on being street smart, super cool and cashing in on Dubai
A nil Kapoor is 57. He looks 45. Not on screen, but up close in person. And it’s not just his face. He’s trim to the point of being labelled slender, and it’s hard to keep up with him as he lopes around the Gulf News Magazines office after his interview on Josh 97.8, not waiting for minders, and – shock! – opening doors for himself.
The fact is, he knows what he wants and how to get it. If you need proof of how good an actor he is, you don’t have to watch one of his better movies like his breakout international hit Slumdog
Millionaire, or his much-acclaimed Hindi films such as My Wife’s Murder (which he also produced), Musafir ( Traveller) or
Calcutta Mail. You just have to watch him do a photo session in a studio. He takes it as seriously as he does his films.
He comes with two wardrobe assistants, Deepak, his make-up man, and Jalal, his secretary in tow, with a set of formal and informal wear. He’s in make-up and dressed in less than 15 minutes, and takes directions from our photographer, Dennis Mallari, without any signs of starriness.
As Dennis shoots non-stop, Anil’s face takes on many expressions – from amused to serious, to quizzical to smouldering anger, to outright mirth.
If ever a film-maker wanted a screen test from Anil, he just has to see him at a shoot. He knows the pose, the angles and the stances, and just in case, he keeps calling out to Deepak, who jumps in with a mirror and comb, so Anil can adjust his hair and check out the angle in every pose before the shutter clicks.
“I’ve done this so many times,” Anil says confidently. “But I never take anything for granted.”
I’d witnessed a similar instance when I last interviewed him way back in 1988 as he was just establishing himself as a matinee idol in the Hindi film industry. We’d had to follow him (he hadn’t yet acquired an entourage then) from studio to studio across Mumbai throughout the day – he was shooting three shifts (working on three films simultaneously), and finally was free only at 3am to do the photo shoot, at his house in Juhu, a suburb of Mumbai.
His daughter, Sonam, who must have been around two years old then, was waiting up for him, with his wife, Sunita. The little girl started prattling away as Anil began posing for pictures.
He would listen to her attentively, with his trademark face-splitting smile. But his face would assume other expressions during the shots, and this disconcerted Sonam, who would run to her mum, wailing, “Papa kyon smile nahin
karte?” (Why doesn’t Papa smile?). Anil would grin upon hearing that, his face transformed, and Sonam would sit back, happy again. There was not a hint of protest as the photographer, the late Taiyeb Badshah, kept clicking away into the wee hours of the morning.
Finally, we had to call a halt – his wife and Sonam having long given up and gone to bed. I’ve yet to meet another actor who’s so dedicated.
Why would a film star who’s been there and done that, want to go through it all over again? There’s a reason why after all these years Anil
keeps at it. He’s on the cusp of realising his dream of many years – launching his own entertainment company – and he’s in Dubai on a publicity spree and for the making of Welcome Back.
“I am going to launch my entertainment company, Antila Ventures, in Dubai,” he says. “It will be a company that has all kinds of verticals – content creation for television as well as films, state-of-art studios, and will have interests in India as well as a presence in Hollywood through my contacts there. The kind of exposure that I have had internationally through my films there gave me the inspiration and courage to do this.”
It’s obvious that it is much more than a vanity project for Anil. He’s been planning this for a long time now, and is determined to get it right.
“I chose Dubai because it is a young and positive city, with a prime position, both geographically and logistically,” he says. “It’s only three hours from Mumbai, and it’s directly connected to Los Angeles as well as London, and other cities in Europe. My company will have presence in all these places eventually. So it made perfect sense.”
The changes have been happening ever since Anil starred in the monster 2008 Hollywood hit, Slumdog Millionaire and 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost
Protocol. Over the years, the matinee idol has stopped looking inward and is more open to the world and his responsibilities to it.
Last year, Anil starred
in Trapped By Tradition: A CNN Freedom Project
Documentary. The film shocked the world. As a special contributor, Anil visited Bharatpur, on the borders of the western Indian state of Rajasthan, and the capital, New Delhi, where many young girls and women are sold into the sex trade, often by members of their own family.
He has been involved in the fight against human trafficking for several years through his affiliation with Plan India, an organisation working to protect children against abuse and exploitation.
“I was surprised and shocked to learn that such practices are going on in this supposedly civilised world,” he says. “That there is a village in free India, where women are sold into the flesh trade and men stay at home, and this is accepted as the norm. Human slavery in today’s modern world is unacceptable and unpardonable. We should do whatever we can to eradicate it completely.
