Bollywood: Arjun Rampal on the heartbreak of box office failures and why he still believes in destiny

The actor/producer shares his ambition for the future.


Ambica Sachin

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Published: Sat 16 Jul 2022, 11:54 AM

Last updated: Sat 16 Jul 2022, 2:54 PM

For a supermodel turned actor, whose chiselled physique, baritone voice and brooding looks should have been his calling card, Arjun Rampal has made it clear over his 20 odd years in Bollywood, that he is more than just his physicality.

Ever since his cool and collected debut in 2001’s Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat, he has ensured his presence could never be ignored, whether his movies went on to do well or not.

In an industry that sets a premium on over-the-top acting and larger-than-life personalities, Rampal has held his own with his understated acting chops. Such is Arjun Rampal’s magnetism that when the Kangana Ranaut led action thriller Dhaakad hit screens, his eerie performance as the kingpin (Rudraveer) of an international sex trafficking ring, became one of the movie’s most talked about characters even as the ambitious project failed to set the box office alight.

The National award winning actor is currently on a roll with the much-lauded festival circuit movie, Aparna Sen’s The Rapist adding heft to his repertoire. He marks his South Indian debut with Pawan Kalyan’s upcoming big budget film and has also got Abbas Mustan’s Netflix thriller Penthouse and period war drama The Battle of Bhima Koregaon with Sunny Leone in his kitty.

We caught up with the enigmatic actor over Zoom recently where he displayed a deeply philosophical side to his personality and shared his ambition to venture into direction in the near future.

You have spent 20 years in an industry where many don’t even last a few years. To what do you attribute your success and longevity?

A lot of luck. You need to have a lot of luck and a lot of perseverance. You need to be extremely honest with yourself and of course you need to have a belief that comes from within, otherwise you can very easily get disillusioned and tend to give up in a profession like this. But If you love your job and want to be part of stories you want to tell, then the universe just finds a way of finding you good stories.

Have there been many dark moments in your life over the past 20 years?

I’m like a bull! I keep going. I’m an eternal optimist which kind of helps. You’ve got to understand that we give too much importance to failure and success. But very rarely do we concentrate on the moments. Once you start working towards creating great experiences in life, and take out all the distractions, and work with honesty, there is no way you’d ever end up with the short end of the stick. You will only grow from there and will always find hope and light at the end of the tunnel.

Yes, I have been in many dark spaces. (Bollywood) is a very demanding profession. It takes a lot from you. It also gives you a lot. Sometimes it can leave you extremely depleted, doubting yourself. The only person you should blame is yourself and the only person you should give a pat on the back is yourself when it goes through well.

There are no excuses; when things go wrong, they go wrong. You just have to learn from them. There are things which are totally out of your control. A good film that you believed in, doesn’t do that well when the fact of the matter is that it is not that it will not do well for perpetuity. At some point in time, somebody is going to see it and it will bring you what it deserves to bring you.

I have gone through those journeys. Sometimes when a good film doesn’t work it is extremely disappointing and heartbreaking but when you get offers because of that performance, it just comes at the right time as well. So it all falls into place at the end.

Arjun Rampal as Rudraveer in 'Dhaakad'
Arjun Rampal as Rudraveer in 'Dhaakad'

Your character Rudraveer in Dhaakad came in for a lot of praise but the movie unfortunately didn’t do too well. How do you react to that?

This is the kind of film where you knew you were doing something new; there was a very different energy, a very different approach, a very talented filmmaker making his first film. So for me it was really heartbreaking. People just didn’t go into the theatres to watch the film and that really took me by surprise. But everybody has their own reasons. I do believe that every film comes with its own destiny. It’s out on OTT now and I know its going to get a phenomenal response. It is a film which will definitely be in my showreel; it is a part of my filmography, which I am proud of.

If you can even walk away with that much, it is a big blessing specially when films can go so wrong as well. It’s unfortunate and extremely heartbreaking when it doesn’t perform at the box office the way it should have. But you can’t live in the past as well. It’s not the end; the film is now on Zee5.

As an actor you have consistently made your presence felt on the screen with minimal talk or action. Has your approach to roles and characters changed over the years?

I like to internalise everything. I like to understand the character. I like to get into his psyche — it’s just about internalising the emotions of that person and getting really honest with that.

If you can breathe life like a normal person into those characters, they become believable. So even if you are not saying or doing anything it doesn’t matter, your aura and presence are going to be like that.

You attribute luck to your longevity in the industry, but do you also believe the spurt of OTT post Covid has given many mainstream actors a chance to reinvent themselves?

I don’t think it was just because of Covid. People moving to OTT was going to happen because you had good budgets plus unique content and you can really push the envelope on the platform. It is a wonderful space to grow as an actor.

There were many actors who were sitting at home, now they are the busiest actors (on OTT). There are also new voices, which are getting an opportunity to showcase their talent and thought process. It was inevitable, this was going to be the future whether you like it or not.

Theatre and movies are going to be big cinematic experiences. People are only going to go watch the film if it is mounted on a big scale like how films were made in the 80s and 90s. There’s going to be a lot of change in the way people are going to approach films, what they will go to theatres for and what they will subscribe and watch at home.

Arjun Rampal with Konkona Sen Sharma in 'The Rapist'
Arjun Rampal with Konkona Sen Sharma in 'The Rapist'

You have so much going on right now in terms of films and projects. But what really excites you about the future?

I have over the course of 8-10 years, acquired and invested in many scripts. I’m just waiting for the right time to start producing all of them; that’s what I’m extremely excited about.

I definitely want to direct in the near future, but I haven’t found the right story yet. I have a wonderful team of people who are on the cusp of getting this executed. That’s what’s going to keep me busy for the next 10 years.

What does success mean to you?

Success for me is always being out of your comfort zone and not getting complacent.

If you are constantly in a position to do something new and different and not be comfortable and complacent you will be successful.

Would you characterise yourself as being ambitious?

If I wasn’t I would not have survived for so long!

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give your daughters if they want to enter Bollywood?

She (Mahikaa) does want to act. I don’t like the word Bollywood — the Indian film industry or the industry anywhere in the world… My advice would be very simple — listen, this is not for everyone. In this industry you have to have really thick skin but you also have to be supremely sensitive. For that it is very important to get an education.

So she has gone to MetFilm School in London where she is studying how a film is made from start to finish, plus doing all the acting and she is really enjoying it. There are so many great institutes out there for youngsters to understand the whole craft. I wish I had that while growing up, but if anybody wants to act, I would give the same advice for youngsters; go out there and study it like any other profession.

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