Janhvi Kapoor's Bollywood debut is highly anticipated even by the standard for children of movie stars in the Hindi film industry. Her mother, actress Sridevi’s sudden death in February also piqued interest in the 21-year-old, who plays the lead in the upcoming romantic drama “Dhadak” (Heartbeat), a remake of the hugely successful Marathi film “Sairat”.
Since the trailer’s release a month ago, Kapoor and co-star Ishaan Khatter have been under constant scrutiny, whether at their numerous promotional appearances or on social media, where not everyone is happy at what is perceived in some quarters as a Bollywood-ised, airbrushed remake of a regional film.
Kapoor spoke to Reuters about the film, why she reads comments about her on social media, and what it felt like going back to work almost immediately after the death of her mother.
(Note language some may find offensive in paragraph 13 and 16)
Q: You come from a completely different background than your character Parthivi. What was it like to get under the skin of someone who is nothing like you?
A: That is the fun of it though. That’s why I want to act, so that I can explore these new things and become these new people. If I was just an ordinary person, which I am, and didn’t have the opportunity to do this film, I would never have known much about Mewari culture or Rajasthan, or be able to speak the dialect. I would never know what it feels like to jump on a train.
I am giving away plot points here, but I would never have known what it feels like to have a baby. It was a fleeting maternal moment. In acting, you have to fool yourself – you mess with yourself into believing things. You play games with yourself to orchestrate certain situations, which is so much fun. I got to learn a lot. I just hope now it translates on screen, otherwise I’m only learning and no one notices.
Q: Why is it important for the audience to notice?
A: Acting isn’t a selfish profession. I can love it as much as I want. I can grow from it and learn from it, but the important thing is that the audience feels for you more than you feel for yourself. The audience learns more from your work than you learnt from it. It is a very giving profession, I think.
Q: So much of what you are saying depends on variables you cannot control, like audience tastes, etc. Are you prepared for the highs and lows that will come your way because of that?
A: I can say I am prepared for it, but no one really is prepared. The only thing that I could do to ensure this would turn out ideally was to work hard and work honestly. I don’t know if it has resulted in good work or not – I only know that it is honest work. I am just hoping and praying that it translates on screen.
Sometimes, in your head, you are feeling all of these things and doing all of these things, but what is the point if the audience isn’t feeling it? I have seen films where the actors are sobbing on screen and they talk about, “I went into this emotional space” etc, but what is the point of it if the audience doesn’t feel it? That is why promoting (the film) is getting hard for me. I’d much rather just shut up and just have them (audiences) see it.
Q: There is also a school of thought that says cinema should be done for your own creative satisfaction and that someone else’s opinion should not be the prime concern.
A: I was thinking about this the other day, and film is very different to art or writing. You do that for self-fulfillment too, but what do you need to paint? A paintbrush and paper and your thoughts. But to get the opportunity to act for self-fulfillment, you still need society to believe in you; you need audiences to react to you and if you don’t get that, where is the opportunity to attain self-fulfillment? You cannot sit at home at act. You need a story, a director, you need people to believe in you, to put you through that journey. It is not something you can attain within yourself.
Q: Tell us the kind of pressure you are facing in making a highly anticipated debut.
A: It’s kind of like you are in an arena, on a podium. You are just standing there, watching people point fingers, judge and dissect you, but you have to keep a smile on your face and pretend to enjoy it the whole time. But getting the opportunity to do this film is more than I could ever have asked for, so you can put me on any podium in the world and I’ll take it.
A: It’s not a joke to get an opportunity like this. If the price of that is getting this kind of flak or attention, I can only hope to win people over with my work. I love this too much…
Q: But you can’t be smiling all the time in the face of criticism.
A: I don’t smile all the time. Trust me, there have been days when I have been a mess. But even that’s an experience. It cannot all be easy. It’s been tougher for other people. I got this opportunity, so there must be something that’s hard about it right? To make me value this. The things that are hard for me, it’s probably a joke for someone else, if you consider what other people are going through.
Q: You went back to shooting “Dhadak” a few days after your mother passed away, and even then, there were paparazzi pictures of you on set. Was it tough?
A: Yeah, but I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. Now that I think about, if this had happened to someone else and I was told about it, I’d go, “poor thing”. But because I have lived it, there wasn’t even a second where I felt, “shit, this is hard” or “I feel targeted”, because I was so blessed to be on that set every day. I was like, “thank god I have my work to come back to”. Otherwise there was no coming out of that. If I had to deal with people clicking pictures of me on set, I was like, “lene de yaar” (It doesn’t matter).
Q: This film also comes at a time when the nepotism debate is raging. Do you feel the wrath of that on social media?
A: I underestimated how angry people are. They are pissed off. But I can’t judge. I can understand where their frustration is coming from. It must be hard. I do feel cornered and bullied at times. Like, “why are you so angry?” Maybe I suck, but give me a chance.
I feel a responsibility towards them as well. I understand that you feel like you have been robbed of an opportunity that has been handed to me. I’m sure there are people who are more talented than me, and more good looking than me – I promise you there are. But I am not going to pass on this opportunity just because… (trails off). It’s a big deal for me. Why the hell should I give it up? The only thing I can do is value it and make the most of it. It is wrong and messed up if I take advantage of it, am complacent and think it is my birthright to be here. I know it is not. I know I need to earn people’s love. I know I need to work ten times harder because there is a stigma attached to how I’ve gotten this opportunity.
Q: Do you filter out comments on social media? Do you read the YouTube comments and the Instagram comments?
A: I do, oh God, I do. Everyone tells me not to. But I don’t want to be one of those delusional people who think they are doing everything right and everything’s going good. Because everyone around me has been so positive, that I wonder, “Is this too good to be true?”. Then I go online and read these comments, and then I am like: “Shit, I’m really the scum of the earth.”
I think of what that person must be going through and thinking, that they might feel better by pulling someone else down. No one would say this to your face, but social media makes us all faceless, and you don’t get called out for this.
And I’ve noticed a pattern, where this kind of comment gets a thousand times more likes than any positive comment would get. It’s horrible that people are reacting more to negativity than positivity. And then there are these news portals and websites which pick them as news with “Twitter says” and “Instagram says”. Twitter and Instagram are also saying these amazing things, but they’ll never write about that. Because they know they’ll get more views if they talk about something negative. I think it is shitty that they are encouraging this cycle of negativity and frustration in people. There must be so much dirt in your mind… I don’t know. Just be chill. Have some ice cream.