Arjun Kapoor on his approach to Panipat: Wanted to unlearn baggage that comes with period films
Arjun Kapoor discusses how crucial Panipat is at this stage of his career, working with Kriti Sanon, and the comparison to Ranveer Singh in Bajirao Mastani.
Arjun Kapoor will be next seen in Ashutosh Gowariker directed Panipat: The Great Betrayal, the actor’s first historic drama, based on the life of Sadashivrao Bhau, the Commander-in-Chief of the Maratha army in the third Battle of Panipat, fought in 1761 between the Marathas and the army of the Afghan ruler, Ahmad Shah Abdali.
"It's not something I would imagine doing but the fact that Ashutosh Gowariker could imagine me playing the part was exciting. I always had a wish, and sometimes, you just need to want something, and it happens. It has happened at a time when I think I was ready for it. If I had to choose to do a period drama or a period war film, there is no choice other than Ashu sir. From the first day he provided such a great foundation — costume, sets, ambience — he has done justice to the opulence, emotions and storytelling. Authenticity came from me after leaving all the baggage behind. That is why I was also in my own world shooting this film for a while,” says Arjun.
Donning royalty does not come easy. The actor followed his director’s instructions of letting himself loose rather than being too uptight. “My entire research came from the director. Had I started reading the history books, I would have had so many questions that lot of time would have been spent only answering those, and we shouldn’t have made the film. Then, I unlearned one basic principle to not overthink, and just come and do it because if your director gives you an authentic set-up, it will look right. Ashu sir told us to be human, be vulnerable. Any person who heads the army of 50,000 to 70,000 force, there will be a certain amount of vulnerability. He will always be a bit scared whether his several decisions taken for so many lives were right or wrong. My character couldn’t show his feelings but it might be visible in front of his wife. When he is alone, he might explore that moment of what he was doing. My job was to understand what Sadashiv Bhau must have gone through. It was all very fascinating,” says the actor.
“I wanted to unlearn the baggage that comes with period films that I have seen since I was a child. We all get consumed by certain behavioural patterns that come with the period film, and of course, that must have existed. They must be sitting in a certain way we don’t know. But eventually, they were human beings, they were warriors, they were yodhas. I wanted to be as casual as possible when it came to talking to his wife, or friends, or the way you conduct yourself to encourage your army. My job was to bring out human qualities. If you only look at the costume, drama, horse, elephant, scale... but to care about emotion was important so that you feel for Sadashivrao Bhau when he is going to the battlefield, when he is confused, dealing with his army, family... you have to live those emotions,” he adds.
As soon as the trailer was out earlier this month, there have been many comparisons and similarities drawn between Panipat and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani. Besides, the situation also led to a meme session, comparing Arjun with Ranveer Singh, to which the Panipat actor, sounding a bit irritated, reasons, “There is nothing wrong in being critical. I am self-critical, and I am critical about other people’s work but we don’t have logic in conversations.
I just want to say that there are many stories from that era so do we stop making it? Then Tanhaji also cannot be made? After Dhoni (MS Dhoni: The Untold Story), we should not make biopic of any other cricketer? Don’t we have any right to watch Yuvraj’s (Singh) story now if we have to move ahead. After Uri, we should not make another war film because that is the epitome but there are many stories to be told. There is no end to comparisons. If I compare War with Hobbs & Shaw then I may find something missing but if I look at War on its own, I will enjoy it.
The criticism happens only on social media, (those) who have nothing else to do but compare. In fact, I believe negative conversation only makes a film better and better... like Kabir Singh and Housefull 4."
Moving on to his prep for Panipat, Arjun says the costumes were intense. "I had to wear 18 to 20 kilos of armour, and it took four people to get that on me. We had to shoot the climax outdoors in the summer heat of May because we wanted the sun to hit the metal and shine otherwise it would look fake. It may sound tough but in retrospect, when I see it on screen, it seems all worth it. But it was very restrictive because you can’t move your arm. I had to unlearn a few things in terms of physicality. Riding the horse with armour and doing action is also difficult. Early morning, I would go to Mahalaxmi to learn horse riding. Director had told me that I sit on the horse immediately after I come out of the van to get used to it. He knows better as he has done so many period films. But it was certainly more taxing for the stuntmen. We could go in our vanity van in between, and sit in A/C or we get a chair to sit but every time a fighter falls, he has to get up and do the take again.”
Considering it was a tough film to shoot, Arjun says he got good support from his co-star Kriti Sanon, who plays his screen wife Parvatibai. “We were entertaining each other quite a bit. Our mental state of mind, thought process... there is a certain nice similarity. What I like about Kriti is that she is a very good example for everybody that says the industry is a difficult place to make it. She conducts herself well, she is well-spoken, well-behaved, her values are still middle class, and she is doing all kinds of roles. She has not chased stardom per se,” he says.
Arjun and Kriti's off-screen camaraderie would probably reflect on screen as well. “Without her (character), I would not be Sadashivrao because she completes him, and that is the beauty of the story. This is probably one of the only stories in Hindi film narrative where the women also came to war. I have seen many war films. Women have always pined for their husbands, not knowing what is happening in the battlefield. And I love the line where she says, "Main sukh mein peeche rahoongi aur dukh mein tumhare aage aa jaungi." Parvatibai’s character is very important. She also picks up the sword in the end,” he says.
Arjun has had his share of ups and downs in his career. It was a good start for him with Ishaqzaade (2012), following up with the likes of Gunday and the Rs 100-crore superhit 2 States. Then there were average grossers like Ki & Ka, Half Girlfriend, and Mubarakaan but a couple of his previous releases, like Namaste England and India's Most Wanted, met with a poor response at the box office. So how pivotal is the historical drama at this stage of his career? “Well, who doesn’t like a hit? I am one of those fortunate few who have seen highs and lows. I am the person that I am because of those lows, more than my highs. The amount of it (Panipat) doing well is something I can’t quantify. What I would like to believe is if the last few films of mine have disappointed people who go and pay money to watch my films, I hope that this film doesn’t disappoint them. That is the minimum. I would like credibility, and that is something that is not earned by numbers. It is earned by people watching your film and liking it. Then it is film’s destiny,” he signs off.
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