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"It was a very emotionally demanding film"

Back with his second film, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, actor Harshvardhan Kapoor talks excitedly to Team
Box Office India about the upcoming release.

How did this journey begin for you?

It began in 2012. I had returned from college, where I studied writing and acting for four years. I had been in touch with Vikram (director Vikramaditya Motwane) since Udaan, which I had watched when I was very young. I really liked the film. I was in touch with Anurag (Kashyap) and Vikram and used to talk to them quite frequently. I went to Vikram’s office one day and I was talking about a story that I had written. While I was talking, he had an idea. I get a little passionate when I talk. Then he said to Vikas (Bahl) and Anurag, “Why don’t we audition Harsh for Bhavesh Joshi Superhero?”

This was in 2012, way before Mirzya and way before even Lootera released. He told me that he was making his next film after Lootera called Bhavesh Joshi Superhero and asked me to audition for it. I told him that I had just come back and I didn’t know if I was ready for auditions and if I was ready as an actor. He said to me, “The kind of relationship that we have, if I feel that you can improve on certain things, I can be very honest with you and tell you, ‘Let’s do that.’ Why don’t you take the scenes, read them and tell us what do you think?” So, I took the scenes, read them and loved them. Then, I became very determined to make it my first film. Thereafter, I started preparing for the auditions.

Eventually, I went to Mukesh Chhabra and I did an audition. Vikram said to me, ‘You know, you are really good, but you are too raw because you don’t have any film experience.’ The character was quite different at that time and when you see the film, you will realise that it is not an easy role to play at all. He said, ‘Why don’t you do some work and come back later? We will work on something else.’

Then, they signed Imran Khan at that time – six years ago. In 2013, I was signed for Rakeysh Mehra’s film. I kept reaching out to Vikram because that script was amazing. I really thought that it could be phenomenal and the best film of his career. It was a great role for a young actor. But, for some reason, the film kept getting stalled… actors kept leaving the film or the producers kept changing.

First, Imran was supposed to do it, but then he did not. It had a budget of 20-25 crore at the time. They could not raise the money. Then, they got Sidharth Malhotra on board but he went on to something else. That didn’t work out either. I kept reaching out to Vikram during this process. Meanwhile, I got busy with Mirzya. Finally, in 2016, I told him that I still wanted to do it. He said to me, ‘Why don’t you show me some rushes from Mirzya?’ I said, ‘How can I do that? There is not even a line-up right now. It is just footage on the computer.’ Still, he insisted. So, I called up Rakeysh sir and requested him to show the footage to Vikram because I really wanted to do this film. Vikram went across to Rakeysh sir’s office. He saw the rushes and called me and said, ‘Let’s make the film.’

I totally believe this is my fate. I wanted this to be my debut film. I really did, because I feel it has got a lot of connect. I feel it is very palatable for the general public. The theme is very relatable. The theme of Mirzya was very beautiful but abstract. It was about illogical love and about the lover and the loved one and how they keep exchanging roles. This is more about doing the right thing, making the right choice, being brave and trying to bring about change by bringing change within yourself. These are things that everybody identifies with.

At some level, it is also a film about youth and rebellion. It has elements of action, music and romance. These are things that our audience really enjoys. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero takes inspiration from classic Bollywood films like Arjun and Nayak. It takes from them and does something totally different. It has a vigilante kind of thing going on. That is how it happened. It was a 5-6 year journey.

Do you think the delay was a blessing in disguise because you got more time to prepare for the film?

Yes. If I hadn’t done Mirzya, then I would not have been able to do this film because when you do such an elaborate film as an actor, you start learning how to face cameras, you know what it is like to be on a movie set, you become more comfortable and confident with your craft. After spending so much time with Rakeysh Mehra and Gulzar, there was a lot of growth. I think I kept getting better through the shoot of Bhavesh Joshi Superhero. I believe that whatever is meant to happen, will happen.

Mirzya and Bhavesh Joshi Superhero are very different films. What was the preparation like to get out of that mind space and enter this one?

I took a very long time to get out of Mirzya because I spent so much time working on it. We all worked really hard.  The film is a polarising one. You either get into it and enjoy it for what it is or you just don’t like it; but you can’t deny the ambition and the effort. I killed myself to make that film possible. I had never been on a horse before. Suddenly, I was galloping around and shooting arrows and learning how to play polo.

