Grit Fights Fear
It's not always about luck, it takes hard work to seize the day.
I used to pester my mother [actor Neelima Azeem] as a child to take me to film shoots. I loved the energy of a studio-instructions being hurled across the floor with busy assistants rushing about. All the ruckus disappeared the moment the cameras came on. I wanted to be a part of that moment when the attention shifted from the background to the actor.
As a child I used to think I'd be good at this [acting] and would beg my mother, plead even, to let me give it a shot. My mother tells me the story of how, eventually, when I was six, she gave in and took me to the sets of a television show to help me experience being in front of the camera. I was there for two days.
They filmed a shot where I had to cry. I remember laughing and talking-in real high spirits. Then, the director screamed, "Action!" The lights came on and, just like that, I was howling. Afterwards, I was told I did well. My mother felt I delivered the shot like a professional. "Okay, I guess you are made for this," she said.
That wasn't really my first job, but the experience fuelled the fire within. It gave me confidence and empowered me. I felt I could conquer the world. But I had to overcome my shyness first.
I was big on dancing and even saved money for nine months to see the Michael Jackson concert in Mumbai. But at birthday parties I'd be in a corner doing steps to the song in my head, while my friends were on the floor. My mother pushed me to join Shiamak Davar's dance academy to help me.
I started at the beginner's level, but he soon asked me to join the intermediate classes simultaneously. I remember being sore from all the dancing-our warm-up sessions alone were for 30 minutes! The more we went through the drill, the longer and more rigorous the training became. I had no idea that is what it took to perfect your art. I loved dancing, but I learnt that love wasn't enough. I had to put in real work.
Eventually Shiamak asked me to join his troupe. So at 16, I had my first 'real' job. I was being paid to hang out with a bunch of cool kids, who shared my love for dancing. I was also proud that now I could share the responsibilities of our household with my single mother.
The academy taught me my first lessons in professionalism. I understood discipline and learnt that you need to put in hours of work behind the scenes to shine for just a few minutes on stage. Shiamak taught us to test our limits, go beyond them and discover we were capable of much more. He also taught us to be fearless. I learnt to drop my inhibitions, which made it easier for me to express my creative side in front of people.
I think I got lucky as a kid. Back then there was a sense of 'I can do no wrong'. My attitude has obviously changed since then. I am a lot more careful now, but I must admit that I miss being fearless. Although I've made many mistakes, I'm still around. And if you have the feeling that you can conquer the world, know that nothing replaces pure hard work and grit.
Shahid Kapoor is never out of step, whether portraying a rock star in a haze of drugs in Udta Punjab, or delivering a power-packed performance in Haider.
As told to Gagan Dhillon