Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar

Donning a black shirt with a pair of denims, carrying a gruff that’s for his film, the ‘Arjun Reddy’ remake, Shahid Kapoor settles down for a chat with us. All excited about latest release, ‘Batti Gul Mere Chalu’, he shares anecdotes about the film and various other characters, in this rendezvous…

As we saw in Shree Narayan Singh’s previous work, ‘Toilet…’ – there was an important message in the film, in an entertaining way. Did you think the same about ‘Batti Gul Meter Challu’ while coming on board?
The first thing which struck me was obviously the issue that it was a pan India problem and nobody had made a film about it. As you go through the journey of these characters, which is very personal, it’s about friends, aspirations, it’s about love and family, what are their ambitions in life and at a certain point, the issue takes centre stage. The journey was relatable, real, entertaining and it felt like we were doing a film, not a documentary. It didn’t feel like we were being preachy. As you said, Shree Narayan Singh has this knack of telling personal stories with a larger message. So you are not watching a film which is just empty or only entertainment oriented. And at the same time, you are not watching something which becomes heavy or taxing to go through. It has all the elements which you want to see in a film and at the same time it has a larger issue to be addressed. And that ability of him to put the two things together is I think the USP of ‘Batti Gul Meter Chalu’. Of course, the world of the film is different. ‘Toilet…’ was more rural as a film, the characters were slightly older and on the back foot. My character is someone who plays on the front foot, he is quite quirky. And coming from a film like ‘Padmaavat’, this is quite a change for me. He is someone who in Hindi terms can be called ‘rastachhaap’, and ‘jugaadu.’ He has grey shades and he is as real and regular as it gets. And he happens to get into this journey which is much larger than he ever imagined. The best thing about the film was that it was quirky all through – even the scenes in the court where we are discussing real issues. The behaviour of this character, the personality of this character, makes it very quirky and entertaining. The scenes in the courtroom surprised me. You usually have a notion about courtroom scenes, but here the scenes are really different. And I think, the best thing about the film is that, it keeps taking you to different kinds of emotions. You are laughing at one point and suddenly you are hit by something that is really strong and certain facts, figures which are shocking that it hits you somewhere deep down. That combination was really exciting. I have never really played a character which was as local and as rough around the edges, talkative, imperfect and real. I loved the world of the film, I loved the tonality and the accent we have used for the film. It made me feel like I’m there. I’m listening to real people and real things and of course, at the forefront is the issue which comes through all the entertainment. It made for an exciting film to be a part of and we are very excited to see how people connect with it, what they feel about it. I don’t think it’s possible to move people, unless you tell them something very personal. I think this is a personal journey and you will feel you’ve had experiences like this in your real life.

Like you said, how different this is from ‘Padmaavat’, and you’ve done these varied characters – right from the outgoing, expressive ones to the stoic ones. What do you enjoy more?
What’s important to realise when you play any character is to understand why he is like that. You have to be able to find something to understand him, his character, why is he being loud, or why does he talk before he thinks. In case of ‘Batti Gul…’I found the character very real. I found that there is this arc which the character goes through. A lot of times, you see arcs of characters and you feel that they completely change, but this character is very real. In real life, we don’t lose ourselves, our quirks, our personality or orientation. Our focus or understanding of things change, but our behaviour is still the same. In this case, I found the arc of this character done very naturally. It didn’t feel forced, it didn’t feel filmy. So, I thoroughly enjoyed playing this guy. There is a thorough ‘raste ka jhugadu’ inside me and this character allowed me to be that way. I could lose all my inhibitions and be this guy. People don’t expect me to be like this, but I have that side deep within me. So, I could go all out and express myself.

