Shahid Kapoor cannot do without coffee. And it’s not just one or two cups... he apparently downs eight to 10 mugs every day. ‘I enjoying making a cuppa as well,’ he adds. Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, his thick mop of hair askew, the Udta Punjab star is sipping his fifth mug of freshly brewed gourmet coffee at a film production company office in Mumbai. And it’s barely noon.
With wife Mira.
Shahid may have had many ups and downs in his career, but he seems to be in a happy space. The buzz is that the 35-year-old actor, who transformed from a chocolate boy to a powerhouse of talent with hard-hitting cinema such as Kaminey, Haider and most recently Udta Punjab, and who married Delhi girl Mira Rajput last year, can’t stop smiling because of his lovely wife and impending fatherhood.
‘Basically women want to take credit for anything right in a man’s life,’ he laughs, when I ask if Mira is the reason for his cheerful demeanour. ‘Then, when a baby comes along, people will say, “Ah, the baby has been lucky for him”. What about my hard work and effort?’
The Jab We Met star takes a sip of coffee and flashes another mischievous smile.
‘I must say I have become very domesticated [after marriage]. Earlier I was like running free... now I’ve a leash around my neck.’
Shahid’s rise to stardom reads like a Bollywood script.
Shahid with his father Pankaj Kapur and stepmum Supriya Pathak.
His parents separated when he was just three, and while his childhood was troubled, it wasn’t traumatic. ‘I was very close to my grandparents and had many cousins around,’ says Shahid, who was closer to his mother for the first 16-odd years.
It was only when he was in his early twenties that Shahid started spending more time with his father, veteran actor Pankaj Kapur, and grew closer to him. ‘Today, I am close to both my parents but I probably talk and discuss more about life with my dad,’ he says. ‘I have been hugely influenced by him. My mother and I have been through different stages of life.’
The decision to take the plunge into the unpredictable business of films was a tough one for Shahid, particularly because of responsibilities that came with being the eldest son of a single parent. ‘I am a very realistic person,’ he says. ‘I have always lived a middle-class life and since my mother [actor, poet and dancer Neelima Azeem], and I were alone, there were certain responsibilities as the older son. I had to grow up faster.
‘One day, I decided to start acting. I did a few auditions, got rejected, and did many acting workshops, too. I gave myself four to five years to make it. I told myself that if I didn’t, I’d look for other options.’
From a gawky 17-year-old who was stopped from entering the studio where his first ad film was to be shot with Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Rani Mukherji some time in early 2000s, to a confident actor who makes his mark in dark thrillers, double-act blockbusters and dramas, Shahid has certainly come a long way.
‘I still remember when I was stopped at the gate as the security guard thought that I was star-struck and just wanted to watch the shoot,’ says Shahid. ‘I kept pleading, “Please believe me, I am a model, my ad is being shot”. Finally, I had to phone the assistant director who came out and let me in.’
A fine dancer, the next stepping stone was signing up as a group dancer in choreographer Shiamak Davar’s troupe. From there on, he rose quickly to become an actor, tasting success with his debut film Ishq Vishq. But then came a series of speed bumps in the form of box-office duds that put him on the back foot. Even the success of Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met, in 2007, was attributed to Kareena Kapoor Khan.
Shahid tried to get back in the game by signing a series of films like Dil Bole Hadippa! and Teri Meri Kahaani, which were all box office failures. Just when he was about to be written off, he bounced back with R...Rajkumar, and an award-winning performance in Haider, the third part of film-maker Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare-inspired trilogy, this one based on Hamlet. But matters went south again when last year’s Shaandaar with Alia Bhatt turned out to be the biggest disappointment of his career so far.
‘Once I started doing work that I believed in rather than what I felt the audience would want to see, everything started falling in place,’ says Shahid ‘I take time to open up, but once I get to know the person then I can be a pain.’
Do success or failure affect him deeply?
‘You should not change yourself on the basis of your success or failure,’ he says, swigging from his coffee mug. ‘If you live your life like that, others will deal with you based on the person you are and not for your successes or failures. That is the journey I want to take.’
