In school, I was the class' prankster... the joker," Aadar Jain reminisces, unwittingly invoking memories of his iconic maternal grandfather, Indian cinema's 'greatest showman', Raj Kapoor.
Today, all grown up, charming and courteous in his demeanour, and confident and clear about his craft, the 27-year-old actor is out to be a joker once again... only this time, to elicit his audience's laughter with his new film Hello Charlie.
"Look at me, I'm smiling," says Aadar, pointing at his flushed face, lit up by a glimmer in the eyes, and a curve that stretches from ear-to-ear, as he begins to share his "outstanding" experience of working in the madcap comedy entertainer with, well, a gorilla for a co-star!
"I love Dunston Checks In... There also used to be a Hindi version, Ek Bandar Hotel Ke Andar," laughs the actor, recounting the 1996 film around a young boy befriending an orangutan, as the conversation steers to endearing human-animal films. "While growing up, I have also seen films like Babe, King Kong. There's also Haathi Mere Saathi of course. I think you're going to see a human-animal film in Hindi cinema after a very long time," the actor says on a sincere note.
His surname may not be Kapoor, but it's hard to miss the 'Kapooriyat' in Aadar. The younger of two sons of the late Raj Kapoor's daughter Rima Jain and investment banker Manoj Jain, Aadar seems to have a little bit of everyone — like most of them in Indian cinema's first family — in his style of talking, his expressive face, his love for movies and food, his smile, his dance and his gestures.
But let's give it to him for trying to find his own footing in the industry with his unconventional picks.
That Aadar is neither a man of quintessential choices, nor is he scared to explore uncharted territories in a space where 'staying safe' is usually the norm, was established with his 2017 launchpad Qaidi Band. He auditioned on the behest of casting director Shanoo Sharma. In the film about the plight of innocent under-trials, he essayed a qaidi who uses the power of music to reach out for justice. Undeterred by the tepid response, he continues to pursue his desire of doing "every kind of film".
"I want to be known for being a versatile actor. I want to do all genres. The idea is to challenge myself with every film, and I believe that's the only way you grow as an actor," says Aadar, who can be counted among the bevy of fresh faces and talents to look out for in Bollywood in 2021. For one, it has been a while since Qaidi Band came out, and for two, he's in a diametrically different role and film.
"It is definitely new and conceptually fresh," says the self-assured actor of the Pankaj Saraswat directorial, featuring Jackie Shroff, Rajpal Yadav, Darshan Jariwala, Girish Kulkarni, Elnaaz Nourani, and introducing Shlokka Pandit.
In the laughter riot, produced by Excel Entertainment — the makers of Fukrey — and premiering globally on Amazon Prime Video on April 9, Aadar will be seen as a simpleton named Charlie who juggles funny antics, a unique bond and a chemistry with a gorilla named Toto during a road trip from Mumbai to Diu. The trailer reveals how a billionaire's escape results in a comedy of errors, making it a rib-tickling roller-coaster ride for the audience.
Taking on the role of a chhote sheher ka, seedha-saadha, bhola-bhala ladka was something Aadar connected to instantly. He reflects, "Maybe it's the kind of films I have grown up watching, or maybe it is the kind of people I have met. You always observe certain people, draw certain characteristics from them, and put them into your characters. That's something I did with this film."
Comedy, most actors say, is a tough genre to crack. For Aadar, making people laugh was something that gave him a "real high" way before he even turned an actor. "In school, I just loved entertaining people, cracking jokes, doing any form of masti and nautanki. It's something that came easily to me. But yes, when it comes to doing a film and acting in front of veteran actors like Jackie Shroff and Rajpal Yadav, it does get slightly intimidating. Eventually when you know your character well, you are well-prepared and once you get the hang of the rhythm, comedy comes naturally."
Hoping that 2021 turns out "great" after the "difficult" year that 2020 was for everyone, Aadar also believes the audience needs a dose of laughter.
"Everyone is going through so much right now. Everyone has their worries and stresses. I think this is going to be like a stress-buster. It's a happy film after a long time, and it's just meant to make you feel good, feel loved and make you laugh," says the actor, who overcame his own apprehensions about stepping out during the pandemic to shoot for Hello Charlie.
He was hesitant not so much for himself, but for the fear of contracting the Covid-19 virus and infecting other family members. But his worries were kept at bay by due diligence in following precautions and norms during the shoot. Now even while film theatres have opened up and producers have lined up releases in the hope to revive business, Aadar is happy that his new film is taking the streaming platform route for release.
"A lot of people are scared to go out. I haven't gone out for one movie and I don't think I want to either. A lot of movies are coming on streaming platforms just three to four weeks after their theatrical release, but Hello Charlie is coming directly on OTT. I think it's a great medium," says Aadar, who can feel the same degree of nervousness as he did when Qaidi Band released in theatres.
The sports enthusiast in him draws an interesting anomaly. "It's like Sports Day. There's always nervousness, anxiety and excitement before the day. You want to win, you want to do the best, you want to have your family and friends come and support you... it's exciting because something you work so hard on is finally coming together and everyone will be watching and reacting to it," says the actor, who has his head on his shoulders as he talks about dealing with pressures and expectations in the competitive ecosystem of showbiz.
"I'm very happy with everything I have in life. People talk a lot about expectations and pressures. I don't think of all that. If I think of it, I can't act, I can't focus on my work. So I just want to keep my head down, do the right thing, love what I do, act, enjoy, and if it comes to any sort of pressure, then there is only a self-imposed pressure that I put on myself to do a scene better, to work harder and to improve with every film that I do. I think those are better pressures to put on yourself rather than thinking about the exterior pressures or expectations. I try to compare myself with myself. I try and do better every single time. And that works for me."
