Editor’s Note: No one knows a man better than the women in his life. Be it his mother, wife, daughter or friend, they offer a unique and intimate perspective on men with larger-than-life media personalities. In this new series titled ‘In Her Eyes,’ we ask these women to offer their frank, unedited, and always affectionate view of the men they love dearly. Their responses are honest, revealing, and unexpectedly familiar.
Arjun Rampal has won a National Film Award. He’s played the hero and the villain and had his share of flops and hits. He’s been a producer and a model, and has some of the best abs in the business. He’s married to the gorgeous Mehr Jessia. But somehow he’s managed to remain quite private. His sister Komal Rampal, 1994 Miss India finalist, ex-air hostess, spa consultant talks about the elusive Arjun Rampal.
He is, by 364 days exactly. He was born on 26 November 1972, I was born on 25th November, 1973. He says that I was God’s gift to him for his first birthday.
So you were close?
Thick as thieves. There was no sibling rivalry, we were the best of friends, and ready for any mischief. My mother thought I hero worshipped him, but in fact I was the one who taught him to smoke.
What was your childhood like?
We were small towners. He was born in Jabalpur, and we lived in Deolali. We were a close knit family, just Mom and Dad and the two of us, and being a boy and the elder, he was also very protective of me. But we had plenty of time to be naughty. Our parents even today don’t know how naughty we have been!
Well much of it, I’d rather not tell. But whenever my parents would go off to Pune, we would bunk school and run off. We loved riding wild horses. Of course Mom found out soon enough. But today he is such a good rider because he used to ride wild horses, bareback.
Was it not boring to live in a small town?
I think we had the best of both worlds, especially when we moved to Kodai. Mom was a teacher there, and we would leave together in the mornings, and return together after school. We had the lake outside the school window, and the warmth of our home to return to in the evenings. My father would come home from the factory, there would be music, all of us are music lovers, my parents would dance, and Arjun would go round and round them. I had matching pyjamas with my mom, Arjun and Dad would wear kurta pyjamas...
The imprint of a happy family life in childhood, never leaves one. I think it is why he is such a devoted family man.
What was free time like?
I wish my children could enjoy such freedom, growing up in a city is so restricting. Arjun and I used to climb the hill behind our house; he had an air gun and would shoot pigeons. Or when the farmer’s kids helped us make a swing out of the banyan tree’s roots he would swing on it. More often he would swing holding on to one root and making Tarzan like cries, jump to another swinging root. There were no high-rises of course, so he would pole vault from the roof... he was a daredevil. We broke so many bones: elbow, collar bones, my mother would calmly help it all mend.
Did he have dreams of modelling too?
Actually we had no thought about being good looking. We had been taught to go to school, do your homework, play... do your best and leave the rest to God. He did so well (in school) that we thought he would surely take up law or accounts later.
But modelling happened...
I would never have dreamed it could. You see he looked pretty plain; he had a side parting, his hair stuck to his head, wore glasses, dressed like anyone else from a small town. He neither smoked, no drank, was a man of few words. Nothing of the glamour boy in him!
When he told me, I have signed a modelling contract, it will get me some extra pocket money. I was amazed.
I thought Clark Kent has become Superman!
Was he successful, you think?
You know how it is, sisters and family can’t see it easily. When I joined Cathay, I used to fly in and out of Delhi, and once he took me to a night club. I saw how the boys and girls there looked at him, how they crowded around him, whispered Arjun Rampal to each other... and I said, wow! my brother has arrived!
In fact, Gudda (Rohit Bal, designer) saw him with his Kodai friends somewhere and told Ritu Nanda who was shooting a campaign to use him, and one thing led to another.
Yet he had a side to him that made one feel he was not serious enough about a career.
We always thought he was driven, had fire in his belly. But yes, there were some who felt he was not serious enough. But look, he was 6’2’’, had Adonis looks, was a supermodel, but finally he was 16, a kid! It was natural for him to be laid back. He has always had a tendency to go with the flow.
