Arjun Kapoor spills the beans on his 'international affair'

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With an estimated population of 8.55 million, New York is the most populous city in the US. Described as the world's cultural and financial capital, it houses the United Nations headquarters and makes up over 40 per cent of the population of New York State. Arjun Kapoor lists it as his most favourite city in the world. Why? Read on...

Lone but not alone
I visited New York City for the first time with my dad (producer Boney Kapoor) and Anil (Kapoor) chachu when I was around nine or 10 years old. We were on a whirlwind world tour and went to a lot of other cities whose names I've forgotten. But even as a child I fell in love with the Big Apple's magnetic energy and since then I'm always looking for an excuse to go back. You can walk there for hours, catch a movie or a play at Broadway and have a drink alone without feeling lonely because you are always surrounded by the warmth of strangers. It's a city that never sleeps...

Growing up, I would fly there during summer holidays to hang out with my friends. Rohit Dhawan, Varun's brother, was studying filmmaking, I stayed with him for a couple of days. We got Hindi film DVDs home to watch. Another buddy, Ranbir Kapoor, was also in NYC studying filmmaking and method acting at the School of Visual Arts and later at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.

My sister Anshula graduated from the Barnard College which was American President Barack Obama's alma mater too. I helped her get settled. A private liberal arts college, it's the world's oldest women's college and the only women's college in NYC today. It was founded in 1889 as a response to Columbia University's refusal to admit women into the institution. The four-acre campus stretches along Broadway and the college boasts of language clubs, a freeform radio station, WBAR, and night carnivals. My sister made amazing friends there.

I was in NYC recently with Mohit Suri, Shraddha Kapoor, Chetan Bhagat and the Half Girlfriend team for a shoot. We shot in Times Square which always leaves me awestruck. There are so many people coming and going, watching them makes me realise just how small a part of the universe I am!

Far from the crowds

We also filmed at Central Park, one of NYC's iconic places. We Mumbaikars constantly crib about how there's no place to stand and stare or sit and smile in our city while the New Yorkers have built this huge park right there in the middle of their city where you can jog, stroll, cycle, boat or just savour the peace you find not too far away from the maddening crowd.

Last September I was at the Central Park with Freida Pinto representing India at the Global Citizen's Award. Hosted by Stephen Colbert, Hugh Jackman, Selma Hayek Pinault, Kerry Washington and Olivia Wilde, this advocacy-driven music concert had live performances by Pearl Jam, Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay and Sunidhi Chauhan for an audience of 60,000.

I was there as an ambassador of WWF India to deliver a two-minute speech showcasing India's progress and the challenges that remain, speaking before global heads like the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, Bill and Melinda Gates, US Vice President Joe Biden and US First Lady, Michelle Obama. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the guests of honour in 2015. I felt like a proud Indian.

What's cooking?

I was in the midst of a hectic shoot and didn't have time for anything other than work, but since I know the city well I took Shraddha and some of the others to one of my favourite restaurants, Balthazar. The French brasserie located between Broadway and Crosby Street in SoHo, Manhattan, in a building that used to house a tannery earlier, is the place for celebrity spotting. Tom Hanks was leaving as I entered. We made eye contact but no small talk. Balthazar is famous for its steak au pouvre, steak frites, duck confit, butternut squash and French onion soup.

New York is also the world's pizza capital and Brooklyn has some of the best pizza joints with Di Fara's leading the way. There's also Roberta's famous for its Speckenwolf and Duck Hunt, Best Pizza which lives up to its name and L& B Spumoni Gardens whose signature dish, Grandma's Slice, you can munch on while looking at the New York skyline.

Besides Brooklyn we also filmed at the Rockerfeller Centre between 48th and 51st Streets. It boasts of the biggest Christmas tree and the best Christmas decorations. We were there on Bakri Eid and got biryani from the world's most popular food cart. For years, people have been flocking to the corner of the 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue to the'Platter' or the 'Chicken & Rice Guy' for rice and slices of lamb slathered in a delicious white sauce.

One evening before we started shooting, we also went to a rooftop bar in the Meatpacking District where you can sip a drink and have a bite with the city spread out before you. Awesome!

Face-to-face with the pope

From clothes to movies, from Bloomingdale's Department Store to the high-end shops on Fifth Avenue, New York promises value for money. I went shopping with Karan Johar to the Palmer's Department Store once.

Last year, I was shopping at Fifth Avenue and got locked in for almost an hour inside a departmental store. Pope John Francis was holding a mass at a church close by and security was tight. I was sitting there looking out when the Pope got off to switch cars right in front of the store. It was surreal; there were thousands waiting for hours to catch a glimpse of him and here I was seeing him almost face-to-face. I felt blessed!
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