As Anil Kapoor makes his debut on Indian television, the seasoned actor talks about his versatility and the shape of things to come.
This October Indian television audiences are expected to bring their brains back into the reckoning as Colors puts a cat among the pigeons. Amidst the scheming of saas and bahu, the channel is putting on a political thriller which will unfold in real time and last only two dozen episodes. The game changer is Anil Kapoor, who is helming this Indian adaptation of Fox’s “24”. Kapoor featured in the Howard Gordon series and was so moved by its scale and content that he decided to not only buy the rights and produce the Indian version but also play the lead role of intelligence officer Jai Singh Rathore.
“Television is a new territory for me in India, but I have done it internationally,” Kapoor reminds us, lest we forget his character of President Omar Haasan in the original. “The challenge was when I did it the first time. I lived there as students spend their time in a gurukul. I used to spend six-eight hours with my dialect coach, participated in workshops and learnt to complete the entire scene in one shot. And along the way pondered over how I could bring the entire work culture to India.”
When he reached there he was shocked to see the paraphernalia for a television series. “It was more than a blockbuster movie. From narration to lighting, everything was structured in advance. Also the way they keep on improving the script and tweaking the lines impressed me. There was a blue colour script, a red script, yellow script and finally a pink script. And ultimately on the set it is a white script.”
Somebody who started as an actor and then went on to become a star, Kapoor is known for doing research on his characters. “Not for every role. If you think I did research for ‘No Entry’ or ‘Welcome’ then you are mistaken,” he quips. “But for Jai Singh Rathore, yes! He has to look real as we are dealing with a socio-political context. He has to behave like an officer on the job. From his table where he sits to his entire past and present, everything has to make sense. You can’t fake it, otherwise the series will fall flat.”
Playing a police officer is not new for Kapoor, but he insists that it is far from the “Ram Lakhan” or “Shootout At Wadala” zones. He describes Rathore as a flawed character. “He doesn’t go by the book. It is something as an actor I want to get my teeth into. I will put it among my top five performances.”
The original series gives terrorism a religious hue and here again the promos talk of real terror strikes in India. “The incidents that we are talking about are in the past but the present is fiction. It is done very smartly. We have been careful about the sentiments as we know it will reach people’s living rooms. The politics is very much there on the surface but that’s one of the tracks. The main track is about the professional and personal concerns of Jai Singh Rathore. He is trying to save the life of the future prime minister of the country but his family’s security becomes a concern.”
Both in terms of scale and content, it is a new territory for Indian television but its success will be judged by TRPs and not the tangible box office results. “The best barometer,” Kapoor interrupts, “is if I am doing the second season it means that all went well and if I am not, don’t listen to anybody — just understand that the effort failed.”
Kapoor is used to taking chances. He did something similar when he launched his production company. The first film he produced was “Gandhi My Father”, which went against the tide then. The critics loved it but it turned turtle at the box office. Coming from a film family, Kapoor understands the business more than anybody else. “It is not about the genre or the content. Had that been the case why did ‘Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja’ fail miserably even though it came after ‘Mr India’,” he asks. “Similarly ‘Gandhi My Father’ didn’t work but ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, which I didn’t produce but was in an artistic zone, proved to be a big success. So there is no rule,” he insists.
When he decided to adapt “24”, many channels refused to buy the idea. “Colors believed in me. We didn’t go into the nitty gritty of the budget straightaway. What I did was, I hired the best executive producers of television, showed them the series, and told them that I want almost the same look. Now prepare the budget. Then I tweaked it a little bit, included my fees as well — otherwise my wife will ask questions at home,” he winks and continues, “I also had a responsibility towards the original creators. It was not easy to convince them. They had their dos and don’ts. Then I took it back to the channel and told them this much has to be spent, and they agreed. We have shot it like a film but not on film. Internationally, these days, TV series are shot on digital format.” But you can make out the difference. “Yes, you can but not the layman,” Kapoor is certain of his creative team led by director Abhinay Deo and writers Rensil D’Silva and Bhavani Iyer.
Known for reinventing himself every few years, Kapoor says he feels blessed that people carry different images of him. “I did lots of genres in times when people were not experimenting at all. When I go to IT conferences, people refer to the Anil Kapoor of ‘Lamhe’ and when I go to a chawl, people praise my good-hearted tapori act.”
The turning point
He says the process for moulding himself from an actor to a star started after he read an article in Cineblitz. Those were the days when he was doing films like “Chameli Ki Shaadi”, “Love Marriage” and “Saheb”. “It was at a time when Jackie Shroff and I were at the top. The article said if Jackie is Amitabh Bachchan, then Anil is Sanjeev Kumar. Now, I respected Sanjeev Kumar but the way the article was written, it was as if they were giving him a back-hand compliment. I worked on my image and proved that I also have those qualities which make an actor a household name.”
But at the same time he clarifies that he doesn’t take the so-called ‘well wishers’ too seriously. “After each hit these people want you to keep repeating yourself in the same kind of roles. Nobody thought that I would do international work but when I did, they suggested now I should stay there. But I love my roots and don’t take myself too seriously. So from the red carpet of Slumdog Millionaire I announced that my next film is with Anees Bazmee.”
Still, his rowdy or tapori image towered over his other experiments. “I agree. In fact at one point of time Rajinikanth advised me to continue with this image suggesting that one day it would lead to cult following. Internationally also, when you go to buy a film of your favourite actor you want to buy the films of the genre where you liked your star the most. If it is Jim Carrey it has to be comedy and if it is Tom Cruise, it has to be action. But my way of thinking is different. I dream of different roles. When people judged me by my hair growth, I showed them what I can do with a clean shaven look.”
Kapoor says physicality plays an important role in justifying the characters. “Some actors can internalise the character but don’t have the face to go with it. Among the young actors, Ranbir Kapoor looks versatile not just because he is a good actor but also because he has a face suited to play different roles. He had the face to look Barfi.”
He doesn’t want to talk about his alleged rivalry with Jackie Shroff but his eyes light up the moment you talk of Madhuri Dixit. “You watched the episode when I was on ‘Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa’,” he gets excited like a youngster. Yes, the chemistry was unmistakable. “Really, nobody thinks of casting us together. I will speak to her husband. He might!” Kapoor is in crackling form.
After completing 24, Kapoor will head for the shoot of the sequel of Bazmee’s “Welcome”.
“I consider it as my working holiday. Some people go for scuba diving, some go to hill stations, I go to shoot for such films for a holiday. That is my stress buster. I will go on the sets and say haan bolo kya dialogue bolna hai,” says Kapoor changing his baritone to his Majnu bhai image.