At this point, how often do you come across scripts which make you feel that ‘oh I have not done this before’? Does that happen easily?
I have always had that fear – that will I run out of different things to do, or will different things come my way or will I get limited? But I have realised that when you really chase something, the universe conspires to give it to you. Especially, in the last 4-5 years, I was driven by the fact that I’m not going to do the same things again. I am changing my look, I am going to do one film at a time, I’m going to rediscover myself, how I behave, how I talk. I can pretty confidently say that in the last 4 years or so, I have managed to do that with every film. So far, so good and I hope it continues that way. I think if you put a message out, in the fraternity that I’m not going to repeat myself, so bring me something I’ve not done before and I’ll be more than happy to do it. I put that message out there and I think people recgonise that, even the audience recognises that. Otherwise I think, what happens sometimes is that, pre-conceived notions and people’s interpretations and expectations from you become your biggest limiting factor. You might be highly successful but you get limited in the choices you have in front of you and that’s not something I ever wanted. I have never wanted to lose any opportunity of feeling liberated as a creative artist and express myself just because something might be successful. I don’t chase that. I chase different opportunities and the bi-product of that can be success or failure or whatever. That’s not my singular aim, although it’s important. Let’s not run away from the fact that success means any actor’s growth or journey, or the fact that they will get work.

To make different choices is one thing, but to be accepted in all those things is another story all together. For instance, to be remembered for ‘Vivaah’ as well as a ‘Haider’…
When you go beyond your looks, it gets noticed. I think, those are the things you are born with, you can’t do much about it. And then you can just hone your skills. It’s most satisfying to be recognised as an actor and to be appreciated for the work. To be able to tell stories that represent the feelings and lives of people is far more satisfying and enriching. You feel you are giving a lot to the film, but the film is giving a lot more to you and you discover that as you do it over and over again. You feel that there is more within, even though you are giving out so much. It’s a very important circle to have, you need to keep filling yourself with something new, because it changes something within as a creative person. Something is learnt with every new journey but if the journeys are repetitive then you also get limited.


“It’s important to be able to make movies which reach a wider audience while telling a story which is not just entertainment oriented”

In that case, what have you learnt with ‘Batti Gul..’
There’s a line which my character says in the film that ‘aapke liye sirf yeh ek case hoga, hamare liyel adaai hai’, so I think creating hope in the common man and making him feel that his voice must be heard, it’s his right to say what he feels and fight for what is right. I think that’s something which is the heart of this film. There is another line in the film which Shraddha’s character says which is, ‘jeetne se zyada ladna zaruri hota hai’; I resonate with that. My career graph also reflects that. Success and failures may come but you must fight for what is right. Try to do something you believe in. Self-belief is really important and feeling satisfied with your journey. There are a lot of people who are successful but they have to fight depression because there’s something within them which is hollow. I think the best way to avoid that is to really chase what you believe in. I also felt that this was a really good combination of commerce and content, not that those two things are not related to each other but I think it’s important to be able to make movies which reach a wider audience while telling a story which is not just entertainment oriented. So, this is a real good combination and I think more films like that should be made because they open the minds of the fraternity and the audience to the fact that it doesn’t have to be a single dimensional approach. Both the things can be put together in a film.

Is there a film which you were apprehensive about, or found challenging or risky at first?
Characters which are completely out there, have things which can go wrong with them and characters that are introverts also have things that may go wrong with them. So, being completely over-energetic for a character that is out there is also a mistake and completely under-playing an introvert character is also a mistake. So, I play against the tide, or what’s there in the script. If a character is completely out there, I try to think of everything that’s the opposite, and vice versa, just to allow people to feel the character. There are certain characters which suck you into the screen and there are certain characters which sort of jump out of the screen, so you need to realise what you are playing and it’s important to understand the reasons, the mindset, the thinking. If you answer those questions for yourself then you come from a place which is honest and truthful, not just playing for effect. Playing for effect is my biggest fear as an actor. My father has drilled it enough into my head.

What are you starting with next?
After this I will be starting with ‘Arjun Ready’ remake, for which I’m growing this gruff. It’s again a very intense, exciting character to play with this amazing emotional arc. I’m quite nervous about it. You are afraid to do something because someone has done it so well, but there was enough in the character to make me take it up.

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