Ranbir Kapoor is being driven back to his hotel in the capital after wrapping his shots for the morning and having played an improvised game of cricket with the crew. It's a quiet moment for the star who cannot travel anywhere in India without the immediate appearance of crowds. It's something, though, that he works to maintain.
“The attention that I get is something that I strive for. I'm not looking for privacy, I'm not looking to live on an island,” he says as we drive. “I'm in a line of work where the reciprocation is quite apparent and it's immediate. If they like you, people don't shy away from showing their love. And I like that. If there were 30 people and only 10 recognised me, I would wonder what I am doing wrong. What kinds of films I should do to reach those other 20 people? These are the thoughts that go on in my head. I want to be the biggest star and the greatest actor.”
The Kapoor family is ubiquitous in India. Their 80-year film dynasty started with Ranbir's great-grandfather, theatre and film pioneer Prithviraj Kapoor. His grandfather was the iconic screen legend, Raj Kapoor, his father beloved actor Rishi Kapoor, his mother Neetu Singh, and his uncles are the late, great Shammi Kapoor (his last screen credit is Rockstar) and Shashi Kapoor. His cousins are film sirens Karishma and Kareena Kapoor.
“The only normal life I've had is films,” Kapoor plainly admits. “I've grown up with musicians, art directors, actors, actresses and directors all visiting home. I think it was somewhat taken for granted that I will do something concerning films but I myself wasn't too sure if I wanted to direct or act.”
Kapoor first studied for three years at New York's School of Visual Arts and later for a year at the Lee Strasberg Institute. On return to India, Kapoor approached one of the most respected directors in the Indian industry, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and scored a job as an assistant director on Black (2005), then later starred in his first acting role in Bhansali's next film, Saawariya (2007).
In Rockstar, Kapoor plays Janardan, a local Delhi boy who longs to become a great musician. He is advised that the only way to achieve his dream and become a real artist is to have his heart broken. Janardan decides that Heer (newcomer Nargis Fakhri), a girl from college, will be the one. Heer does break his heart and in the process Janardan becomes Jordan, an international rock star.
Rockstar is loosely based on the tragic romantic folk tale from the Punjab, Heer Ranja (coincidently also a Punjabi film also in release). The connection between Rockstar and the ancient tale, though, was not a conscious decision for the director: “The story was going in that direction so I let it happen,” Imtiaz confesses.
Kapoor says that the role was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him. “It's so real that it's dark. I think it's a quality that only a director and a script can give. Imtiaz is giving me this on a platter,” he says.
For the role of Janardan/Jordan, Kapoor was required to explore territory unfamiliar to him. “In a very strange, bizarre way, I've never gone through heartbreak in my life,” he admits. “I know it's a terrible feeling and I understood Imtiaz's point of view, what he is trying to say through the film. This character is a Jaat [a colloquial term used in India to connote a particularly wild, untamed person]. We did preparation to understand his life: where he comes from, the people he hangs out with, and the way he walks and the way he talks—all the physical attributes of this person. But I think what really connects me to this character was he was looking for a heartbreak and somehow so I am. The second half of this film is when he goes through a phase of self-destruction, of actual electricity flowing inside him and being short tempered and being angry. I'm not that [person] so I resort to something they say is acting. You start building that. But [that process] can be dangerous because sometimes it is a fine line. I don't want to become that person. I respect my fans. I try and sign every autograph book that comes before me. Jordan wouldn't do that.”
Ranbir's co-star in the film is Bollywood debutant Nargis Fakhri, a New York born, Pakistani-Czech model. Fakhri had done some photographic ad work in India, where she caught Ali's eye.“It's a rare experience of interacting with somebody who is so honest, so real and so naked,” says Ranbir of Fakhri. “She has no fear in front of the camera.”
Rockstar held Ali's imagination for more than five years, before it finally went into production in 2010. “There was something in the movie that drew me back,” he says. “I owned up to it and then I surrendered… Rockstar was a script I truly loved but more than a script or a character it is the opportunity to work with a mind like Imtiaz Ali. He knows the film inside out. He knows the character of Jordan. He's sacrificed his life for this movie. He's living the character. I think that's the greatness of Imtiaz Ali. He gives. He surrenders. When somebody surrenders you're just compelled to do it. You're just inspired to do it.”