It’s not tough to guess that the very choice of being in movies makes him happy. ‘If you work only from a result-oriented point of view instead of a process-oriented point of view, then you may become unhappy,’ reasons the star.
‘The process of making a film is amazing if you can enjoy it; it makes you do better work and keeps you grounded.’
Shahid has dabbled in different genres and says he’s happy to do it all.
Despite a rocky career, Shahid has proven his acting chops with films such as Udta Punjab and Haider.
‘After Haider, Udta Punjab and the upcoming Rangoon [where he plays a soldier], I want to do a light, fluffy film where I can just sit back and chat with my heroine, and break into a song and dance,’ he laughs. He has just wrapped up shooting for Rangoon, Bhardwaj’s period drama where he stars opposite Kangana Ranaut and Saif Ali Khan.
‘I want to take some time off to be with my wife,’ says Shahid, who has put a few projects on hold until the delivery of his child. ‘I don’t want to start anything new until after the baby arrives.’
The doting husband, Shahid says he enjoys doing ‘everything to keep my wife happy.
‘I’m really excited and looking forward to becoming a dad. It’s a really nice feeling. It will be a new responsibility. Mira keeps putting these cool apps on baby care on my phone and that is how I get weekly updates.’
One of the actors who works extremely hard on the role he plays, Shahid goes to great lengths to get under the skin of his character. To portray Punjabi rock star Tommy Singh in Udta Punjab – which highlights the issue of drug abuse in the north Indian state of Punjab and which opened to rave reviews despite courting controversy for weeks before its release – he grew his hair, spent hours in the gym every day to tone his abs, sported a thick beard and had 14 temporary tattoos done.
It was a huge challenge slipping into that role because of the character’s odd personality,’ says Shahid. ‘He’s a star, so he needs to look good, but he is a drug addict too so he needs to look destroyed. To play somebody who is good looking with a great body and personality but totally messed up in the head was tough.
‘I had to train without eating. Then I had to get into the physicality of the character. It took me three months to get there. I was on a strict diet the whole time and trained for more than three hours daily.’
But the hard work paid off and he has been widely praised for his stellar work in the film.
‘It was definitely difficult playing a substance addict because I have never ever had alcohol in my life,’ says Shahid. ‘I have never tried any drug. I have never had even half a bottle of beer. I was never interested in all these things and I have never supported it.
‘I had no idea how it feels to be a drug addict, I don’t know their state of mind, I have never felt it and was never exposed. So I constantly wondered whether I will make a fool of myself or push my boundaries.
‘Although Udta Punjab is a work of fiction with fictional characters, we have seen many famous pop stars who were addicts and died young. People loved them; they sing, are awesome at shows... and that is the journey of Tommy – the fall of a star because the musician in him falls prey to addiction and he becomes nothing.
‘I had to express a gamut of emotions, so to some degree I went with my instincts, but to a large extent I depended on my director, Abhishek Chaubey.’
Playing Tommy definitely took a toll on Shahid’s body. The actor says he would lie down after every shot. ‘I was not eating any solid food, I was having lot of coffee, which gave me energy. I had to be very aggressive because the character is always on a high, which was very tiring.
‘After the first fortnight of shooting I fell ill. I got three blood tests done, I had no infection. I had fever every day just because my body was too tired.’
Shahid, who is known as one of Bollywood’s fittest actors, turned vegetarian many years ago after reading the book Life is Fair by Brian Hines. His father gifted it to him. ‘I read the book on a flight, and never touched non-vegetarian food again,’ says Shahid. ‘The book is about the ethical issues of eating meat.
‘My diet is full of nutritious foods like beans, spinach, fruits and fresh vegetables. I fuel my body with several small meals a day, so that my energy levels don’t dip. I try and avoid food that is dense in fat or carbs, which isn’t always easy.
‘Over the years, I have learnt how to get the best out of my diet and exercise regimen to achieve my fitness goals.’
Clearly, Shahid’s second innings on both professional as well as personal front are suiting him well.