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Arjun Kapoor: "My impulse was: this is so bizarre, let me just hear 'Sardar ka Grandson' to say no"

Arjun Kapoor on doing physical comedy, working with Neena Gupta, his relationship with his own grandparents and the coexistence of OTT and theatrical release in future.

May 20, 2021 / 03:36 PM IST
Actor Arjun Kapoor says he has had a great personal relationship with all four grandparents.

Actor Arjun Kapoor says he has had a great personal relationship with all four grandparents.


‘Never Stop Believing’ says a poster hanging on the wall behind Arjun Kapoor. We are logged in for a video interview primarily to talk about his latest movie. Sardar Ka Grandson is a comedy drama starring Kapoor as the favourite grandchild of a 90-year-old grandmother played by Neena Gupta.

It's Amritsar-based Sardar’s long-cherished wish to return to Lahore - to her erstwhile home and to the memories of an idyllic time, before Partition. Her US-based grandson, Amreek, promises to make her dreams come true, even if that means transporting the entire house to Amritsar.

Kapoor, whose last release was Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, shares details of his bond with his own grandparents and what he believes is the future for Bollywood entertainment in a theatrical and OTT environment.

While this is a grandson-grandmother dramedy, one of the layers of the script is the idea of home and displacement. Is this a concept you can relate to?

I have heard stories about Partition from my grandparents. While I have not been displaced exactly, I did move when my mother decided to buy a place and stay separately from the family home where I grew up, which is sort of displacing for any kid who has grown up in a joint family and is used to the hustle, bustle and chaos of a Sardar ka Grandson kind of family. From that to living in an apartment with a single mother raising two children was a new dynamic. So maybe I have felt 1% of what Sardar feels.

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What made me chase this material came from the fact that there are people who value buying a home, who work their entire lives to build this thing that they can gift to their kids. But imagine being told that it is not yours and you have to leave. That thought is very scary. This film has not given the subject a heavy treatment, but you feel the heaviness of the burden people have carried and the incomplete stories that have not found closure.

What attracted you to the part of Amreek?

When I heard the one-line, my impulse was: this is so bizarre, let me just hear it to say no. I mean what is this idea that you will lift a house and bring it?

Also, I was not seeking a family comedy at that time, and this does not have any commercial trappings. It opens with the couple (Kapoor and Rakul Preet) separating, which I think is beautiful. So the love story is really between grandmother and grandson.

This is the first time I have done a coming of age story. So far I have mainly done mature, very clear-headed characters. Ranbir Kapoor comes of age by falling in love, whereas Amreek’s coming-of-age is not instigated by the loss of a lover but from the realisation that for 70 years a woman has been waiting to talk to her husband whereas he can't even set aside his ego to apologise to his girlfriend. That equation with the grandmother drew me in, but the layer that attracted me is that by the end of the film, I would like people to believe that, along this journey, Amreek found himself.

You have tried your hand at physical comedy, too, which is not something we have seen you do much of before.

When you sit in an airconditioned room and hear a narration, it all sounds so simple. It’s a problem, and I used to joke about it even during Panipat. I would joke with Ashutosh Gowariker that we should have sat outside in the sun wearing the armour for the narration because that's when you realise how tough films are.

Sardar Ka Grandson sounds like an easy-breezy film but it is one of the most strenuous films I have done because of the physical demands. For every take you have to give it your all.

Amreek is a bit of a buffoon. His movements are also clumsy and he is accident-prone. But personally, I am quite a laidback person with my physicality, so it is a process for me to come into that physical comedy and to do that I would start talking a lot and moving around the set a lot.

I must confess, it was very tiring to do 30-40 shots a day. In an action film, you get time between shots - to rehearse shots, ensure safety, rehearse as an actor also, so by the time you give a shot, you have warmed up and you are ready. Plus, there is enough time to cool between shots. In this kind of film, there is constant bubbling energy which was very new for me.

