Hindi Film 101: Arjun Kapoor, An Average Actor and an Amazing Human Being (warning: you will cry)

Merry Christmas Angie! And Merry Christmas to all of us, because while I find Arjun unremarkable as an actor, as a person I find him surprisingly inspiring and, a strange word to use for a movie actor, but maybe a little bit Noble?

Usual Disclaimer: I don’t know these people, I have no special knowledge, this is just how it looks to me based on publicly available records.

I wrote a long post about Arjun’s whole family a few years back, you can read it here if you want to catch up. But this go round I want to focus on the recent years of Arjun’s life and talk about how his personality has come through more and more clearly over those years.

Arjun was born in 1985. His mother was 21, and his father was 30. His father was the oldest son of Surinder Kapoor, a small time producer. They had a little house in Bandra (the old film colony), they occasional went to parties or interacted with their rich relatives THE Kapoors. Their cousins, Sonam and Rhea, were constantly running in and out of their little house. Boney was gone a lot, that was the life of a small time producer, he would be traveling or on location. But Arjun had the love of his grandparents and his young doting mother. His sister Anshula was born shortly after Arjun, they were a little team. It was a wonderful happy secure safe childhood. And then when he was 10, his little world blew up. His father moved out of the house and he was told that his father had a new wife, and was going to have a new baby, and didn’t want to live with them any more. Lots of whispered family conferences, lots of crying, lots of trauma that didn’t seem to end. His funny uncle Anil was still around to joke with him, and his grandparents and aunts and uncles were all very kind, but little Arjun and Anshula were still left adrift, trying to understand how their whole world had fallen apart, all at once.

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Looking at Arjun’s teen years, it is clear that he carried that trauma with him for everyone in the family. From an average child, he ballooned up to a morbidly obese teen. While Anshula excelled in school and ended up going to Columbia University, Arjun flailed and failed and dropped out in grade 11. His family stood by him, helped him get a job as an assistant director, and Arjun started to put his life together a bit. Like many children from a broken home, he leaped on the idea of a new perfect family to solve everything, recreating his childhood but better. He would be a director/producer like his father. And he would marry his teenage girlfriend Arpita Khan. And life would be perfect and happy forever and ever, and no one would ever break his heart again. And then Arpita broke his heart. She dumped him, and it rocked his world. What would he do now? Who would he be? How could he live?

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Arjun and Arpita

Arpita’s brother Salman has more in common with Arjun in some ways than probably anyone else in the world. Salman was also the oldest child when his father left his mother in a public and humiliating way. Salman also carried that pain for everyone else. And Salman also dreamed as a young man of marrying his first girlfriend and being happy forever and ever. I don’t think Salman has the self-awareness to have thought all of that through when he saw Arjun be wrecked by this break up, but I think he saw Arjun’s face and knew the thoughts going through his head (“what’s the point of life? how do I go on? no one will ever love me, I don’t deserve love”), and stepped in to save him. Salman gave Arjun the same solution that saved him, focus on a physical goal and put all your energies there and you will get through this. Salman gave Arjun a new life, offered to mentor him and make him an actor instead of a director. And to help him lose the misery pounds he had been putting on since his father walked out on them.

Thank goodness Salman reached out to Arjun, because the tools Salman gave him helped him through the worst time of his life. 2 years after Salman started working with him, Arjun was slim and handsome and had an immediate charisma onscreen. YRF signed him to a 3 film deal and he started working on his first script, an extremely difficult part of an unlikable hero. Which is when he was called home one day and his family broke the news to him that his mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Arjun balanced filming his first movie with watching his mother die. Everyone knew what was happening, even though he didn’t really like to talk about it. As soon as the first shots were cut together, the studio rushed the trailer over to his house so he could show it to his mother. She died a couple days later. Arjun’s father was there for the funeral, his half-sisters and stepmother were not. For one day, they pretended that everything was still “normal”. And then when the funeral was over, Boney went back to his second family and Arjun was left alone with Anshula.

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Arjun’s grandmother, Anshula, Arjun hugging a guest, and Boney standing a little apart

I think Arjun’s mother’s death was one of those “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” moments for him. His career continued with the same ups and downs of any young actor, he made a movie with his family next (Tevar) and there were some minor rumors of a romance with his co-star in that, Sonakshi Sinha. A few more movies followed, two more films with YRF, his acting ability seemed to go up and down role to role, but he always had that interesting screen presence. It was off-screen that he wasn’t quite as interesting. He participated in the AIB roast, but that felt more like Ranveer and Karan talked him into it than something natural on his own. He went to award shows and gave interviews but it didn’t feel like we ever really got to know him.

