The moment Ram Kapoor opted out of playing 'Rahul' in Sony Entertainment Television's daily soap Ghar Ek Mandir, it marked the beginning of viewers' disinterest in the series. The sudden change was met with nonplused reaction with people wondering why he left when the series was doing extremely well. Ditto among numerous review writers.
So tuned was the audience to the Rahul-Aanchal (played by Gautami Shroff) pairing that when Ashish Kapoor replaced Ram it failed to click with viewers. But it isn't just Ghar Ek Mandir that he has stepped out of. He is no more to be seen on Nyay and Kavita on Doordarshan Metro.
Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Harsha Khot met actor Ram Kapoor to know more about the sudden disappearing act from the television scenario and what he was currently doing:
Excerpts: When and how did you get a break in television?
After graduating from acting school, I kept meeting people but the offers I was getting were pretty sideline work. Not that I was looking for only main leads but the roles were uninspiring so I kept saying no. Then in television I got a very good break, thanks to Mr Sudhir Mishra. He first called me to see him for a film. But that film did not work out. So two months later when we met he said there's a TV serial that he was going to direct and asked me if I would be interested in it. The serial was Nyay produced by Nimbus production house. The serial took time to pick up but once it got on air… six months later my phone started ringing nonstop for television.
No sooner had you become a name to reckon with in series like Nyay, Ghar Ek Mandir (GEM)and more recently in Kavita, that you suddenly disappeared altogether from television…
After Nyay for a while I did not take up any work. Then Ghar Ek Mandir came about, the screenplay was excellent, production house was Balaji. That got very popular and got me a lot of television work. Plus at one point I was doing four serials at one time.
I never wanted to do that much, but it all just kind of fell into my lap. It was kind of hard to say no to work.Sanghursh, Kavita, Nyay, and Ghar Ek Mandir. At that point I decided I didn't wanted so much.
So I left two serials. One was Kavita and the second was Sanghursh.
In Sanghursh my role was such that I go away after 13 episodes for about 8 episodes and then make a comeback. So I took a decision that I would not come back and my producers were okay with that.
Then this big project came along, I am not at liberty to talk about it but it is a project that an actor like myself has been waiting for. Not that it's a lead role or anything but it is a fantastic project. And that required a lot of preparation, lot of training, and they wanted exclusivity. Which is justified. So at that point I had to also take a decision to opt out of Ghar Ek Mandir, though I did not want to do that because I was very close to the show for many reasons. It did very well for me careerwise. My fans loved it. Secondly the whole unit was like a family. It was brilliant. In fact I was told to leave it (GEM) by December-end but I still continued through the whole of January, February and half of March because it took me two more months to adjust to the fact that I had to leave it.
Since then I haven't taken on any television work and have been doing pretty much only this project.
Why is the project taking so much time?
It is a very big project. There are a lot of big names involved because of that coordinating becomes a big problem. So there are a lot of delays happening. It could take at least a year more.
How has your experience been with the television industry?
I have no reasons to complain since I've been very lucky. I've struggled so to speak in the beginning since I had to meet a lot of people when I wasn't getting work for six months, but then I got my break so I don't think I've anything negative to speak about the industry. Yes it is true in the Indian television industry there is a lot of unprofessionalism. It is not very organised like the corporate world. If you are an actor who has chosen to be a part of this industry then you have to look always at the good and not the bad. If you focus on the bad then what's the point. There is bad in every industry if you focus on the good then you're okay.
You left Ghar Ek Mandir quite abruptly I believe it hasn't been taken well by audience and even the production house?
I don't have anybody else to blame. As an actor definitely you have to be true to your audience, they are everything after all. But in terms of career you are always looking for breaks and when it finally comes you have to take the plunge. I am not a star who has things in control. I can't say okay I'll do this one year later and they'll wait for me. So there I was faced with a choice. Either I continue with my work because I know that's what my audience wants and I do that at the risk of letting go something like this or since I finally got the opportunity that I was looking for definitely I have to go for it.
In GEM since most of you all, even Sangamitra and two or three others, left the serial as the same time, couldn't the show have been concluded before a big chunk of the team left?
We did talk about it. When I met Ekta (Kapoor, Balaji Telefilms creative director) and Shobhaji (Shobha Kapoor, Balaji promoter) they heard me out completely. They realised it was going to be a problem for the show, but they did understand that from an actor's point of view, he has to do this. When they spoke to the channel (Sony Entertainment Television), they put a lot of pressure because the channel was getting a lot of feedback from the audience. The Rahul-Anchal track was working very well so they didn't want anything to happen there. So at that point we - me and my CO-actors - met the scriptwriter, the Balaji team and the channel and suggested that the show be concluded. We offered to give extra dates around the show while an appropriate ending was worked out.
But at that point the show was doing very well and the channel did not want to end it.
Additionally, at the time I left, nobody knew that the other people would also leave. Though I was the first to leave, there were no talks at the time of any other people leaving.