Ask him about being "burdened" about carrying on the legacy of a family tree, the roots of which sprouted in Bollywood with his great grandfather Prithviraj Kapoor, Aadar is quick to say, "I don't feel the burden of legacy at all. I don't take any such pressure that I am Raj Kapoor's grandson and I have to meet some expectations. I feel very proud that I am Raj Kapoor's grandson. I don't look at him as people look at him as Raj Kapoor. I look at him as Raj Kapoor, my grandfather. I look at my entire family as just my family. I am very proud of all that they have achieved.
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"Just the fact that I am existing in this industry today, I am doing my work honestly and I am working hard, is, I think in my own way, taking the family's legacy forward. I think that's what he would have wanted for everyone. I don't think he ever set a benchmark that my son or my grandson has to do the same thing that I do. As long as you are passionate, as long as you work hard, and you love what you do, which is what I exactly do, I think he will be proud of me."
At the same time, he admits, his life's intention to create his own identity. "To not be known as Raj Kapoor's grandson, but to be known as Aadar Jain".
ON HIS STRENGTHS, WORRIES, LOVE FOR COLOURS AND MUCH MORE
What is love? It is the most beautiful feeling in the world. Love is friendship. Love is many things.
Your favourite travel destination? New York
What are you scared of? The dark. I am scared of some ghost emerging. When we were little, our nanny used to scare us to make us eat our food. My brother Armaan and I were very naughty and never used to listen to her. So, she 'baithaoed' (ingrained) this idea in our head that something exists! I really get scared of the dark, so I keep one light on when I sleep.
Your biggest strength? My family.
The five Fs that matter: Family, Friends, Films, Football, and Food
Your fashion favourites? For me, designers don't matter. I think you are stylish and most confident when you are comfortable. I prefer classics, suits, linen shirts, cool pants, easy athleisure clothes... a whole lot!
The colours you like? I like all colours. I feel like at night I wear a lot of blacks and blues. But in the day, I try to wear happier and brighter colours. Also, I feel that wearing good clothes and happy colours has a positive effect on your mind and that's very important. It is also an external reflection of who you are as a person. I am a very happy-go-lucky person, and so I wear those kind of clothes.
Favourite food? Paya, Biryani, Pulao, Rajma Chawal, Crab Curry, Butter Garlic Crab... I can keep going on... Junglee Mutton, Raan...
How do you stay fit then? I don't eat all this everyday! I have one cheat meal every Sunday. I think it's important to eat good food and be happy. I work hard, play hard.
AN advice that you value most? It's something that my grandfather Raj Kapoor once wrote, 'Humility is an artiste's greatest virtue'
Love for films, acting
I love acting. I love watching cinema. I love being moved by cinema, whether emotionally, or feeling a thrill, getting scared or laughing. I love how you can forget everything you are going through. It's a form of escapism. When you're there, you're consumed by what you're watching, and you come out of it feeling something.
I'm still learning. I’m still very young. I’ve a long way to go, a lot to achieve in life, and even if I think in my mind that I have done well or achieved something, there are still miles to go before I sleep. I don't want to think that there is an expectation that I have met. I just want to work hard, do well and make my family proud... That's the most important part.
Legacy = More hard work?
Yes, it makes me work harder, but not because they have achieved so much, but because it drives me to more passionate. It's not just because we are known as the ‘Kapoor family’, ‘Indian cinema’s First Family’, but because everyone in my family is so passionate about what they do. No matter how big I make it, or even if I make it in a small way, it doesn't matter as long as I am doing what I love, I am hardworking, I am passionate, and I respect what I do. There's no pressure, and no one has ever told us what we have to achieve or to be as big as your grandfather, or supersede him. There's no such expectation from my family. There's only support, love, encouragement, motivation. These are the emotions that we feel at home, that's it.
Comparisons with siblings
That's inevitable. People will want to compare and say things. But at the end of the day, we are all one family and we all love each other. We are all very happy and proud of each other. We all motivate each other to do better. Everyone has their respective career to look forward to. Ranbir bhaiya is doing his, Armaan bhaiya is doing his, and I am doing mine... And we are all very happy in our own space.
I think later on in life, for sure, 100 per cent! I was an assistant director before I started acting. I assisted Farah Khan in Happy New Year, and Karan Johar in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. I love the whole process of filmmaking, and so I think one day when I have the story to tell, and I have the right cast in place, and if there's something that comes from within, then I would definitely like to direct and produce a film.
I’m a huge dog lover. They only want your love, and they give back lots of love. They have a sixth sense to understand when you are unhappy and they just come to you, and when you are happy, they also charge up and are energetic. Just having them around with you is so calming and soothing. I’ve always wanted to have a Labrador. I love all animals... I love dogs, I love cats, I love parrots, and currently my new favourite animal is a gorilla!
First tryst with acting
My mother made my brother Armaan and I perform on our school annual day as my Nanaji. It was a sequence from Mera Naam Joker where he held a heart in his hand and swayed. I think we were four or five. That was the first time when we did a little bit of make-up, and you know how back then kids used to put a little bit of lipstick, and perform! I was always inclined towards performing arts. I started playing drums in school, I also love dancing, and I participated in plays too. It was either films or sports for me always. I play the piano by the ear. My mother taught me some of it... I can play some of my grandfather's old songs, I can play The Godfather theme, Happy Birthday! But I do want to take proper piano lessons."