I think the problem is we were all looking in the wrong place. He was playing this very young immature hero type onscreen, but the reality was that he was the head of his family. He was a grown man, a real man, in real life. He wasn’t going to crack jokes or open up about emotions or do wacky gags, because he was beyond that kind of thing. He wasn’t even going to put his all and everything into his performances, because acting was just a job, he had more important things in his life.

When Boney moved out, his wife and children stayed behind in the family home. Meaning as Arjun aged, he became the primary support and family for his younger sister, and also the primary caregiver for his aging grandparents. His grandfather died of a sudden heart attack the same year Arjun’s mother was dying of cancer. His elderly grandmother still lives with him. Sure, the uncles and aunts and cousins were around, and they were wonderful, but it was Arjun’s responsibility to take care of his own people. Or at least, that’s what he thought. His father had walked away, his mother had died, why trust that anyone else will ever stay? It’s on him, everything is on him.

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Arjun, holding baby Anshula

I started hearing rumors about a relationship with Malaika Arora Khan, Salman Khan’s ex-sister-in-law, years ago. Right when she officially moved out of the family home and away from her husband, Salman’s brother Arbaaz. Malaika is 46, 12 years older than Arjun. And she has a 17 year old son. She’s also a bit scandalous, even besides the divorce. An item dancer and model, known for sexy dance numbers and photo shoots. But here’s what jumps out at me about her background, her parents also divorced when she was 11. And she dropped out of high school. Two big parts of Arjun’s life that she shares.

And I think, for Arjun, an older woman who doesn’t want a traditional family, who already has a child and is just getting out of a marriage, might be what would make him happiest. They have been together about 4 years now and, so far as I can tell, it was happily casual on both their parts for most of that time. Malaika lives with her son now, I am sure that as a single mother she is cautious about getting serious with someone who might become part of her son’s life. Arjun is still living with his grandmother and his sister, he wants someone who is just easy and fun and can take care of herself. At least, that’s what it was, until last year. When everything changed.

Arjun had a life a year ago. His career was going up and down but he was working at it. His sister was in a good place, she had a good job with Google India and was happy. He and Malaika got together on the down low and had fun. He hung out with his cousins Sonam and Rhea and Harsh, his uncles Anil and Sanjay were just a phone call away and always happy to work with him. And his relationship with his father hadn’t gotten any better, but at least it hadn’t gotten worse. He saw him at his office sometimes. That was enough.

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Arjun and Boney at a forced event post-divorce. Neither of them looks happy to be together

And then one night it all blew apart. Arjun got a call in the middle of the night from his father, sobbing, his stepmother Sridevi had just died in Dubai. A couple of years ago he had given an interview about his half-sisters, and said that his relationship with them did not exist, they did not matter to him. But people surprise themselves, when he got the call his first thought was “who is taking care of the girls?” And his second thought was to call Anshula, because he had to take care of her, because all they had was each other. He called her, told her what happened, and she said “where are the girls?”

Jhanvi, the oldest, was alone in the family home in Bombay. She got the call and immediately called Karan Johar who was mentoring her through her imminent film launch. He and his best friend Manish Malhotra drove over to get her and drive her to the home of her aunt and uncle and stayed with her. The younger one, Khushi, was still with family overseas and rushed home as soon as possible. Arjun and Anshula split up. Anshula went to Jhanvi, Arjun got the first plane to Dubai to go to their father.

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Slightly better days, a family wedding a few months later and the girls first public appearance post-funeral, see how Anshula is holding tight to Khushi while Arjun grabs Jhanvi?

Through out the next day as the formalities were gone through to release the body, Sanjay and Anil Kapoor flew back and forth, and the larger family gathered at Sanjay’s house. Arjun stayed with his father the entire time, afraid to leave him alone because he was a broken man. Arjun had heard since childhood about this great love of Sridevi and Boney, how this was the reason that Boney just had to move out and abandon him. And now he was seeing it, Boney barely able to function after Sridevi’s death. If this had happened when he was an angry sullen teenager eating himself to death and skipping classes, or when he was a passionate confident young man sure that his first love would last forever, I doubt Arjun would have been able to stand it. But this was Arjun after his first love left him, after he lost his mother and grandfather, after he came into himself as the head of his household. So he squared his shoulders and took on his father as one more burden.

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Arjun, propping up Khushi while Jhanvi and Boney look to him

The confusion of the death and the funeral didn’t give Arjun much time to know Jhanvi and Khushi as individuals. He just loved them because they were his little sisters and they needed him. We can see it in the shots of the funeral, this tall young man in the middle of things with these fragile teenage girls following him around like puppies. But it was in the days after that Arjun saw it was Jhanvi who needed him most, and would always need him most. Jhanvi, who is also the reason his whole life fell apart when he was a child. It was her birth that confirmed Boney’s decision to marry Sridevi, move out, and make the whole thing public. And Arjun let all that go in a moment and instead just saw this little girl who needed him more than anyone else.

