“I have paid a price for being original.”
He has recently completed 23 years in films, and at 41 Anil Kapoor looks
fit as a fiddle.
“I have realized how important it is to continue looking good and have always taken care of myself,” he says as we ride together in the limousine on our way to the Bollywood Cinema where he has graciously agreed to meet admirers and watch the screening of his current hit, “ Nayak: the real hero”. He is very unassuming, and humble, gently chiding Monty Hudda for taking the trouble of arranging a limousine. “ I could have just gone in the van with the Lagaan cricket team.” It’s a refreshing change from the actresses, Aishwarya Rai and Preity Zinta, each one of whom wanted to ride separately keeping in line with their star status. He doesn’t bat an eyelid when the crazy crowd jumps him in the hall, or when they follow him to the rest room. He stays for the entire duration of the film, mingling freely while Aishwarya Rai hides in the next adjoining cinema theatre to watch the same movie, by herself. He loves to watch CNN and the American sitcom “Friends”. He says his wife Sunita is his idea of the ultimate woman, confesses he is constantly bullied by his kids and that he is a workaholic who can’t take more than two days off. It doesn’t take much to get Anil Kapoor talking, and he is as natural as they come.
You surprised us totally at the Craze 2001 show by singing and that too very well. You even changed your voice to imitate each singer.
I have always been able to carry a tune, and I did take some musical training in High School. Yes I tried to sing like Mukesh and copy Shammi ji’s jhatkas in “Badan Pe sitaare”. Nice of you to notice that.
Are you related to the Kapoors?
No but our families have been very close. My mother and Krishna Kapoor have met each other for forty years every day. While growing up, my brother Boney was friends with Randhir and Chintu, I was close to Reema, their sister and my brother Sanjay was very close to the youngest brother Chimpu.
You have completed 23 years in films. What are the earliest memories?
Boy, it seems just like yesterday when I did “Hamare Tumhare” in the 1970s and like Amitabh Bachchan, gave one flop after the other until “Who Saat Din happened, and now I am acting with Abhishek, who is another fine actor. As an adult, the first film I did was shelved. It was called “Prerna.” I would hang around the Rajshri Production office in the hope of either meeting Mr. Tarachand or Mr. Raj Kumar Barjatya, or both and then finally I got a small role in Rajshri’s “ Ek Baar Kaho” for which I was paid the princely sum of Rs 1500! There was this one scene where the shot required me to run and jump from one bogey of a train to another. Shabana Azmi and the director Lekh Tandon were very impressed with my enthusiasm. I was convinced I'd become a star. I took my wife to see the rushes of the scene and I wanted to die. There was so much mist and smoke in the scene, that all you could see were my legs. Later, when I asked the cinematographer, he apologized saying he had to concentrate on the lead players. It was embarrassing.
Did you always want to be an actor?
I knew I never want to become a producer like my father. Then my dad fell ill and was hospitalized. That's when Boney and I panicked. We lived a hand to mouth life for a while and the one person who helped us out was Geeta Bali, who'd acted in dad's “Jabse Tumhe Dekha Hai. She supported us, which is why all the films made by our banner, are dedicated to her. Shashi Kapoor was the first to encourage me as an actor. He made me approach acting seriously and recommended my name to Shabana and N.N. Sippy. I do have to admit though that it was Shammi Kapoor that I adored and idolized.
You are the only actor who has managed to escape being stereotyped in a slot. That is truly remarkable when superstars like Amitabh Bachchan could not break out of the angry young man mould.
You know it has been a very satisfying thing, not to be stuck with a label, but I have paid quite a price for it. People said Amitabh Bachchan got stereotyped as the angry young man, but look at the fame it brought him. It was the same with Rajnikant. He unabashedly says he is a ham, and loves the cigarette flicking roles he does. He keeps asking me why are you so obsessed with being an original each time? Well Kamal Hassan is like me, and though he has his own admirers, he never quite reached the amazing stardom Rajni ji did, or Amit ji did, even though he is a brilliant actor, an all rounder. I used to keep telling Madhuri Dixit to do something different, to exploit her talent as an actress, but she always wanted to look glamorous and do those kinds of roles, and the fact is that none of the movies where she tried a different look, like mrityudand and Pukar clicked, so I guess even the masses want to see her as a pretty jhatka matka kind of woman.
Let’s talk about some of your unique roles, like Eeshwar, Taal and Lamhe. Did you deliberately imitate Raj Kapoor in Eeshwar?
