Arjun Kapoor in his new film India’s Most Wanted takes on a very challenging and incredible true-life character in the drama directed by Raj Kumar Gupta. Inspired by true events, made reel, India’s Most Wanted brings to life the story of one of the biggest covert operations undertaken in the country. It is a story of true grit and determination, of a manhunt led by 5 unlikely heroes, who captured one of India’s most dangerous terrorists without firing a single bullet.
To give you an idea of the tense and incredible true story that the film tells, check out the trailer.
In a very special conversation Arjun Kapoor gives insight into the story and the real-life characters and goes deep into how he became Prabhat and why he feels this film, and especially this story, is such an important one for audiences to experience.
What drew you to this film?
When I read the script that Raj sir sent me, I realized that being somebody who assumes he is well rounded and aware and involved in the culture and the history of our country I had no idea that this incident had taken place. That this is how they captured him. I was taken by surprise that if I am not aware – imagine how many people would not actually be aware that this manhunt took place to catch this man, who was responsible for 400 deaths!
Can you give us a little insight into your character?
I play an Intelligence Bureau Officer whose main job is to gather intel and make out the intel. He is someone who is very disciplined and very dedicated – he has been on the job for a few years. Very straightforward. Very cut throat. He does not think twice before taking action. He is very impulsive and spontaneous about reacting to information that is put across to him. And he is ready to die for the country. Which is something we all need to understand: that these officers are prepared to do that – that is why they got this job.
Is it harder to play someone real?
You know, I think Raj sir has just changed the names and fictionalized the nuances and beats slightly. But just the fact that a man like him exists and I have the responsibility to play him does put a certain amount of onus on me. Which, actually I felt was nice, the fact that he considered me worthy enough to do this. It gave me good responsibility that I am at that age that along with being an entertainer I also have to take responsibility of doing things that influence the younger generation.
How did you get in the mindset of this character?
Thanks to Raj sir, I managed to meet a few officers – spend time and talk to them and understand that for them violence is the last resort. They actually want to do everything to avoid reaching that point. The whole point is that the intelligence bureau has to clue into the intelligence. Also, they need to blend into the crowd, they need to have the ability to have a certain social understanding because they need to operate at a level to get info and intel from people. They actually have to be a good cop more than a bad cop. So, there is a lot of psychological warfare – if you can call it that. It actually is more about mind games. It is more about extraction. So, they hunt like tigers not like lions.
It must have been fascinating to get into the mindset of this character and play him…
Oh yes, definitely. I think that that was the layer that was really made it exciting by the time I reached the set because I signed it more for the story and then to realize that the character had so many layers to unveil.
Now this I believe was shot under challenging conditions; can you tell us about those experiences?
Yes, we shot on live locations! We shot in Nepal and Patna. We shot a little bit in Mumbai which was on a set, but otherwise 90% of the story was based on live locations.
Thankfully I am used to being on live locations, so I was prepared but it still is overwhelming to go shoot in a foreign land. Especially when you are shooting such a serious film. You need to stay in the zone. Stay in character. The extreme ends of the spectrum in terms of the emotions that you are feeling while shooting. Difficult conditions like rain, climate changes are also a factor.
Of course, also when you are going to a place like Patna, where no Hindi film has been shot so extensively, it is different. Patna is considered the political capital of India, so it is a very busy town. Very few celebrities end up going there so there is a quest for the people to see them and they get very excitable when they see us – so you have to have a little bit of extra security to go there.
They are very fascinated by their Heroes and they love us, so we have to be extra careful. But they were very kind. It was a beautiful experience. I loved it! I enjoyed it.
The thing is the security was so thorough and the guys coped so well that we managed to finish our work a day in advance.
You just said that this was a very emotional journey for this character, did you have trouble at the end of the day and at the end of the shoot to let it go? How did you deal with that?
It was! You know, I had to carry it with me because you might be play acting, but you are always talking about a man who killed 400 people! That really bears heavy on your conscience. You have to do justice. The responsibility is immense. These are men that existed in our country today, hidden in plain sight, and they never got their due. They are unsung heroes, so you carry that with you. You carry it on your sleeve, and you roam around with it on a daily basis on set. You can’t ever let go of that. I guess after the end of the film it just becomes part of your existence where you are humbled by the fact that these people are real heroes, but you are a reel hero – if I may say that.
I imagine that one thing that not only the writers and directors wanted to keep in mind but you as an actor and the rest of the cast to make sure and keep it real, not sensationalize it. Would you say that was true?
