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Still seeking, still searching...

A National Award winner, Rajit Kapoor is still looking for roles of substance. In Delhi this past week to promote his forthcoming "Zindagi Khoobsoorat Hai", he has a frank discussion about his career in Bollywood with RANA A. SIDDIQUI... .

Rajit Kapoor... .in search of substance. Photo: R.V. Moorthy.

FIFTEEN YEARS ago when Shyam Benegal saw a tall, thin man delivering soliloquy on Shakespeare's tough monologues and sonnets with remarkable ease in the serial "Yugantar", he decided he was the man for his film. That man was Rajit Kapoor, who played the character of an ambitious, small town boy aspiring to go abroad and become a playwright like the greatest English novelist.

Kapoor's simple demeanour and a sharp, lucid accent landed him a role that made him the talk of the town in the mid-`80s. He became a household name as "Byomkesh Bakshi" -- a detective next door, no Karamchand but an ordinary man with extraordinary detective acumen. Soon this commerce graduate but literature loving man was flooded with plum offers after the serial became a hit but he went for films like "Sooraj ka Satwan Ghoda" that Shyam Benegal offered him. This film, meant for the serious audience, added another feather to his cap.

But it was "The Making of Mahatma" where he plays the young and vulnerable Mahatma Gandhi, that won him a National Award in 1996 and also won acclaim worldwide that confirmed him as a serious, thinking actor. Rajit was later seen in a few roles, small but significant. "Ghulam" and then Shyam Benegal's "Zubeidaa" saw him in roles "close to my heart". Now in his forthcoming film "Zindagi Khoobsoorat Hai" he plays a "short and sweet role" -- of an ex-lover of Tabu, the protagonist Gurudas Maan's wife, due for release shortly. In New Delhi this past week for the promotion of this film, Rajit, articulate, warm and welcoming as ever, stole the show --- more for his quick, intelligent and straight forward answers, a pearly grin and a designer black kurta-pyjama and long silky wrap that he sports handsomely. "I am also a businessman. I export garments," he affirms his passion for finer clothes. That he didn't want to play this role is known. He says, "I don't have a role in `Zindagi Khoobsoorat Hai' that is worth mentioning. I agreed to play it because my sweet friend Manjeet refused to leave after narrating me the role until I was forced to say yes. So I owe it to her."

A comeback of sorts in an "unmentionable role"? "You just can't wait for the role of your choice to come your way. To survive in this industry, one must learn to be seen constantly or your presence is forgotten and your talent is wasted. These days, if I want to see the script, the filmmakers get annoyed and upset. They only narrate me my role and want me play it. What to do? I would love to work with the likes of Gulzar saab and Hrishikesh Mukherjee who can handle the craft of film making so well but they don't seem to come up with a new venture." Shyam Benegal though, remains his favourite for being the "most organised" director.

A tough learning -- has made him "change himself" not out of choice but compulsion. He says, "I have learnt to be more flexible in choosing a role. What can I do? Here in Bollywood the entire scenario is changing fast. It has grown very competitive. No one wants to take risk with a different script."

Not that he is happy the way scene is changing. "These days, films are more about grand canvas than emotions. Be it `Devdas' with huge, decorative chandeliers or `Khabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham' that is a designers delight. A person like me would go in for `Bend it like Bechham' where sentiments dominate and also raise an issue," reveals Rajit, adding, "organised scripts are replacing lose ones." He has "Lagaan" and "Filhaal" to substantiate his argument.

Rajit's restless state is justifiable. For he always did what made him stand apart from the crowd. Be it "Baji Rao", a play written by an academic of Delhi University. "The role was a challenge specially its language. I was apprehensive of audience accepting it but the risk was worth taking though I realised later that Delhi audience wasn't that responsive to it," he recalls.

Only a few people know that he sings and dances like a trained professional and a comedy role is his favourite. But not the kind of comedy that today's films have to offer. "Today's senseless comedy with absolutely no connection with the main plot upsets me. No one is producing comedy films like `Jaane Bhi Do Yaron'," he moans. He is now working towards directing his own film "on a social subject" and waiting to finish an English film opposite Sushmita Sen.

"Things will change. I am sure. With young talents like Meghana Gulzar and Ashutosh Gowarikar, we can expect some positive transformation," he assures himself -- and you.

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