Jhanvi was Sridevi’s “special” one. Some families are like that, one child belongs more to one parent or the other. Khushi is Boney’s favorite, he thinks she is the greatest thing in the world. But Jhanvi and Sridevi were special together. Sridevi used to put her to bed every night, even through her teen years. She would make her special meals and feed her by hand. They were hardly every separated. This launch was the first time Jhanvi was stepping out on her own, and even that was with her mother’s guidance and approval and constant presence. And suddenly she was gone and Jhanvi had nowhere else to turn. And her mysterious big brother was suddenly there.

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Jhanvi wrapped up in Sridevi

From Arjun’s side, he said that the girls were nothing in his life. But from Jhanvi’s side, this was all she wanted in life. Her whole life she knew about her big brother, out there in the world somewhere. About a larger family beyond her mother and sister and often absent father. She wanted to know about him, wanted to be loved the way she could see him love her half-sister Anshula from a distance at family gatherings. And suddenly, he was here!!! And he said he would always be here, and he gave her his phone number and she could call him any time, and he would send presents or show up just out of the blue, and he would call and ask how things were going, and encourage her, and tell her he understood, and just be there. Her father was still in a fog of grief, her mother was gone, her little sister was shut down, but she had this wonderful amazing perfect brother who was always going to be there and take care of her.

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I don’t know what kind of personal growth allows someone to take on responsibility for two teenage girls they barely know, and a father who abandoned them, just because there is no one else to do it. But I am not surprised that that same personal growth lead Arjun to decide that his secret middle-aged divorcee girlfriend shouldn’t be secret any more, that she was going to be the woman he married and loved forever and he didn’t care what anyone else thought about it. I imagine they are waiting for Malaika’s son to graduate high school and move out, but once that happens, Arjun and Malaika are going to be married. Despite the age difference, despite the religious difference, despite her divorce, it’s going to happen.

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So that’s Arjun Kapoor. A semi-talented actor, and an amazing human being. I don’t much care what film role he takes next, but I am fascinated to see what he does next.

(and if you feel the need to sob embarrassingly at work, here is the report on the Jhanvi-Arjun Koffee https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2018/11/25/katching-up-with-koffee-janhvi-and-arjun-get-ready-to-want-to-give-them-both-a-big-hug/ )

29 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Arjun Kapoor, An Average Actor and an Amazing Human Being (warning: you will cry)

    • Stories I didn’t include: Arjun’s nickname was “Chachu”, for “uncle”. Because when he was little, Anil started calling him that, saying he was too serious like he was the uncle and Anil was the child. Picturing serious little Arjun, and goofy uncle Anil trying to get him to crack a smile.

      From the Koffee episode, Karan asked what Arjun’s first question would be if he woke up from a 20 year coma, “Where’s Anshula?”

      And that Arjun went to Dubai to be with Boney, because he knew his mother would have wanted him to do that, would have said “of course, go to your father”.

      On Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 4:03 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  1. I hate the fact that Boney, like most men who leave and start new families gets his son back even though he doesn’t deserve him. Arjun really is the better man. Why on earth would Arpita drop him for that limp fellow she married? He seems to have not much character at all. And I wonder what Salman thinks of his protoge dating his ex-sister in law…
    But you are right. Arjun is an okay actor and a steller human.

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    • I give Arpita a pass, and she probably made the right decision, it was the first relationship for both of them and they have both changed into very different people since then. Isn’t it funny that Arjun ended up with Malaika though? It was years after the Arpita break up, I’m assuming he knew her through Arpita originally but then somehow it turned into a thing all on its own after she separated from Arbaaz, And so far as I can tell, the Khan family are thrilled with it. Arjun’s a nice guy, Malaika’s marriage fell apart through no fault of her own and she is still the mother of their grandson/nephew, if they can be happy together, why not?

      On Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 9:42 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Yeah, I expect when Malaika and Arjun get married, there is a good chance the Khans will all be invited. Might even host the wedding.

          On Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 10:18 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I also respect Arjun for being okay with not having children. I guess as head of household he already has a lot of responsibility and doesn’t feel like he needs to have children but it’s a very unconventional choice and kudos to him for having the self-knowledge to understand it and the strength to be open about it.