That movie was written for Raj Kapoor, and somehow things fell through between him and the director. I think they could not agree on the remuneration. Kamal Hassan was the second choice and he does not know to this day that I stole the role from him,” says Anil with a laugh. “ When I heard the script, I just could not get it out of my mind, and finally I got it. Raj Kapoor, when he found out I was doing it, gave me his blessings but unfortunately he passed away before it was released. It is inspired by and dedicated to him. I changed my look in Eeshwar and wore a wig. I had had an accident and was out of action for a couple of months, and kept trying new looks and decided to take it further in to movies. In “Viraasat” I had this huge turban and moustache, and the bhaiya look in “Jhoot Bole Kauva Katey”. I felt that if character actors can do it and get away with it why can’t we? It’s refreshing.
“Taal” was a film where I felt maybe I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the role and really had my doubts. I felt only Kamal Hassan could do justice to it but Subhash Ghai persisted. I actually met Birju Maharaj and some western artists to imbibe their characteristics, their language, and their mannerisms. Initially I was going to sport the Yanni look, but since I had already sported long hair in Virasat, I had my hair cut short and sported a subtle goatee, which seemed to be a craze amongst the hip hop crowd, especially in London. I dug out an outfit my wife Sunita had designed and I had never worn and Mr Ghai was very happy with the character I created for him. The role in Taal excited me right from the moment I heard it. Even though my character appears just before the interval, the length didn't have me feeling left out in anyway. It was a full-fledged role and one I consider one of my best performances to date.
“Lamhe” is really an all time favorite and though it did not do well at the box office the role was greatly appreciated. Of course my kids were aghast when I shaved my moustache off. They thought I looked like a nightmare and wouldn’t talk to me till I grew it back.
Bulandi was quite an awful film. What made you do it?
My love and admiration of Rajnikant. I really wanted to act opposite him. He is such an amazing actor, so humble with no hang-ups. The funny thing was the competition between Rekha and Raveena Tandon to outdo each other looks wise, while I was going for authenticity. So there they were looking like a million bucks and I, who had had my clothes stitched by a village tailor, stood there looking like their mundu! I do have fond memories of the movie though.
You said in an interview recently that men who are more in touch with their feminine side, are better human beings and better actors?
I am a great admirer of women. I think women are the stronger sex emotionally and when it comes to being nurturers they are also more sensitive. It's like the Chinese philosophy of the yin and yang. There's a woman in every man and vice-versa. Yes, the woman in me makes me a more sensitive actor. In fact while growing up most of my close buddies were girls. Even as children, women have this strong nurturing, sensitive and caring side to them. I see my wife Sunita. She is a tough woman who can fix anything, set anything right, and yet she has raised my three kids into amazing human beings, with great sensitivity. I can’t manage half the things she does.
You must be thrilled to have won the national award for “Pukar”, but the controversy tailing it must have been hard.
I was ecstatic! I immediately thought of my family, especially my son Harshvardhan, who was certain that I'd get the National Award this time. Controversies have become a part of life today so I'm enjoying getting the award and leaving the discussions to the others.
As an actor are you satisfied with your long innings?
Actually, I really feel the same way I did when I started doing films. At the risk of sounding crazy there is that desperation to learn and achieve more. I'm always fighting against the odds and striving to do better work. That gives me the power to go on.
Which role would you give an arm and a leg for?
Jack Nicholson’s role in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Let’s talk about Nayak: The Real Hero, your latest hit. Its quite an interesting film, playing a journalist who becomes Chief Minister for a day.
Nayak has been an amazing film to act in. The technical wizardry in some of the scenes is awesome. The scene where I am set on fire and jump into the mud, was one I had a tough time doing. It shows me pretty much in a skimpy underwear and I don’t have the physique of Sanjay Dutt or Salman Khan, so I requested the director to let me train and get in shape. Even after 6 months I was really scared that I’ll make a fool of myself, but mercifully it looks okay. We needed 33 cameras to can that shot sequence, and it is really one of the most thrilling moments in the film.
We also had to put up 700 television sets and cameras and also another huge television to make our QTV appear a perfect TV channel company. And imagine our plight when we had to show the whole set getting destroyed in the climax. Every television set and camera was smashed to smithereens. It is a very well shot scene. Nayak has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career. I love Shankar’s work on the film. I have to say he is one of the most dedicated professionals in the industry. His commitment to the project was just awe-inspiring. Plus his ability in creative vision took the project to a higher plane. This was his first Hindi film, but he never let the fact that he didn’t understand the language deter him from getting what he wanted. It slowed him down sometimes, but he would work around it and still come out with perfect results. A.R. Rahman has again excelled with his music. It took us 15 days of shooting in Ladakh and Kanya Kumari to picturise my favorite number Chalo Chalo Mitwa.”
What are your future plans?
Well, there is my first film as a producer “Badhai ho Badhai” which is directed by my friend Satish Kaushik and then there is “Om Jai Jagdish”, directed by Anupam Kher.
I want to work with the best directors who have the best scripts in hand. I don't believe in doing mediocre work. As always I intend to do 4 films a year. Acting is the only way I can relax!
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