I changed the way I look. I grew my hair. I didn’t leave any stone unturned. I did all this at such a young age. It was like falling in love for the first time. And then when you are heartbroken, it is very difficult to recover. So it took me some time. But, the good thing was I started shooting for Bhavesh Joshi Superhero before Mirzya released. I started shooting in June, 2016. We shot until September, and then I went to promote Mirzya. In November, I went back. In a way, not sitting around helped. It took me time. Vikram really helped and then eventually I went into it.

Apart from the emotional toll, how much physical preparation went into this film?

It is a film where the central character is not a born fighter. He is an ordinary guy who learns how to fight. I did mixed martial arts for 6-8 months. It was kind of a very raw fighting style and you see a little of it in the trailer. There are those shots on the bridge with sticks and everything. We had an action director from France named Cyril. We had sequences which we choreographed. I learnt the choreography. I worked very hard.

Vikramaditya Motwane said the film was drawn from real-life incidents. Can you shed some light on that?

The script is such a good one because it comes from a very personal place. It is reflective of a lot of things that have happened to Vikram in his own life, even the smallest of things. Like, he grew up in Khar, and there was this guy who always used to drive into a no-entry zone and it used to really upset him. At one point, when Vikram went to make his passport, they gave him the run-around. Things like this left him feeling very frustrated.

There are a lot of things that frustrate us when you live in Bombay for so long. But, we become complacent and get used to it. Then, for instance, if you go abroad for a couple of months – although I am sure they have their own problems – and then come back and think, ‘Oh my God, this place is disorganised and chaotic.’ Four days later, you are back to being the person you were before leaving.

This film explores that. It is about a guy who is desperate to do the right thing. It is like fantasy. We all have that feeling. When we are driving a car in Bombay and there is a red light and someone is constantly honking, you wish you could put on a mask and take a stick and whack him. The film is inspired by that real feeling and emotion. We have the potential to be one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world but we lack in infrastructure, organisation and planning. This is mainly due to corruption, which is pulling back the city and hence the nation. The film explores those things.

The film took a while to materialise. How has the association been during this process with Vikramaditya Motwane?

Oh, it was very tough. He is very demanding. I have not just done a Vikramaditya Motwane film; I have just done Vikramaditya Motwane’s most ambitious film. Trapped must have been shot in 24 days; Udaan in 35 days; and this film was shot in 90 days. It was really tough for me. It is not only a physically strenuous film; it was also a very emotionally demanding film. Sometimes, action films are out-and-out masala entertainers and you really have to focus on that. Even in dramas like Trapped, it is all about the performance.

But, Bhavesh Joshi is a combination of both films and Vikram doesn’t settle for anything but the best. So, every day on the sets you feel completely exhausted. He takes everything that you have and still never tells you that it is good enough. You keep pushing and pushing to a point where you feel tired. And when you are tired, you stop thinking because you are exhausted. And then it becomes real and natural. Let me give you an example. There is a scene in the trailer where you see me punching this metal surface, that is actually metal, and I would keep asking the ADs why are you guys hurting me? And they would tell me that he wants to see the pain on your face, he wants you to feel like that.

We were doing some dojo sequences on the terrace of the Tulip Star (Hotel), which is an abandoned hotel that has not been cared for a long time. I slipped and scraped my arm and, after that, I had to punch the fridge. I asked them to cover my wound but they said to maintain continuity, they could not do it. So, I went ahead with an open wound.

He really wants you to feel the situation you are in. It is like what you see is what you get. It is not a set where an actor feels that he should be pampered all the time by the crew, the actors are just one of the crew members. It is good, in a way. I have literally poured blood and sweat into both my films. They aren’t typical Hindi films where you are treated like a star. You are one of the crew and you are coming together, and it is like an independent spirit of filmmaking, he has taken that spirit and has made it in a much bigger way.

The other vigilante dramas that we have seen in Hindi cinema feature larger-than-life figures. What we see in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is a common man trying to combat corruption. Is this an attempt to redefine the genre?

