Actor Anil Kapoor, who was recently in Delhi to attend a promotional event for his latest film Fanney Khan, speaks to Bulbul Sharma about his three-decade-long Bollywood career, his early days of struggle, and his memories of making movies before the advent of celebrity culture.
Anil Kapoor’s filmography is more impressive and wide-ranging than of any other actor from any generation. It includes blockbusters like Mr India (1987) and Tezaab (1988), as well as critically-acclaimed films like Virasat (1997) and Taal (1999). The versatile actor, who turned 61 this year, continues to add more variety to his resume.
The promotional campaign for his latest film, Fanney Khan, brought him to Delhi recently. Suited up as usual, with his hair set to perfection, Kapoor sat with us for a tete-a-tete at hotel Le Meridian in the city, talking about the past and present of his film career.
Kapoor has constantly proved his mettle in Bollywood and continues to reinvent himself year after year. His objective, throughout his career, has been to avoid being typecast. And he has always made it a point to sign projects that don’t relegate him to conventional roles. In Fanney Khan, he plays the role of a cab driver, someone who is struggling to make ends meet, and who will do anything to support his daughter in her popstar aspirations. This is worlds away from the Anil Kapoor of Ram Lakhan (1989) or Lamhe (1991).
He started his acting career with a couple of small roles in films like Humare Tumhare (1979) and Hum Paanch (1980). Unlike today, when he enjoys the liberty of picking roles and films that interest him, his early days were far from easy. There was a time when he was so desperate for work that he would accept any role offered to him, irrespective of the paycheque. For a brief initial phase, he also worked as a background dancer in the industry.
“I wouldn’t ask for roles,” Kapoor tells Guardian 20. “I used to think that if I enquire about the character I am playing, the director might get upset. Earlier, it used to be like, ‘He is asking about the role, let us throw him out of the movie.’ ‘He is asking how much will he be paid, let us throw him out.’ So I have gone through all those phases when I wouldn’t enquire about the role or the money. All that mattered to me was that I must work. After I was done with that, there came a phase when I thought, ‘I can choose now, I can make my own decisions.’”
But with the power of taking decisions comes responsibility. In an actor’s career, everything is determined by the kind of decisions he or she is taking.
“At times,” Kapoor resumes, “when you are not able to think right, you end up taking a wrong decision. After gaining a name, an actor might also think of doing films with strong scripts, with less pay or even without pay. These are all different phases in your career and I have gone through all of those. Now, I only pray to god that I continue to enjoy this liberty of making the right choices. I hope I never have to sign a bad film because of financial problems or because I have a shortage of work. But that, too, is not in my hands. You never know what will happen.”
36 years into the industry, Kapoor has worked with the best talent in Bollywood. As far as sharing the screen is concerned, he has starred opposite Bollywood greats like Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sridevi, Hema Malini, Jackie Shroff, Salman Khan, as well as with current superstars like Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra.
On his experience of working with younger actors, he says, “Actors today work very hard. They are putting in a thousand times more effort than the earlier generation of actors. In my time, people wouldn’t work that hard. They would work on 5-6 films at the same time, and would hop from one set to another. However, it is nothing like that these days. [Contemporary] actors don’t mind dedicating two years to a single film. So things are better now in this sense.”
This, however, isn’t the only way in which the Hindi film industry has changed. In our time we are witnessing the emergence of new modes of acting and filmmaking. He says, “When I started my career, people found it difficult to understand me. I was slightly misunderstood. People would say that I worked too hard, I bored them. They would also say things like, ‘He asks a lot of questions, gets into the skin of the character, cuts his hair for a film.’ Those things were considered boring earlier. But now all this has turned into a marketing tool. People understand it [method acting] now. All of this adds value to the film, to the star, to the branding.”
New tools of information, the social media and mass media, have also contributed to the change. “Let me tell you an incident. I was working on 1942: A Love Story [in 1994] and had a particular hairstyle that didn’t suit the era in which the film was set. I thought about calling the media people for them to witness the haircut I was going to take. I thought that it will be good marketing for the film. So we arranged for the event against the backdrop of the film set, in [Mumbai’s] Film City. But nobody turned up. And this is almost 20 years back. But now if the hero hits the gym for a movie or gets a transformation of any kind for a project, it goes viral.”
Contemporary cinema, both in India and overseas, has had a lot to gain from modern technology, which has made shooting a film, or honing it in post-production, simpler than ever. But it wasn’t always so. Kapoor says, “I remember when I was shooting for Mr India, we had to do everything on the set. So, all the special effects that we wanted to show, we had to do that on the set. I had to wait for long hours to just get a single special effect right. But now that has changed as well, and everything can be done digitally.”
What hasn’t changed, though, is Kapoor’s approach to cinema. He still takes great care in choosing a film, and carefully reads the scripts he is offered. The script was what prompted him to sign his first leading role, in Vo Saat Din in 1983.
“The movies that were made in the 1980s had heroes who would either be on a bike or would play the guitar or would dance. So that was the definition of a hero even 36 years ago. But Vo Saat Din [in which Kapoor plays a struggling musician] had none of that. It was all about the story, about the script. And it is the same for me even now. I have never thought about who will be the hero or the heroine [in a film], I never think about these things. I either like the story or I don’t like it and it has been the same since the past 36 years,” he says.
As an actor, it is important for Kapoor to understand and feel for the character he is playing. “There has to be an emotional connect with the character, the music, the role. Every character I have played, I have connected to it emotionally.”
In his latest film, Fanney Khan, he plays the role of a man who harboured dreams of making it big in the music industry. Kapoor would have found it easy to relate to this role, for he himself once tried his hand at becoming a musician. He says, “I always felt like and I wanted to be a musician, but realised that I am not. I tried but I failed. I wanted to learn so many instruments but I just couldn’t. And I realised that I love music, listen to music, appreciate music but I cannot create music. I can’t sing or play an instrument. And I realised that what comes naturally to me, and what I am most passionate about, is acting.”