And films, how did that happen?
Ashok Mehta signed him for Moksh. And he decided to quit modelling. He wanted to break the belief that models can’t act. People generally believed that, thanks to Deepak Malhotra’s debacle as an actor. Arjun said, acting and modelling are completely different mediums, demanding different skills, why muddle the two. And he jumped.
Was that a wise decision?
He went through a tough patch, did a lot of growing up I think. For one, Moksh took five years to be ready, and he had no idea where the film was going, where his career would go at the end of it. Then Rajiv Rai signd him for Pyar, Ishq Mohabbat.
Success did not come easy though...
Not for lack of effort. He is dedicated, a perfectionist. I think the movies all flopped one after the other. But he managed to stay afloat, got good reviews, and even the Best Debut Award from Filmfare. He grew as an actor, was completely self taught. The National Award made a huge difference too, to the audience perception of his status.
How did you react to his wife Mehr... you were so close to Arjun.
I never expected she would be my sister in law. She had been my idol for so long, I copied her hairstyle, I had posters of her in my room, and when I went to Jabalpur to be with my aunt, the tailor would come and say, Baby I have the model’s clothes designs you like, I will stitch them for you.” We were three friends, and one of us believed she ‘was ‘Anu Kutoor, and I ‘was’ Mehr... we played at being like our idol.
How did you react to the marriage?
I had just gone through a divorce. He calls me on my birthday, and then says, on the 27th I am flying Mehr down to Goa, and asking her to marry me. I so wanted my brother all to myself, to tide me through my bad patch, but he was flying off! I said, "marriage is hard work." I must have sounded sour or ungracious, he said, “Can’t you be happy for me?" So I said, of course, "Congrats."
Do you think his marriage has worked?
It has. She is the one of the best things that have happened to him, and he for her. They are quite alike in many ways, chilled out, not competitive to the point of being malicious or pulling others down. They are made for each other.
And are you close to Mehr?
We were pregnant at the same time, and I knew I was going to have a son. She did not want to know what she was carrying. So they had thought of two names for the child, Adit if a boy and Maira if a girl. When Maira was born, Arjun insisted I name my son Adit. Of course I agreed, though I had another name chosen for my child.
Tell us about Arjun as an actor.
He is a powerhouse of determination. I see him going into production next. He is a good businessman, he ensures everything he takes up makes good business sense, be it the perfume he launched, the night club he runs, Lap, or the endorsements he takes on.
He had to do a cover shoot for a mag cover recently, he started working out seriously. When I visited him, he lifted his tee shirt and said, see the pic was not touched up. I really have an eight pack. I told him, you can get an eight pack only if you surgically remove your floating ribs. he said, count them, girl... and he was right.
Of course getting to be a hero has taken him time, but he has worked at it. We saw the rushes of Sudhir Mishra’s Inkar in which he stars, with Chitrangada in Cannes, and he is good. Also he sticks to his principles. When he was not doing very well, a famous director wanted to sign him for three films. But he did not like the scripts, so despite the need for money, he turned it down.
How does he face bad times?
Quietly. He goes into himself, sorts it out, does not speak of it to anyone. I am like that too. Mehr is his best critic, mom and I are his fans, and he will make all of us proud.
One last question... does he believe in God?
My grandmother was deeply religious, my mother is half-Dutch and half-Sardarni of course but my Father is a Brahmin. So every day my grandmother would offer bhog to the Gods. Arjun would be the one at the puja without fail. My mother says, that when she prayed for a son, she was at Mukti Dam, which is why he is such a devout Hindu. He wears rings for luck, he has a huge crystal mandir at home and worships regularly. Even his Production House is called Chasing Ganesha!
I on the other hand am more spiritual, and will wear rings only because they are pretty. My mom says it is because she prayed for a daughter in a church... in that for sure, my brother and I are very different.