Shekhar Kapur's royal trip continues with Elizabeth: The Golden Age. t. krithika reddy talks to the director about his grammar of film making

Interesting cinema is about wrinkles, not smoothness

Shekhar Kapur started as an unlikely interpreter of Tudor History about a decade ago. But now he is convinced that Elizabeth, his royal biopic of 1998, has enough steam to set him off on a gilded trip that might even see him through a trilogy. As Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the visually sumptuous sequel to Elizabeth, hits the screens the film maker sounds typically serious.

“There’s always a buzz around such films. It will last till the Academy Awards season. I expect that Elizabeth: The Golden Age will get nominated in at least three categories. But certainly not for Best Director. The thing is that the Awards are influenced by many considerations. Over the years, I’ve noticed a cultural bias. Anyway, they are just the fashion of the moment. Look at what happened to Martin Scorsese. He didn’t get an Oscar for many of his original works, but got it for Departed, a remake of a Hong Kong film!”

With a tinge of disdain, Kapur adds, “These days, the films made in Hollywood lack a sense of adventure. Not many film makers dare to experiment. They stick to the proven formula for a safe run at the box office. To me interesting cinema is about wrinkles. If you iron out the wrinkles and go for smoothness, it becomes boring. In the West, cinema is in a state of decline. I believe the new wave will come from Asia — from China, Korea and even India. A reverse cultural colonisation will happen. Hollywood will continue to make Spiderman. But the surprise will be that when Spiderman removes his mask, he will be Chinese! Cinema can’t be static. That’s why I don’t follow the conservative grammar of film making. When Elizabeth first hit the screens, it wasn’t appreciated. It took time for people to understand its nuances.”

Though panned by critics for making a travesty of history and pitching the story of the Virgin Queen like a romance, Kapur is unfazed. “Honestly, I’ve little interest in History or the conventions of costume drama. But when Elizabeth was offered to me following the success of Bandit Queen, I thought it was an audacious proposal. I took it up with a bit of trepidation. But soon, I made it my own film because it concerned many issues I was facing in my life. When the sequel came along, I took it up again and made it mine because it’s about things that bother us today. I’m fascinated about the interpretations of History, not the statement of facts. History has contemporary overtones. The Golden Age echoes the religious intolerance we face today. Critics might find it grossly inaccurate, but as a film maker you sift through fact and fantasy, history and myth.”

“The Golden Age”, he says, “evolves at three levels — political, psychological and mythical. Set in 1585, it rewinds to Elizabeth’s (again powerfully played by Cate Blanchett) dilemma as a Queen and a woman. The dichotomy is reflected in the conflict between the divine and the human side of her personality. The film examines the issue of icon-ism as well. It throws up the question – Is it possible for someone to be divine in his/her lifetime?”

Talk about his fascination for the epic scale, and the director, who had also made the lavish The Four Feathers replies, “Yes, I like it. There’s a certain contradiction that it brings about. On the one hand, it has a sweeping, operatic quality, on the other, it is intimate.”

Kapur, who has used music maestro A. R. Rahman and Craig Armstrong for the score in The Golden Age, says, “I chose Rahman, because I thought he would bring a different feel to the film. Using a musician from this part of the world was an experiment. It was interesting to see how the clash of musical cultures gets reflected in the film. And Rahman has done a good job.”

An accountant-turned-film maker, Kapur, however, doesn’t seem comfortable handling both the logistics and the creative side of film making. “Nowadays, films are about big bucks. When business takes precedence over creativity, it can get exasperating. There are just meetings and more meetings. But I understand that film making is about fitting a square peg (the script) into a round hole (a schedule and a budget). Right now, I feel bullish about Asia.”

That’s one of the reasons for ‘Mr. India’ to return to the country. “Deepak Chopra and I got involved with Virgin Comics to help promote Eastern culture through comics. And yes, comics can also feed films some day.”

About his forthcoming film Paani… “It’s a deeply political film set in 2025 in a metropolis with a population of 20 million. It’s a city that operates at two levels the upper city that feeds water to the lower city. Water is sadly used as a weapon of economic, social and political power. I believe the next war will be fought not over oil – but over water!”