“We had to create awareness and change the mindset of the people in Bharatpur – they had to understand there are other options.”
Anil went to Bharatpur and spent time with many young girls and women who follow the socially accepted tradition of joining the flesh trade. In that particular district, women have been forced to join the flesh trade by their own families, and now it is no longer a taboo.
“I found out that after drugs and terrorism, this is one of the most
As a leader I had to set an example. So I chose to make some sacrifices, so others would too
lucrative criminal activities, and that’s the reason it’s so difficult to put a stop to it,” he says. “There have been some changes over the years I’ve been visiting Bharatpur, but not as much as I’d like.”
He attributes his altruism to Sunita, who was a model and later a popular jewellery designer. “My wife has always been my anchor,” he says. “She stays out of the limelight, but is very much into social activism and charity with some organisations – especially Plan India.
“After more than 30 years together [they were married in 1984, but knew each other many years earlier] some of her activism has rubbed off on me.
“I guess that’s why we’ve lasted so long – we have a very good relationship. I’ve been aware of her work over the years, though I was too busy with my career to get involved in it then. But after I had established myself, I felt that life had been good to me, and it was my time to give back.
“So, slowly I got involved with the charity organisations my wife was a part of. And when it was an issue that touched us all, I had to participate and that’s how my involvement in Trapped
By Tradition came about.” The documentary was highly acclaimed and went on to win the Gold World Medal in the Cultural Issues category at New York Festival’s International TV and Film Awards 2012.
Anil still has artistic ambitions to fulfil, however, though now he looks to television for his adrenaline rushes.
“I am more inspired by characters and roles that I’ve seen recently in some international television shows like Kevin Spacey’s in House of Cards,” he says. “I’d love to do that role. I can carry that off pretty well. I did it in a small way in my Hindi film, Nayak ( Leader, 2001), but it was nowhere near Spacey’s role, which I feel is very well written and essayed.
“I was fortunate enough to play the Indian version of the Jack Bauer character played by Keifer Sutherland in the US version in my production of
24. There’s great content on television and you feel much more creatively satisfied when the writing is good and you are able to give your best.”
It’s obvious that fortune had less to play in Anil portraying the role, than the actor himself. The occasional producer donned the production hat again to make his dream come true. In fact, he gave up almost three years of his professional life and more than a couple of blockbuster films to realise the project.
“That was because 24 was a mammoth production for me,” explains Anil. “I was producing as well as acting in it and, in terms of scale,
it was something that had not been attempted before in India.
“To convince the channel and the team, both actors as well as technicians, to give their all to the project, I needed a lot of time and commitment from everyone, and as the leader, I had to set an example. So I chose to make some sacrifices, so others would too.
“I had to reject some very big films, and I put almost three years into developing 24, but it was worth it. I learnt a lot, and hopefully the second season that starts shooting later this year should be bigger and better.”
Anil is now back multitasking and doesn’t have time to stand still. “I’d like to do more television for creativity, and of course I’ll do films because they provide me the wherewithal…” he says.
“People love me entertaining them with my comic roles such as the ones in Ram Lakhan, Chameli Ki Shaadi and
No Entry. I am also producing films that are different, and I am fortunate in that as a producer I can make an award-winning film like Gandhi, My
Father, (2007) that was considered a suicidal move on my part. It is the kind of film nobody wanted to buy. But I felt that it was a story that had to be told. I like to take my chances occasionally, with projects other producers wouldn’t dare to touch.”
The film explores the troubled relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and his son, Harilal Gandhi, and won a clutch of awards including three national awards.
The film industry was surprised when Anil chose to produce such a film, given the fact that his producer brother, Boney Kapoor, is known to be a hard-nosed businessman not given to such flights of fancy.
Anil has always been perceived to be in the shadow of his elder brother, who is said to have masterminded Anil’s career from the beginning, and he’s been accused of not doing anything without Boney’s approval.
“Of course, I’ve always looked up to Boney, and as a family we have done everything together – me as an actor and he as a producer,” he says.
“I would look into the creative part and Boney at the financial and marketing side. We were a great combination and we made some good films together like Mr India (1987), Hum Paanch ( We Five, 1980) and Woh Saat Din
( Those Seven Days, 1983). But then we
have different tastes, and while he may not have made Gandhi, My Father, I wanted to, and I did.”
Unlike many other stars, Anil doesn’t produce films to act in them. “I don’t want to act in the films I produce,” he says. “These films are my way of getting out of my comfort zone and that’s one of the reasons I am launching my own entertainment company.”
