Happy Birthday Arjun! A day late! Sorry about that, I somehow missed it yesterday. But better late than never! And you deserve a birthday post, because you work so hard. According to reports, you were working yesterday as well. And, at age 31, you have already worked on 10 films, starting when you were only 18.
1. The first film you worked on was Kal Ho Na Ho, as an assistant director (some accounts say it was Shakti: The Power, but that was your Dad’s movie and you were 17, so I would guess it was “worked” as in “hung around set a couple of days after high school”. Whereas Kal Ho Na Ho was for a family friend, but not a family member, so it was probably a real job. I’m also going to ignore the Wanted, No Entry, and Milenge Milenge credentials on your filmography for the same reason). “Assistant director” in Indian film roughly translates to “production assistant” in American film. Or, “unpaid intern”. What it really means is “kid who is interested in learning more about film and willing to spend 6 months running around getting people chai and carrying costumes and doing other tedious tasks just so they can be on a film set.” And in this case, since you were 18 and from a film family, I suspect it was also a bit of a “hey, my kid says he wants to be a filmmaker, can you give him a summer job so he can decide whether or not he really likes it?” But it is still impressive, because it would be easy for someone from a Kapoor family to just waltz into an impressive debut without really putting in the time. And, it would also be easy for an 18 year old from a wealthy family to just spend their time going to clubs and partying, so actually getting a job and working at it is impressive all by itself. It also means your first “job” and your first Job both involved working on an all time great Shahrukh item number.
2. Your next credential is in 2007, I assume right after you finished school, another assistant director job on another Nikhil Advani movie. Not produced by Karan Johar or your dad, so Nikhil must have liked your work for itself. This is also when according to many interviews you started dating Salman Khan’s baby sister, and were seriously planning on a directing career for yourself. It’s a good start, Nikhil is an excellent director, Kal Ho Na Ho has some fascinating camera and editing choices and neatly balances a variety of storylines, at the same time it checks all the traditional Indian film requirements in terms of narrative. Salaam-E-Ishq is a little less balanced, but is still an interesting directorial challenge, with the multiple characters and stars.
3. And then, again according to multiple interviews, your life blew up when Arpita Khan left you, and Salman offered to mentor you from an overweight introverted assistant director, to a handsome young superstar. 5 years after Salaam-E-Ishq, you emerged in Ishaqzaade. Now, normally a 5 year gap on a resume looks kind of bad, but considering how hard you worked before that gap, and how hard you have worked after, I am going to believe that you were working just as hard during that 5 year period, but not on the kind of job that goes into a resume. Instead, you spent 5 years on toning your body and your abilities until you were able to land the Ishaqzaade lead role primarily on merit. Of course, there must have been a percentage of advantage that came from being Boney Kapoor’s son/Anil Kapoor’s nephew, but Yash Raj’s talent scouting division has become very professional and serious about casting newcomers based on star ability, not just connections, so they must have seen something in you. Which you then proved correct with your phenomenal performance in your debut film, neatly handling dance, romance, action, drama, and comedy.
4. Ishaaqzaade‘s follow-up, Aurangzeb, was a little less impressive in terms of box office. But it did show your range, and doing a double role in just your second movie is something to be proud of. Generally, though, follow ups to debuts are a bit of a challenge, because they are usually in pre-production before the first movie comes out, so no one is quite sure what part of the persona is going to land with the audience. While Aurangzeb got mixed reviews, in some ways you benefited from that, because while the other actors, story elements, and songs varied in how they were received, your performance stood out as one area that everyone agreed was impressive.
5. And then 2014, where you really hit the ground running with 3 very different releases. First, Gunday, a big crowd-pleasing 2 hero film, putting you together with Yash Raj’s other fresh young discovery Ranveer Singh, along with a top heroine (Priyanka), and character actor (Irrfan). Normally in a situation like this, one hero ends up “winning” the film, but in this case the combination of you with Ranveer, both onscreen and in the off-screen promotions, just served to show your individual strengths. Ranveer, with his glow and cheer and fast-talking charm, and you with your quieter and slower burn.
6. Gunday showed you could handle a traditional multi-starrer action film, your follow-up movie showed your abilities in a standard romance, 2 States. It was also a character tailor made for your particular appeal, a shy kind of nerdy type, but with a deep hidden pain inside, the same kind of scary anger and bitterness and danger that was always in your eyes whether it was Ishaqzaade or Gunday or Aurangzeb, pulled out and made a part of the character with a backstory and everything. Also, great songs!
(I find the father’s turn around at the end completely unbelievable, but the rest of the movie is a great depiction of the family of an alcoholic)
7. And then there’s Finding Fanny. Your most interesting choice of 2014. Two huge big budget big release pictures from major studios, and then a small arty mostly English language film. But you got to work with some of the top actors (actors, not stars) in the industry, and a director who is great at pulling performances from his actors. As a learning experience, it would be invaluable. And it says something for your long-range planning, that you put the long-term value of this kind of training over the short term value of squeezing in another big studio hit in your break out year.
8. And here we are, 8 films into your career, and for the first time you are working with your family studio (again, discounting the “executive producer” credits from early on). Rather than using your family production house to give yourself a big launch, like Hrithik, Jackky, Harman, or plenty of others, you went the other way and made it more or less on your own merits outside of your family, and then came back and gave your family house a boost by lending them your stardom. Tevar didn’t set the world on fire, but it is a perfectly good movie, a nice southern remake (moviemavengal loooooooooved the original, and I plan to see it some time based on her recommendation), and I am sure it made a nice profit for the Kapoor family. Also, it gave you an opportunity to put in a nice little homage to your mentor in the industry.
9. And then there is your most recent release, Ki & Ka. Which I haaaaaaaaaated. But I don’t blame you for that, actually your performance was the third best thing about the film (first best being the soundtrack, second best being Kareena’s performance). It was the script and directing that let you down. But it was still a brave role for you to take, playing a house husband, a younger man, and doing a pre-marital sex scene along with plenty of post-marital sex scenes. And, in some small ways, taking the slightly smaller role. You and Kareena got almost equal screen time, but she got slightly more emotional notes to play than you did, so good on you, doing a movie where the heroine has the author backed role!
10. And now you are working on Half-Girlfriend, another Chetan Bhagat based film. And possibly another film in which you take a backseat to the heroine? This is just wild speculation, but the director, Mohit Suri, has worked with the heroine, Shraddha Kapoor, twice before and never with you. And the plot does give a strong role in the romance to the heroine, making her the one who insists on only being a “half-girlfriend”. So it is possible Suri and the script will lean a bit in her direction. Even if it isn’t another supporting turn for a heroine (which I always appreciate in a big name actor), at the very least, you are working hard in preparations, learning how to play basketball for your character.