While key members of the "First Family of Bollywood" were the stars of a Manhattan press conference held yesterday at the Indian Consulate to promote the much-anticipated Oct. 2 release of Bollywood film Besharam, the event also celebrated 100 years of Indian cinema, with Sanjeev Lamba, CEO of Besharam’s distributor Reliance Entertainment, providing insight into the current state of Bollywood in relation to Hollywood and the international movie marketplace.
During the press conference Lamba noted that among the major marketing strengths of Besharam was the fact that three members of the Kapoor family—Bollywood legend Rishi Kapoor, his legendary wife Neetu Kapoor and their newly established superstar son Ranbir Kapoor—were the main stars, and appearing together on-screen for the first time. Hence, Lamba said that Besharam will have one of the biggest ever openings in North America, with over 200 screens day-of-release.
“It’s only fitting because Ranbir is a rising superstar, his parents have made an immeasurable contribution to the industry, and it’s the first time they’ve acted with him,” said Lamba. In an interview later, he added that Besharam will be one of the most widely distributed Bollywood films both domestically and internationally.
“There are lots of factors,” he explained. “By Bollywood standards, this is a much-awaited film. The director [Abhinav Singh Kashyap’s] debut feature Dabangg was a record-setter [and currently the fifth-biggest grossing Bollywood film in history]. He also wrote it, and wrote Besharam—which is his second film as director. So he’s being watched with a great amount of interest to see what he does next.”
Additionally, Besharam is Ranbir Kapoor’s 11th film in six years.
“He’s had an extraordinary ascendance into stardom, and has not only proven himself to be one of the best actors in choice of roles, but he’s managed to win over the adulation of fans—though that has not been his focus,” said Lamba. But he’s previously done urban, big city, international roles. This is the first time he’s doing a Bollywood masala film [involving Bollywood’s typical mix of music, action, comedy, romance and drama] that goes deep into the hinterlands and small towns, so you have him trying out something new.”
Besharam is about Babli, a charming street-smart car mechanic living in a Delhi orphanage. Played by Ranbir, Babli steals cars to support his orphanage; he has no sense of right or wrong until he unwittingly hurts the love of his life (played by Pallavi Sharda) and is chased by cop couple Chulbul Chautala (Rishi Kapoor) and Bulbul Chautala (Neetu Kapoor). Babli comes to realize that there is no right way of doing the wrong thing, and sets out to fix all the wrongs in his life while continuing to be shameless about it—“shameless” being a translation for “besharam.”
“So it’s the director’s second feature, and then you have the cream of the cake in the acting family, who are together in a film for the first time,” Lamba continued. “Both parents are huge stars, and Ranbir’s last two films [summer smash Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani--the third-biggest Bollywood blockbuster ever—preceded by Barfi, which was selected as India’s official submission to the Oscars last year] did excellent business. All this has created a level of curiosity about Besharam. So it feels like a big film—a ‘class-mass film’ that almost predicates that you take it as deep as possible, and we’ve gone for it: We’ll have almost 4,000 screens in India and probably over 700 more internationally—which is as big as it gets for an Indian film.”
But Lamba noted that Reliance has “been in this territory before.”
Prior to this year’s record-breaking Chennai Express, the company’s 3 Idiots  was the highest-grossing Bollywood film.
“It’s still has the record for the biggest North American box office,” Lamba said, “with $7 million from 150 screens. So we know what it takes in logistics. We’re the only company at present that runs its own distribution, and when we showed Besharam to our team, everybody said, ‘Let’s go for it!’”
Noting that only two or three other Bollywood films have topped the $4 million mark in North America, Lamba pointed to Ranbir’s star-power in the market.
"His last two films have fallen just short of it and are just about within sniffing distance,” he said. “As young people say, he’s ‘extremely sorted, or together. He’s clear about his career, and making really brave choices in his roles that young actors don’t necessarily do. He’d proven himself as an actor before he found fan adulation and stardom. ‘Actors last, and stars fade away,’ they always say.”
Ranbir “carries himself very well” in relation to his interest-generating “lineage,” Lamba further noted. “The most wonderful thing about him is the wonderfully positive way he’s detached from failure and success: His last film was huge. It opened on a Friday in May, and did enormous box office on the weekend. But on Monday he was back on the set of Besharam, and you would never know anything had happened. That quality stands him in great stead.”
