Arjun Rampal is enjoying something of an extended honeymoon with Daddy. The critically acclaimed film about Mumbai’s gangster-turned-politician Arun Gawli has become a turning point in his career. Over the last few years, Rampal has proved to be Bollywood’s dark horse. Only that it has taken him 17 years to get here. Daddy, he suggests, is a sum total of those 17 years and his overall experiences. In a chat with us prior to the Masala! awards where he won an award for Contribution to Cinema, the actor meets us in his Khar office to talk shop about Daddy, the hits and misses of his career and family life.
You acted in, wrote and produced Daddy. Would you say it’s a turning point in your career?
There are no turning points, really. Every film has its own journey and destiny. I think it’s definitely one of my better films. It’s very close to me. It is more of my experience which reflects in it, of how much time I have spent in this industry and how much I have understood my craft. Daddy was a dream. I have always wanted to do a good gangster movie and was fortunate to get the rights to film Arun Gawli’s life. I found his life intriguing and to transform myself and become him was an unbelievable experience. How many times do you get a chance like that?
Do people see you in a different light as an actor after Daddy?
Daddy’s definitely a milestone for me. It surprised many people. And that’s what you want to do as an actor. You want to surprise yourself and you want to surprise those watching your film. I believe I have a taken a different path from other actors and I enjoy being on that path.
What was it like to spend time with Arun Gawli?
I wish I had more time. If only we had spent more time I would have made an even better film. But, yes, the support I got from him and his family to go ahead and do this was amazing. I am glad he loved the film when he first saw it. He appreciated that we hadn’t tried to glorify him. We are talking about 40 years of the man’s life and to go and relive those moments was a bit disturbing for him.
After Daddy, do you think you will write more often?
I don’t know. It really depends if something inspires or motivates me to get into it on that level. But it is a very long process and it’s not easy to write something. So, until and unless I don’t have something which really triggers something in my head for me to go and isolate myself and start writing again, I am not going to do it. Daddy, frankly, was easy to write. I will be quite honest with you. Because it is about a man who already has a story. I am not making him up. It’s kind of putting the facts together and putting the scenes together. That’s what got me into it. There was already so much information about him.
We believe you are a fan of the gangster genre. The adoring influence of Scorsese and Coppola and The Godfather and Goodfellas on Daddy is evident.
I love The Godfather series because it’s family. Anything that’s got to do with the family and the family is also involved in the business, I really like it. Even in Daddy, Arun is a family guy. I’d say I also like Goodfellas, Casino, Scarface and Carlito’s Way.
Al Pacino or Robert De Niro for you?
Both are great. But if you ask me where I lean towards more, I’d go for De Niro. (Laughs) I’d put my money on him.
It’s been nearly 10 years since Rock On!!, the film that fetched you the National Award. How do you look back at it?
Rock On!! was something new and fresh and Farhan (Akhtar) was coming in. It gave me a lot in terms of not only my career but many other things. It taught me to play the guitar which I really wanted to learn. And then, it gave my good friends in Farhan (Akhtar), Gattu (Abhishek Kapoor), Ritesh Sidhwani, Purab Kohli, Prachi Desai and Shahana Goswami.
Where do see yourself in today’s Bollywood? Much has changed since you entered. There’s a lot of experimentation taking place. What are the changes that strike you as significant?
It’s a great time for the industry. Right? Because there is a lot of new talent, new scripts and more new stuff that we can make. There are also different mediums of putting your work to different platforms. Today, you have a Netflix or Amazon and Apple and everybody wanting content for their platform. In case you don’t get a theatrical release you can sell your content somewhere else. Earlier, there were only films and television. Today, with digital platforms becoming so huge and taking over the world and the imagination of everybody and people watching everything on their phones and beam straight to home, it is a great time for people who are in the creative industry to create things. You have a ready audience. In the near future, everybody will have a space. You are going to get the big hits and the smaller ones, too. It’s going to be both.
Will the star system be dismantled or affected because of changing audience mores?
Stars are people who have a reach. They have their audiences and fans. They have relatability with the public. Why should we even think about dismantling them? We should not think about dismantling what is the backbone or the pillars of an industry. It’s like saying should we be dismantling producers or directors? Don’t dismantle anybody. Everybody should be put on a mantle. The industry without stars will be boring. Stars make it glamorous and exciting for us.
What are some of the hits and misses of your career?
I have made many mistakes. But I have no regrets. That’s the best way for me to analyse my work. And I am glad for whatever mistakes I have made. Whatever I have done I have done from my heart and never done anything half baked. And that’s in anything, in whatever I have gone through in my life. Look at how I came into the industry. As supermodels, we were part of a movement. There was a big taboo that models can’t act and all that. To break that, was the first challenge. To do that and be around for 17 years, I think, that for me is a great thing. It is not an easy industry to be in. The audience will give you lots of love but it can go away with the snap of a finger. It can. So one has to be grounded, I guess. I have gone through a hard time. But then initially, if you try doing anything new it will be difficult. I have learnt that the hard way.
You mentioned that Arun Gawli is a family man. You have two daughters. What are you like as a real-life Daddy? Aren’t you a family man, too?
(Laughs) Why don’t you ask my family? I am a workaholic and am the happiest when working. That’s why I don’t think I have been fair to my family and haven’t given them much time. (Laughs) I think they will still have to bear with that for another ten years. And then, after that, I will give them a lot of time. Whatever time we get now is very precious. It’s important to me that we are all together as a family and do things together and keep it closer as a unit.