Underrated Yet Relentless: Shahid Kapoor Is a Wondrous Oddity

There are stars and there are actors. Shahid Kapoor is both.

5 min read
Shahid Kapoor will celebrate his 37th birthday on 25 February 2018. 

I grew up swooning and sighing over the suave Aditya Kashyap in Jab We Met. So did an entire generation of millennial women ensnared by his charm. He grew up too and how!

A look at Shahid Kapoor’s last five onscreen outings and you’ll know what I am talking about.

Padmaavat. Rangoon. Udta Punjab. Shaandaar. Haider

He pulls off a finely calibrated performance as the restrained Maharawal Ratan Singh in Padmaavat and is doggedly convincing as the tattooed, gun-toting perennially drugged and delirious rockstar in Udta Punjab. He  is surprisingly straightforward in Rangoon and makes you marvel at his rambunctiousness in Haider. As for Shaandaar, we are all allowed our share of mistakes.

In being a part of one ambitious project after other, Shahid has cemented his position as one of the most bankable actors in the industry currently. But the sparks of brilliance were visible since the beginning.

The Quintessential Chocolate Boy

Shahid Kapoor in <i>Ishq Vishq</i> (left), <i>Jab We Met</i> (centre) and <i>Kismat Konnection</i> (right).&nbsp;
Shahid Kapoor in Ishq Vishq (left), Jab We Met (centre) and Kismat Konnection (right). 
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/Altered by The Quint)

It was 2003. The Khan trinity were ruling the roost. Hrithik Roshan had made a sensational debut just three years back and was steadily cementing his place in the audience’s heart.

And then came a conventional chocolate boy, making a conveniently safe debut as Rajiv Mathur in Ken Ghosh’s romantic comedy Ishq Vishk. His chiselled body, solid screen presence and incredible dance moves landed him all the major debut awards next year.

But as we found out, there was more to Shahid than his irresistible good looks. But alas! It took a slew of duds and several shaky performances before Jab We Met salvaged Shahid Kapoor. In between there was Vivah which ushered us into the rose-tainted universe of Sooraj Barjatya, but as the sophisticated Prem, Shahid was hardly more than a charming presence. That notwithstanding, Vivah will go down as a crucial film in Shahid’s career, the one that kept him cinematically relevant.

It was Jab We Met in 2007 that gave his career a new lease of life, for here was a pulsating love story that almost instantly struck a chord with the cine-goers. The film, which became the template for a new age romance, wasn’t woven around a novel concept but a done-to-death opposites-attract kind of romance. But it was an exercise in effortless storytelling. The unparalleled quirk of the filmmaker coupled with uniformly excellent performances by the cast weaved magic on the screen.

Indeed, it was under the able tutelage of Imtiaz Ali that Shahid Kapoor’s career actually took flight.

And Then Vishal Bharadwaj Happened!

Shahid Kapoor in <i>Kaminey</i> (left) and <i>Haider</i> (right).&nbsp;
Shahid Kapoor in Kaminey (left) and Haider (right). 
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@Amirmurt/Altered by The Quint)

Just when he dazed us into believing that the mushy love story is where he belongs, Shahid broke the mould by attempting Vishal Bhardwaj’s deliciously dark Kaminey. He flits between Charlie (who lisps) and Guddu (who stammers) with astonishing ease. In fact, this edgy, gritty film is where Shahid not only undergoes a gruelling physical transformation but also matures as an actor – a welcome maturity which gets foisted on his persona and reflects even in his romantic films later.

Bhardwaj needs to be duly credited for Shahid Kapoor’s reincarnation just as he helped us see Saif in a new light through Omkara.

Kaminey followed a flaky phase. The jury was out on Shahid’s career. We, of course, love to react a bit too much too soon. But amidst the cacophony of noise, Vishal Bhardwaj happened, again.

This time Bhardwaj transports you to the devastatingly beautiful landscape of Kashmir in Haider, and gives you a character who grabs you by the collar and leads you from scene to scene. In a convoluted saga of death and deceit, you have a hero who is fighting the demons of his past, which wreak havoc on his present and make uncertain his future. 

Shahid sinks his teeth into the meaty character with untethered sincerity. You let out a sigh when Haider lets loose a barrage of conflicting emotions. I was possessed by his maniacal immediacy in the hauntingly breathtaking Bismil. Even after the song ends, the madness lingers on...

It, perhaps, finds a befitting expression in Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab. The story catapults you in a world deluged with drugs with a self-absorbed Tommy Singh (played by Shahid Kapoor) at the heart of the mayhem. He is a fractured soul inhabiting a fractured universe. The surface is gleaming but an emptiness gnaws inside and it is this emptiness that crawls on you as you see a tormented Tommy tripping around. Though the film boasted of some brilliant performances, it was Tommy’s maddening frenzy that stood out.

He followed Udta Punjab with Rangoon, his third collaboration with Vishal Bhardwaj. Shahid Kapoor is electrifying as Nawab Malik – nothing over the top, just a restrained fierceness. That is also because perhaps Bhardwaj gives him the most fleshed out character. Rangoon tanked but I couldn’t help but marvel at the ambitious audacity of the project where every frame is breathtaking.

In Padmaavat, Shahid rises above the role apportioned to him and is in fact, a calm restraint to Ranveer’s overzealousness.

The In-Betweens

Shahid Kapoor in <i>Mausam</i>.&nbsp;
Shahid Kapoor in Mausam
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@Kawabunga_)

In the words of Baradwaj Rangan, “pop culture doesn't always welcome the deserving and the worthy but sometimes the sideshow carnivals that make modern life such an entertaining merry-go round.” That’s true of every actor’s work and some very heartfelt projects, sometimes, fall through the cracks. Shahid is no exception to this with Mausam and Rangoon – two of his most ambitious projects – failing to set the box office ringing.

In Mausam, Pankaj Kapur creates an unforgettable love story, throwing every colour of passion there is, weaving a wondrous tapestry. Even the songs are wedged beautifully in the narrative with the likes of Poore Se Zara Sa Kam Hai and Ik Tu Hi Tu Hi staying with you much beyond the end credits. The lovers (played by Shahid Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor) pine for each other and their agony pierces your soul. I rooted for them to be together – despite some of the film’s meaningless meandering – not because we are conditioned to do so but because the throes of passion tugged at my heartstrings. Damned be the machinations of the brain!

In Mausam, Shahid is endearing as the boisterous Harry and slips effortlessly into the role of the somber Harinder Singh.

However, Shahid Kapoor’s career is littered with box office disappointments and some of his choices have been really underwhelming. I must confess I was a little heartbroken seeing Shahid croon to the crass lyrics of Gandi Baat. What was the rationale behind signing a dim-witted comedy like Phata Poster Nikla Hero? But then he has also treaded in territories few A-listers would have dared to.

It is in breaking the rules, and embracing the rebel simmering within, that he has flourished. And as he turns a year older, he must cherish his success.

For there are stars and there are actors. Shahid Kapoor is both and he has earned it.

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