Is Ranbir Kapoor Still Searching for His Screen Identity?

(Photo by Sujit Jaiswal / AFP) (Photo credit should read SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Anyone watching Koffee with Karan would tell you that Ranbir Kapoor is the favourite actor for every guest on the show. He aces the list of actors that host Karan Johar offers to his guests to rate. He also gets the better of Ranveer Singh in a direct shoot-out. So, what’s it that Bollywood celebrities see in Ranbir Kapoor that the audience doesn’t? For, the very same guests on the show claim that box-office numbers do not lie!

And how does Ranbir stack up against his more energetic and effervescent colleague Ranveer Singh? For starters, both owe their current status to director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, whom Ranbir assisted in Black before debuting as the lead actor in Saawariya. As for Ranveer, it was his trilogy with Bhansali – Ram-Leela, Bajirao-Mastani and Padmavat that launched him into the stratosphere.

A closer look of their respective career graphs reveal that Ranbir hasn’t exactly set the turnstiles on fire with his movies over the past decade whereas Ranveer has hardly put a step wrong with several back-to-back hits and roles that were as different as chalk and cheese. As the shrewd, over-sexed, eccentric Alauddin Khilji in Padmavat and an underwhelmed businessman in Dil Dhadakne Do, he has portrayed a range hardly seen in Bollywood.

Maybe, this is where Ranbir loses out in reality. A quick look at his movies in the early stages reveal his penchant for playing light-hearted roles in movies such as Bachna Ae Haseeno, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani or in coming-of-age movies like Wake-Up Sid. Each of the above movies had Ranbir playing himself, hardly showcasing his training in method acting from the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.

Ranbir showed glimpses of his true ability in Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti, portraying the role of a reluctant politician who morphs into a heartless and shrewd avenger amidst an ensemble cast of Nana Patekar, Ajay Devgan and Manoj Bajpayee. Probably, his best role to date, Ranbir portrayed complexity of character with utmost simplicity, emerging as the true pillar of a movie that had several other top actors.

However, what followed was once again the run-of-the-mill stuff that had Ranbir portraying himself. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, even in Imtiaz Ali’s critically acclaimed Rockstar, the actor hardly put a nuanced foot forward, often using mimicry of stereotypes to portray his Jat antecedents in the movie. He was different, yes. But, hardly defiant of Bollywood stereotypes. Of course, Bollywood showered all its award on the movie and his role.

What followed thereafter was a mishmash of movies where Ranbir always stopped short of accepting roles that required a refurbish of both mind and body. If the highly overrated Barfi was a Chaplinesque tale (perfected decades ago by his illustrious grandfather Raj Kapoor), he once again hit the original notes with Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, a movie that showcased Deepika Padukone’s abilities far more than that of Ranbir.

Thereafter came a slew of eminently forgettable movies such as Bombay Velvet and Besharam and Tamasha where his monotonous roles could only be matched by the even more staid fashion that he played them. It was a case of bad choice by an actor who was loathe to move away from his comfort zone. Kapoor kept taking up roles that were of the same or similar shades. Be it Ae Dil Hai Mushkil or Jagga Jasoos, Ranbir looked and behaved just as he did in Saawariya.

Of course, the box office gave him a thumbs-up with last year’s Sanju though one may argue that the breakout performance in Rajkumar Hirani’s tribute to his Munnabhai came from the supremely talented Vicky Kaushal. While Ranbir looked like and acted like Sanjay Dutt, his portrayal of the wayward actor’s early days lacked soul – one couldn’t really invest in the character as etched out by Ranbir.

Maybe, that’s where Ranbir is losing out. In an age where the young actors are experimenting with different shades of grey and seeking out-of-the-box scripts, Ranbir appears to be the only one sticking with the Bollywood formula.

In a 2008 review published in the New York Times, movie critic Rachel Saltz had described Ranbir’s ‘puppy-dog sweetness’ as the one quality that would ‘serve him as a Bollywood leading man.’

Maybe, the puppy just forgot to grow up!