His vanishing act in Mr India etched Anil Kapoor on the minds of Indian audiences as a versatile actor, who could make you laugh and cry and even dance in rain with Sridevi. The actor entered world arena with his Oscar win in ‘Slumdog Millionare’ and has now penetrated the mainstream American TV, winning rave reviews from international press.
But as his exclusive chat with Shashank Chouhan of Spicezee.com showed, Anil Kapoor stays grounded and just wants his children to be secure in life. Excerpts:
Q. ‘24’ is finally airing in India. How do you like the response?
Anil: The response has been absolutely tremendous and I am so happy that it has finally arrived in India. People who have never seen English serials before are now watching it and the response is truly great. The channel has decided to air it four times a week instead of just on the weekends!
Q. And how did ‘24’ happen to you?
Anil: Well obviously, the makers noticed me in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. They quite liked my work and thought I would be the best in the role of Oman Hasan, the President of a Middle East country who visits the US.
Q. From commercial Bollywood films to suddenly the small screen in America…
Anil: Well this small screen is bigger than any big screen I have appeared on in Bollywood. The show is worth USD 150mn, so it was a no-brainer choice really. I would have been a fool to say no to ‘24’. I`ve never done such a big show in my career. It was totally very special.
Q. How different is the US entertainment industry from its Indian counterpart?
Anil: The process is the same, but the scale and its execution are very very large. Everything works like a machine over there, but still I think there is room for improvisation. A lot of time, effort and attention are paid to preparation, so when you arrive on the sets every department is ready and things run smoothly. Obviously there are hiccups everywhere, but they are a minimum. In India we are also doing good work, and it would be unfair to compare the two industries at this point in time.
Q. The role you portray is unlike anything you have done before. How did you prepare?
Anil: The makers took their inspiration from leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela who sacrificed their lives for humanity. To play Omar Hassan, I had to brush up my English first of all. To get under the skin of the character, I watched videos of world leaders on Youtube and looked up the Internet which came in handy and read their books and speeches. I had to learn about the politics of the Middle East as well as America. All of it went into my sub-conscious and then I just had to play it out.
Q. So can politics in India be your next calling?
Anil: No. Not my cup of tea.
Q. Does Hollywood typify Indian or Asian men as your ‘Slumdog…’ co-actor Dev Patel said the other day?
Anil: I think Dev was misquoted. In fact, my role defines season eight of ‘24’. They gave me the best role there was. People in Hollywood are very broad-minded and there is no stereotyping of Indian actors. The situation is very optimistic and my experience was great. I am the first mainstream Indian actor to do this kind of work and the appreciation I got was overwhelming. The film people that I came across there treated me as an equal.
Q. Would you work more in the West now?
Anil:Why not! I am a professional actor and I would be glad to work in any good project. I am very fortunate that the doors of West have opened for me professionally. But of course, Bollywood made me what I am so there is no forgetting the roots.
Q. After the huge success of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, do you think the image of India as a poor country got bolder?
Anil: No, not at all. It was only in India that such a reaction was seen actually. Abroad there is a lot of concern and compassion for the poor in India. You have to face the facts- there is widespread poverty in India, why do we deny that? Rather than worrying about the image, why don’t we try and improve the situation here?
Q. How was it like winning the Oscar?
Anil: It was the defining moment of my life. Being on stage there is a moment which I will cherish all my life. It was an amazing feeling which I don’t know how to express really.
Q. Closer home, how did you like the reviews of your production ‘Aisha’?
Anil:They were excellent. I did not expect that and I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest with you.
Q. Your daughter Rhea handled the production and it was a first for her. Weren’t you jittery in giving the reins to an amateur?
Anil:Of course when your children are involved you do get jitters. It felt just like when I starting out- much more than that in fact. That’s how we Indian parents are like, always concerned about our children. But I am more than satisfied with the work of both Sonam and Rhea.
Q. What’s next in pipeline? Have you thought of remaking some of your career greats like ‘Ram-Lakhan’, ‘Tezab’, ‘Mr. India’ etc.?
Anil:There is a hardcore mainstream commercial film ‘No Problem’. It’s on the lines of ‘No Entry’ and so I am continuing to entertain my audience. I am not going to remake my films, let some one else make them. If the script is good enough, then I am willing to work in them.
Q. Do you like doing such comic flicks like ‘No Problem’?
Anil:Well, no matter what people say, I am an actor. Just like a compounder or a doctor does his job of treating people, so do I entertain people. Be it an intellectual director or a commercial minded director, I like to satisfy the audience. Basically, I am a director’s actor.
Q. Having achieved so much in life, what else does Anil Kapoor want?
Anil:At the moment I look forward to doing good work, make good films, see to it that my children are secure and happy and get the same values and do good for themselves.