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Finding his voice

The director of `Raghu Romeo' is probably more known for being in front of the camera than behind it. But Rajat Kapoor is no novice at filmmaking and even has two National Awards for short films in his kitty.

ONE WOULD be forgiven for failing to place him at first glance. (After all, he shares his name with an actor who has acted in Shyama Prasad's `Agnisakshi'.)

The beard he keeps doesn't help matters. But the smile he flashes jogs your memory and it hits you that he is as familiar as the man next door.

A familiar face in commercials on the small screen (he has over 30 of them to his credit), Rajat Kapoor's oeuvre extends far beyond modelling for ads and acting in TV serials.

He is the director of `Raghu Romeo', screened at the 56th Locarno International Film Festival to tremendous response. Rajat Kapoor was in the city recently for the Eighth International Film Festival of Kerala.

Kapoor is no stranger to filmmaking. Before `Raghu Romeo', he has been at the helm of another feature film, `Private Detective', and five short films. Of these, two - `Tarana' and `Hypnothesis' -- have bagged the National Award.

Acting, he says, happened accidentally. "A Delhiite, I used to be with a theatre group called `Chingari'. I then joined the Film and Television Institute, Pune, to study filmmaking. After passing out in 1988, I assisted filmmakers Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahni. I learnt all about filmmaking from them. Then, I did some more theatre and even writing. I made my first short film, `Tarana', in 1993. `Private Detective' was made in 1995 but could only be released in 1997, owing to lack of funds."

His other films and modelling assignments happened in between and then came the offers to act in `Dil Chahta Hai' and `Monsoon Wedding'. Kapoor now has his eyes trained on Aruna Raje's `Tum', in which he plays actress Manisha Koirala's husband.

Yet another role is in the Subhash Ghai-directed `Kisan', with Vivek Oberoi and Isha Sharvani.

Asked how it feels to play the lead opposite Manisha Koirala, Kapoor says, "Very good. She's a very beautiful person, and a great actress." Kapoor says he's delighted to work with Isha in `Kisan', especially since he has known her as a child. "Isha's mother, Daksha Seth, was in my first short film, `Tarana'."

Other offers too have come his way. "I've refused a number of films in the past three years, either because they offered me negative roles, similar to the one I had in `Monsoon Wedding', or insignificant ones. But since acting is not where my career lies, the roles I do should be good."

Acting, he says, takes care of the finance for his films. Asked how he managed to fund `Raghu Romeo', Kapoor says, "I've had the script for `Raghu Romeo' and another film for three years. The big banners would like the script but would not want to put their money into it. Or they would ask for a change in the cast. The whole experience was so frustrating."

But it did not deter Kapoor for long. The National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) agreed to give him Rs. 40 lakhs. He had some money saved from his acting and modelling assignments and this too was put into the film. But he was still falling short of a few lakhs. This was when he hit upon the plan of seeking help through the Internet. Word soon got around and with the help of generous donations, he managed to raise the required Rs. 12 lakhs.

And then Locarno happened. Kapoor waxes eloquent about the `Piazza Grande' screening. "The venue can accommodate up to 10,000 people. The screen is 25m x 15 m, the largest in Europe. Never am I going to have a show like that. It was fantastic."

But it's not an easy ride for Kapoor yet. "I am showing the film to various people, and distributors in order to get a theatre release," he says.

Asked what `Raghu Romeo' meant to him, Kapoor says, "With this film, I have finally found my individual voice. It is very close to who I am. This is the kind of stuff I like to do - a film that's funny, mad and yet moving. "

He isn't excited, however. In fact, he says, he has just recovered from a bout of depression. Kapoor has two other scripts in hand but isn't sure when he would embark on his next film. " Funding is a huge problem and it may be another three years before these see the light of day," he despairs. He is reluctant to approach the big banners for fear of losing his creative freedom. His immediate plan, however, is to return the Rs. 12 lakhs he had received through the appeal on the Internet. And do all that he can to make `Raghu Romeo' a hit.


Photo: K. G. Santthosh

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