From model to actor to performer… it’s been a long and bumpy ride for Arjun Rampal. The actor discusses his evolution as an actor and his next release D-Day with Soumita Sengupta
I was shooting for Inkaar and Nikhil would often visit the sets as he is good friends with director Sudhir Mishra. That’s how I bonded with him. One day, he told me he had an interesting script. He said if the Americans could kill Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, why couldn’t Indians get into Pakistan and get India’s most wanted man? I loved the idea.
But Nikhil Advani has always made romantic films. Did you have any reservations about this film?
I was apprehensive when he told me he wanted to make a thriller and asked him if he could pull it off. He said he would shoot it realistically. When he finished the script, it became a human story more than an action thriller – the story of four agents on a mission to get the job done.
Nikhil got Hollywood’s biggest action director Tom Struthers to do the stunts. Then we went through extensive training, how to hold a gun, how to fire a gun, and what if the bullet gets jammed, how to fire non-stop. We used to clock 200-300 punches without stopping for hours to get the posture perfect. The whole idea was that if a layman watches the film, he should be impressed. And if a trained guy watches it, he would know that these guys knew what they were doing. That is the level of credibility the action in the film delivers.
You guys also met some ex-RAW agents. What interesting stunts have you learnt?
We’ve seen over-the-top action in Bollywood but in D-Day you will see real action. Like if I bend someone’s wrist, he will fall down. This is something people do not know… grips, punch and block, where to hit. If I am sitting down and I feel someone suspicious is behind me, I cannot turn around. So if I have a spoon, I pick it up or another metallic object to get an idea of what that person is up to. If you need to get in touch with someone but can’t send them an email which could be intercepted, I could place an ad in the newspaper with a hidden message.
From being a model to a good-looking hero, the industry has taken you seriously and you’re working with directors like Prakash Jha and Madhur Bhandarkar. What has this industry taught you?
I am being offered meaty roles these days. I think there are two kinds of actors who are remembered for their style – one type has looks and the other works on their characters and make their character popular, which happened with me in Rock On!!
I like to do other stuff also but I have somehow started enjoying realistic films. I don’t like dry movies but it should have entertainment too. My movie should say something.
When I started my career, there were many other models also who started out with me but not everyone stayed in the industry. I think that’s because I have been patient. I have been determined and focused and love what I do. If I hadn’t been through some bad times, I would never have enjoyed the good days. It’s not the box office that determines your career; it’s when you watch yourself on screen and know that your work has really come out well.
Has it ever happened to you that a director has failed to translate his vision on celluloid? How have you dealt with it?
Yes, it happens but that is when a team is not a team. The motivation is not the same or the director is not clear when showing you what he wants. They are not in sync. This has happened with me many times but you still give it your best good shot. It’s quite difficult because then the faith is broken. But with Nikhil, this was not the case. He was very passionate about the script and the more I got to know him, the more I liked his work. I always look at the level of honesty and integrity someone invests in his work. Nikhil is a patriot at heart.
Yes, it’s a patriotic film because it’s about the dream of more than a billon people. Nikhil has delivered on almost all the promises he made. Like when he said he would get Tom Struthers, the number one action director, he did. I thought he was bluffing because Tom’s biggest film The Dark Knight Rises was releasing at the time. In fact, Tom was here in India when The Dark Knight released. Nikhil met him and convinced him with his script. This increases your credibility, and that of the script. Your faith in the director increases. When a director like Christopher Nolan refuses to work without Tom Struthers and Nikhil gets him to do the action of your film, it’s great.
Nikhil approached Irrfan, who is a very choosy actor. Then he brought in Rishi Kapoor, who was a chocolate-boy hero in his time but is now playing the bad guy.
You seem very confident about the film.
(Laughs) We all had a wonderful time doing this film. There were so many new experiences. Nikhil has given sweat and blood to this film.
There was no inspiration, there is no similarity. Yes, Zero Dark Thirty is somewhat similar but we didn’t watch that movie because we were busy shooting our film when it released. Secondly, that film is based on a real incident and ours is fiction. From the genre angle, I think it will match The Bourne Ultimatum or The Bourne Identity and is mixed with Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.
Why does Bollywood always glorify gangsters, when we know they are not heroes?
In D-Day, we are not glorifying a gangster; we are getting the gangster to India. I think our industry is intrigued by them because they are intriguing characters. You haven’t seen Dawood Ibrahim for the last 20 years, but when we got to know that his daughter was getting married in Pakistan, everyone thought they could arrest him there. But that didn’t happen. They play on people’s imaginations and we make them heroes.
How would you describe your co-stars in the film?
Sree Swara is unbelievable. Chandan Roy Sanyal is mind-blowing, Akash Dahiya is fantastic. Huma Qureshi has got a fantastic part to play. Irrfan, a mature actor, can do one scene in 10 different ways. Rishi sir comes from a different school of acting but what great persona he has! Everyone is so passionate about their work. Shruti Haasan is very pretty. When you watch everyone else working so hard to get into their characters, it takes your own energy to another level. And Nikhil as a director was fantastic. You know, there were not many retakes because too many retakes makes it look mechanical.