Arjun Rampal is in a constant battle with a demon called ennui.
Ennui, or boredom, affects even the most laid-back among us. But to an accomplished model-turned-actor-turned-entrepreneur with a lifestyle chockablock with high-adrenaline events (not to forget fanatic well-wishers, mainly of the feminine variety, accosting him at the unlikeliest of corners), one would have thought boredom would be of the prescient variety. A pleasant interlude, if not an altogether welcome diversion.
Not so, to this leading man. “I get bored very easily,” Rampal confesses to THE MAN. And, adding to this trigger is the whole been-there-done-that effect most situations have on him. A party appearance? Man, he’s rocked the party scene before and after stardom happened, so unless this party has a new high, our man would most likely go hide himself inside the VIP Room or at the very least, behind his designer shades. A photo shoot? For India’s original male supermodel (along with Milind Soman), Rampal knows, even before a photographer (or a helpful stylist or editor) suggests a pose, how it’s gonna turn out. And, a film role? Unless it’s different from what he’s done before and can challenge him, he’s not intrigued.
And please, most of all, don’t tell this man that he is quite a dish. His effort, at least for a major part of his career in entertainment, has been to overcome being billed as just another pretty face (and body!). Thankfully, the 44-year-old has shaped up nicely through all the battles with his demons, and the fight for his dreams. On the eve of the release of his most ambitious venture till date, Daddy (releasing on September 8), Rampal took time out to do an exclusive photo shoot and interview with THE MAN. Excerpts:
How Rohit Bal & modelling happened
After passing out of Kodaikanal International School, I was supposed to go to America for further studies, but due to some family stuff, I could not go. So I joined economics honours course at Hindu College, Delhi. After passing out of Kodai, I had gone to Mumbai, to a club called RGs, where I met a man with long red hair who looked like that singer from Simply Red. He came up to me and asked me whether I was a model and gave me his number. In Delhi, I saw him at Gunghroo, a then-popular discotheque. We recognised each other.
It turned out to be (fashion designer) Rohit Bal.
He asked me “Would you like to model?”
I asked, “What do I get?”
He said, ‘I will give you some good clothes’ and I said ok! So I went down to his studio, we took some pics and I got some clothes and I went back home. A few days later, he asked me to come down to his factory and I saw these black & white posters of a good looking guy. I asked, ‘Who’s this?’ He said, ‘That’s you!’”
Beyond what you are or whom you have become, every human being should know these five things about themselves: their right in life is to be happy, blissful, peaceful, powerful and pure. These are the five qualities you possess when your soul comes into your body.
I couldn’t believe it and that’s where it all started. I was put on the cover of a local magazine called First City. My first shoot ended up as my first cover. Then people in Mumbai saw it and I started getting lot of work calls, and then I decided to move to Mumbai (and take up modelling as a career).
From modelling to films
I was shooting the Monte Carlo commercial, probably around 1994. Shekhar Kapoor, who had just made Bandit Queen, was the director of the ad film, with Ashok Mehta as the cinematographer. Ashokji saw me there and felt that I should do this film called Moksha, which he was passionate about. I was not very sure. I had just got an international modelling contract for a year which I was keen on. I did go for it, to London and New York, and when I came back, the first call I got was from from Ashok Mehta, asking me, “I am ready to film Moksha. Are you interested in doing it?”
He was very persevering and felt that I should do it. I was clueless, but somewhere down the line, while I was in New York, my roommates were in NYU Film School and I also (got) quite keen on enrolling to study film making. Because (by that point), I was modelling for four years and I was finding it quite boring.
I had seen it all, the glamorous world, the party scene. What happens is that when you get into a world like this, you mature faster. You have so much exposure, you get so much information. I get bored quite easily. I can’t do the same thing over and over again. I am very restless on that level.
So I decided that I wanted to do something else, something more cerebral.
I was just 17 years old, what does a 17-year-old guy do? I was studying economics honours…. That time when I was modelling, I was really enjoying it. I didn’t know what I would do, that was what I was searching for. I thought maybe I should study filmmaking. While in New York, I was a very good ‘script doctor’. People used to come and I used to make $50 fixing their scripts. I would tell them the story works better this way. This is boring, put this there… I would tell them change this line, fix this, why is this guy behaving this way, and stuff like that. That’s when I wanted to join film school. I guess this was also happening because Shekhar and Ashok had planted this idea in my head that I should act. And when I came back, I was ready.
I tried to do some acting training, (but) I got bored of that also very fast.
I get bored quite easily. I can’t do the same thing over and over again. I am very restless on that level. So I decided that I wanted to do something else, something more cerebral.
