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The star next door
Of his clan, Randhir Kapoor once told journalist Madhu Jain: "We are the Corleones of Bollywood". If that's true then Ranbir represents Michael. After a brief dalliance with chocolate boy roles, he seems to have acquired a steely resolve to carry forward the family name but only on his own terms.
In a galaxy that is admittedly far, far away from the 100-crore club, a few members of the next generation of Bollywood actors are increasingly veering towards the unconventional and Ranbir Kapoor is in the enviable position where talent, clout and mainstream cinema intersect. And the good news is, as Barfi! shows, he likes taking risks.
Maybe growing up in such a family has made him aware that while hits and longevity are linked, they are not the same thing. It would explain why two years into his career he played the role of an aimless slacker Sid, who falls in love with a slightly older woman. It wasn't a groundbreaking venture but it was a contemporary portrayal of the privileged and unmotivated youth you see around you living off daddy's largesse. He then played an upright computer salesman Harpreet Singh in the delightful and criminally underrated Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year. His next major role was as the angsty Janardan Jhakkad/Jordan in Rockstar, where his transformation from a small town bumpkin into an angry rock god is completely believable. The film didn't quite come together and you never quite saw the reason for the rage, but Kapoor was, by far, the best thing in it.
A filmi lineage is not necessarily a great advantage any more. A 'son or daughter of so-and-so' is no longer entitled to endless indulgences and if you are merely competent you could be dismissed as awful. And if you remind the audience too much of your ancestory you never manage to make a mark (like Abhishek Bachchan). The Kapoors cast the longest shadow in the industry. Four generations of actors, producers and directors, each leaving their own stamp. The Khans have their record-breaking opening figures but the Kapoors have history and tradition on their side. And many of them have crumbled under heavy words like khandaan and parampara. Randhir Kapoor never quite made it and neither did Kunal Kapoor. And when Karisma Kapoor was making her debut, we were often reminded that 'Kapoor women don't act'. As an audience, we are so familiar with the Kapoors that we even know their nicknames. It's not Kareena, but Bebo. Not Karisma but Lolo. Not Rishi Kapoor, but Chintu. Kareena even had a song titled 'Bebo main Bebo' in Kambakkht Ishq.
However, none of these factors have handicapped Ranbir from striking out in an altogether unexpected direction. His career has taken a meandering path that broadly ticks off some notches on the ladder to the top, but it also features many that are unexpected. So, unlike his dad and many star sons, Ranbir was not launched by a home production (RK Banners). And while his grandfather was famous for his sensual heroines, Ranbir himself became the object of the camera's affection in Saawariya when he dropped his towel with aplomb (onscreen the towel's last notable role was covering three fourths of Kajol while she, with similar ease, hopped from bed to bed singing, "Mere Khwabon Main Jo Aaye" in DDLJ).
Ranbir is slippery to slot. He doesn't look common enough to be Everyman Amol Palekar, but then he isn't good looking enough to be Hrithik Roshan. He is not brooding enough to be a Bachchan and he doesn't have Shah Rukh's brash charm either.
What he does possess is some obvious talent and the rare quality that makes his family name seem more benign than daunting. He doesn't have the cloistered stuffiness we generally associate with famous surnames. He speaks fairly openly about a long rough patch in his parents' (Rishi and Neetu Kapoor)marriage and last week he gave an interview where he said that he'd very much like to live with a girl he was in a relationship with. (Imagine Abhishek Bachchan ever saying that. )
Interestingly, Ranbir is also not desperate to renounce his filmi DNA so that he can be taken seriously. Unlike Abhay Deol whose edgy, niche film choices make him an extremely improbable candidate for a remake of his uncle Dharmendra's Dharam-Veer, Ranbir has joyfully referenced Kashmir Ki Kali's iconic song "Yeh Chand sa Roshan Chehra" made famous by Shammi Kapoor in Rockstar. He's channeled Raj Kapoor's tramp in Barfi! and also, in 2008, done an updated version of the song "Bachna ae Haseeno" made famous by his father, in the film of the same name. Even in his debut film, his character's full name was Ranbir Raj Kapoor.
"I think I am pretty talented", he said in an interview to a magazine. So, no false modesty either which is also a breath of fresh air considering that living legend Mr Amitabh Bachchan still rates himself a 4/10 as an actor.
His father is, today, enjoying a rare second wind in his career. Rishi Kapoor was considered a lightweight, affable romantic hero and it took a Do Dooni Chaar for audiences to acknowledge him as a serious performer. Ranbir was never placed in direct opposition to his father or mother, the equally effortless Neetu Kapoor.
It is a joy watching him play Barfi with such ease. But it makes you wonder - could it be that talent is indeed inherited?
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