Ranbir Kapoor’s Bollywood journey can be best described by the popular dialogue of one of his biggest hits, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Ranbir wants to fly, run and even fall, but just doesn’t want to stop.
The star, who turns 40 today, has headlined some of the most acclaimed films of the past decade, from Anurag Basu’s charming Barfi! and his ambitious musical Jagga Jasoos, Imtiaz Ali’s angst-ridden Rockstar and play of duality Tamasha. He lead Ayan Mukerji’s coming-of-age love letter to Mumbai, Wake up Sid and romantic comedy Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani to criminally underrated Rocket Singh Salesman of the Year and the big Sanjay Dutt biopic, Sanju.
While most of his 15 year-career has been dotted with relatively modest films about his characters coming of age, his recent outings, from the period actioner Shamshera to his latest fantasy epic Brahmastra and his immediate lineup, Luv Ranjan’s untitled romantic comedy and Kabir Singh helmer Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s revenge drama Animal, only proves one thing: Bollywood’s favourite on-screen man-child has perhaps grown up.
Trade expert Joginder Tuteja says Ranbir Kapoor is a “legit superstar”, despite a bumpy phase in the past. Son of star actors Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor, Ranbir had a dream movie launch in 2007 with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya. Though the film was a washout at the box office, he quickly found his feet with movies like Bachna Ae Haseeno, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Raajneeti, Barfi! and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, his biggest hit of the time.
The actor, however, then saw a long dry spell at the box office with Besharam, Roy (which featured him in an extended appearance), Bombay Velvet, Tamasha and Jagga Jasoos from 2013 to 2017, before Rajkumar Hirani’s 2018 Sanju–Ranbir’s biggest hit so far–revived him.
“It is just unfortunate that his last film Shamshera didn’t work, and he also had that phase where his films didn’t perform. But even those were big films. He has been traditionally only doing big films, except his initial phase, which had films Rocket Singh and Wake up Sid. He has been pretty much doing big films which have only gotten bigger with times, like Sanju, Shamshera and now Brahmastra,” Tuteja said.
Ranbir is currently basking in the glory of his latest release Brahmastra, his third collaboration with Ayan Mukerji and first with actor Alia Bhatt, who he got married to earlier this year. The big budget fantasy epic has clocked in huge numbers, racing past the Rs 250 cr mark. According to trade observer Himesh Mankad, Brahmastra success has just “consolidated his position, which was slightly bumpy.”
“This success was much needed because Shamshera didn’t do well, and Brahmastra was six years of investment. It has shown that he has the ability to spearhead a film. If made well, he can justify a Rs 250 cr film and bring returns. This is something very few stars have,” Mankad added.
While the last decade gave Ranbir a lot of love as a performer and solidified his image of one of the brightest actors in Hindi cinema, his current phase is a clear indicator that he is in a mood to go only bigger. “In the first ten years he chose to do work that he wanted to do. Now he’s shifting his gaze and doing these big tentpole films, which are getting bigger numbers. This is his transition, and he will go strength to strength from here. He’s been pretty clear that he now wants to do big commercial films,” Mankad said.
What has largely been working for Ranbir Kapoor, Tuteja said, is his “relatability” factor. Both him and Mankad said that the star has a huge, loyal fan base among youth, which is a crucial section for his films’ success.
Despite his lows, what kept the audience invested in him is that his films always came with the promise of at least not disappointing on the acting front. Tamasha, Rockstar and even Jagga Jasoos may not have fired at the box office, but they did help brand Ranbir Kapoor.
“The truth is, he is inherently a very good actor. Unless you are a good actor, nothing—your lineage, looks—matters. Also, he has been in the industry for 15 years but still looks like a boy. That adds to his relatability factor. He can never turn old! That’s why he has a huge fan base among people who started watching him in 2007 and also the younger generation. That range matters a lot,” Tuteja said.
Mankad also noted Ranbir’s fan following in youth and said the star in fact has a mix of all three Khans: He has romantic films like Shah Rukh, bad boy image of Salman and is genre agnostic like Aamir.
“In terms of youth following, there’s no one close to Ranbir. Ranbir, like Shah Rukh, has been a face of a lot of love stories. So that makes him really the ideal man for a lot of girls and an aspirational figure for boys. He also has this bad boy image like Salman’s. His imperfections make him relatable. When it comes to films, he is a lot like Aamir- you don’t know what to expect of him,” Mankad believes.
According to industry sources, Ranbir is likely to not return to the space of “smaller” films, anytime soon. After Luv Ranjan and Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s next, he will most probably begin the sequel of Brahmastra and is also considering playing Lord Ram in director Nitesh Tiwari’s much-speculated big scale epic Ramayana. In the Ranbir Kapoor universe, there is now little space for “experiments”.
“If he won’t headline what we call ‘risky’ projects, that’s only fair. His entire first decade was full of that. Now that he has tasted big numbers with two films, Sanju and Brahmastra, he knows his potential. He is a guy who can deliver big. A lot of things are affected if your films don’t clock in big numbers, and stars know that.
“So, if one can see a pattern in his line-up, it is quite intentional. It is a clear sign that Ranbir is changing gears. All eyes will be on how his next two land at the box office,” the source added.
According to Mankad, if Luv Ranjan’s untitled rom-com and Animal open at Rs 30 cr, which is expected as of now, he will be the only star to have three films open consecutively at the number, a big feat.
“A superstar is someone who has an identity beyond films and Ranbir has it. People are curious to know him outside his films. He has an intrigue value because he’s still not on social media. There was Hrithik Roshan in 2000, then seven years later Ranbir arrived. Now, 15 years and counting, there’s no one else. Let’s see where he goes from here,” he added.