What was it like working with Neena Gupta?

We had broken ice when we worked together in Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar. She is very chilled, and wants to be the best actor she can be. She’s not trying to be a scene-stealer or expecting concessions just because she is in prosthetics. She was never in a foul mood. Sardar is the hero of the film. It is her story. I am just the conduit for her story. Amreek needs Sardar's support and love to pull off those scenes with her, and Neena ji was a very loving and giving co-actor which contributed to our chemistry. The patience and respect we have for each other paid off.

Actors Arjun Kapoor and Neena Gupta in 'Sardar ka Grandson'. Actors Arjun Kapoor and Neena Gupta in 'Sardar ka Grandson'.

How was your relationship with your grandparents?

Amazing. I was spoiled by all four of them. My dadi (paternal grandmother) still pampers me and worries about my well being, health, wealth, when I will marry, have kids, etc. She loves cooking for me. My grandfather passed away just before Ishaqzaade started, and I feel he would have been very happy seeing my films. I had my first sip of whisky with him. He was very fond of his backstory of Peshawar. Dada was mast. My maternal grandfather was an army man who took me horse riding, and to Asiatic library and Gaylords in South Mumbai. I was this Chembur-Lokhandwala kid who got weekends in South Bombay because my maternal grandparents lived there. My nani was perhaps the closest to who Sardar is. She was feisty and made it in a man's world. After my mom's separation, she inspired my mom to start working. After my mother passed away, she handled my finances. I value the time I have had with all four grandparents. And this film really is about that.

What else have you got coming up?

In times like this, you take what you get. I happen to be in a luxurious position where I can choose to go on a film set or I can wait. I won’t just go to work to make some money. I recently did Bhoot Police because I realise I really like horror comedies. Saif Ali Khan and I play brothers, so this is a horror comedy about brotherhood. I also shot eight days of Ek Villain Returns in Goa before the shoot had to stop suddenly. Tara Sutaria, John Abraham and Disha Patani are also in it. I have signed a couple of other films, but it's unfair to talk about them because in the current scenario, we don't know when, where, who, how.

'Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar' took a while to get a theatrical release, and now 'Sardar Ka Grandson' has gone straight to streaming. What do you see as the future of film consumption?

Coexistence – that’s most important. The debate about which is better has to stop. As actors we have to relax our mindsets, accept and adapt to the new normal, even cinematically. A film that comes to Netflix can also be cinematic in its treatment and nature. At the same time there are stories that deserve to be told on the big screen and we must retain that love for our audiences because Indians love going to theatres. Plus, we have enough talent, material and money available on both sides of the fence. It’s a time to feel free and let go of trapping and inhibitions. Of course, stardom is eventually gauged over the course of box office success and certain mainstream streaks will always remain. The basic reality is that nothing feels better than people cheering for you when they are watching your introduction or a film that gets a standing ovation because it is a community experience. But we are in a different time and you have to adapt and evolve. I am okay with you sitting alone and watching Sardar Ka Grandson and missing your parents or grandparents enough to call them after and tell them you miss them. That is mission accomplished.

But we are getting a bit used to getting entertainment delivered to our homes, and having the choice to plug in or logout.

You may not be able to go to a restaurant now, but food can come home to you. Similarly, you can't go to the theatre, but entertainment comes home. When the time comes when you can go to a restaurant or the theatre, you will, because that is a community experience where you catch up with friends. Sometimes you will takeaway, sometimes you will go out to eat. Okay, we are a little used to sitting at home and watching stuff, so yes, the industry will have to work harder and do better work to get people out to theatres. This is not a bad gauntlet being thrown at the industry which has taken the audience for granted from time to time. It’s a good wake up call to spend this time writing and developing stuff of such quality that 2024-25 will see a cinematic revolution in our country.

Sardar Ka Grandson is available on Netflix.
Udita Jhunjhunwala is a Mumbai-based writer, film critic and festival programmer.

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