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          • And kudos to him for finding a partner who feels the same way. I mean, I’m assuming. When he and Malaika got together, she was over 40 and already had a teenage son. Common sense says that she probably didn’t want/need more children. I’m glad they were both wise enough to find a partner where this wouldn’t be an issue.

            We were talking about the photos from Sonam’s wedding with Arjun there with all his sisters, and the realization that his sisters are going to be the next to be married. That is, over the next decade or more, Arjun is going to have to organize and host 3 massive expensive complicated weddings. That alone would take up any time and energy that could go to his own children, and that’s just one aspect of parenting these girls. They all have to get through starting their careers, stay healthy, stay happy, finish school (in the case of Khushi), have a place to live, and on and on and on, and Arjun is the primary person responsible for that. And when it is all over and they are more or less settled and secure in life, he’s going to be well over 40.

            On Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 10:24 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Oh man! And looking at the date, he wrote that initially because he was a little boy trying to “fix” things after the divorce, to get his mother to stop crying and smile again.

      On Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 4:30 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • His story is so familiar, and yet different. The little boy who sees his parents divorce and takes it all on himself, that I have seen over and over again in real life. But growing into someone who can take responsibility for his estranged little sisters, and his broken down father, that is truly remarkable.

      One thing that struck me after I wrote this, his first girlfriend Arpita was the same as his little sisters. She was Salim and Helen’s daughter, the much younger sibling of Salim and Salma’s kids. I wonder if, on some level, he started dating her because he was thinking about his own estranged sisters. In the same way that Malaika (divorced first wife raising a child alone) is a little bit similar to his mother. Not like it is unhealthy or anything, I just wonder if maybe his close relationship with Arpita is a sign that, on some subconscious level, he has been wondering about Jhanvi and Khushi their whole lives.

      On Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 10:19 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • Good point. That combination of gaping wound from abandonment, and guilt for not being grateful for all the other people who love you (Arpita and her adopted family, Arjun and his very loving and present uncles and aunts and grandparents). Just generally feeling like you don’t deserve the love you are getting because there must be something innately wrong with you if your parent left.

          On Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 2:19 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I’ve been hearing rumors about Arjun and Maliaka for at least 10 years now. They did not get together after she separated from Arbaaz. They had been having an affair for a long time before it.

    I wouldn’t say Arjun is an amazing human being. He’s a normal person with some good and bad just like all of us. It’s a shame that he did almost the same thing that he was so angry at his father and Sridevi for. Perhaps the Maliaka relationship finally made him understand his Dad and let go of the past anger which is why he can be there now for him and the girls.

    Salman is also not “okay” with the situation. It’s well known that Salman avoids Arjun now. He is even banned from promoting his movies on shows like The Kapil Sharma Show because Salman is the producer and won’t let Arjun come on.

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    • As I say in the disclaimer, this is how it looks to me based on the information I have. To check my memory, I just looked at my email history, and I sent a message to a friend in February 2016 saying “OMG, I’ve been seeing rumors that Arjun and Malaika are together”. So at least my memory is that the story started going around about the end of 2015, which is when Malaika and Arbaaz’s marriage was over (she had already moved out I think, they filed for separation in 2016). I don’t think it could have been a 10 year rumor, because I’m not sure if anyone knew who Arjun was 10 years ago, his first movie didn’t come out until 2012. At the most, maybe a 7 year rumor?

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      • I think they themselves released more public rumors around 2016 because they were slowly planning on coming out. Now they could do it because Maliaka was officially separating. But whispers and blind items about them have been around for a long, long time at least since his first movie. I had dismissed it because it sounded too crazy to me back then.

        This is exactly how whispers about Rani and Aditya Chopra were also. They were rumored to be together very long before his separation from Payal and Rani would go hoarse crying everywhere that it was not true. They themselves started strategically leaking things after the divorce to get people used to the idea while still outwardly pretending they were just friends.

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  3. Awe. I agree, that I like Arjun so much as a person. This definitely made me tear up.

    Couple things to add: I am not sure if Salman is okay with Malaika and Arjun. In usual Salman fashion, when he doesn’t like them he ignores them like they don’t exist and that is essentially how I see him around Arjun. There are videos from multiple public events where you could see Salman ignoring Arjun, which is very different from how he was previously with him. Additionally, there were rumors from last year that Boney reached out to Salman to do a sequal to either No Entry or Wanted and Salman refused to work with him and then gave out a random snarky statement to the media. Here is an article: https://www.pinkvilla.com/entertainment/news/here-s-what-boney-kapoor-has-say-after-salman-khan-says-no-his-projects-wanted-2-and-no-entry-mein-entry-416038.

