A Bollywood gold standard: Anupama Chopra on Ranbir Kapoor
From Saawariya to Animal, there is an ineffable ease to each layered performance. To borrow a line, from Jerry Maguire, he had me at hello, Chopra says.
Earlier this month, Kareena Kapoor Khan was asked what has changed in the Kapoor family since she began her career 23 years ago. Speaking at an Indian Express event, she replied: “The actors have become better. There’s Ranbir Kapoor.”
In the 16 years since his debut with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya (2007), Ranbir has become a Bollywood gold standard. He is an artist you never catch “acting”. There is an ineffable ease to his performances, whether he is Ved (who may or may not be bipolar) in Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha (2015) or the murderous crime lord with daddy issues in his latest, Animal.
To steal a line from Jerry Maguire, as an actor, Ranbir had me at hello. These are a few of my favourite moments from his filmography.
Jab Se Tere Naina in Saawariya: The almost-dropped towel became more talked-about than the song, which became more talked-about than the film. There were too few takers for Bhansali’s fantastical retelling of a Dostoevsky short story about unrequited love. But Ranbir, channelling his legendary grandfather Raj Kapoor, was a magical blend of boyishness, vulnerability, innocence, impetuousness and grace. Especially as he pranced around his room, barely dressed, in the thrall of love.
The confession of love in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016): Ayan tells Alizeh (Anushka Sharma) that he loves her when she is already in her bridal finery, about to be married to a man she loves. First, we get that exquisite musical declaration – Channa Mereya – then a scene filled with rage, heartbreak, desperation. Ayan tells Alizeh he hopes her fiancé dies on the way to the wedding, and hopes that she then dies of the shock. He gives her the finger. The hurt contorting his face is so raw, it’s almost hard to watch.
The Don scene in Tamasha (2015): This film became a cultural touchstone, with Ved’s identity crisis fuelling op-eds, fan theories, essays and criticism. This is arguably one of Ranbir’s finest performances, particularly his meltdown with Tara (Deepika Padukone) in the second half. But what gets me each time is that early-in-the-romance Corsica scene, in which he first sets the rules of the game. That they will not tell each other their real names and he will be Don, who is of course being pursued by “baarah mulkon ki police (the policemen of twelve countries)”. There is such mischief and charm here that we never stop to ask if any woman in her right mind would agree to such terms, laid down by a stranger, in a foreign country.
The meeting Heer scene in Rockstar (2011): In the quest for a heartbreak that will enhance his artistry, Janardan, or “JJ for short”, introduces himself to Heer (Nargis Fakhri), the college beauty. Standing with his feet apart, leaning forward a little too eagerly, with an awkward haircut and clumsy manner, he is the cocky suitor from hell. Watch his slightly unhinged expression when he says, “I love you. Girlfriend ban ja meri (Be my girlfriend)”. It’s a masterful turn as an actor playing a character who is putting on a clumsy performance.
The re-enactment of childhood trauma in Animal (2023): The dysfunctional bond between fathers and sons has been a long-running theme in Hindi cinema. But I’ve never seen a son play-act his own father to demonstrate his brutality and the scars it left behind. Ranbir is a man unhinged by his own pain, and when he shouts, playing his father at his father, who is playing him, it scars us as well.