When the teaser of the film released, it did not give away much. A lot of people felt that the film was of a certain kind but it is actually nothing like what you’ve seen before. It is from Vikramaditya Motwane’s head, it is not drawn from here and there, it is very personal to him. So, I don’t know whether it will turn out to be a genre turner. Only if people like it, it kind of becomes that.

We have attempted to do something very real, where you can feel that you too could become Bhavesh Joshi. The idea behind the film is to make the audience feel that there is a Bhavesh Joshi within us, and that it is the choices we make that define us.

The film’s title is a common name which was intentional. It is almost like ‘Aam admi superhero’. So in terms of its treatment, the film is very different. Vikram is brilliant in visually portraying things with limited resources. You will see some sequences in terms of action that you have not seen before, and on a 20-crore budget, because he is habituated to making great films on a budget of 2-3 crore. It is cool and I hope it does something for the genre.

Do you feel the title is a little misleading as the audience might expect superpowers in the film?

I don’t think that will happen if you have watched the trailer, teaser and the songs. The idea is to get the audience emotionally involved while watching the film.

The story is about a young man fighting injustice faced by the common man but the youth today don’t seem to care very much about societal problems. Will they be able to relate to the film?

It is very difficult to make sweeping statements about the youth. We come from different socio-economic backgrounds, and I feel people who are privileged, like me, tend to be a little more laidback. But, I think people from the middle class face different kinds of problems than the ones I face; they still really care, they want to fight and want things to change. I think the film is a step towards that. The emotion in the film is very irreversible, so after the release of the film, I feel it will catch on among the youth even in smaller cities.

You mentioned that you come from a privileged background. How did you get into the headspace of the average, common man?

He is a middle-class guy, I would say, a guy from Goregaon. What we did was I left my house, I stopped living in my house. My co-star and I lived in an apartment in Shastri Nagar that the production rented for us. So, for about three months, I did not go home, which I think really helped. I was living in a very basic kind of way. Plus, I was living with him, which brought us a lot closer. It helped us bond well and, when you see us on-screen, it seems like we have been friends for a long time.

This film captures Bombay in its entirety. We have shot in slums like Dharavi, to the finest restaurants in Lower Parel, like Bombay Canteen and the India Bulls building, where the finest offices are, to having my face on the carpet of Tulip Star, which hasn’t been cleaned for at least 20 years. There are no sets or green screens, so it definitely makes you feel like you are the character.

You started with this film six years ago, and here you are waiting for its release. When you look at the final product, how do you feel?

I do not know what is going to happen but, in my eyes, it is a masterpiece, it is a proper neo-noir vigilante drama masterpiece. It is a nice, incredibly shot, slow-burning, dramatic film. It has that Vikramaditya Motwane stamp.

These are the kinds of films I want to do. I can take this film and show it to anybody in the film industry and say ‘it is my film and I am proud of it’. I can’t say anything about it in terms of numbers, but as an actor, not just with this film… In Mirzya, we couldn’t tie the narrative in the most coherent way possible, but its elements of shot compositions, music and its lyrical narrative are a lot to admire. I feel that I have done two films in my mid-20s, two films with phenomenal directors, some of the best directors in India. I have done two of the most ambitious films.

There is a lot being said about the brother-sister clash in the media with your film releasing along with Sonam Kapoor’s Veere Di Wedding next week. But, both of you have been very cool about it.

We wanted to release the film on May 25 since a very long time. The idea behind that was also that the film deals with the water mafia. We wanted to release it in peak summer when people face these problems. But, a couple of things happened. First, we released our trailer only on May 2 and we could not get our music out due to creative reasons, till the 16th or 17th that is when Chawanprash came out. That was too short a window to put out all the other great material we had.

We released Tafree recently. We have Kasam coming out and the dialogue and action cards. So, we couldn’t really build our promotion campaign for one. And when you release the film overseas, you have to send the DCP ten days in advance, which Vikram was not ready with. 

Three, we didn’t think Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran was going to release. Four, we had no idea about Star Wars till the very end. We didn’t expect Raazi to become such a big blockbuster. And then there were Deadpool and Bucket List. It was becoming a terrible weekend to release a film as it was so crowded. So, we thought we could promote the film a lot more.

