Madhureeta Mukherjee (BOMBAY TIMES; February 22, 2017)

When the going gets tough, the toughest of men put on their gloves and guards and beat the blows. Like a man. Never once leaving the ring. That's what Shahid Kapoor did. With a hint of pride, he claims that he's a “seasoned underground fighter“, who is ready for a fight every day. But much has changed about him over the years. His roles primarily - in real life and on celluloid. A doting husband, a protective daddy and an actor who dares to take chances. What has not changed is the chiselled looks and his oodles of charm. And of course, his forever boyishness. Over a cuppa black coffee (as always), days before the release of his next Rangoon directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, he talks to us about the Shahid of the past versus the man of today and how he has finally got it all sorted. Read on...

Last three years of your life has seen a huge change - personally and professionally. You seem calmer and more comfortable in the space you are in...
Yes, I feel the change outside and inside and I feel like a new phase has started. I guess there are many reasons for it; one is that I am married, so I feel more settled. I've been working for the past 14 years and now I'm in my mid 30s, so I guess I've become closer to my heart as an artiste. And because of that change, the career decisions I make come from within as opposed to too much of overthinking. I like this phase and the direction in which things seem to be going, because eventually, what matters is the route you take. It can be bumpy or smooth, but what matters is that you are moving in the right direction. After so many years, I feel that I'm in the most mentally sorted space now.

When it comes to picking roles, have you become wiser? Or maybe just more confident to take risks?
Well, let's just say that now, it is less thought and more instinct. I believe that instinct is a more honest, real and relevant measure for an actor. I follow my instinct now and don't overthink. I have done many years of overthinking and figured that it doesn't work (laughs). Also, an actor needs to rediscover himself with every film. I won't say reinvent because in India, that word is used very differently. Today, if we look at some prominent actors in India or internationally, they are not doing the same thing over and over again. They are always surprising the audience with something new, because we are living in a time where it is all about instant gratification and it has largely got to do with social media and the internet. So, if you do the same thing repeatedly, you won't be relevant for long. There might have been a time when this worked, but it is different now and an actor has to rediscover himself. I think that's a journey that I started some years ago, but I don't think I got it right initially, in terms of the films that I did. It gradually happened with Jab We Met and Kaminey, where I did something different and that worked. After that, Haider, Udta Punjab, Rangoon and Padmavati followed. I think that's the way forward for me.

How did you cope during the phase when your films were not working?
In my early years, I knew that my life is a fight gone bad and I knew that I've to battle some rough rounds. I have had that life since I was a kid, so now I am a seasoned underground fighter. I wake up every day ready to fight and I enjoy that. That's something I have known about myself, and my career has been no different with its share of ups and downs. Once a journalist had said that my career is like a woman's body, which is curvy (laughs). There's been a lot of learning as I come from a background where we didn't have as much money, so the need to be secure was important. At the same time, my dad is all about cinema, and he is a purist. So, I grew up thinking that I wanted to be very successful and do really good films. That was my one-point agenda. Initially, I went through the process of understanding who I wanted to be, and with time, I realised that success is a by product. They say that a true superstar is someone who can make a bad film work, but I don't think that it holds true for our generation. I think today, a superstar is someone who makes the right choices, invests in the right content and has the courage and conviction to do what others are not doing. I think these will be the super stars of the future generation.

Actors who work with Vishal Bhardwaj say that he brings out the best in them. Would you say the same?
During Kaminey, Vishal sir and I had a professional equation, and it was during Haider that we connected emotionally. It was a film that nobody wanted to back, but he said, 'Let's make it, but I can't pay you'. I said, 'Fine, let's do it'. I think that got us together and then the film went on to become a success. Haider was the film where we found an equation, which was beyond the actor-director relationship. While shooting for Rangoon, he was busy doing different things and I felt like a neglected child. I've also told him this several times (chuckles). On a serious note, sometimes when there is too much familiarity, you might take each other for granted. But when I am working with Vishal sir, between the 'action' and 'cut', I feel at home. It's a perfect fit. It's like when you girls are buying stilettos, you slip into that one pair and you know it's just right (laughs)!

