Come Undone - Kunal Karan Kapoor
I am meeting Kunal Karan Kapoor for dinner. Even though we are friends, I have been bugging him for a feature for weeks but I never tire of his response – “pakka.” I know I am not going to get the feature over dinner...I mean c’mon, I do have a heart. He has been shooting all day and the least I can do is let the man enjoy his dinner in peace. He arrives at the hotel wearing a White T-shirt and jeans carrying a huge bag pack over his shoulder. Though he has been shooting all day, he looks fresh, upbeat and most of all…happy to see me. We sit down, he flips through the menu nonchalantly which is strange because I know he is starving. He shuts the menu, places it on the table and says to me, “you know what I feel like having?” I am expecting him to ask for some fancy concoction that won’t be on the menu. “Rajma Chaawal” he replies with a smile. Both of us turn to the waiter who answers without being asked, “Yes sir, we have rajma chaawal.” “Perfect!!” Kunal beams! His simple demand makes me smile…the little pleasures of life I suppose.
Dinner is fun and we talk about everything under the moon except my feature so we decide to meet up on his set the next day. I am excited because I get to watch a shoot but more importantly because I get to watch Kunal shoot. Mumbai traffic is pure hell but I do make it to the “Na Bole Tum” set just before lunch. I find Kunal inside his makeup room nibbling at his lunch while reading the lines for his scene. “It is a very short scene and then I pack up”, he informs me. While he reads his lines, I look around his room and click photographs. The room is so him – music playing on his Macbook, his camera and photography gear lying around on the bed, phone on the charger – just a simple guy, with his gadgets, in his space. The only object that literally screams that I am sitting in an actor’s makeup room is the huge vanity mirror placed in one corner. I love this mirror, it’s not the one that you and I have rather, this is the one we see in movies. Small bulbs that glow and radiate a soft, warm light, frame the mirror from top to bottom. I stare at the “Celebrity” mirror, look around the room and then glance at Kunal in his jeans and T-shirt and that's when it dawns upon me…this is the perfect picture of Kunal in my head – the simple celebrity!
Shot is called, we walk into the set and I settle into a comfortable chair in the shadows to watch the magic unfold. I am blown away by all the hard work that goes into “one shot” - so many angles, retakes, organized chaos, constructing and deconstructing the set over and over again. The team is completely engrossed in the scene and Kunal comes and sits with me in between shots to explain just what is happening. Pack up finally!! Kunal is like an excited child…”I never get to take off so early. Chalo, we’ll go home, I’ll make coffee and you can interview me!”
There is a certain vulnerability to Kunal. He is well spoken, confident and very talented yet underneath it all is a boy trying to find himself. I observe him while he talks about his work, his life…he is happy, he is content and yet something is missing. My silent, pensive mood prompts him to ask me what I am thinking. “You look so vulnerable” I respond honestly. I can see the surprise on his face, “Wow, no one has ever said that to me…thanks…I guess?” He recovers quickly, smiles, looks away, pulls out his camera and starts clicking my pictures! Aha!! So that’s it! He may be a talented actor and a good photographer but I know why he has chosen that very moment to go behind the viewfinder. It is his way of taking cover, ducking from giving away too much! He knows I am not buying his cover, so he puts his camera down, sighs and says, “Chalo…ask away…” Coffee, Pizza, music and conversation…Tinsel Gupshup gives you Kunal Karan Kapoor unplugged….
TG: We know that you wanted to be an actor since you were a kid but when did you realize that you wanted to take up acting as a career?
KKK: I still don’t know if acting is my true calling. It is a crappy job. I don’t know, I suppose it is great while it lasts but there can be too much frustration, too many if’s and buts’, so I am still not sure if I want to be an actor
TG: But you are an actor
KKK: Hmmm…I am also very fickle
TG: When was the moment that you realized that ok...maybe now I want to be an actor?
KKK: That moment has still not arrived. I am still in between jobs – acting, making videos, call centre…
TG: So you might pick any of those career options over acting?
KKK: Ummm…I don’t think I would go back to a call center. Well, actually there are days when I look at people coming back from their shifts at the call center and I do daydream about those days…
TG: Cutting videos is something new, right? I saw the video you made, it was really nice!
KKK: Actually acting is also something new. Every character is a different job, a different responsibility and more than anything else - a different mindset.
TG: Would you consider acting as a passion?
KKK: I think the TV industry has killed my passion. Don’t get me wrong, I love acting but television is extremely hard and at some point you start pining for a normal, sane existence.
TG: But I read somewhere that as a child you used to stand outside a studio and say that you want to be an actor…
KKK: You know as a kid I figured, I want to be a director. I want to make movies, I had a lot of ideas and honestly I just had images in my head. I thought I will be a director and that way I would be able to make my own movie but I did not have the money. So I thought let me be an actor first then I’ll be able to make the money to make my movie. But now when I look back that was quite a juvenile thought.
KKK: I don’t know…I think I have lost that child somewhere.
TG: Did you have any formal training in acting?
