There’s finally some noise about Tusshar Kapoor, with critical acclaims for Shor in the City and wide anticipation of Dirty Picture (the biopic about soft porn superstar and actress Silk Smitha). “Finally,” he repeats after me, “I’ve had my own struggle. Around the time I was making my debut, there were other actors who had big names like Boney Kapoor and Rajiv Rai backing them. Of course, Hrithik (Roshan) had become an overnight sensation. Despite being a star son, I had to struggle to get films. I’m not boasting about myself, but some of the actors who came with me are not even there today, but I’ve survived.” He takes a deep breath and says, rather insightfully, making you look at him twice: “Survival is another kind of success.” Excerpts from an interview:
Q What kind of response are you getting for Shor in the City?
A I was at a film festival in New York where it was being screened, and was surprised at just how many people turned up. Even NRIs who love the Karan Johar and Sooraj Barjatya kind of cinema were there, and they were impressed with its grittiness.
Q Your father starred in a number of Gulzar’s middle-of-the-road films. Now, you’re doing a Barjatya film titled Love U… Mr Kalakaar! Can we really expect such a shift from you?
A Why not? Dad acted in wonderful films like Parichay, Khushboo and Kinara. I’d once spoken to Gulzarsaab and begged him to cast me. Unfortunately, he wasn’t making any film at that time. I’d love to work with Mahesh Bhatt, Mira Nair and Aamir Khan. Aamir’s Taare Zameen Par is a perfect example of middle-of-the-road cinema. When one plays roles such as that of a cartoonist, like I am in Love U… Mr Kalakaar!, you realise every person is a hero; an artist is a hero, too.
Q What about allegations that your sister (Ekta Kapoor) makes films especially for you?
A Don’t star sons act in their home productions? Everybody is making films for themselves. If you think Ekta produces films only for me, then she should’ve taken me instead of Emraan Hashmi in Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai.
Q How much truth is there in tabloid reports that hint at your role being increased in Shor in the City, which happens to be your home production?
A We have added some scenes which include two of mine, one of Sendhil’s (Ramamurthy) and a few of other actors. Despite that, I’d say the city is the film’s real hero.
Q For someone who often says that you’re your biggest critic, what do you do to improve your craft? For instance, you don’t do theatre that helps develop one’s skills.
A I take my work very seriously. For the Golmaal series, I trained hard to play that role (of a mute). People have really taken to the character of Lucky, especially kids. Frankly, I’ve always wanted to be known among kids because they are a huge fan base. Once the kids like you, the family likes you.
Q Do you really believe people started taking you seriously with a comedy like Golmaal?
A Yes, because even if you’re doing comedy, you’re acting. It’s not that it doesn’t require any effort. But I think Khakee was the turning point. After that, the films started getting bigger and better.
Q Come 25 May, you’d have spent a full decade in films. What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt in these years?
A My God! Ten years sound so big. I think I’ve learnt to say ‘no’—no to bad projects, especially if they are with friends or people you’re emotionally close to. Probably they won’t like it at first but later, they will respect that you had the honesty to say ‘no’. But if you do the film in fear ki na kaise bolenge (how do you say ‘no’), then you destroy yourself.
Q Your worst year of the decade?
A 2002-2003. (Laughs) Yeh Dil, Kyaa Dil Ne Kahaa, Jeena Sirf Merre Liye and Kucch To Hai had all bombed. I was in Nashik shooting for Khakee, and I remember I used to feel very lonely.
Q Aren’t those the films you should have avoided?
A Why only those, what about Shart: The Challenge and Insan? I did those films because I always thought you should have a few films on your hand. Old-school thinking, you know.
Q What have been the other realisations?
A That an actor is a whole package. In the last two years, I’ve started marketing myself more aggressively. In my father’s time, there was nothing called PR. But I realised the business is changing and you’ve got to change with it. Over the years, I realised that though some of my films were doing well, somewhere my branding was not up there. The papers weren’t writing about me, and at some point, how much you get written about becomes as important as your hits. There are actors who have fewer hits than me or have only one hit in a line of ten flops, yet they are better perceived. Today, you’ve to hammer the fact that your film has done well. You have to push yourself.
Q So, are your recent romantic link-ups—with your Shor in the City co-star Radhika Apte, for example—the handiwork of your marketing team?
A I never use my personal life to get mileage. I’m really friendly with Radhika, but I didn’t recommend her, as the tabloids are saying. I don’t leak news to the media. I think it’s become a mantra to talk about your flings. I know actors who send messages to the media that ‘we are here today’ to be in the ‘spotted’ columns. I’ve always believed in serious relationships. But, you know, talking about the relationship before it becomes serious also attracts unnecessary attention.
Q That means your relationship status is: ‘It’s complicated’.
A (Laughs) I’m single and ready to mingle.
Q How popular were you with girls in school and college?
A I wasn’t shy. From the first time I became aware of ‘the birds and bees’, I wasn’t afraid. In fact, my friends used to ask me to help set them up with girls. I always had female cousins around, so I was quite comfortable with girls.
Q How did you get stuck with this sweet boy image while other actors project themselves as Casanovas?
A I’m polite to everyone. I don’t get linked up often. Maybe that’s why.
Q Did you have doubts about yourself when people would say that you’re not hero material—maybe because of your unassuming looks?
A Yeah, I was new and used to read that ‘He’s ordinary looking’. I used to feel bad. They were being harsh even though I think they should’ve understood that you just get better with your job. Look at Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi or Amitji. They were quite raw in their initial years. They groomed themselves. Not everyone comes completely prepared. Although I grew up with dad being an actor, I never knew the ropes of filmmaking or what it is to become an actor. I was a business student from the University of Michigan, and I came looking like one, not like a hero. I didn’t want to be a hero in the first place.
Yes, I was trying my best to be away from films. But I didn’t enjoy my job as a financial analyst from 1998 to 1999. Then I decided to get into films, not as an actor but just to do something. When I came in 1999, I became an assistant to David Dhawan. Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai happened because Rumy bhai (Jaffery) recommended me.
Q How did your friendship with Kareena Kapoor start?
A During Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai, we’d do our own thing. Then we met here and there until we were cast in Jeena Sirf Merre Liye. It bombed but made us great friends. She’s like me—we love food. Also because we started our careers together and have an almost similar graph. We have common friends too.