, and life in general, so he will be making the right choices in life.”

Also read: Hindi film industry needs course correction to surf the winds of change

It helps that people find him easy-going and approachable. “He is a rationale person and an easy conversationalist. He is an extremely respectful and a dignified person,” says Ali, who found a friend in Kapoor when they spent time during the making of Jab We Met.

Twenty years is a long time to experience enough highs and lows in an industry known for its cut-throat competition. Many lessons ought to have been inadvertently learnt along the way. What’s stayed with Kapoor after all these years? “It’s love for cinema, your relationship with the audience, and whether you feel satisfied every day when you finish your work… you should feel good. Those are the only three things that eventually stay. Everything else comes and goes,” he says.

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