He’s got an enviable track record, girls swoon over him, and his star is on the rise — what makes Ranbir Kapoor so irresistible?

How does he do it? At 29, closing in on 30, Ranbir Kapoor is — no questions asked — the hottest young star in Bollywood. Better still, he is a good actor; he has the talent and the brains needed to take his job very seriously.

He seems to have incredibly good judgment when it comes to picking his movies. Only two, Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year and Anjaana Anjaani, crashed at the box-office, but the former was a very good movie and he didn’t go down with either. You couldn’t accuse him of a bad performance, and he’s been collecting awards right from his first film, Saawariya (2007). Wisely, he hasn’t rushed his way through stardom — he’s taken one considered step at a time, doing just eight films in six years.

Flip to the personal side: He’s a self-confessed mama’s boy, but has the girls swooning anyway. He’s warm and spontaneous with fans, he’s kept even the cynical, hardened pack of film journalists at bay with smart manoeuvring around all his romantic wanderings.

All told, Ranbir doesn’t seem to have taken a wrong step since his debut in Saawariya.

Did I hear anyone protest, ‘what about his Casanova image’? Are you serious? It’s the cherry on the cake! It’s what makes mama’s good bachelor boy hot and tempting. It’s the perfect star image: hardworking and hot, sincere, successful, and sexy.

Too good to be true? It’s tempting to say ‘yes’, and one can never be sure with stars — they’re actors, remember? — and there are bound to be chinks in the glamour. Perhaps they will show up some day. For now, Ranbir has success — lasting, meaningful success — written all over him. And ambition he doesn’t hide.

For any other debutant actor to talk about taking Raj Kapoor’s legacy forward would have been laughable, but Ranbir managed to do that without sounding arrogant. Ditto when he declared to me, way back in 2008: “I want to become the best actor ever in the history of Indian cinema.” (He’s saying it even now, during the promotions for Barfi!) My first, natural instinct was to be cynical, but something about his tone and manner made me hold judgement.

I wasn’t being generous; Ranbir has backed up his statements with the only thing that matters: Hard work and good movies. His filmography after Saawariya says it all: Bachna Ae Haseeno, Wake Up Sid, Rocket Singh, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Raajneeti, Anjaana Anjaani, Chillar Party (an item number) and now, Barfi!

The only film that didn’t work one way or the other was Anjaana Anjaani. Just one disappointment out of eight in the first phase of your career is a record any star would die for. It’s way better, for instance, than that of Aamir Khan, whose judgement everyone sees as near-faultless today (it was precisely those mistakes that clarified his vision, but that’s a story for another day). Ranbir’s record is also ahead of Hrithik Roshan’s, leader of the next-gen pack.

Should we put some of his success down to luck? I wouldn’t. Ranbir explained to me: “Since I come from a privileged background, I could afford not to do films for the money; I could pick my movies carefully.” He made it sound simpler than it is, really. However wealthy the star, refusing to be tempted by a handful of crores or a blank cheque is not easy. Not many have the strength to do it; many of our big stars, who’ve amassed money enough for generations, certainly don’t. But Hrithik has that ability to say ‘no’, so does Aamir, and it’s no coincidence that Ranbir’s trajectory seems to be headed in the same direction.

You’ll note that he hasn’t done any experimental films as yet, as his main competitor, Imran Khan, did with Delhi Belly. His choices have been offbeat at times (as in Rocket Singh) but all have been within the framework of mainstream cinema. It has been a conscious career choice — the kind of thinking that convinces Hrithik to do an Agneepath or Aamir a Ghajini.

It’s not about defying the system or even veering too far away from its parameters; it’s about staying within the boundaries and aiming for excellence on a personal level. It’s about trying to ensure that your films deliver at the box-office. All three come from film families, and have seen too much failure personally, in their own families and in the industry, to disregard the value of commercial success. That’s why the trade loves these three actors — and so do award nites.

Last year, Rockstar collected more Best Actor trophies than we could keep track of, and put to rest any doubts about Ranbir’s talent. Barfi! should consolidate that standing: A role without dialogue is tough for any actor at any stage. I’m a little wary of the film itself — all those clown faces and that lovable prankster number look like they might be loaded with saccharine. Plus, the presence of two physically challenged lead characters — a hearing- and speech-impaired boy and an autistic girl — seems like too much of emotional manipulation.

But director Anurag Basu’s terrific Life In A Metro gives me hope, and so does Priyanka Chopra, who can be a good actress on her day.

As for Ranbir, signs are that he will sweep up the awards again — they love this kind of tugging-at-the-heartstring performances. Going by the trailer, Barfi! might turn out to be a variation on Ranbir’s over-cheery act in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani. But then again, it might not; there might be compensations. The movie will not bust the box-office, but it will show why Ranbir Kapoor is hot property.

(This article was published on September 13, 2012)
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