It said that you left "unprofessionally".
Who is saying it?
The viewer definitely and even the production house?
I told Balaji Telefilms in January that I would have to leave pretty soon. This you can check back with my costars who were shooting with me. Everybody was informed about my leaving in the month of January.
In February I gave them over 30 days and 15 days in March. And luckily for me all the CO-actors the entire cast gave extra time as and when needed.
They had over a month's writing and shooting but instead of planning out a proper exist as they just continued as usual. Because at one end the channel was trying to extend my stay while the production house had hopes that I might stay on, so those 45 days were kind of wasted in terms of making a very crisp ending. So on my part I had informed them and had given them full month and a half. It was not like I suddenly said I am leaving next week.
'Method acting is seen in a bad light because a lot of people don't see the need for it. It's too real so a lot of people feel why go through all this when you can act it out. The whole concept of method acting is through your senses … to feel everything - if your are not feeling it then don't do it.'
Coming back to acting … What brought you to it?
I've always been into movies. My family has exposed me to movies - not only Hollywood and Hindi films - but movies from all over the world from a very young age.
By chance I went to a school (Sherwood, Naini Tal) that has a very good acting tradition.
A very famous person called Amir Raza Hussain used to come from Delhi to direct our Founder's Day plays. I was in ninth standard when he has asked me to audition. Before that I hadn't done acting at all. I got selected as the second lead in the play called Charlie's Aunt and then we did three months of rehearsals and five performances. Other schools came to watch. I think throughout that rehearsal process and the actual performances I realised that acting is something I definitely want to do. After that I went to Delhi and did further theatre …a lot of English plays.
When I realised I seriously want to pursue acting as a career. I decided to first go abroad and study acting. So I went to America and did method acting from Stanislovsky School of Method Acting because all my inspiration in terms of actors have been 'method actors'. All the people who get to me have all been method actors right from Marlon Brandon, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino… anybody. So when I decided that I really want to pursue this.
I failed to get in at the first attempt so I worked in America for a year and a half. I finally managed admission and did the two year course, graduated and came back and got into the acting circuit. `
What are the things that you look for in a script?
I follow a certain thing. I am the kind of actor who will never limit himself to a certain kind of role, whether it is positive or negative. So what I do when the script comes to me is to read it completely and see whether I like the entire script. Is it something that makes sense to me? At that time I don't read it from the role's point of view at all. If I find it interesting then maybe after half an hour or so I read it again this time from the roles point of view that they want me to play. That's when I ponder over - do I like this character. How does he fit into the whole script, what are his good points, is he somebody who makes sense to me? Do I want to play this character? But the minute the script is read if I don't like it, even if the role is good then I don't normally take it.
Then I look into who is producing it, will they manage it. What is the production quality like?
You've acted in four serials so far. Of these, how many scripts have came to you beforehand?
In the beginning you don't get that chance because then you are looking for work and anybody who gives you work you are just not in the position to say, let me take a look at the script. But I was lucky enough in the sense that my first project (Nyay) was with Sudhir Mishra and Nimbus productions who knew exactly what they wanted to do with the show and what my character was all about.
Then, for six months I kept saying no to work I didn't take up any work till Ghar Ek Mandir came about. Good production house. When Ekta called me and spoke to me about the role she had a complete script and screenplay ready because it's a remake of a serial in the South Kudumbam, which was a hit, so they had adapted that completely to suit the Hindi audience. Every character was etched out very well, and again I knew exactly where the whole thing was going and where I fit in. So that was good.
After Ghar Ek Mandir, because it became so popular, my phone was ringing nonstop I said no to lot of scripts. ThenSangarsh came. Girish Mallik (director) called up and explained the role. Now there I didn't even know how the script and the story progressed but my role was a small and very tight one and it was a grey area. You don't know whether this guy is positive or negative. In that instance, without knowing the script I took up the role.
So overall I was just lucky.
What is you approach in terms of sketching out the character or in getting under the skin of it to bring it to life?
What is the history of this character? How has he come to this point? I go into the history of the character. Why is he the person that he is other than that?
A lot of actors, what they do is try and get into the character. I do the opposite. I try and make the character into myself. Everybody has all parts in them everybody has good, everybody had bad, everybody has mischief. All aspects of personality are there in every human being. When you read a character - whether a negative or positive - you find those emotions within yourself and make him as close to yourself. In my experience this comes out as very real. It doesn't come out as acting because you are being yourself as that person. So that is my approach. Because I studied method acting.
The Stanislovsky method is a very detailed approach to acting and there are specific things that you do… well I can't really get into that.
No please… there are conflicting views about the method acting approach so could you tell us more about it?
Method acting is seen in a bad light because a lot of people don't see the need for it. It's too real so a lot of people feel why go through all this when you can act it out. The whole concept of method acting is through your senses … to feel everything - if your are not feeling it then don't do it. A lot of training goes into that. Method acting is only big in America. For instance in Europe in places like RADA (Royal Café of Dramatic Arts) where they do Shakespeare plays, there they don't really do method, their approach is very different, it is external. Despite that approach they are brilliant. There they say what is the point in method acting, which in a way is right.
