At 62, Anil Kapoor beats clichés. The instinctive actor, with a knack for convincing performances, he stood out in the Eighties and early Nineties when histrionics and melodrama ruled mainstream films. Fresh off rich praise for the under appreciated Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Aisa Laga, Kapoor features in slapstick multi-starrer Total Dhamaal, and has an enviable line up of films (Pagalpanti, the Abhinav Bindra biopic and Aankhen 2). Speaking to us, he explains why he continues to remain relevant and ‘in demand’ as an actor. “I feel (as an actor) you reap what you sow. I have sowed this from the beginning of my career. I kept on taking up challenges, or sometimes just exploring unknown territories in the early stages. Had I not done that, I wouldn’t have known if I could play a character convincingly. I didn’t just play safe,” he says. “Sometimes, I have also gone along with my trust in filmmakers. They’ve told me that I could pull off a certain role, more than I did. Since I picked challenges from the beginning of my career, young filmmakers and veterans alike still come to me with interesting roles. International filmmakers also offer me parts. Often, I marvel over the roles that they ask me to play in. I wonder how they thought of me in the first place (for that part)! But they have complete faith that I can do it, and actually come back after I refuse. “
Total Dhamaal has Ajay Devgn, Riteish Deshmukh, Arshad Warsi and his to romantic heroine of the past, Madhuri Dixit. In his opinion, teamwork plays a big part in making an actor’s performances memorable. “Sometimes when a filmmaker tells me that I can pull off a certain role, because I have done something similarly challenging before, they miss the fact that a performance turned out so powerful because it was many people’s work,”says Kapoor. “There are times when writers, directors and my co-stars have helped me create a certain role. I can’t be deluded that I did it all on my own. I have been very lucky that I’ve had people that have worked with me and supported me in doing this kind of work.”
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Total Dhamaal, directed by Indra Kumar fits the mould of the typical masala comedy in Hindi cinema, a world apart from the current successes of author backed content, and well-written films. But Kapoor disagrees. “ Good content has always been around. I have been fortunate to work with great directors and very good writers. Be it Mashaal, Mr India or Salim- Javed’s scripts these were bound scripts, very well written. Films that we adapted in Hindi from South Indian cinema because they had bound scripts in place, the material was in place. We had to write a proper script to adapt these in Hindi- be it Beta, Eeshwar, Woh Saat Din and Viraasat. This film, Total Dhamaal, had a script ready in place when it was narrated to me. The director (Indra Kumar) was working out the climax because it takes place in a zoo; and he had to figure out what animals he could work with. It’s not just these days that everybody works like this (systematically). It was always happening. I have also been part of films where there was no script but just an idea or a story. Internationally too, some filmmakers work like this. But you have to have the talent to pull it off,” he reiterates.
Kapoor’s journey in Hindi cinema has sustained for over 4 decades, since he made stellar impact in 1983 with Woh Saat Din, an unusual film for a mainstream hero. Without brouhaha of international crossovers and immersive character roles, his filmography impresses with sheer versatility and range. Which is why, he became a natural choice for the first big transition to Hollywood mainstream with Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. Kapoor got a message from Danny Boyle, and he didn’t respond for quite some time. Only when son Harshvardhan Kapoor told him just who Boyle is, and the global cult following that his films have, did the actor choose to take it up. Driven entirely by instinct in his choices, he explains what exactly made Loveleen Tandon, the casting director of Slumdog Millionaire choose him to play an egotistic quiz show host. “Loveleen (Slumdog Millionaire co-director) met me recently in Mumbai. She said that a casting director like her suggests the name of an actor is when they see hunger, a certain desire to adapt to new environments and new ways of working to a Hollywood or international filmmaker. It’s when they spot a child like quality, a certain curiosity (still retained) to learn, to change,(that they approach you).” he explains.
It’s this child like quality that inspires him to continue working in cinema in various capacities. Having produced 24, a future forward show for soap dominated Indian TV, he hopes to produce and collaborate on innovative content again. “For all of us today is a great time, for people who know their craft. There’s still space for me to do more. There are so many languages, which I have not been able to pick up. There are many dialects and so many places to travel to. So many different places to explore and be part of different work cultures. I want to learn from them. I want to produce films, be part of them and support people. There’s still so much to do.”
Fun Fact: Anil Kapoor has been part of over 12 shelved films during his career. His first film with Madhuri Dixit was shelved (Bajrang). He was also to work with Anurag Kashyap on Alwyn Kalicharan but he backed out from the project.