What is your equation with Saif Ali Khan?
I loved him in Omkara. He is an extremely relaxed and easy person, so I felt very comfortable working with him. He is an integral part of the film, though we have just four-five scenes together. He is a cool guy.

There were rumours that your co-star Kangana Ranaut and you didn't really get along?
We finished shooting for the film in May and the rumours surfaced in December. Agar kuch problem hua hota, toh jab shooting ho rahin thi, tabhi hota na? The fact that such stories are appearing now imply that they have been planted. This is my third film with Vishal sir and it is a very precious part of my life. It's like a gem for me and there can never be any negativity around such a film. This is also the first time that I am working with Sajid Nadiadwala and he is someone I hugely respect. So, I don't appreciate people spreading such rumours.

You have lived the dream single man's life for years. And now, you are a complete family man - a husband and a father. It must have been quite a turnaround, even emotionally...
Well, earlier I used to think that I am so cool and I am the master of my own will, but I was just lonely. It is great to have somebody to share things with, and it's great to come back to your wife and your child. Also, sharing my life with someone like Mira is really special because she is completely her own person, with a very strong point of view on everything. Since she doesn't belong to the film industry, she is very unaffected and her point of view is different from ours. Sometimes, her reaction to some films really takes me by surprise. It makes me think...kyunki bahar ka reaction alag hota hai aur andar kuch aur hi baat ho rahin hoti hai. After marriage, it was a transition for Mira and me, but life changed totally after Misha (daughter) was born. Emotionally, it was a complete flip. Actors in general are rather self-obsessed, but once you become a father, you can't be that way. It can never be about you anymore. Your first thought has to be about your child.

Is Mira getting used to living life in the spotlight?
She is getting comfortable with it, but I don't think that she is used to it yet. I am surprised to see how well she is handling it. When we host dinners at home for some of our friends from the industry, she just chills and makes conversation wit them. But whenever sh gets clicked at stores or at the airport, she feels odd. Every time we travel, I usually tell her that I will hold Misha. One day she told me, 'You always hold Misha, people will think that I don't carry her at all'. But I am so paranoid that I want to keep Misha close to me at such places because it can get a little chaotic and it scares me.

In the past, media perceived you as moody, shy and difficult, too. Now that seems to have eased and you seem more amicable. Did you make a conscious effort to change that perception?
That is true. If I were to meet myself five years back, I would say, 'He has a stick up his ass'. I have learnt that from people around me. Often when people meet actors, they are nervous and shy. It is the actor's prerogative to create a comfortable feeling and start communicating. Earlier, I was so shy and under-confident that I didn't know how to be with people; only when the camera turned on was I a different person. Over the years, I feel that I have changed. In the past, you saw me as this uptight guy. Now, I am real, so what you see is what you get. I am relaxed and I can't hide that, so people around me feel relaxed, too. I am damn good between 'action' and 'cut', but in real life, I am who I am.

Are you relaxed when your film releases, too?
I get nervous before anything new. Even when I went on the set of my brother's (Ishaan) debut film on the first day of shoot, I was nervous and my palms were sweaty. When you are young, you think that you know everything, but as you grow older, you realise that you don't know anything. As actors, our job is very unpredictable, and you know that things can go wrong. And, one wrong thing can damage all your hard work. But we can all hope and keep doing the best we can.

Do you often revisit your films to analyse and scrutinise your performance? Or do you believe that once a film is done, there is no looking back?
Whenever I go back and see my films, and it's mostly by chance, I feel that I could have done it better and differently. But I don't make it a habit to sit and watch my movies again and again; I would rather watch someone else's work so that I can learn something. Every actor at some point was an audience and so, I like being an audience. It is a lot more fun being an audience, where you can just sit in a theatre, munch on popcorn and enjoy a film without any worries.