In the acting school that I went to the success ratio of graduation in method acting is very low. Less than 50 per cent. In my batch alone when we started there were 28 of us but in the end only 12 of us finally graduated. Some dropped out in the first year.
I will tell you in one paragraph what method acting is. Basically they believe that our five senses store memory and those memories store emotion. For instance everyone must have experienced this while on a holiday somewhere and they must have smelled something that reminds them about their childhood with their grandparents, or they tasted food that suddenly reminded them of something their grandmother used to cook. So this is just a basic example on how all the five senses store memory, and those memories bring up the emotion that particular memory is related/connected to whether it is a happy memory or sad memory.
Sense memory or method which uses sense memory is just training yourself more and more to be able to use yourself to bring up memories, to bring up emotion to make that real. So you are actually feeling the emotion. That is what method acting all about, but the problem is that people get too into it, which is why method acting gets a bad name. I like to believe in the concept of method acting. Every actor uses some method or the other to prepare so that makes him or her a method actor anyway, whether you are using sense memory whether you are going at the back of the stage and screaming out you are using a method anyway. I like to believe that is method acting. But yes there are a lot of mixed reviews on the method acting.
You said that you often catch up with Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino… through their movies. What about them do you like?
They are the epitome of method acting. Every time I watch them I learn from them. All the biggest names of method acting, they feel whatever they are doing so well that there's not a single moment when they are laughing or crying or whatever they are doing… they are actually feeling that. They are in it 100 per cent. If it is shown that somebody is dying in front of them and they are acting that they are actually feeling it. That's the height of method.
Basically acting is playing pretend. When we were small kids we would play chor-police. To be able to put yourself into this different world and to be able to play this person and be able to feel the person completely is something that has always attracted me. The people who do this the best, I can just watch them forever. Each time I learn something.
'You need to be competent, to be on time, to have a strong work ethic. If you have all these then its fine, you'll get more work as opposed to the kind of actor who producers don't want. What they want are people who are fast.'
Are you ever spontaneous or do you follow method acting only?
No matter how much you train, acting is basically about spontaneity, about instincts. It's like painting. When you train an artist it is also very spontaneous and very instinctive no matter how much you learn. So it is a balance of both. You have to follow your gut feel, and your instincts.
Secondly, in my personal experience from acting in television in India (I haven't done any television abroad), if you do a lot of method you are asking for trouble. Because there are a lot of things that go into method, that go into it's research. A lot of preparation is required. But you've got to keep all that at the back of your head and forget it and then rely on yourself more to perform.
You need to be competent, to be on time, to have a strong work ethic. If you have all these then its fine, you'll get more work as opposed to the kind of actor who producers don't want. What they want are people who are fast.
What thoughts ran through your mind while acting during the initial stages? Are they any different now?
Well what went through my mind at that stage was the hope I don't mess up. I don't miss a line. Now with experience, the nervousness will still be there - be it on stage or camera - but it is in trying more and more to get into the character. To be as much like the person that you play as opposed to the person you are yourself. Definitely the nervousness is always going to be there. It will remain even 15 years from now. But it is much more about the role you are playing, the character you are playing, and the kind of dialogues, it is more about these now.
What brings out the best in you?
Before facing the camera I like to be prepared as far as my lines go. Have I understood the relationship that I'm having with the people in the scene completely. Once that homework is done, you forget about the script and everybody trusts one another. The actors trust one another, the director trusts the actor.
But while performing you let loose. Yes, you are following the script but suddenly you are going away from the script but it's still working. That definitely brings out the best in me.
Do you stick to the script or try to go beyond it?
I think what I personally try and achieve is after I've understood the script and my character well and how he fits within the framework of the script, you can trust yourself to go wherever.
And if that is not something the director wants he will cut it. Which is fine but at least it gives the director the opportunity to say cut or he just might say it is good. A lot of actors just stick to the script. I don't like doing that. I like to learn everything and then I leave it aside.
What qualities do you look for in a director?
A director who knows exactly what he wants from the project and he knows exactly what he wants from the actor. And after that a director who is willing to trust his actor. There is a term which I am sure everybody has heard which is called "actor's director". Now this term is rather freely used. But an actor's director is somebody who is willing to trust his actor. The director always has the visual in his mind. At the same time he is willing to see what the actor has to offer. That is trusting the actor.
What inspires you?
Acting and movies and plays is my world besides anything creative. Music definitely inspires me. The only kind of music that I don't like is heavy metal. I derive my inspiration from the people I admire, be it an actor or a musician. Anybody who I feel is 100 per cent into what they are doing. People who are clued to whatever they do, they are honest to their profession and they are willing to do anything and everything for that. That inspires me.