“I WAS ONCE KNOWN AS A BORING MAN, ULTIMATELY THAT BECAME SEXY”
“MERE KO LAGTA HAI KI MERA HAMESHA TIME CHAL RAHA HAI”
(A shorter version of this interview by Anna MM Vetticad appeared in the May 2015 issue of Maxim magazine.)
Thirty-seven years into his film career, Anil Kapoor seems unstoppable. He stars in two of this year’s major summer releases: Dil Dhadakne Do and Welcome Back. He is also currently producing and acting in a second season of his TV serial 24, the Hindi adaptation of the hit American franchise in which he played a pivotal role in the penultimate season. As an actor-producer across media, a respected face of Indian cinema abroad, a globe-trotter, fitness freak, father and husband, Kapoor says in this exclusive interview that he is having more fun than anyone he knows.
By Anna M.M. Vetticad
You travel so much that it’s almost like planes are your second home. How do you deal with jetlag in such a way that you do not look exhausted?
When you’re as passionate about work as I am, you manage yourself both physically and mentally to stay fit and focused on your work in spite of the travel. Jetlag also depends on how physically fit you are. The fitter you are, the less the jetlag.
So give us some practical guidelines.
This interview will become about jetlag. (Laughs) Okay, here is a small example. I’m just back from Los Angeles. When I left LA, they were serving dinner on the flight but since it was breakfast time in India, I insisted they give me breakfast. That was a way of psyching myself that it’s morning although it was night there. After breakfast, I had lunch. Before landing in Mumbai, I didn’t eat anything. Instead, I came home and had dinner. That’s one way to do it. Then obviously I keep walking on the aircraft, I shower on the flight. Despite all this, jetlag is inescapable. But if you want to do good work and don’t want the tiredness to show, you will find ways around it.
Do you ever feel like being lazy?
I do. Sometimes when I get up in the morning I feel, ‘Not today ya.’ But before my mind can wander in that half-asleep phase, before I get into that negativity, I signal my brain to wake up. So I go for a workout immediately. Once the blood circulation starts because of the workout and endorphins are being pumped into the brain, you’re completely rejuvenated and positive thoughts return.
You speak of passion for work. But film sets can be so boring, with stars waiting for an eternity between shots. How do you sustain your interest during shoots?
It’s about finding that one thing in each project that makes it exciting for you. It could be that the film is completely out of the box, you’re venturing into unknown territory so there is a little anxiety. You want to do something nobody has done, so that keeps you alive even when the work per se gets boring. It could be the role, the filmmaker, the script, the money. All these things can motivate you. It depends now how many times you do it for money, how many times for art, how many times for passion for your work. The degree of all those things must be taken into consideration. Some people get motivated only with money, some get motivated only with art. Both are wrong. According to me it has to be a combination of all these things.
So it does require an effort to keep the passion going on a film set, does it not?
Effort is an understatement.
Yet the outside world often assumes it is an easy job. Do you encounter that?
Not so much now, but I feel my daughter Sonam encounters it a lot. People feel it’s a glamorous job, she’s looking beautiful, walking the red carpet, doing films with the best directors, constantly being photographed and she’s got it all easily. But it’s nerve-wracking hard work. I feel really bad and sad for her because of how hard she has to work. In fact, girls have to work harder than us. If we get up at 7am to get ready, they get up at 5. Everything for them – makeup, hair, clothes, getting ready, undoing what they’ve done – is more complicated and time-consuming than for us.
Were you able to empathise with women co-stars before Sonam entered films?
Yes, and I warned her repeatedly that it would not be a cakewalk. She was aware of what she was getting into, but in spite of that there were surprises and shocks.
How many years have you been in the film industry now?
I started shooting for my first film in 1978, so that’s 37 years.
So you are completing your fourth decade in films…
Acchha fourth? Oh God, dangerous yaar! (Laughs for a few minutes) Sounds very old.
It depends on how you look at it. It’s either, ‘Oh my I’m so old,’ or ‘Wow! I have 37 years of work experience!’
Ya. I look at it as 37 years of work experience. Not work, it’s more life. As an actor, life experience really is very handy in your craft.
You say Sonam had to deal with surprises in the film industry although you had warned her of the pitfalls. What about you? Do you still encounter surprises?
Oh yes. Earlier, people were not into huge contracts, but it was rare for anyone to back out of even a verbal commitment. Now, you can’t rely on a person’s word alone. You can’t blame people, because the stakes have become so high. So these kind of surprises are there, that things you might feel are green lit are actually not. The “ho jayega” (it will happen) attitude that people used to have 7-8 years back is now gone. Everything now has to be written down and planned. It’s better to do that.
There are certain filmmakers still living with that old kind of thinking and that too is a surprise, that yaar abhi bhi yeh log usi tarah kaam kar rahey hai, kya hoga inn logon ka? (These people are still working in the old way. What will become of them?) You can see that the future is bleak for them, that they will suffer, but they don’t listen.
Have you learnt lessons from watching your contemporaries like Jackie Shroff and director Subhash Ghai whose careers have not survived?
