Actor Ishaan Khatter grimaces as he massages his neck. “I woke up with a catch in my neck,” he says. In contrast, debutante Janhvi Kapoor sits quietly, patiently and poised for her interview to begin. But the two seem dissimilar only at first glance. Over the course of their interviews it becomes evident that they have more in common than not.

“Very early on we realised that we have a very similar sense of humour, are on the same wavelength, and really enjoy each other’s company,” says Khatter. The two young actors are in Andheri’s Dharma Productions office, fielding questions about their upcoming release,
Dhadak
, in which they play young lovers named Parthavi and Madhukar.

Directed by Shashank Khaitan of
Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania
(2014) and
Badrinath ki Dulhania
(2017) fame, the film is the Bollywood remake of Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi blockbuster hit
Sairat
(2016). The original film engaged with the issues and boundaries of caste, class and gender, and was a massive success, but many were and still are apprehensive about the Bollywood-isation and possible glamourisation of a gritty tale.


Changing milieu

“I understood that he [Khaitan] did not want to copy it [
Sairat
], but make the film in a manner that is accessible to a larger audience,” says Khatter. “It’s being adapted to Rajasthan,” the actor continues, “and the location has largely contributed to the characters.” His co-star seems to agree. “Our characters are inherently different,” says Kapoor about the film being set in Udaipur. “The environments, the way they speak, the social repercussions of their actions are [all] different. So their choices and their journey are different, but the story is the same.”

Khatter adds: “What is new about the film is the treatment, setting, cultural influence, and the social statement that it has to make. Hopefully people will recognise that it’s an honest adaptation and not a gimmicky remake of a film.”

Kapoor and Khatter are both ardent admirers of the original. “It’s such a beautiful and an important film,” says Kapoor, “I got very attached to the characters and their story. I hope Parthavi resonates with people as much as Aarchi did, though I don’t think that anyone can even touch what [actor] Rinku Rajguru has done with Aarchi’s character.”


Building character

The actors had joined Khaitan on his two recces of the locations, to both observe and absorb the environment. “We even met a girl called Parthavi near Jaipur,” shares Kapoor excitedly. “She also stayed in a
kothi
(mansion) like my character does – that was converted into a hotel. Like my character, she is also headstrong, and I think we drew inspiration from her somewhere.”

While this will be Kapoor’s debut on the big screen, Khatter’s earlier acting stunts include a small role in
Vaah! Life Ho Toh Aisi!
(2005), and a cameo in
Udta Punjab
(2016) – both elder brother Shahid Kapoor-starrers. But more recently, the actor starred in the lead role in Iranian auteur Majid Majidi’s
Beyond the Clouds
(2018). He has even worked as an assistant director on Danish Renzu’s
Half Widow
(2017), and on Abhishek Chaubey’s
Udta Punjab
(2016). But acting was his calling: “I don’t think I ever had a day where I didn’t love performing.”

As for Kapoor, Daniel Day Lewis served as inspiration to enter the film industry. “I remember watching
My Left Foot
(1989), and I read about how he would become the character,” she says, referring to how Lewis’ commitment to staying in a wheelchair even off-set led to the damaging of two of his ribs. “I know it sounds psychotic,” she continues, “but that attracted me so much – the passion and sincerity towards his work. That always attracted me — the idea of living so many different lives within just one lifetime,” Kapoor emphasises.


Favourite choices

For these two actors,
Dhadak
seems to be similar – one shade of the many in the tried-and-tested genre of forbidden romance. “It’s the template of a
Romeo and Juliet
or a
Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak
(1988),” says Khatter. Before long, we are chatting about his favourites in the genre. “For some reason, Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman from
Pyaasa
(1957) come to mind,” he says, and I look at him rather quizzically expecting him to say he and Kapoor had recently discussed this. “Are you serious?” Khatter says repeatedly when told that her answer was identical. “She must’ve said Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as well.” He was right.

When asked if any other films are in the pipelines, the
Dhadak
leads say they are solely focussing on the film’s release for now. “I think I need to prove myself first with this, and then let the audience decide if I’m worthy of another chance or not,” says a practical Kapoor while signing off.

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