Come bite me

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Indian television’s biggest male star stays away from gyms and fad diets.  Sunaina Kumar tracks the curious case of Ram Kapoor

Every pound matters Ram Kapoor
Every pound matters Ram Kapoor
Photo: Apoorva Guptay

RAM KAPOOR is extremely generous; he gives his friends anything they want. However, they never ask him for his shirts, because they’re all double XL. Ram Kapoor is adventurous. He loves going on extreme sports holidays. His friends are now inventing an extra strong bungee rope for him. Ram Kapoor is the quintessential argumentative Indian; he can win any argument, especially if he threatens to sit on his opponent. This is a repertoire of Ram Kapoor jokes, all propagated by him, his closest friends and his family.

He steps out of his vanity van outside Balaji Studios’ Andheri office, dressed in a business suit — his outfit in Balaji’s Bade Achhe Lagte Hain. Even in his earliest appearances, in Kavita, Kapoor played the sophisticate, the man Ekta Kapoor was sure young female viewers fantasised about. His Jai Walia in Kasamh Se and Ram in Bade Achhe Lagte Hain are both powerful tycoons in the mould of Mills & Boon heroes. His Bade Achhe... co-star Sakshi Tanwar says people see him as the ideal husband. Rich, powerful, but also very caring.

An elderly man and his granddaughter wait outside the van to see Kapoor. The five-year-old little chit is the fan. Her grandfather is here so that she can get a photo with Kapoor. A traffic havaldar comes and tells Kapoor how he watches his show every night with his family. Kapoor laughs and says he’s relieved; he’d thought he might be coming to arrest him. The charm offensive is 100 percent effective.

Kapoor refuses to take himself seriously, saying, “It’s very important to make fun of yourself.” He encouraged the writers and actors of Bade Achhe… to exploit his weight for humour. “I told them, ‘I will perform it blatantly, if you write it blatantly. No subtleties, please’.”

At 38, Kapoor makes a startlingly appealing change from predictable good looks and six-packs. The father of two is TV’s biggest male star. Bade Achhe… has been in the top five shows for the past three mon – ths. After playing the munificent uncle in Udaan, good film roles are pouring in. Next up is a flamboyant villain in Agent Vinod, outrageous comedy in Karan Johar’s Ek Main Aur Ek Tu, and Student of the Year, where he and wife Gautami act together after eight years.

To Gautami, he is the average out-of-shape Indian male. They met on the sets of Ghar Ek Mandir 10 years ago and fell in love. “Women feel safe with him, he is likeable and real,” she says. Does that make women stalk him at traffic signals, slip him their numbers, send their pictures with proposals, and, on one occasion, bite him? Or is it that Ram Kapoor is the rare fat man whose fat heightens his sex appeal?

Kapoor has an old-fashioned charm. As he runs a cursory glance at the day’s screenplay (it takes him a minute to learn a page), smokes a cigarette (he smokes over 40 a day) and shows off his various accents (he can pull off Russian, Cockney and Scottish), the Marlboro Man comes to mind. “I am comfortable with myself. As an actor, you have to accept yourself completely. If you can mine your insecurities in your performance, it makes you a better actor.”

He talks about his losing battle with weight (it’s in his Kapoor genes, he laughs) and harks back to the time when he had six-pack abs and ‘conned’ his wife into thinking she married a thin man. The weight gain started after marriage, and, he says, that success has followed in direct proportion. Today, he feels that if he loses his weight, he risks his streak of success. He is the only lucky actor who says no to gyms and fad diets, and gets away with it.

Udaan’s director Vikramaditya Motwane is the only one to raise a flag. “Due to his physicality, he’d get certain type of roles. I hope that does not happen. He is such a fine actor. My favourite scene in Udaan is the one when Rohan runs away from home and waves at his uncle. Ram’s face conveys everything — happiness, sadness, regret, pathos.” Sriram Raghavan, who directs Kapoor in Agent Vinod, says: “He is a subtle and real actor. There are a lot of baddies in Agent Vinod. We needed to make each one different from the other.”

Kapoor encouraged the writers of Bade Achhe… to exploit his weight for fun. He recalls, ‘I told them I’d act blatantly if they wrote it blatantly. No subtleties, please’

RAM KAPOOR grew up in the lap of luxury. His father Ranjan Kapoor, a top advertising honcho, expected his son to take on a corporate career. At boarding school in Sherwood College, he acted in an Aamir Raza Husain play and was hooked. After school, he left to study method acting in Stanislavsky College of Acting in Los Angeles. Rejected the first time, he waited a year, selling used cars and coffee at Starbucks, before getting admission. Two years later, he was amongst eight of the 22 students who graduated from his class. “Surviving method acting school was like surviving the US Marines boot camp of emotion,” he says.

Back in Mumbai, he got a role in Sudhir Mishra’s TV show Nyay (1997), Ghar Ek Mandir(2000) and a movie stint with Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003) and Kal (2005). There were long dry spells. For two years after marriage, he sat at home while Gautami worked. He waited for bigger roles in Bollywood. Frustrating though it was, he refused to do the rounds of producers’ offices. The role that finally came was that of the lead in Ekta Kapoor’s Kasamh Se in 2006.

Today life has come full circle. Film producers approach him with quality parts. Motwane says, “Ram enviably gets his bread and butter from TV, and gets to test his mettle in films.” The pressures of a daily soap, with shifts till 4 am, and his movie commitments leave him little time for his one abiding passion, Hollywood. A trivia geek, he can tell you how long was Kevin Spacey a waiter and which college did Dustin Hoffman go to. Every answer comes with a story.

Behind the TV heartthrob is a serious actor. On-screen, he is a part of a world of suspended logic and mediocre acting, off-screen, one can discern his passion for his craft. By his own admission he, his friends and family are not the target audience of his shows. “My personal and professional worlds are totally apart. It ensures there’s never a dull moment.” His practical side says, “I am lucky to have made it on TV, why should I question it? I’ve never acted in a regressive show.”

A director once asked Ram to hold his expression for a few seconds for the clichéd three-angles so popular in Indian soaps. He showed the director his middle finger.

Sunaina Kumar is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.com. 
sunaina@tehelka.com

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