TG: Tell us a bit about your earlier career days...first photo-shoot, did you do any print, TV ads etc?
KKK: I got my first portfolio done when I was 20. Fresh out of a call centre job. When you are struggling and walk into a production house, the first thing they ask you are for your pictures…or at least they used to. We really did not have facebook or social networking at that time so getting a portfolio done was the logical way to go about it. In fact, I pulled in a favor from a friend and we did this sort of make shift photo shoot…actually can’t really call it a photo shoot! My friend had a camera and in fact, he was a friend of a friend so he kind of helped and clicked some pictures. So that was how I got my portfolio done. Never done any print or television ads.
TG: How did you land your first audition and how did it go? What did you do to prepare for it?
KKK: My first audition was for Remix. They asked me to play a nerdy stammering kid so I just went with the flow and they liked it apparently. I was working at a call center at that time and a month after the audition I got a call that I had the role. I had met the producer when I was a kid, so I knew her. The same production house had wanted to cast me in a movie as junior Akshay Kumar. I really struggled a lot when I was 13 – 14, met a lot of people and some of those contacts remained.
My first role was in a show called “Rajni” with Priya Tendulkar and it was just for one or two days. Actually, I never got paid for that role but I was so kicked about it!! I did not even audition for that role. Basically, I used to go and hang out at the studios and production houses, made some friends and one day I got a phone call and this person asked, “kal shooting hai, karega? He explained, “Aisa aisa role hai, beemaar baccha hai, hospital mai”…so that was my first role.
Remix happened much later. I had no idea what the role was and I just went for the audition. They asked me to dress in a certain way and I was wearing my chashma. I still remember standing outside in the building compound, the camera pointed at me and I had to rattle off some lines with a stammer.
TG: Did you ever go for an audition and it went horribly wrong?
KKK: I have walked out of a lot of auditions. The moment I feel that the sensibilities do not match, I apologize for wasting their time and then leave. There are certain things that I cannot do and if I don’t agree with them then I just cannot get myself to do it. If I agree with something I’ll put in my 100% but if I cannot give 100% to something then I back off. I won’t even try if I know it is something that I don’t want to do. I have a lot of reservations.
TG: For example:
KKK: I can’t do slapstick. I absolutely abhor slapstick, I cannot watch slapstick shows on TV, just makes my stomach churn.
TG: So, have you gone for auditions where they have asked you to do slapstick?
TG: And you have not done it
KKK: Nope and this has happened many times.
TG: But isn’t that a risk you are taking….with the production house that has called you?
KKK: I really don’t care. I don’t think this is…I still feel I am in between jobs.
TG: So you don’t care about burning bridges?
KKK: I am not rude. It’s just that if something does not agree with me, it does not agree with me.
TG: The best compliment you have ever received and the most discouraging thing anyone has said to you
KKK: Most discouraging thing….ummm...some people told me that “Tu kabhi hero nahi ban sakta hai”. No one will give you a lead role.
TG: Really? What was your reaction to that?
KKK: My first reaction was – “LIKE WHY?”
TG: Trust the Leo in you to go on the offensive…and then?
KKK: And then I was coming home and I was like…really? It did put me in that whole self questioning mode - what am I doing in life? Am I really supposed to do this? I’ll be lying if I say it did not affect me and It hurt, I mean, of course it hurt and I am sure it was said in my best interest.
TG: Best compliment?
KKK: You know what…I don’t remember the compliments. I suppose the best compliment had to be the one from my dialogue writer – Mr. Subrat Sinha. He said, you do complete justice to my words. Coming from the writer, it felt really really nice.
TG: Did you ever feel like giving up and going into another field?
KKK: All the time! But that is working in TV. It kills you every day and it revives you every day.
TG: When you weight the money, the fame, and all the perks that come with being an actor against the bad things…what is heavier?
KKK: I have said this before somewhere and I’ll just reiterate. I don’t know myself as a person. If I have to buy a belt and I leave the house, I’ll buy 50 other things before I get to the belt or I won’t get to the belt at all. But when I am acting, when I have those lines, I know who I am, I know who the character is, I have met him somewhere, I have a picture in my head. I don’t mess around; I know what my character has to do in that scene. That feeling of knowing what I want is precious. So yes, I’ll take the exhaustion any day. I think I have learnt from my characters. From Mohan Bhatnagar I have learnt many things – to not give up.
TG: Ok, so you can’t say these things to me and then expect me to believe that acting is not your passion
KKK: I am passionate about acting but as I said…I think I am really angry with TV. The passion may still be there but the anger puts a wet blanket over it sometimes.
TG: Tell us about a life changing moment (in terms of your career)
KKK: This show. This show has changed the way I live…I have moved. I have never moved in so many years, I have travelled a lot but I have never moved. I have always called Chembur my home and suddenly all that changed and I took an active decision and moved my life to another place. I am not complaining, it is a better place but somehow everything has changed in terms of where I stay, in terms of who my friends are, in terms of work, in terms of sleep, in terms of perception and I am still getting to know this side of life.
