Playing president Omar Hassan of a fictional Middle Eastern country called Islamic Republic of Kamistan, Kapoor's was a largely swift performance, laboured somewhat in a place or two by the inherent unfamiliarity with geopolitical issues. On balance though, Kapoor slipped into the frenzied world of Jack Bauer, played with his trademark nervy manner by Kiefer Sutherland, like a consummate professional. Hassan is presented as a transformational Middle Eastern leader who is the only hope for stability in the volatile region. He is at the United Nations for talks with US President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) to forswear his country's nuclear programme in return for billions of dollars in aid.
Inevitably, Hassan's peace moves have not gone down well with his detractors who have hatched a plot to assassinate him in New York. Bauer, struggling to adjust to a life of grandfatherly retirement, is pulled out of his familial tranquility by the rapidly moving events. There is also a parallel personal track running in Hassan's life where is facing a terminal marital discord with his wife over his suspected affair with a journalist, Meredith Reed. As part of the plot twists the makers of "24" spring her as a possible suspect in the assassination plot. All logic would suggest that she is just an early red herring.
With this as the backdrop Kapoor has been given enough meat early on in the show to craft his character. It is obvious that he is far more effective in scenes dealing with his personal marital crisis than he is discussing dismantling nuclear weapons and whether his country's national assembly will ratify such a deal. It has less to do with his skills as an actor than his unfamiliarity with the complex world of nuclear negotiations. Indian audiences used to lines such as "One Two ka Four" or "jakas" coming out of his mouth may take some time getting used to Kapoor as a serious and transformational Middle Eastern figure. In some ways his character as a television game show host in "Slumdog Millionaire" was an extension of his Hindi cinema persona. It had much of the flamboyance of a Hindi movie star.
In contrast Hassan, who is expected to be stretched over the next 16 episodes, is a measured and understated character. Many so-called Indian crossover actors, who are as at home in English as they are in Hindi off-screen, have spoken about the awkwardness of fusing their characters' emotional impulses with having to speak English lines. Kapoor seems to manage it rather well except in some places where his intonation becomes identifiably contrived.
For instance, the scene where he tells Taylor: "Let me be clear. My country agrees to abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons with full International Atomic Energy Commission safeguards." The way he punctuates those lines gives the sense that he may not be entirely comfortable with saying them. That though is a minor flaw in an otherwise subtle performance. However, Hassan's personal moments with his foreign minister brother Farhad Hassan, particularly while discussing his marital problems, are done with great conviction and are reminiscent of his the actor's polished performance in Yash Chopra's "Lamhe".
"Slumdog Millionaire" had already given Kapoor considerable visibility within Hollywood. "24" is expected to help the actor make further inroads into a world he is just discovering in his nearly three-decade-long career. As a career move it is a smart choice since "24" enjoys precisely the kind of mainstream US audience that would also go to see mainstream Hollywood movies. Kapoor's weekly appearances will help build a following, or at least recognition, which he can leverage for other roles in Hollywood. The actor has not spoken in terms of any transition from Mumbai to Los Angeles since that is an outdated idea when non-US actors from different countries straddle many different cinema genres simultaneously.