For such a workaholic, Anil doesn’t seem to have made a bad job of bringing up his children, actors, Sonam, 28, Harshvardhan, 23, and producer, Rhea, 27. In fact, he’s known as the coolest father in Bollywood.
“I don’t say I’m the coolest father, my children say that!” laughs Anil. “It could be that being an actor, I can understand the psychology of my children better, than perhaps any other father.
“With today’s generation, the more independence you give them, the better it is. It depends on how they’re brought up. I can’t take the credit for that – my wife has brought them up.
“I don’t have to tell them what’s right or wrong – they know instinctively. They wouldn’t do anything to upset us, so there’s no point in being overprotective. I let them make their
I am still as hungry and excited and scared and insecure and nervous as I was when I started out
own mistakes and learn from them.
“When Sonam came back from Singapore after her studies and told me she wanted to apprentice under director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, I was doubtful whether it would work out, though I didn’t voice my doubts.
“Later when they both came and told me she was to be launched as an actress in his film, Sawariya, I sat her down and told her about the hardships and disappointments she was likely to face, going from my own experiences.
“After that I allowed her to do as she wished, and she’s done quite well for herself. I am very proud of her.
“The same with Rhea. She wanted to produce films, and she’s the kind of person who listens when I advise her.
“Harshvardhan is very independent, he has a mind of his own. Sometimes I may feel they are wrong in some things, but I tell them to go ahead as it’s their life after all, and maybe I just think differently. They have their relationships, but as long as they stick to the broad rules we live by, they are free to do as they wish. I guess that makes me the cool father!”
Sonam doesn’t go to Anil for acting tips. “But my son does say he’ll come to me for advice once he’s established himself under his own steam,” says Anil. “We have a great rapport. “Rhea has produced her latest film,
Khubsoorat ( Beautiful), on her own, and she’ll be a big part of my company.
“I’d love to work with my children if a good enough script comes up. But we are not looking for it.”
In spite of the gruelling all-day shoot in the desert for Welcome Back, Anil still looks as fresh as daisy at 9pm after our photo session and interview. When we remark on it, his face splits into his trademark grin. “I can’t take full credit for that – I’ve been blessed with good genes,” he cracks. “Both my father and grandfather were hale and hearty into their 80s. Of course, I am very health conscious, work out six days a week and make the right food choices, but more than anything else I think it is because I am a very positive person.
“I’ve seen people change drastically because of a lot of stress and how they react to it. I’ve been blessed with my family, my wife, the right friends and the right influences… all those things matter. I am lucky, I’ve been an actor for 37 years and life has been kind to me.
“I guess it’s everything put together. Everybody loves meeting me, because they find me full of positive energy, and its not fake. It’s the way I am. I am a people person – I enjoy meeting people, I love to entertain them, learn from them. I am a good listener. I love my work, and that keeps me young.”
The one thing that’s not changed about Anil is his stubble – right from the time he started acting. “When I started out I would go to producers asking for roles and they would say I looked too young to play the hero,” he grins. “So to look more mature and grown-up I grew a beard – a mere stubble.
“I felt I looked better with a stubble and so decided to keep it after Woh Saat
Din, which was a success. At that time it was considered odd, but now it’s turned into a fashion statement. I joke it is my contribution to the Indian film industry!”
When he’s not working, Anil is still trying to get back on top of the game. “When I am not acting, I try my best to read, listen and learn from others, spend time with my family, travel, look for opportunities,” he says. “I don’t sit and wait for work to come to me. I look for opportunities in everything – things that excite me, motivate me, push me out of the box. I try to dream up something that is bigger and tougher and can excite me out of my lethargy.”
“I just keep going on, trying to find something that motivates me, ignites my passion. I am still as hungry, and excited and scared and insecure and nervous as I was when I started out.
“My priorities have now changed. There was a time when my career came first. I would shoot on birthdays, Diwali, days when I should have been with my family, as my wife so often reminded me. But I used to put work above everything. Now I would put my family before work.”
A pause. That intense look again. “That doesn’t mean I am not hungry any more!” he delivers, before striding out, shouting “Pack up!” to his team waiting in the wings.
With the cast of Slumdog Millionaire at the Golden Globe awards
His children, Sonam, Harshvardhan and Rhea, have all gone into the movie business
With MI4 costars Tom Cruise and Paula Patton
Anil credits his wife, Sunita, with helping him be more charitable