I’m slightly biased. I don’t look at them that way, because I have an emotional connect with them. For me to say things about them will be chhota muh, badi baat.
Are you being diplomatic?
I swear to god I’m not being diplomatic. I’m just being sensitive.
At any point in your life have you feared that everything that you have now, the stardom, the money, the comforts could all go away?
(Laughs) You might call it arrogance, but I’ve never had the fear of not getting work.
You never thought that after the age of 50 or 60, you may not get good projects?
Destiny always favours the brave. That’s why I’ve always been ready to fail. I’ve always taken decisions which people felt were risky, but I considered sensible and thought they would add to my longevity. I can see certain contemporaries, juniors or seniors who get this feeling ki hamara time chal raha hai (it’s my time now), let’s make hay while the sun shines. I never had that feeling. Nothing has come easy to me. Everything I’ve got has come to me through hard work, commitment and integrity. I knew that no one can stop me from continuing my hard work, so why should work stop coming to me? I could have gone wrong with this assumption, but I felt secure in the knowledge that I know my craft, I can deliver and I’m sincere.
I would sometimes tell my friends, yaar when will it happen to me that I can say, ‘Yaar yeh film mein maine bilkul mehnat nahin kiya aur yeh superhit hui’? Yeh luck kabhi kabhi hona chahiye. Ek-aad film toh miley mujhe aisi jaha mujhe lagey, yeh yaar socha bhi nahin thha aur yeh blockbuster ho gayee. (Will I ever be in a position that I can say I did not work hard at all on a film yet it became a superhit? One should have such luck at least occasionally.) This has never happened to me. For every bit of success, every rupee earned, I’ve had to slog. So I told myself, I’ll keep on doing that and of course I’ll keep on reinventing myself to stay relevant. I also track people who have been consistently successful for years, read about them and get inspired.
Sean Connery. He was known for being a sex symbol and playing Bond, then he made a brilliant transition to a range of other kinds of films, but remained sexy and a big star. Clint Eastwood made a transition to being such a relevant film maker. Look at his energy levels. At 84, he has delivered one of the biggest successes of his life –American Sniper has become the highest grossing war film ever. And he keeps making films every year. His brain is still ticking. People like him really inspire me – you know, people who have been huge stars, who have not wasted their stardom away by not looking after themselves or by not reinventing themselves.
Whose mistakes have you learnt from?
(long silence) Rajesh Khanna. He could have remained a star for a much longer time. Some of his films, especially the ones he did with Hrishikesh Mukherjee such as Anand, look relevant even today. He was a good actor, but slowly he put on weight, acquired the harmful trappings of stardom such as surrounding himself with the wrong people. The same applies to Marlon Brando – the greatest actor, but he didn’t look after himself. You learn from these people.
I’m also fortunate to have a second generation in my family with whom I can discuss these matters. I’m blessed because I gave importance to the institutions of marriage and family, so I’m reaping the harvest now. I too could have, you know, found easy ways of being popular.
What is “popular” a euphemism for?
Meaning, trying to get into the media by being a bad boy because that kind of person is more attractive to read about, and getting distracted by things that are temporary.
Do you mean genuine philandering or creating an image of being a philanderer?
A combination. So initially being known as a boring man, but ultimately that itself becoming attractive and sexy. At a certain stage, it feels cool to be late, arrive at premieres with arm candy, have multiple relationships, smoke, drink. It adds to your persona. The media and youngsters like it. But I knew these things could harm my longevity and I’m now reaping the harvest for decisions I took back then.
So the media thought you were boring at one time?
Not the media so much as the industry and friends. For instance, I had a large house compared to my friends and colleagues so it was always open house, like a 24-hour coffee shop. Everybody would be sitting around having fun but at a certain time I’d excuse myself and be sleeping in my room to get up in the morning to go for work. That discipline and professionalism have paid off. That’s why I’m still in a position to say no to people, to make my choices of films and filmmakers I want to work with.
Your role in the American TV series 24 was well-received, but wasn’t it a huge risk to produce and act in a Hindi version, considering that major mainstream Hindi movie stars have not had success acting in TV serials?
No, no, I knew it will work. Look, Woh Saat Din was a film most newcomers would never do, but me and my brother were convinced it would work. Mr India was the first really big mainstream superhero Hindi film and the leading man was invisible for more than half the film, but we felt it would work. You have a certain instinct. This is the difference between people who have not given successes and people who have. And 24 has been successful in so many countries anyway. My confidence paid off. With the Indian version, we got audience segments who don’t traditionally watch TV to watch us. Still, the first season was very niche but hopefully our fan base will increase in the coming seasons.
Did you produce Gandhi, My Father because you thought it was a great project that you respect and you want it to be part of your body of work, or did you think it had the potential to make money too?
I felt I might be able to break through internationally with it. That’s why I made it in English and in Hindi. It was a good film, it won three National Awards, and although it got mixed reactions from critics, I was happy with the final cut. But it must have lacked something because everybody cannot go so wrong. Somewhere it didn’t connect, kuchh toh gadbad thhi, but I can’t pinpoint what.
Is it a regret?