    Sanjay was still living at “home” when Boney left and was essentially more of a father figure to him than Boney. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/news/Sanjay-Kapoor-Arjuns-mother-Mona-and-I-shared-a-special-bond/articleshow/45659697.cms.

    Finally, in general, I have so many issues with Boney. To me, he just used his family. He never paid Anil for any of the “home” productions and gave exhorbitant amount of money and favors to Sridevi.Yet, Boney also controlled all of Anil and Sanjay finances and was Anil’s manager until 1998/9. It seems like at some point Anil realized this was a bad idea and hired a new manager and started asking his due (many times upfront). I have a feeling that is likely why Anil rejected Sanjay when Sanjay asked him to be in a movie he was looking to produce. When Sanjay was going to approach Anil with a script, Anil’s manager explicitly told Sanjay that when he meets Anil with the script, he should also have a cheque with him.

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      • Yes! Get a nice house with rooms for Jhanvi and Khushi and Malaika’s son when they need to stay over, and let Anshula move in with them, and be happy forever and ever, and show up at award shows 20 years from now and have us all go “oh how sweet that nice older couple is”.

        On Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 2:16 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Thank you for the background! Just looking at Arjun’s career, it seems like his uncles have been far more helpful and supportive than his father. Anil helped him in Mubarrakan, Sanjay produced Tevar, and just general I feel like I have seen them around him more than Boney. From his more recent interviews, talking about how things are “better” post-Sridevi’s death, it sounds like Boney really abandoned him before that.

      The Kapoors (this branch at least) have seemed like such a generally stable and supportive family, it feels like Anil and Sanjay have been very present and loving uncles for Arjun, and extremely loving and involved parents to their own children. It’s really Boney who is the odd one out, not really present for anyone besides Sridevi. I generally don’t believe the revisionist history that “Boney loved Sridevi all along and was forced to marry Mona”, but the one thing that makes me think there is a slight chance it is true is that, alone out of all his family, he seems to have not fully committed to either his first marriage or his first batch of children.

      On Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 1:58 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I don’t know much about Boney and Sridevi marriage and life, but those few things I heard make me think they were a strange family. Like this fact that one daughter was a mommy’s girl and the other daddy’s. I have only one child but I find it strange. And especially what I heard after Sridevi’s death, that her daughter were worried to leave her alone, that she wasn’t able to take care of herself etc.Or that boney only now learns how to be a dad. Not the best father or person for sure.

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        • That’s where, in some ways, I think Arjun might have been luckier than his little sisters. It sounds like he had a wonderful solid supportive mother, and a “normal” childhood. His father may not have been around much, but he had his uncles and his grandparents and his cousins and just a more “normal” life than his little sisters might have had, if nothing else because their mother was such a major star they didn’t have the luxury of just doing a lot of “normal” things.

          On Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 2:44 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. This is a great write up, especially Arjun’s early years – you’re right it has really changed the person he became. He could’ve also gone the Sanjay Dutt way, but chose to take responsibility for himself and Anshula. But I do disagree about him and Malaika, the first rumor of Arjun and Malaika came up around 2012ish, around when Ishaqzaade released, so I’m pretty sure Arjun and Malaika were seeing each other much before the divorce cmae through. Salman is totally not okay with them coming out as couple also – he ignores Arjun completely and refuses to get him on Big Boss. During Sonam’s wedding too, it was pretty obvious that Salman was ignoring him.
    Now its his personal life and he can do what he wants – but I do think he’s quite lazy as an actor. He seems bored and disinterested on screen and honestly seems like the weakest link in Panipat. It’s also a high bar to match for him because Ranveer was really good n Bajirao, so people are obviously going to compare the two of them.

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    • Maybe Arjun truly doesn’t want to act? Maybe he will switch back to directing or producing and suddenly have all the passion we are missing in his acting?

      On Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 2:43 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • That’s what I don’t understand. He knows how to act, but in his last movies he doesn’t even try. I’m so biased, I love him in everything. I even think Half girlfriend was a beautiful, touching love story, but even I can see he doesn’t give his best. But why? If you are doing a film, do it well, or at least try.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s also not very Kapoor-y, or at least his branch. Sanjay’s been in a lot of terrible cameo roles in the past 20 years, and Anil has done everything on earth, but they both give 110% to each role. Sonam and Harsh do too, they may be miss-cast sometimes, but at least you feel like they are in there trying.

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      • Exactly!! He doesn’t even try anymore – just expects his off screen persona and interviews to do the job. I think Half Girlfriend could’ve been marginally better if it had a more committed actor, even Shradha was better than he was!

        With the choice filmmakers have today, Arjun definitely is not someone who should be on anyone’s top of mind. Also, I sense him just becoming defensive instead of working on his acting.

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