You have to understand I was free for a year….I mean, free for a year. I have woken up at odd hours and gone to bed at odd hours. I would stand at my window and see people leaving for their respective jobs, there was a paan waala selling paan below my place and everyone would be going about their jobs. And I would be standing there looking at everyone working. Then I would turn around, get under my quilt and shut my eyes and when they would finally open everyone would be coming back home from work. There I was, standing at my window watching everything around me move while my life was static. All I would do is get out, take my laptop or a book, have coffee, read on the net, come back home watch Big Boss and go to sleep again. So this is a superb change.
TG: How would you react if someone said you have emerged as the "underdog"?
KKK: I would not want to consider myself as the underdog…who would? Ummm…for me I am the king , well at least in certain aspects of my life. I don’t want to think that people had low expectations of me and I just shocked them. I do what I want to, I work where I wish to. I mean I have never been in a situation where I have not been able to find work. I chose not to work for so many days. I chose not to work for certain people, I chose not to take up certain roles and I can always branch out to something else or start something else. But I suppose if someone else called me an underdog I would just say thank you.
TG: I suppose it is all about perception…right? People don’t expect you will emerge a winner, they don’t think you can play a lead, or fit into a certain role and out of nowhere you get this one opportunity and you prove everyone wrong! I know you are loved as Mohan Bhatnagar but to me you made a mark with Angad in Pratigya. I still call you Angad, it’s just stuck in my head…
KKK: Thanks! You know Angad was supposed to be a three episode role. When Angad was offered to me I was reading a book on Buddha. There was a character called Mara who is always enticing Buddha, always trying to do things to prevent Buddha from realizing his full potential. So whenever I had to play Angad I pictured myself playing Mara.
TG: Your dream role
KKK: I think Mohan Bhatnagar is pretty much it!
TG: So with Mohan Bhatnagar, you have had the “AHA!” moments?
KKK: Quite a lot, with Mohan Bhatnagar I have also had the Uffo moments!
TG: You know your “Arre yaar” has become quite the sensation and catch phrase!
KKK: I think people were always using it but it’s just that they have become more aware of it because of the show. Just now I told the pizza delivery guy – “dip nahi laaya” and he said “Arrey Yaar…sorry.”
TG: But the way you say it is so different…there is this emphasis and irritation and now people say it exactly like that.
TG: Your favorite scene
KKK: The one with Nanhi during the Holi episode. She does not know that Mohan has wronged her dad and she is comforting him and saying that “koi baat nahi, galti ho gayee” and “humhe social studies mai padaaya hai ki agar dil se maafi mango toh bhagwaan ji maaf kar dete hai.” I think that just touched me…the way she said it and the moment was so nice and it just felt so nice. I think I have watched that scene so many times.
(…long pause…sipping his coffee)
KKK: I am still a little dicey about the underdog thing. I don’t know and I think it borders on self pity…I think it is a bit derogatory…no? I think it is all about your perception and it could be a good perception or a bad one but it all depends on you! Me, I have toiled and worked, I don’t know if I still want to be called the underdog. I really don’t care what people think.
TG: To me, the underdog…ok…example. A horse that no one bets on because he is expected to lose but then emerges as the winner.
KKK: Yes, but does the horse care what other people think about it? At the end of the day, I think the horse just wants to run. Honestly, I have worked very hard on all my roles and I don’t know why this one is being talked about so much? I don’t know, probably because this is a main lead but I have always put in more than 100% in each role.
TG: You love to travel...
KKK: Yes!! At the end of the day, I am thinking of a beach, exotic location but that is me Kunal. When I get into a character I lose all that…I am in the present. When the scene cuts, when I go home…I just wish I could go to the airport take a flight and get out of here!
TG: You are a wandering spirit…you are a free soul
KKK: I am but that’s because I don’t have a home to come too…
TG: Do you want that…a home to come to?
KKK: Yes….someday…TV gives as much as it takes. There are days when you are just numb, you just look at the lines and they just don’t make any sense and then you just turn yourself around and make yourself believe those lines, make yourself believe in the situation and then go back to being numb. Most of the times I don’t switch off…I tend to stay in that mode all day. Switching off is an art and I need to learn that art
(Smiling…staring outside the window…)
TG: What are you thinking?
KKK: Manali. During Pratigya, for 15 days I was alone in Manali. There was this long winding road that I would travel to go to my hotel. I keep thinking about that road…whenever I am really tired or when I am in an unpleasant situation..I think of that road. The moment you looked up, you would see stars, solitude and peace. That road keeps coming back to me…
Photo credit: Kunal Karan Kapoor & Tinsel Gupshup
*Special surprise: I don't tend to share the audio and video segments of interviews but it would be such a shame if I did not share this with you. So click on the video link below to listen to some snippets of the interview. Please excuse my voice (trust me it is the worst thing to hear your own voice in a playback), the conversation happened over pizza and coffee so please excuse the "chewing" at points and sorry about the random background noises (music, TV, grabbing pizza slices..well you get the picture). Kunal is a complete "Rockstar" so enjoy the interview and please do comment!!*