He further lauded Ranbir for being “extremely focused on directors and stories rather than the commercial aspects of film. He has a very clear idea of the directors he wants to work with, and is willing to take a risk on a story with a good director. I got to know him a bit over the last year, and I think this is a horse that’s going to run a very long race.”
Lamba added that “you can’t discount his genes,” and Ranbir himself expressed his love and respect for his family during the press conference and after.
Bollywood’s Kapoor family goes back four generations. Prithviraj Kapoor was an actor (roles including the emperor Akbar in the 1960s historical epic Mughal E Azam) and repertory theater company founder. His sons Raj, Shammi and Shashi Kapoor likewise became famous actors and directors.
Raj Kapoor’s performance in his 1951 classic Awaara was ranked among the 10 all-time great film performances by Time magazine. His actor/director son Randhir, Rishi Kapoor’s brother, is the father of the contemporary Bollywood stars Karisma and Kareena Kapoor, Ranbir’s cousins.
Asked at the press conference whether he was jealous of his son, Rishi Kapoor said he couldn’t be more proud of the “male heir to the legacy” of the Kapoor family. He said how fortunate he was to have worked on three films with his own late father, including the influential 1973 blockbuster Bobby, Rishi’s first film as male lead.
Noting that his grandfather had died when he was six, Ranbir said that he did get to know Raj Kapoor through his films, and that he was his role model next to his father Rishi. Asked for an anecdote about working with his father, Ranbir revealed that “in real life,” he never looked into his father's eyes, but that during the filming of Besharam, he “discovered” Rishi’s eye color.
“He added so much conviction to what we were doing in the scene,” said Ranbir, who studied acting in New York at the School of Visual Arts and the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. “So many times I over-express, but he had such naturalness and spontaneity saying lines, to me and I just had to react.”
Ranbir also spoke of his family’s influence. His “family of filmmakers and actors” had imparted valuable acting tips, he said, but more important, “Indian and family values,” and through his travels “everywhere” with his family, an “exposure of life.”
“That’s what really matters,” Ranbir stated, adding that he hoped to “emulate” his parents’ career longevity, which he attributed to their values.
Neetu Kapoor said that while she knew her son would do something film-related, she and her husband were both shocked when he chose to go to New York to study. As for his mother's role in Besharam—her first acting job in the 29 years since putting her career on hold to have a family—Ranbir said, “and I say this with a lot of conviction: My mother gives the best performance in the film.”
Following the press conference, Ranbir noted that he was drawn to Besharam's script and his character.
“I immediately liked the simplicity and storytelling,” he said. Kashyap, he added, expressed his desire to work with Rishi, but after meeting Neetu, was inspired to “break one character into two.” Acting with his parents for the first time, Ranbir said, was “a bit surreal.”
“My father’s been acting 40 years now, but was 20 times more excited than me, and it was contagious to see his passion for cinema and acting,” he said. “I tried to be a bit like him and copy his spontaneity.”
For Besharam’s opening titletrack dance number, Ranbir also copied his father’s moves—and costume—from the “Om Shanti Om” hit from Rishi’s 1980 masala film Karz. He also danced with his parents in Besharam’s "Chal Hand Uthake Nachche."
They’re doing a song together for the first time in 30 years,” he said, noting that his parents made some 17 films together before his mother stopped at age 21, having already made 60-70 films from the age of eight. “So nobody’s looking at me, and I’m doing whatever I want!”
He noted that of the 10 films he’s made previously, the music has been integrated with the story. “But since this is a masala movie, there are some item songs that stand alone like music videos, in addition to songs that are situational to what the character is feeling.”
The press conference, incidentally, took place days before Ranbir’s 31st birthday on Sept. 28, and the 40th anniversary of the release of Bobby.
“So this occasion is very close to my heart,” said Rishi Kapoor at the press conference. His sentiment was shared by Consul General of India Dnyaneshwar Mulay, who introduced the Besharam team and highlighted the contributions that the Kapoors have made during 100 years of Indian cinema.
He also wistfully recalled going to see Bobby himself when it first came out.
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