"I think we are here to only learn in this lifetime. When you make a terrible mistake, laugh at it, reflect on why you did it and move forward," says Varun Kapoor as he switches on his self-reflectory mode. The lad recently made his big screen debut with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's period drama Gangubai Kathiawadi.
With hit TV soaps like Na Aana Is Des Laado, Saraswatichandra and Swaragini to his credit, this charmer from the small tube is exhilarated about his new journey and the challenges which lie ahead.
Varun Kapoor in an exclusive tête-à-tête with Filmibeat, gets candid about sharing screen space with Alia Bhatt, unlearning things while making his big screen transition, the change he wishes to see in the television industry, an unfortunate incident which turned his life upside down and much more.
Excerpts from the chat...
'Gangubai Kathiawadi Was A Big Shift For Me In Terms Of My Image'
Q. You made your big screen debut this year with Gangubai Kathiawadi where you got to essay the role of this bad boy in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's cinematic world. Were you surprised when the makers roped you in to play Ramnik which is quite a departure from the boy-next-door image which you had on small screen?
A. Yes, I was surprised that Bhansali Sir could see me playing such a character. It's good for me as an actor and my career as well because this breaks the image immediately and that too coming on big screen with such a role, I think it somewhere left an impact on people in both ways which is fine. But for me as an actor, it's a big shift in terms of my image and transition from small screen to big screen. That worked for me.
I feel this is the beginning of many more new things to come. There will be new challenges to face in playing new characters and completely break out of my shell that I was in while I was doing other work before Gangubai Kathiawadi.
Q. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a filmmaker who believes that a director's job is to make his actors realize their potential. In fact, recently when I spoke to Shantanu Maheshwari, he too told me that Bhansali is someone who does a lot of improvisations and likes to add and subtract things on the go. What was your observation when you worked with him on this film?
A. For the first scene that we had to shoot, we had done a couple of readings before. The usual process is like once you do the reading and before you go on the sets, you prepare and learn your lines. So, I had done that and knew my lines in and out. And then, the very first day when I went on the sets, the lines had changed. So, it's so difficult to unlearn rather than learn something new. While performing, I kept going back to those old lines. Then I realized that with Bhansali sir, you never know what will happen next. So, you should never go fully prepared because you don't know what's going to happen next and what he'll tell you to do.
He would keep changing things till the last scene. With every take, he has this instinctual urge to keep changing and that somehow changes the whole scene.
You have to go with an open mind and be very flexible on the sets. You have to just give in to his process, trust yourself and go with the flow. It's okay if you miss out here and there. You can grab the moment in the next take. So, it was a good learning for me. It taught me to be prepared in the bigger scheme of things and the whole picture that he had visualized. If you get that right, then you know that the game is yours.
'Alia Bhatt Is So Effortless That Sometimes You Are Taken Aback When You Are Performing With Her'
Q. You shot all your scenes in the film with Alia Bhatt. She is known to be someone who is instinctive and easily transforms into her character once the camera rolls. What was the creative energy like when you performed your scenes with her. Were you intimated by her since she is a senior actor having done more films and this was your big screen debut?
A. I was a bit intimidated. But honestly, she never made me feel that she was a superstar and this was my first project on a film set. So, I never felt that way. But the thing about her is that she is so quick with what she does and so effortless that it takes you aback sometimes when you are performing. You are like, 'Oh she just did it' and you hardly realize that she did it in a way. I think that's where her creative genius lies and that too at such a young age. She has done a lot of preparation and worked immensely. As an actor when you watch her performing right in front of you, you realize how much hard work she must have put in.
It's not easy especially when you are working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, because there are so many things that will be added and you have to be very flexible. You have to be so courageous and confident which she is, and that's why we see what she has done on screen. So, I totally applaud her.
Q. Like you mentioned that she was very confident while performing her scenes, did that also inspired you to put your best foot forward? When a scene features two actors, both the actors need to complement each other otherwise the scenes may fall flat...
A. As an actor, once you enter the sets and are in front of the camera, there are so many people behind the camera and so many things happening at the same time. It's a crazy world. On a Bhansali set, it gets even more crazier (laughs).
So, what I told myself was that I only need to hold my ground. I know she's Alia Bhatt, I know there's Sanjay Sir who is directing me but what I had to do was to only hold that moment and that ground and then see what happens. If the take isn't good, you always have the option of doing one more take. But I only had to hold that moment, ground myself to what I was doing and go ahead with that.
'I Don't Agree That TV Actors Don't Have The Skills Required For Films'
Q. I recall one of your interviews where you said that a TV star who is planning a big screen move needs to prepare himself for his new career. You also mentioned that once you start doing films, it's going to be a new struggle for you. Was the transition difficult for you because the working style is quite different in both the mediums? Television is more sort of episodic where you get your scripts and dialogues at the last minute and need to adapt to various changes including replacement of actors whereas things are well-defined and organized in films...
A. Yes, the transition was tough. That's what took a lot of time for me. I don't consider the two years of pandemic. I will leave them out of my career (laughs). But again, the lockdown did help me in a way where I had so much time for myself to go back and learn from the beginning.
