MUMBAI — When we ask Arjun Kapoor, who plays Sadashivrao, the Peshwa protagonist of “Panipat,” how much Marathi he knows, he replies, “Malaa Marathi yete (I know Marathi)! I can understand it completely, but I am hesitant to speak it, as any mistake might offend someone.”
Reeling under several flops (his last hit was “2 States” way back in 2014), the son of Boney Kapoor is now adorned in a (real) moustache and has shaved his head (“On November 16, 2018!” he informs) for his role in the film. Now looking completely normal, the pleasant actor meets the media at the Hotel Sun’N’Sand.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: What was the main challenge in doing this role?
A: We have read about the Peshwas in history, but we forget that whatever else they were, they were human beings as well. We are consumed by the period films that we have watched and what we have been told, but we do not know exactly how they behaved and spoke. Ashutosh Gowariker, my one-stop shop for the research—as he is like an encyclopedia—told me to be human like any of us.
So I had to unlearn that ‘period’ baggage, which was the biggest challenge. Just as any of us would behave differently in office, at home or with friends, Sadashivrao must have been different with the warriors, with his wife and with his friends. A man who leads his men to war must also be feeling vulnerable as well as their life is in his hands.
But the great foundation—the sets, costumes and ambience, and no mobilephones were allowed—and finally the big Marathi actors whom I kept hearing throughout the day, created that feeling for the era.
Q: And what about the physical aspects?
A: Armor pads, shin pads, metal over my forearms, shoulders, body—I am tired even telling you about it! It all weighed about 18 kilos, and with all that, I had to sit on a horse, because the director wanted real metal as the sun could glint on it! It took four men to make me mount and dismount the horse, and for some reason, they shot the battle-scenes in May! (Smiles) I could not even throw a spear properly as I could not move my arm freely. And I had to control my horse with all of this! I know all this sounds tough, but when I watched the film, it all seems worth it!
Q: And how was the horse riding angle?
A: Before I forget, I also learned to throw the javelin, and the footwork for it, which I had no clue about! My horse’s name was Jabbar, and he even came with us to Jaipur. I practiced riding for two months with him at Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Race Course, and Ashutosh suggested I make him feel secure by riding him every day from my vanity van to the sets! In the end, wohi mujhe chala rahaa tha (He was driving me)! (Smiles) Actually, Kriti Sanon thinks otherwise, but she was my second-most important co-star, the horse was the most important one!
Q: And what about this second most important co-star?
A (Smiles broadly): Without Kriti as Parvatibai, I would not be Sadashivrao bhau. She completes me in the film. As she puts it, “Main sukh mein peeche rahoongi, aur dukh mein aage aaoongi (I will be behind you during happy times, but will come in front of you in the bad phases).” In those days, when war could last between a few days to many months, women never came to war but pined for their husbands.
As a person, Kriti is a nice example of the upcoming womanhood in India. She is well-spoken and well-behaved, has never chased stardom but done all kinds of work and is very sensible. She is a very good example of an outsider making it and thus showing that the industry is a very nice place.
As a co-star, Kriti and I used each other to entertain, as the good part is that we got along very well, and we are very similar in our mindsets.
Q: What fired you about the story?
A: People know the end—that people were killed, but not the beginning and the middle of this story of the third battle of Panipat. There were so many important characters, and family politics. More than that, it was a war between Indians and outsiders, and Sadashivrao was the first to take a stand and have a vision for a united India. History has always been selective, suppressing some stories or leaving them out. But that’s fine now, as when they watch this film, maybe we will care and consume more and store the story and the people in our hearts.
And whether it is “Kesari,” “Bajirao Mastani” or the forthcoming “Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior” and even the fictional “Bahubali” franchise, period films have a strange appeal. The problem is that everyone can’t make such a film well, so what I am afraid is that a few bad films can close this genre.
Q: Do you think our technical standards are nearing Hollywood’s?
A: Definitely. We have reached 50 percent of them with a fraction of their budgets. We were at zero a short while ago, and they are the inventors and we the followers, but we are not doing badly at all. There will be no end to comparisons, but if you see the work done in “War,” or in my “Mubarakan,” in which one Arjun Kapoor spoke to the other for 70 minutes, you will realize that we have made huge leaps. So we must look at our films on their own steam.
Q: Films like “Bahubali” or “Bajirao Mastani” set high standards. So is there a pressure to match up?
A: Yes, but that is good pressure. A viewer may be disappointed if he feels he has watched a film before that is better than what we are offering.
Q: What about the competition of a co-release in “Pati Patni Aur Woh?”
A: We cannot help it. We had announced our release date in March 2018! But there is always place for two or three films together. “Raid,” “Hichki” and “Baaghi 2” did well as consecutive releases. I just want credibility as an actor. And who does not like a hit? So I want my credible film to do incredible business!
Q: Ranveer Singh, who played Bajirao in “Bajirao Mastani,” is your good friend. What does he have to say about your film?
A: He met me recently, and kept on saying, “Baba baba baba baba, bhau bhau bhau bhau!” (Grins)