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Zahan Kapoor: “I want to be here for a long time!”

This interview was first published in Cine Blitz by the same author.

Indian cinema’s first crossover star Shashi Kapoor’s grandson Zahan Kapoor has started his acting career, unlike any other star kid. Zahan started assisting in theatre and crafted his journey by taking small steps. He is happy that his debut feature film Faraaz is not a star launch vehicle. In a frank conversation at Prithvi Adda, the actor talked about not relying on his legacy and making it on his own.

How did your journey with Faraaz start?

I was trying to figure out how to make an entry into the film business. I was doing theatre, workshops, and auditions. It just happened incidentally that (Hansal Mehta) Sir saw me around Prithvi Theatre (he used to live there back then) when he was working on Faraaz in the back of his mind.

So, the conversation around Faraaz started in 2019. Hansal Sir initiated the conversation through the then-producers (Mahesh) Bhatt Sahab and Mukesh Ji (Bhatt). He inquired about me with casting director Mukesh Chabbra. I had incidentally auditioned at Mukesh Chhabra’s office a year and a half before that. I didn’t get the part but he really liked the audition. So, Mukesh told Hansal Sir to cast me without hesitation.

What happened after you came on board?

When I got on board, there was no script. I knew a little bit about the Dhaka incident in 2016. They told me about Faraaz and the story. Even though there was no script on the table, Hansal Sir offered me an opportunity to engage with him in the process. It was interesting to approach the film that way than focusing on the usual things such as the banner, the songs, the formula, we will make you a star, etc.

That’s nice but I find it risky. I’d prefer to do my job as an actor. Stardom is up to the luck of the draw most of the time. I want to be here for a long time and build a career by taking small steps initially. So, the opportunity of being part of the process with Hansal Sir was too difficult to let go of and miss out on.

The film’s tonality is quite unique. How did you work on that and become Faraaz?

I was fortunate to go to Dhaka, Bangladesh on a research trip with Hansal Sir, Bhatt Sahab, and producer Sahil Saigal. I also searched on the internet to find every article possible on Faraaz and the incident. Then all the cast members were given intensive training by associate writer-director Ikhlaq Khan who taught us the basics of Islam, the tenants, the interpretations, and the understandings of the Quran-e-Sharif, how to recite Suras, perform Namaz and also understand the meaning behind all these.

Aditya and I further went on to do further research about the origin of Islam, how it evolved and grew, the conversations around it, its influence in the sub-continent, how culture comes in, and the emergence of Bangladesh from East Pakistan. We researched all of this and absorbed and understand it because that’s the context and cultural legacy of these characters.

Then because we had a lockdown, we had a lot of time and all of us young actors were eager to give our energy, Hansal Sir made us do a lot of readings. By the time we got onto the film set, we were so well-versed in this world that Hansal Sir just had to tune us like a maestro with an orchestra. He guided us to find the tonality of the performances.

After watching the film, Naseer Sahab (Naseeruddin Shah) and Ratna (Pathak Shah) ma’am said, “My god, what an interesting casting.”

Was there a special brief by Hansal Mehta to get into the skin of the character of Faraaz?

As I said, I absorbed everything about Faraaz that I could through research. But Faraaz was only 20 years old. He was a very devout Muslim. He was genuinely a humanitarian. He took inspiration from his faith to give him that strength in these human values. Hansal Sir guided me on that.

But then he said, “You have done your work. Now, you have to trust yourself that you’re going through that experience that Faraaz would have. You are the one who has to deal and confront with this situation. And you have to believe that you will do whatever you need to at that moment that feels right and feels honest.”

There’s so little screen time for Faraaz in the film and so few interactions. But his relationships are big. So, it was all about imagining and trying to find in your psyche what was going on. I hope it feels real and lived.

You come from a family of actors. When did the acting bug bite you?

The acting bug bit me when I was 18. I did a few skits in school plays but I never thought seriously about acting. I was assisting on the workshops conducted by Mr. Sunil Shanbag for children and young people at Prithvi during the summer.

He introduced me to the discipline and rigor and fun of an actor’s craft. That’s when the bug bit me. He also gave me positive feedback and reinforcement. So, I thought I should learn more about it. I never took it for granted that just because acting is in our blood, I’ll be able to do it.

One of the first things that I did after that was that I went and saw Nasseruddin Shah doing rehearsals of his play Arms and the Man. For a month or so, I just went there and observed what an actor really does. I found it fascinating. I fell in love with acting and the whole process of working with others organically. Thanks to my parents who told me to try it out on my own and earn my space.

What advice or pep talk was given by a family member that you keep close to your heart?

My father would always tell me, “You should reach for the stars. But keep your feet firm on the ground. Be hungry and try and become as big as you can but stay rooted.” We are Prithvi right now. This is part of understanding that we are all human beings and we all share this world and space. And we are here to participate, collaborate, and be together.

Who are the actors and filmmakers that you look up to?

Rajkummar Rao, Vicky Kaushal, and Ayushmann Khurrana have made such interesting careers with their movie choices. I like how they started with more intimate, smaller choices and then they were rewarded with bigger roles.

I was blown over by Hrithik Roshan when I saw Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai. I was maybe 10-11 years old. He was my hero as a kid. Of course, I love Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, and Aamir Khan. Especially Aamir Khan, because of the kind of content he makes and does so many things along with that.

I am greatly inspired by my grandfather’s career path. He was the first crossover actor. I also admire Raj Kapoor Ji. I hope I can learn from their careers and champion my own cause too.

Do you have a ritual before you face the camera or enter the stage?

I believe in riyaz and rituals. I try and wake up early and have a disciplined morning schedule. Body, mind, breathwork, and meditation are very important. I try to be grounded and centered. The breath, the mind, and the body are my tools and I need to be working at them all the time. That’s my ritual. I try to constantly experiment and learn new things. I like to keep my curiosity and hunger for learning about people alive.

Lastly, what are your memories of your grandfather Shashi Kapoor?

My memories of my Dadaji are of a Dadaji only. When I was born, he had just retired. So, my memories of us are having meals together. We used to go for lunch at Kamling Restaurant. I used to play with him and watch movies with him. I used to watch him shave his beard when I was little. A barber would come to shave his beard. We always had our breakfast together. That is the big thing about our family. We are close nit like that.


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