He wasn't a favourite with the critics. His transition from modelling to the big screen wasn't met with enthusiasm. Yet, he stuck to his guns and was rewarded in the end. Sneha May Francis spoke to heart throb Arjun Rampal
His husky voice makes many women go weak in their knees, no doubt, but you wouldn't imagine that a voice like that could be fine-tuned to suit Bollywood. Rock On's Joe Mascarenhas did just that. He uncovered a new facet of the rugged Arjun Rampal. He croons and strums the guitar with ease, quashing myths about models being nothing more than a pretty face for the cameras. His confident portrayal of the pony-tailed Joe won over the critics, audiences and even earned him a few honours for the best supporting actor. So nearly seven years since his disastrous debut with Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat, Arjun Rampal is finally finding his place in B-town.
With a winning streak in place, it's not surprising that Arjun continues to play Joe Mascarenhas off-screen as well. He and his on-screen band – the Magik boys: Farhan Akhtar, Luke Kenny and Purab Kohli – continue to perform off-screen with their Rock On concerts. With none of them, barring Farhan and Luke (one being the voice of Rock On and the other a famous Channel [V] VJ) having any musical inclinations, it's surprising that their Majik rock shows continue to play to packed houses across India. And it was ahead of his Dubai performance that we caught up with the actor for a quick telephone chat. Since the Rock On concert in Dubai took place soon after he won the Filmfare award, the opportunity of recreating the magic of Rock On was "extra special" for the actor. "It's wonderful to see the amount of love and adulation that we got because of this film. I've received a lot of support from my fans in Dubai," he says.
Going back to his Rock On days, he tells us about how he zeroed in on the pony-tailed Joe Mascarenhas. He explains that it was a chance meeting with Akhtar in Jodhpur that lead to the start of the Magik association. "He (Farhan) told me about the script where he'd be playing the lead singer and that he'd like me to take on the role of the lead guitarist," he says. And the plan appealed to Arjun, because, "just like most other young boys, I've always wanted to be part of a band".
The decision, he says, led to getting his hands on the script and reading it. "And as soon as I finished reading it, I called Abhishek Kapoor (the director) to congratulate him on the brilliant script. And I really wanted to do it because it was something new and different.
I knew it was the kind of film that I'd watch even if I wasn't part of the cast. And that's the reason I picked it."
Once the decision was sealed, there was no looking back. "I got down to working on it, by attending workshops to learn to play the instruments. And in the end, it turned out to be a fantastic experience," adds the suave Arjun.
While most Bollywood actors rarely put on a genuine musical act on-screen, Arjun went a step further to learn the right chords. "All of us (Farhan, Luke and Purab) love rock music and grew up listening to it. Anything from Pink Floyd to The Doors to Led Zeppelin. So we knew we were not going to play the wrong chords on the guitar," he asserts. However, after watching him airbrush his guitar on stage, we'd like to believe he forgot his guitar lessons with time! The Dubai concert didn't quite recreate the Rock On magic. Arjun clearly lost points on the musical front, but he definitely worked his magic on his fans. The crowd merely looked happy to see their screen star in flesh and blood. Many of them, rushing backstage only to get Arjun to ink his autograph or pose for a photograph.
So after all those musical concerts, does he plan to start his own band? "We've got our band – Magik – and we're going to do everything we can for it. Shankar (Mahadevan) has done a brilliant job. The musician trio – Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy – who tuned the Rock On tracks are mind-blowing," he adds.
The transition from the ramp to the big screen wasn't an easy one for the neatly groomed model who dreamt of making it big in Bollywood. Most critics had written him off, almost as soon as he made his first appearance. A few terrible films later, Arjun retired only to be resurrected by Shah Rukh Khan.
It was in 2007 that Arjun did the unthinkable. He took on the role of a bad guy in the hugely-budgeted Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om.
His negative portrayal of Mukesh Mehra was the turning point in his career, breaking all Bollywood conventions that a villain's role can resurrect a falling actor. The role won him the critical acclaim that had eluded him so far.
And did he ever imagine that a dark role in Om Shanti Om would place him firmly back in Bollywood? "Of course I was sceptical initially. I didn't know if people would accept me. But I saw the confidence that Shah Rukh and Farah had in me and that really made me take up the part. I had faith in their decision. And Om Shanti Om allowed me to go out and explore," he adds.
"The adulation I got from that role became far more encouraging for me to take on different kinds of roles. Roles that are capable of taking you to another level."
This explains why he teamed up with the legendary Amitabh Bachchan on an off-beat journey with The Last Lear.
"For me it's been a great inspiration to work with Mr Bachchan. Working with him is an experience. He's so professional... so generous. He's an institution. Just giving brilliant performances and keeping everyone on their toes is commendable," he adds.
The success of Om Shanti Om gave him a sudden surge of energy to take on Bollywood, and defy almost all of its rules. When most actors would opt for single appearances after hitting the jackpot, he took on Rock On, a multi-starrer flick, only to emerge successful again, shocking film critics and audiences alike.
Despite hitting on rough roads early in his career, Arjun looks back at his struggle with a shade of optimism.
"It happens in every industry. It takes a while to get the groove of things especially since you don't belong to the Hindi film industry. I think there's a lot to understand about yourself as well," he says. Arjun's quick to extend his gratitude to his friends and family who've stood by him in those difficult times. "Most importantly, the people I've worked with... especially Mr. Bachchan (Amitabh), who has been extremely inspirational."
So his hard work and dedication is finally helping him see the light of day in Bollywood. He's finally taking on interesting projects.
"As we speak, I'm in Bhopal shooting for Prakash Jha's Rajniti, in which I play the role of a politician. It's got a power-packed star cast of Ranbir Kapoor, Ajay Devgan, Manoj Bajpai, Nana Patekar, Naseeruddin Shah and Katrina Kaif. It is going to be a strong film. Later, I start work on Action Replay and team with Mr Bachchan and Tabu for Kunal. After that I start work with Sajid Khan's film titled Husband," adds Arjun.
Judging by his busy film diary for the coming year, we think he needs an overdose of the coffee, the one that he claims he "brings in specially from London", to keep him up for the big game!
Little known facts about Arjun Rampal
- He was born on November 26, 1972
- He hails from a Ramgariha Sikh Punjabi background. His father is Sikh and his mother is Dutch
- Arjun and his younger sister attended the prestigious Kodaikanal International School located in the Palani Hills, Tamil Nadu, where his mother was a teacher
- He was proclaimed Society's Face of the Year in 1994
- He married Mehr Jessia, a former model
- He has two daughters – Mahikaa and Myra
- He has got both his daughter's names tattooed on his arm
- He was discovered by designer Rohit Bal while he was at a discotheque in Mumbai
- Ashok Mehta's Moksha, released in 2001, was supposed to be Arjun Rampal's launch film but his second film Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat was released before
Published: July 01, 2009, e+ GULFNEWS