As “Ankhon Dekhi” captures the imagination of the discerning, actor-director Rajat Kapoor gets candid on the film that makes you look beyond the obvious without getting didactic.
Some years back Rajat Kapoor made a genre bending film on matrimony called “Mixed Doubles”. The title clouds the mind as one approaches him at a modest hotel on the periphery of Old Delhi. Isn’t he playing mixed doubles with his image all these years? On one end he is the quintessential corporate guy in advertisements and films and on the other he is a courageous director, who made the word budget and formula almost redundant much before independent filmmakers made their present felt in multiplexes. He has made five films in a decade but nobody can charge him of dilution or selling out for more eye balls. After grappling with the urbane image for years, last week the director-actor returned home with “Ankhon Dekhi” and was embraced by the critics and the discerning among the audience took note.Set in Old Delhi, where Rajat spent his growing up years, the film talks about a common man who decides to believe only in what he sees. “The idea was with me for a long time but I didn’t know where to set it. Then I was also eager to make a film which would reflect my experience of growing up in original Delhi. When the two got intertwined in the form of a story I decided to go ahead,” says Rajat.
When Rajat says original Delhi, he means the Delhi without the overt Punjabi influence. “This is the Old Delhi or Shahjahanabad which we don’t usually see in our films. These are ordinary people with a lot of tehzeeb in the way they talk and carry out their relationships. Even if there are differences there is a certain charm in they way they out to resolve them. After all the conflict one will hold the hand of the other and say let’s dine together,” says Rajat adding that he has shot close to the place where his grandfather and his extended family lived in Dariba Kalan.
Though Rajat has set his films in realistic settings in the past (“Raghu Romeo”, “Mithya”) as well but this time the thought and execution seems to have blended really well. “Perhaps, I knew this world better than others. Resul (Pookutty) and Rafey (Mehmood) have been my long time collaborators. So sound and shot design were not a problem. It was editing that took me long this time. I was not sure till the end what to leave and what to retain as the mood kept on evolving on the editing table. Finally, we had to abandon it,” he muses. The photo-realistic mis-en-scene reminds of Gurvinder Singh’s “Anhey Gohrey Da Daan”. Perhaps because both draw from their teacher Mani Kaul but Rajat’s film is much more accessible. It is not the first time that he is deconstructing reality. In “Mithya”, he questioned the concept of I-ness in ‘I’. “It all boils down to the role of maaya in our lives. We are so consumed by the material needs that we have no time to experience the sights and sounds around us. When we walk down the park, we see a rose and feel that it was always there and pass by. We might have seen many such roses but do we care to see that particular rose,” Rajat unravels the layers of his thought.
Reflecting on the central character of Bauji, Rajat says he used to think what will happen if Raja Harishchandra returns in this day and age. “Will he be considered a fool or a sage? There is a philosophical aspect to the story but on the surface the family is grappling with every day issues.” Rajat’s on screen image doesn’t go with his roots. “I agree,” he laughs. “Sometimes you get stuck in an image. It is not that I haven’t tried but films like “10ml Love” didn’t do well at the box office and my efforts were not noticed. I have tried it again in “Ankhon Dekhi”.” He plays the practical younger brother of Bauji, who feels that his brother is getting eccentric but that doesn’t reduce his love for him.
On casting Sanjay Mishra for the central role, Rajat says when he saw him perform in “Phans Gaye Re Obama”, he saw his Bauji in him. “This is the second time that I wrote a character with a particular actor in mind. Earlier I wrote “Mithya” hoping Naseeruddin Shah will play the central character but the film got delayed because of the budget and Ranvir Shorey had to step in. At first Sanjay ignored me as another westernised soul trying to find his roots but when he realised where I am coming from we bonded well. Some characters are written in a way that if you get them right you can literally play with the audience. Like Bharat Bhushan in “Bheja Fry”.” But such characters can also go out of hand after a point? “True. I was aware that the script will reach a stage where I will ask myself where to take it from here. However, somehow this time things fell in place quite nicely.”
Rajat is happy that the tide is once against turning in favour of meaningful cinema. “We had a good time for three-four years before “Dabangg”. The film changed the mood. Now, it seems the flavour is changing again. “Jai Ho” hasn’t done well and couple of offbeat ideas have worked but it is early to predict a trend. Last week I watched “Bewakoofiyan”. I had hopes from Nupur Asthana but I didn’t like it.”
Rajat is not too amused with the evolution of the independent cinema scene. Rajat was one of the first Indian filmmakers to use crowd funding through Internet and this time he discovered his producer Man Mundhra through Twitter. “I don’t think many young filmmakers are making use of the opportunity they are getting. I have heard first hand stories where first time filmmakers are leaving the casting on casting directors and assistant. If you can’t be present for the audition of your cast, you can’t be serious about your craft. I always make sure to be part of the audition process.” Rajat admits even in the independent space there is a pressure to make genre films. “My films don’t fit in this space and that’s why I always find it difficult to get finances. When I don’t get the money, I return to theatre and wait. However, my next film is clearly falling in crime genre space with a possible punchline – he had nothing to lose,” says Rajat suggesting that this could be the headline of the piece.