There were a few dates we had in mind. We thought about June 8, but Race 3 comes out on June 15 so it would be very hard to retain screens. Then, we thought about June 22. But, we would have been sandwiched between the two biggest films of the year; Race 3 and Sanju. Then we thought July 6, but then we had already started the promotional campaign. The people had loved the trailer and we didn’t want to make them wait for so long. So, the only option that we saw was June 1.

I mean, it is a really good date. All the other films would have filtered out. IPL would be over. The whole Veere Di Wedding thing was there. But, they are two completely different kinds of films. One is a comedy about friends and female bonding and the other is an action vigilante drama. And we are not a big film like the ones Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan come out with. We need about 1,000 screens, max. I don’t know how many Veere Di Wedding needs but I think there is more than enough space for both.

Solo Fridays are always good but since I am a new actor, it is difficult. And for Vikram, it is only his fourth film. We always knew that a solo Friday was not possible. We were always going to be up against something. So, at the end of the day, it is a great date. Historically also it has been a good date, post-IPL. Schools and colleges are still closed. People still want to go out and see films. We have two weeks until the biggie. We have a good two-week window for both films. We are pretty relaxed about it.

When a film doesn’t do well at the box office, does it increase the pressure of performing well in the next film?

One hundred per cent, even if it doesn’t become about your work or your dedication or your talent or whatever. Filmmaking is an expensive exercise. You don’t want anybody to lose money. If your films do decently, then you can make a lot more choices. If Bhavesh Joshi Superhero does decently, then I can have my pick. I can get better funding for my films. It is a machine, you know, it is a business. That is the only pressure.

I don’t really feel any creative pressure because I know what I am capable of. I know I am getting better. I believe in my directors and the films we make. You want people to connect with it. You want people to feel the same way. 

So, I hope that happens with Bhavesh... not just for me, but also for Vikram, as he deserves it. He has had critically acclaimed films, but he has not had that one big box office breakout film. We are both waiting for the same thing. We have made this film very sincerely. Not just creatively, we kept the budget really tight. We didn’t have the money. We would shoot three to four scenes a day. With a little bit of luck, everything should work out.

What projects are you looking forward to?

I am doing the Abhinav Bindra biopic, which I signed in October 2016. For some reason, all my films take years to make!  We will start the shoot in November. In July, I start the prep. I have already spent a lot of time with Abhinav. Kannan Iyer, who made Ek Thi Daayan, is the director. Abhay Khurana, who wrote Bhavesh Joshi…, is the writer.

It is greatly inspired by A Shot At History: My Obessesive Journey To Gold. It is not a typical Hindi biopic, which is a rags-to-riches story. Abhinav has grown up extremely wealthy, so the conflicts in the film are very different. I have to learn to shoot. And I play him from the age of 15 to 35, two decades. There are many different looks and we are shooting all over the place. We will be in Rio, Beijing, Athens. That film is a whole journey. My dad is in the film. He plays my on-screen father too. It should release in the winter of 2019. Then, I want to do a horror film. I want to work with Ashim Ahluwalia, who made Daddy and Miss Lovely. Hopefully, something will work out.

Do you deliberately choose diametrically opposite roles?

Not really. I feel the horror genre in India is unexplored. Whenever you think of horror you think of a woman in a white gown or a sex horror. We haven’t done, like, a horror film. I am still trying to find material to take to Ashim, because I believe in terms of creating mood and atmosphere, and using sound, he is one of the best directors in India. It would be a great genre for him and I hope I find something and convince him. The Quiet Place was a good film. The Conjuring did well in India. The Shining was my favourite film g. Pari tried but wasn’t quite there. Raaz was the last big horror blockbuster.

When will we see you in a full-on masala film?

I really want to do it. But, I need to be inspired. If somebody gives me a good script which has all the elements, then I will definitely do it. I haven’t got that chance really, I don’t know why. Maybe because I have done Mirzya and Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, but I am dying to do a romantic comedy. There are elements of that in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero and that is what comes to me naturally. I can’t suddenly break into a song-and-dance after a serious scene. That is a problem. I would like to do something like Delhi Belly. I am looking for lighter movies. All these parts have become very intense. I am looking forward to that.

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