Yes! I think Raj sir was very clear from day 1 that that was what he wanted. He wanted to make sure that we are honest to the world, we are honest to the milieu and that we tell the story right. It is not sensationalizing it – it is not about politicizing it per se. It is more to do with making sure we tell the story in an authentic and dignified fashion rather than making a mockery out of it by fictionalizing it and going James Bond on the situation.
How was it to work with director Raj Kumar Gupta?
Fantastic! I have always been a fan of his work. He is somebody who has always made very emotionally rooted films. If you see his films, they are more character studies in that he actually takes real life situations and circumstances, but he follows them from a character point of view rather than a situation point of view. So, what happens is you always enter a film with an emotional context rather than it being a situational context. Which I really like because what happens is that then you are always connected to the characters that he wants you to connect with. So even if the story slows down for a beat, you still like these characters and you are invested and stay with them.
What do you think he brought out in you as actor?
I think somebody said that my performance was simmering with aggression, but see simmering is difficult to portray on screen because you have a tendency to put it all in the frame and let it explode. In this you have a tipping point, or a boiling point and you have to maintain that through the film where you are on the edge, but you never quite burst. You know walking that thin line through out a film where you have to be simmering and you have to have a certain energy and a dynamic, but you can never let it become fake. You have to let it just come through that you are angry visibly. It is something that is internalized. It is something much more internal than external.
Was it a challenge to keep it to that beat?
Oh yes, it is because the tendency is always to act for camera not for yourself you know. So, you need to take a beat and always make it your own. Live it – breathe it – own it and then perform. Rather than just perform it!
Have you seen the film? What do you think of it and your performance?
I mean I don’t like watching myself, but I had to see the film. (You can hear the smile). I saw it in April in fact and I have seen it in bits and pieces through the promotions. I know what the film is, and I am very aware of what we have made, and I know we have made a very decent film. I know we have a made a very genuine film. You know, I think that is the need of the hour.
What do you hope audiences feel and experience when they see this film?
I think they should feel proud to be an Indian. That is the first important thing. And you know the audience should feel proud that with all the bad in every country there comes a good in the middle class of the country. Like the officers in this film. No matter which part of the world you are in the middle class runs the country. And these agents of the middle class of the country are working tirelessly to keep your country safe. We don’t take a beat to respect that. We take them for granted on a daily basis. I am hoping they come out and say a small thank you in their hearts and their heads to those people that keep us safe.
The first reviews and tweets I have seen have been really great! How does that feel?
Yes, but you try and not get carried away. You keep your head down and you still stay grounded. I don’t want to talk about it and jinx it. I am just going to let life unfold one day at a time. But definitely it is flattering, and you feel your hard work has been appreciated.
Are you nervous?
Am I nervous? Aren’t we all nervous in a good way and a bad way? I think I am a good nervous. I happy being nervous because I think that shows I that I care and that there are still emotions left within me. If I was numb right now beyond the point…I mean I am comfortably numb, but I am still emotional, so I don’t know. You know, I don’t really know how to put it because you go through so much right now before a release. You know you are sending it to the audience and letting it go and you have to accept that also.
What makes you the most proud about this film?
Everything! I think just being part of a story that need to be told. I am very happy that I was chosen to play this character.
You have Ashutosh Gowariker’s Panipat right now, can you tell us about that and how is that going?
That was one of the bloodiest battles that took place in our country in ancient times. So, it is sort-of like Braveheart was for the Scottish people – it is that kind of film. It is a period action drama war film. I have about a month of shooting left. We paused shooting so I could do the promotions and release this film, and then I will go back to it.
Are you enjoying being a part of this film?
I am loving it. To be a part of a film which takes you so far away from modern India and back to a different era and a different time, it is always exciting as an actor. I guess that is why I signed it to be transported to a different universe all together.
Looking back over you career so far what would you say?
(Laughs) I have a lot of things to say but what is important is that people should say good things. Every day you live and learn. I am just happy that the audience has given me this love. I hope that I can keep entertaining them. I think that is the most important part. If you told me 7 years back I would be in this enviable position I wouldn’t have believed you, but today I am in a position where I can pick and choose the people I want to associate with and work with and that is always a very happy feeling, right?
I would like to thank Arjun for his in-depth and open answers. It truly was wonderful to talk with him! I look forward to hopefully talking more about Panipat!
India’s Most Wanted releases on May 24th!