No. When you get bogged down by anything, then it becomes a regret. I don’t go into that area at all. I move on. And what happened is, immediately I got Slumdog Millionaire. So I tell my youngsters and a lot of people who are in this business ki when you work honestly and you give your heart and soul to one project, it’s not necessary that you will get what you really deserve from it. If you get bogged down you might not give your 100 per cent to the next opportunity that comes along, yet it might be the other film which will give you what this film did not. With me in this case it happened back-to-back. I tried my best to make Gandhi, My Father as international as possible, I took it to Miramax, Sony Classics, Venice, Cannes, Toronto, it was rejected everywhere. I showed it to every distributor, they would say yes and then back out. Suddenly I get this small film which wins about 150 awards and becomes a huge success. Somewhere I feel that whatever hard work I put into Gandhi, My Father was reciprocated tenfold with Slumdog Millionaire.
So you have this ability to mentally disassociate yourself from a project that didn’t work out and throw yourself into the next project?
Within seconds. Within hours.
How do you do that?
Mind, mind, mind.
Tell tell tell how.
It’s the mind. You see, if you’re sincere, hard-working, committed, professional, talented, you know your craft, obviously you’re gonna get a job. People need people to deliver. Woh dhoond nikaalenge aapko (People will seek you out).
At any point in your career, have you felt the way you said you’ve seen colleagues feeling, mera time chal raha hai (it’s my time now)?
Mere ko lagta hai ki mera hamesha time chal raha hai (I feel that every time is my time). Even when people said things, I just kept on working.
When did people say things are not working out for you?
I don’t know. I never could pay attention to them. I would just look at them and smile and say, “Really, you think so? Saala bewakoof (Bloody idiot).” (Laughs) Genuinely.
You were hoping Gandhi My Father would be an international breakthrough. Does this mean you were always interested in an international platform?
Who isn’t? Everybody who told me back when Slumdog happened that they’re not interested are all into it now. All of them who said, ‘Nahin, hum India mein khush hai (No, we’re happy in India),’ sab kar rahey hai (now they’re all doing it).
Why did you get so much flak in India for your role in Mission Impossible 4?
I approached that choice very internationally. I had a good role in the film, MI4 is the highest grosser of the MI series and it gave me great exposure. Internationally people loved me in it. As a matter of fact, everybody was convinced that I almost saved the third act. The role was supposed to be serious but I completely changed it. Instead of playing him as a one-dimensional bad guy, I made him a multi-dimensional, really funny, little crazy kind of character. The producers were happy with my contribution to the film. In spite of that I knew there could be problems in India. After all, even Slumdog Millionaire was criticised by people here, including some big stars.
You mean Amitabh Bachchan?
Yeah. These things happen. But Slumdog became so hugely critically acclaimed that everybody had to shut their mouths. MI was of course not critically that acclaimed but a hugely successful film. I’m happy with my work in it and I’m happy I did it. But I remember telling Tom (Cruise) that this will be the reaction of a few people in India.
Hmm, you think it was just a few people?
Or whatever it is, there will be some reaction, there might be some people who might want me to do Tom Cruise’s role. Hopefully I will, you never know, and I respect their opinion, but it doesn’t really affect me because the positive feedback I got from the world was much more. If I’d got negative feedback from the world too and the film had not been a huge success then I would have felt differently.
Was it not a mistake to promote it as much as you did, to not warn people it was a small role? Someone wrote to me on Twitter saying what disappointed him was that when he went to book tickets at a Mumbai hall, there was a standee promoting it as “Anil Kapoor’s film”, so he expected you to have a big role.
I didn’t promote it. And I tried to tell people about the length of the role. Somewhere I feel the producers, the studio were also experimenting (with the marketing), and it did help the business. I did try my best to say, “Make it into a guest appearance”, but at least my experience helped others to learn.
You mean other Indian movie stars, especially Bachchan who made it a point to inform us that his role in The Great Gatsby was tiny?
You think Bachchan learnt from your experience?
I don’t know, but I think it was a smart way to do it.
So you told Tom Cruise that Indians would want you doing his role in MI? Is that happening?
Anil Kapoor as the lead in an MI film?
Not the lead because internationally I look at myself as more of a character actor. Over here too, I’m playing the lead, but a lead who does strong characters in ensemble films. Over there the respectability of an actor is seen differently. My vision is that after 15-20 years I would do roles of the kind Morgan Freeman is now doing in Hollywood. Even after 15 years there will be certain roles I will be able to do there because things are different there. Twitter doesn’t go mad there because Brad Pitt did one scene in 12 Years A Slave.
What is your state of mind right now?
Always looking out for something more exciting, something out of the box. And with this there is a certain calm. I have so many priorities — my children, my production company, the films I’m making, the films my daughter is making, my son’s film, time spent with my wife. And all of us are having a lot of fun. I don’t think anybody is having the kind of fun I’m having. Nobody. Pata nahin, I feel very blessed. There are always surprises in life, kuchh bhi ho sakta hai, but so far so good.
(3) Photograph of Anil Kapoor with Tom Cruise arriving in Mumbai for the Indian premiere of Mission Impossible 4: Spice PR
Note: These photographs were not published in Maxim