Often male actors are not lucky enough that their career-defining performances also end up becoming their biggest box office success. For a long time, Aamir Khan’s biggest money-spinner, Raja Hindustani, was not the performance that the actor would have ideally liked people to remember him by. Similarly, for Shah Rukh Khan a Happy New Year or a Chennai Express finding more box office success than a Chak De India or a Swades spoke of how the audiences loved him in a certain way. When it comes to Ranbir Kapoor, his most compelling performance — Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year — received a lukewarm response at the box office. However, films where his performances have been strongest — Rockstar and Barfi, for instance — have also enjoyed commercial success. With Sanju opening to both critical acclaim (specifically for Kapoor) as well as brisk box office collections (the film has had the highest opening of 2018 thus far), the young star is poised to add yet another career-defining role that is also a commercial success to his repertoire.
While Kapoor might not the most consistent contemporary male star in Bollywood when it comes to commercial success, there is little doubt about his unique position. For a long time, Kapoor has been considered the ‘great hope’ of commercial Hindi cinema and while one could ascribe it to his ‘Kapoor’ lineage, it’s not that he hasn’t proved he’s more than a famous surname. What does make Ranbir Kapoor unique among his peers is the manner in which he seems to be insulated from the box office fate of his films. Once again, a few might be quick to credit his pedigree for this ‘first in case of fire’ kind of love the industry showers on him, but there seems to be a genuine fondness for Kapoor in the viewer who is willing to forgive him for misfires like Roy, Besharam and Bombay Velvet.
One of the reasons why Kapoor gets — for want of a better expression — a slew of unending chances, is the earnestness that he displays as an actor.
Right from Saawariya (2007), which despite having Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s name attached to it was probably the worst debut a star child — and that too a ‘Kapoor’ — could have asked for, to Sanju where he ‘becomes’ Sanjay Dutt, there is rarely a moment from any of his films where Kapoor doesn’t seem to be working on his characters. Kapoor more than managed to get back on his feet post-Saawariya with Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) — a typical new Bollywood production — but it was the three releases that he had the next year that probably ensured Kapoor’s status for not just the industry but also the audiences as well as critics. In a single year, 2009, Kapoor had a masala Hindi film (Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani), a pitch-perfect story for the upwardly mobile multiplex audience (Wake Up Sid) and a favourite of critics and the discerning Hindi film aficionado (Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year). The first was Kapoor’s maiden blockbuster, the second a hit that enjoyed a following in some territories and the last — in spite being a complete washout commercially — charmed just about anyone who saw it.
Kapoor is also one of the few new-age male stars in Hindi films who seem to steer clear of multi-starrers or two-hero projects. He is also a rare variety, who, even within the trappings of popular Hindi cinema, has managed to infuse a semblance of experimentation. His Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, now seems like the ‘art-house’ foray that actors in the 1970s or 1980s would attempt — Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore in Avishkaar, Dimple Kapadia in Rudali, etc — and even Raajneeti (2010) seems like an attempt to push himself without going too far. Rockstar (2011) and Barfi (2012) fit the description of being same, same but different and both hit the sweet spot both in terms of commercial success as well as critical acclaim.
As someone who grew up in the midst of the film business, Ranbir (just like a Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgn, Karisma Kapoor or Sonam) could have a subconscious fear of spiralling out of orbit while attempting a particular kind of role. Who knows, this could be at the back of Ranbir’s mind when he agreed to do a Besharam, which was more of a ‘standard Hindi film’ than his other filmography. The last few releases might have seen Kapoor oscillate between success and abject failure — Bombay Velvet (2015), Tamasha (2015), Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016), Jagga Jasoos (2017). But when his enacting of the famous scene from Munnabhai MBBS (where he channels Sanjay Dutt’s character questioning if a patient should fill out paperwork before being admitted to a hospital even if he/she is on the verge of death) brings people in droves to the theatres — as is the case with Sanju — then you know that Ranbir Kapoor truly is living it up.