Retirement from modelling and hello, big screen!
I went to the shoot and when I saw the first rushes, I felt something was not right. I am very critical of myself and I realised that for four years, my body was trained to react as a model in front of the camera, and not as an actor. The jobs are very, very different. I decided then and there that I will quit modelling because I had started to enjoy acting. Officially, I had retired at 21!
This was at the peak of my career, and reality soon sunk in. I had no idea that my first film was gonna take six years! There was no money in the house.. there was no source of income. So I would do maybe one big (modelling) contract so that I could survive, if it came along, but I stopped doing shows completely. It was difficult, but I am glad I did it. Your sacrifices allow you to cherish your work a lot more. I guess I’ve always been that critical and anal and that’s how I have been, then to now in my career.
Lap (nightclub in Delhi) was always a venture I wanted to do. I love music, I love house and tech. Unfortunately, wherever you go (here), they just play Bollywood music, though that’s changing now. Delhi for me was a place so many things happened when I went out socially, that’s how I met Gudda (what close friends call Rohit Bal) and so many of my friends. There was this crazy night life, and so many cool people. But later when I went back, as a model and then as an actor, I saw there was nowhere to go. It was something I wanted to give back to Delhi, so when I got an opportunity to partner with A.D. Singh to open a restaurant cum lounge bar, I went for it. The lounge eventually became a club and the restaurant part didn’t really kick off. It was the most successful club Delhi ever had. We ran for eight years until my contract with Samrat (Hotel, where it was located) ran out (last year). We had our ups and downs like in any business.
Why should there not be a nightlife? Why are we saying, no, don’t give it? Any cosmopolitan cities have a thriving night life. That’s how you get overseas people to come in to work. Why do you have to look at it as if something wrong is happening?
Why are we so closed up? So what ends up happening is that people go to other places (to party). That’s when bigger messes happen, girls get molested, or raped, things like that. Sometimes it’s much safer in a public place than going to a stranger’s place.
F&B is a great opportunity for me. I’m gonna be opening a new place in Delhi, Mumbai, and other places. I’m focused more on the restaurant part. I’ve done clubs, I enjoyed it for eight years and I am also at an age when I don’t go to clubs anymore. If my heart is not out there, I won’t do it. Maybe I will do something a little more hipper, but again something exclusive and niche.
My future is in the movies. I want to bring beautiful stories to life. There are some amazing stuff out there. I want to do original stuff, I don’t want to repeat anything. There are scripts I’m looking at, there’s fantasy, I would love to do something like Game of Thrones or Bahubali. There’s a really wonderful web series which I would like to do as a producer. There’s lots on the plate which can be told in a different way. There’s tremendous amount of stories from our history waiting to be told. I love period drama!
I love the biopic genre. Daddy is the toughest film I’ve ever done (It is based on the story of Arun Gawli, his rise from the streets to become one of India’s most feared gangsters, and his attempts to rise in politics). It pushed everyone involved out of their comfort zones. I made them swim in a different water, altogether. From actors to production to art direction, costume and make-up, everybody had to go to a totally different level. It’s very tiring when you have to do that, but the end result has been extremely satisfying.
Heartbreak and taking risks
When you come into the (film) industry, your heart gets broken left, right and centre. It’s like you are falling in love for the first time. And if your film doesn’t work well, it’s like having a break-up! Obviously, you get hurt.
But then as you get more experienced, you (learn) not to wear your heart on your sleeve. Use your heart to choose the subjects so you can walk out of a film with some satisfaction. Because then you would earn something somewhere—it could be critical acclaim, or an award, or a box office success, or maybe it will enrich you as an actor.
I think Daddy is the biggest risk I have taken. So was Kahaani 2, so was Rock on 2. To play the character I played in D-Day was a risk. I only take roles that are a risk, because only then can you grow.
Battle between stardom and privacy
I like my privacy and I love my stardom. You value your privacy only when you don’t have it, right? So, I value my privacy. I know how sacred it is and how blissful it is.
PHOTOS HARSH MISHRA ❖ ASSISTANT TO THE PHOTOGRAPHER RAMAN CHAUHAN ❖ STYLING PRACHI MISHRA ❖ ASSISTANT TO THE STYLIST ANUSHKA BINDRA ❖ HAIR NITIN SAINI TEAM AALIM HAKIM ❖ MAKE-UP KALPESH DESAI ❖ PRODUCTION PACIFIC ❖ LOCATION NOVOTEL MUMBAI JUHU BEACH
TEXT K. SUNIL THOMAS