I think there is a different mindset when it comes to TV actors and actresses. That's where the basic difference is. I don't agree that they don't have the skills. We do have the skills. We do shoots day in and day out in front of the camera. We are performing for days and days and months and months. That's fantastic. I mean what better things can you ask for. But then somewhere, you got to go back and unlearn what you have done and let everything go. That was very challenging for me.
I would say that if TV actors are thinking, 'Hum TV actors hain, hum film mein cast nahin hoge', aisa bilkul bhi nahin hain. That's not true. People are ready to accept you. The only thing is that you have to bring yourself to the table completely. You just have to let go of whatever you have achieved or done. If you can do that and bring a proper skill set then yes, you are there and people will cast you.
Q. In your small screen career which spans almost a decade, you have been a part of many successful TV soaps like Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil, Na Aana Is Des Laado, Saraswatichandra (which was produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali), Swaragini and many others. During that period, were you also simultaneously auditioning for films? If yes, then how did you deal with rejections that came your way?
A. I didn't simultaneously do that. I knew that I had to stop one to get onto the other, because the kind of work that films need is totally different than what it is on television.
Though it's only acting at the end of the day, it's not very different but the skill sets and the delivery system are a little different. The way you think and go in an audition room is different. So then, I had to adapt to that. For that, I knew that I had to leave one to get fully into the other medium. Basically, I just realized the saying that unlearning is more different that learning. So, I just had to keep on unlearning and unlearning.
'TV Industry Needs To Change In Terms Of Its Way Of Working Where Actors Can Prepare More & Have Enough Time To Do What They Want To Do'
Q. You have been a part of the television industry for a long period of time. Do you feel Indian TV shows need to mature now considering they have OTT platforms for competition?
A. Times are changing. People's mindsets are changing. They are now exposed to worldwide cinema and web shows and different kinds of content; be it very dark, humour, comedy or thriller. There are stories from small countries to big countries. So, we have all kinds of stories right now. That's happening and people are constantly craving for something new and different all the time. You have that at the click of a button now. It has changed to that extent.
So with that, I do think that television needs to change a little bit. At least the way of working needs to change a little bit where an actor can prepare more and has enough time to do what he wants to do. So in that way, it's very stressful for actors and the whole team because you have a delivery system which has to go from Monday to Friday. It's not a joke. Five episodes a week demands a lot from each and everyone on the set. I don't know if we can work around that. That would do wonders for everyone.
Q. How open are you to taking up reality shows? In fact, your Swaragini co-star Tejasswi Prakash recently participated in the reality show Bigg Boss and even won it.
A. For me, the happy place is to be on the set, in front of the camera, playing a character and performing. Nothing else would make me happier than that. So, I think I want to keep improving my skills. I want to learn and become a better actor with each project that I do. That's what my intentions are. My goal is to play different characters.
'An Actor Can't Achieve Much Without Planning And Strategy'
Q. Post Gangubai Kathiawadi, how are you planning your career from here onwards. Are you somebody who takes one day at a time or someone who likes to keep long term goals?
A. I have learnt that in due course of time, you need to have a goal and a strategy as an actor. It's important to have a strategy and plan it how you want to do it. It will not happen exactly the way you want it but then you know, if you plan and strategize it, you will get somewhere at least. Without planning and strategy, I don't think as an actor, you can achieve much.
So that's what I have learnt and I am looking to do more work in the lines of what I have done now. That's what my goal is. Of course, I had a vision for myself. That's why I took time off from what I was doing and I tried myself for films and web. I think hopefully, there's more things to come very soon
Q. In retrospect, when you look back at your journey as a young boy from Ahmedabad to being a part of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, are you content with how things have shaped up for you?
A. Absolutely, I wouldn't have want it any other way. Being from a middle-class family in Ahmedabad, coming to Mumbai and surviving here itself is a task. Growing from there, learning from there...the thing about me is that I am not afraid to learn anything new. I might take time, but then once I decide that I have to learn something, I will somehow manage to do that. I will take help from people; my friends, my teachers and gurus; whoever it is. I am not afraid to ask. So I think that's what keeps me going.
I don't know how it (Gangubai Kathiawadi) happened. I never thought, 'Oh I will only wish for a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film'. But then, I kept trying and trying. I think I was at the right place at the right time (laughs). So, it's very important as an actor to be at the right place at the right time. I think my persistence took me there. It all worked out at the end. But I think it's only the beginning. I have a long way to go. I have so much to learn. There are so many talented actors, directors and writers. I hope that they see something in me and start trusting me more.
'My Brother's Demise In A Plane Crash Completely Turned My Life Upside Down'
Q. In your decade long journey, which are that biggest lesson that you learnt and feel that it changed you as a person and helped you to stay strong when things weren't going in your way?
A. I lost my brother in a plane crash in Sydney on November 4, 2020. That completely turned my life upside down in many ways. So until then, I was very serious about everything; what I had to do and how I had to do.
But after that incident, once I came out of it, I mean you never let that go. But then, I realized that life is so uncertain, all you can do is laugh at all your mistakes, you can laugh at every thing wrong that you do, you could laugh at what life gives you and still keep going. That's my takeaway from what happened. No matter what, you should be able to laugh at yourself, be able to enjoy and keep moving and learning.