Ranbir Kapoor on Sanju: Not a propaganda film but an honest portrayal of a flawed human being

With just days to go before Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju hits cinemas, Ranbir Kapoor — who plays the controversial star Sanjay Dutt in the biopic — is a bit anxious but he isn’t showing it. “Yes, the countdown has begun and I am really trying to calm myself (laughs softly),” says the Kapoor scion in an exclusive chat with Firstpost on Tuesday afternoon in his vanity van parked in the compound of a suburban studio. The makers have shown the film to few people in the industry but, Ranbir, who’s on the last leg of its promotions, has chosen to stay away from the screening.“I think an actor feels most vulnerable during this phase. When we are working on a film, when we are acting, our vulnerability is seen in front of the camera and it’s really nice that it gets captured. But right now, I am in a very vulnerable place so I will stay away from reactions. I won’t go for any of the trials. Friday is a very important day because that is the day when audience comes in and that is when you get true reactions and get to know the fate of the film, so let’s see. I am also counting days,” says a nervous Ranbir, who’s hardly able to make any eye contact.

Amid a line-up of several big-ticket biopics being made on Bollywood stars, sportspersons, and other public figures, Hirani’s film on the life of Dutt remains the most anticipated. And if the director has struck gold with Sanju, it’s a golden opportunity for Ranbir to showcase his talent. “It was a bani banayi (ready-made) script which was so dramatic, so emotional, so funny that had every trapping of a wholesome Hindi entertainer. And it is a biopic, you don’t get such opportunities — for an actor to play Sanjay Dutt, to be Rajkumar Hirani’s hero is like a dream come true,” says Ranbir. The actor, however, admits that initially he feared public backlash for playing a troubled star, who was convicted for illegal possession of weapons in 1993.

“Actually, the first time when I heard that Hirani was making a biopic on Sanjay Dutt, I also had that initial reaction that how can you make a biopic on his life. But when I read the script, all my doubts just went away. This is not a propaganda film; it is an honest portrayal of a flawed human being and lot of credit goes to Sanjay Dutt to give his life out with so much honesty. We are not trying to portray him as a god or a larger-than-life superstar. We are showing him as a human being,” says Ranbir.

Although Hirani believes that Ranbir was well-equipped to feel and understand Dutt’s life, the actor admits it wasn’t so easy because he has known Dutt on a personal level for many years. “I had known him from a very young age. I had been a big fan of his but to understand someone’s soul, emotion was a big responsibility for me. When I read the script, I discovered a completely different Sanjay Dutt and not the one I knew or saw in movies. I realised he was very emotional, lost, scared, immature, makes mistakes, pays for his mistakes, the drugs story, his time in jail…He was like a fallen hero who kept rising, and just to understand this emotion, to understand the father-son dynamic, his relationship with his best friend was very endearing for me as a fan and as an actor. The script itself gave me so many opportunities to perform and to really express myself through this character,” says Ranbir.

However, while prepping, it was a deliberate decision on Ranbir’s part to not spend too much time with Dutt. “Though I had spent lot of time with him growing up, I wanted to take a step back and didn’t want to be around him too much because I didn’t want to be obsessed with him. I would be always looking at him, trying to see what he is doing, how he is scratching his beard, how he is talking…but before any poignant moment in the script, for instance, the jail sequence, the drug sequence, his mother’s death, or when the TADA verdict (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act came, I would always call him the night before the shoot. I just wanted to know what he was feeling, and very graciously, very honestly he would tell me and I would express that on screen. I wanted to represent him with respect and truth, ” said Ranbir.

Talking about his look and transformation to play the part, the actor said that he had good six to eight months to do the prep. “We had this crew working on my make-up, prosthetics, hair, costumes…and we would dedicate a lot of time for it. I would be sitting on the chair for several hours trying out the look. We had to get the look little close to him, not exactly like him. We didn’t want it to look like a mockery or that we were mimicking him and we would take one-and-a-half month break between each look. This way, I had time to lose weight and prep for the other part and it felt like doing six different characters,” said Ranbir, who was out of the character on the last day of the shoot. “I’m a detached person which helps me in the movie-making process. Movie making’s a world of heart-breaks, so why get too attached to it. Success goes to your head; failure goes to our heart. It is a house of heart-breaks, so it is good to distance yourself, focus on your work and move on,” says Ranbir before adding, “The last day of the shoot and I was already on another journey working on another film.”

Rajkummar Hirani and Ranbir Kapoor during Sanju promotionsRanbir Kapoor and Rajkummar Hirani during Sanju promotions.Does Ranbir feel that Sanju could consolidate his position in the Bollywood industry? “Though I hope that every film works, your position in the industry can never get solidified. Even Amitabh Bachchan and the Khans have to continuously keep trying. They have to keep delivering because you are only known for your last film. Hits and flops are part of everybody’s life and nothing gets solidified. It is all temporary; your fate keeps changing from Friday to Friday. It is like the stock market,” he says.

“But yes, Sanju is definitely a very important film for my career because it is coming at a time when few of my films haven’t worked. Also, it is a big responsibility being a Rajkumar Hirani hero essentially because he has had such an impeccable track record at the box office, and the kind of connect his films has with the audience. I truly hope that this one also connects.” He continues, “But every film is special, Jagga Jasoos was equally special, that is the film I produced with Anurag Basu. I had such an amazing creative collaboration with him but unfortunately that didn’t do too well. So every film is important at every juncture. Tomorrow, Sanju may do extremely well and people will start looking at me in a different way, or it may be the other way round, that is not in my hands. So I have to really kind of stabilise myself in life and understand the nature of job. It is like this only;, it is cinema; it is glamour; it is show business.”

“But it’s definitely an exciting time for me. I have signed two films with two young directors which is a refreshing change. Shamshera (Yashraj Films, directed by Karan Malhotra) is a wonderful action adventure thriller set in the 1800s. It’s about a dacoit tribe fighting for justice from the Britishers, and there is Luv Ranjan’s dramatic love story with Ajay Devgn. It’s a departure from what Ranjan has already done. And of course, there is Ayan Mukerji’s Brahmastra. I’m really enjoying this phase of my career and my next three to four films could consolidate my fan base,” believes Ranbir, who will continue the “tradition” of locking himself in his room the day Sanju hits the screens.

“I like to be alone the day my film releases. I don’t even answer my calls, and if someone is calling after watching my film to give their reaction, I prefer SM Sing back and I will continue the tradition with this film, too,” he says before signing off.