Ranbir Kapoor has carved his niche in Bollywood by taking on mainstream projects like Brahmastra (2022) while challenging himself with the criminally underrated financial comedy Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009) and physically demanding performances in Sanju (2018) and, more recently, Animal (2023).
Ranbir the Romantic
An early stint as an assistant director on Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s drama Black led to Kapoor starring in the director’s next project Saawariya (2007). While the romantic drama underperformed, Kapoor was on his way to prove his worth as a charming leading man. And this is what he did, playing a casanova in Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) and a gullible lover boy in Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahaani (2009).
However, he could sometimes let go of his heroism in favour of a more naive charm. Just take the case of Barfi (2012) with Kapoor’s heavily acclaimed performance as a Chaplin-esque drifter caught up in a love triangle. Some of his best romances were also the best Deepika Padukone movies, like Tamasha (2015) and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013).
Wake Up Sid, Brahmastra and more: How Ayan Mukherji shaped Ranbir’s career
To get top billing in out-of-the-box ideas, Kapoor didn’t need to rely on arthouse projects. Instead, even his mainstream hits could carry some emotionality that other commercial Bollywood movies couldn’t touch upon at the time. Wake Up Sid (2009) is a case in point. The directorial debut of Ayan Mukherji found Kapoor playing a wealthy immature manchild who gets a new lease on life when he befriends an older woman with more responsibilities.
Themes of adulting return in the form of Kapoor’s Bunny in the aforementioned Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, another Kapoor-Mukherji collab that defined 2010s-era Bollywood. The next decade welcomed the start of Mukherji’s long-gestating fantasy superhero project Brahmastra. Kicking off the so-called “Astraverse”, Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva (2022) found the actor playing the fire-creating hero Shiva, one of Bollywood’s rare superheroes.
Sanju and Animal: How Ranbir redefined antiheroes
Performances in Rockstar (2011) and the political thriller Raajneeti (2010) offered an early glimpse at Ranbir Kapoor’s affinity for playing morally grey heroes. Kapoor took this antiheroism up a notch when he was roped in to play controversial filmstar Sanjay Dutt in Sanju (2018). The Rajkumar Hirani movie was a semi-biographical take on Dutt’s life and found Kapoor playing a foul-mouthed, drug-addicted actor who is arrested on suspicion of terrorism.
But still, Kapoor’s take on Sanjay Dutt wasn’t as big a “walking red flag” as Ranvijay "Vijay" Balbir Singh in his blood-soaked crime drama Animal (2023). Despite the movie polarizing critics, Animal won over people chiefly for Kapoor’s performance as an aggressively violent heir to a business company.
Animal’s Vijay is the way he is because of the toxic relationship he shares with his authoritarian father. The character opened up a new chapter in Kapoor’s career, implying that maybe the smiling boy from Saawariya is eager to take on more challenging roles with darker undertones.
How Rockstar still endures as Ranbir Kapoor’s best movie
Barfi can be a strong contender for showcasing Kapoor’s comedic charm. But Rockstar remains a watershed moment in his career, thanks to his emotional portrayal of a tortured artist. The duality of an artist is more than visible in this 2011 blockbuster as Kapoor captures the metamorphosis of a dreamy-eyed boy who becomes a larger-than-life star but at a personal cost. His performance’s impact can be seen in how he won both Filmfare Awards for Best Actor and Best Actor (Critics’ Choice) for Rockstar.