How Ranbir Kapoor's iffy script sense has affected his career

Ranbir Kapoor at a promotional event in Mumbai. Photo: STRDEL/AFP via Getty Images

The option of choosing a particular role is the ultimate freedom that any actor could dream of. However, at times, the choices that an actor makes, end up taking away the element of freedom.

A few days ago, Rajkumar Santoshi revealed that Ranbir Kapoor was not the first choice to play the lead in Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani (2009). Kapoor lapped up the offer when Shahid Kapoor passed as he felt the character of Prem Shankar in Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani was too similar to the character that he was playing in Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met (2007).

The film not only became a blockbuster but also, in many ways, nearly saved Kapoor’s career. It was also one of the rare instances where Ranbir Kapoor took on a film after it was rejected by someone else, but over the next few years the role reversed, and he refused so many future hits that it practically made Ranveer Singh’s career. 

Being the son of Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, Ranbir was as much an insider anyone could imagine to be in the Hindi film industry. He had a much-touted debut in Sanjay Bhansali’s Saawariya (2007), however, the failure of the film put Ranbir Kapoor in a far from an ideal situation to when it came to picking films. Kapoor’s next few releases Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) and Wake up Sid (2009) were more in-synch with the kind of launch he would have preferred. But it wasn’t until the success of Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani that the audiences sat up and took notice.

For one, the film was the kind that would do well in single-screens and this was a departure from the kind of the multiplex-image that Kapoor had crafted with films such as Wake up Sid. Ranbir had endeared himself to Aditya Chopra, the scion of YashRaj Films and one of the most sought-after procures in Hindi films, but his refusal to feature Band Baaja Baraat (2010) changed the course of his career.

The film was one of the biggest hits from the Chopra stables but more importantly, it was the kind of role that could have done wonders for Kapoor. Instead, it ended up becoming the launching pad for Ranveer Singh and also the first of the films that benefited him from Ranbir Kapoor’s miscalculations.

If on the one hand, refusing Band Baaja Baraat ended up making Aditya Chopra look beyond Ranbir Kapoor, on the other hand, his passing on Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013) created the cult of Ranveer Singh.

Kapoor had assisted Bhansali on Black (2005) before being directed by him in Saawariya. There were rumours about how the perfectionist Bhansali made working in Saawariya such a hell for his leads Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor that according to the industry grapevine, Ranbir refused to ever work again with his mentor.

Bhansali cast Ranveer Singh in two more films after that - Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Padmavat (2018), both colossal hits at the box office. In the middle, Ranbir Kapoor also passed on 2 States (2014), yet another film that breached the 100-crore mark and became one of Arjun Kapoor’s biggest hits. 

The one factor that separates a star from the rest is the ability to attract A-list projects. In this aspect, Ranbir Kapoor left little doubt about his potential. Right from the initial stages of his career, Kapoor became the first name for not only established production houses, marquee directors but also auteurs that wanted to bridge the gap between popular and art-house films. 

He was considered to be the brightest star of his generation but his inability to pick box-office winners was more than conspicuous. In addition to the films that he refused, the ones that Kapoor picked, too didn’t really add to his stature as a star, who could get the cash registers ringing. 

Up until then, his career-best performance in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009) was a commercial washout. He managed to stand apart in the ensemble cast of Raajneeti (2010) and enjoyed critical acclaim along with commercial success in Rockstar (2011) and Barfi (2012) but over the course of the next few years the failure of Besharam (2013) and Bombay Velvet (2015), which had a budget upwards of Rs 100 crore, dented Kapoor’s standing.

Post-2015, for a brief period Kapoor managed to stay afloat with moderate success in Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha (2015) and pinned his hopes on Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016). He also hoped that Jagga Jasoos (2017), a film that he co-produced, would do the trick but Johar’s film only worked to a certain degree and the latter was a flop. 

In the 2010s, Kapoor once again refused three films that belonged to different genres and could have potentially changed the state of his career.

He refused Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), he walked away from Bang Bang (2014) and passed on Gully Boy (2019). One can understand that Gully Boy might not have impressed Kapoor as much for he had already done something similar in Rockstar, but Bang Bang could have given Kapoor’s filmography the missing action film, a genre that he has strangely never attempted, and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara could have opened up newer vistas.

Ranbir Kapoor also refused Zoya Akhtar’s offer to feature in Dil Dhadakne Do (2015) as he didn’t want to be cast as his cousin, Kareena Kapoor’s reel brother for that seemed too contrived. Later, Ranveer Singh took on the role and Priyanka Chopra replaced Kareena Kapoor.

In an episode of Koffee With Karan, Ranbir Kapoor rued missing out on Band Baaja Baraat, but if one were to just look at how things stand, Kapoor’s script sense seems questionable.