Zeal for more

Anil Kapoor’s exuberance and his child-like verve have been his trademark qualities which have earned him the moniker of being the most ‘terrific’ actor, writes Rajiv Vijayakar

Like Dev Anand, he seems to be blessed with the formula of eternal youth. 37 years after his lead debut with an obscure film called Rachna, and 36 years after his breakthrough in home production Woh 7 Din, Anil Kapoor — to express it in modern parlance — still rocks, big time.

The secret to his longevity, as he puts it, is that he is “very, very blessed”. “If you look back at this long period, there has never been a period lasting more than 18 months in which I have not had either a superhit, or a big success, or a critically-acclaimed film. I have kept the freshness intact, as I have done every kind of role and genre, and if I have repeated something, it’s after a good gap.”

Anil always kept taking risks “and sometimes failing”. “Eeshwar, Parinda,
Badhaai Ho Badhaai and all those films were risky for their respective times. As films, many of them did not work in general, but are loved today or will be remembered in the days to come. That,” he adds candidly, “is different from those films that did not do well at all, which always means that there was something wrong with them.”

Signature style

It’s been a while since he has shifted to “mature” roles, either as main or
solo lead or in an ensemble cast. But his films and roles are so carefully chosen that he is often the main or only character who is remembered down the line. 

In fact, as he puts it, “I am very happy when people call or address me by my now-signature line, “jhakaas (terrific)” or my characters like Munna (Tezaab), Lakhan (Ram Lakhan), Kishan (No Entry), Majnu (the Welcome franchise) or even Kartar Singh (Mubarakan).”

His directors are often addicted to him, like Anees Bazmee (No Entry, Welcome, Welcome Back, Mubarakan and now his latest film Pagalpanti). As Anees says, “When Anil’s ek (one) and my ek join, it becomes gyarah (11). His inputs are tremendous. Like the spectacles that folded in the centre of the two lenses in Welcome was his idea. He also thought of the “Queen ki kasam” (an oath in the name of the Queen of England) in Mubarakan, as he was a Sardar who had lived in London for 25 years.”

Anil’s contribution to the discipline and positivity on his sets is also well-known. “I like to make people smile. I like to lighten up serious situations or a dull atmosphere,” he says.

Still, remaining relevant so long is no laughing matter. How does he choose his assignments? “I am a professional,” he replies. “I assess a role, script, director, producer, the studio, co-stars, dates, money — so many things that make a film happen. And I keep challenging myself.”

He explains, “When I was shooting Total Dhamaal, I was also shooting Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga. In one, I played a Punjabi businessman who was his mother’s darling and was anxious about a lesbian daughter. In Total Dhamaal, I played a middle-class Gujarati who has a lot of friction with his Maharashtrian wife. Now, I was shooting Pagalpanti as well as the intense Malang at one time.”

In Pagalpanti, a mad ensemble comedy, he plays the quirkily-named Wi-Fi, a suburban Mumbai don who has now run away to London. “My make-up artiste Deepak Chauhan, who has been with me since 1983, wanted a Wi-Fi logo on my character’s forehead. Since that might have been practically difficult, we named him Wi-Fi instead,” he quips with a grin.

We notice a specific interesting point: that even in his serious roles, the filmmakers always impart a light touch to his character. Is that his input or the way filmmakers look at him? Musing on it, he replies, “I agree with you only to about 70 percent. Maybe I always get attracted to characters who do not take themselves very seriously. Life is short, am I right or wrong? So if you put in a bit of humour, make people happy, bring a smile, it’s great. But there were films in which there was nothing light in my character at all. Zindagi har qadam ek nayi jung hai (life is a new battle at every step)” he smiles, quoting his famous song from the 1985 Meri Jung.

Perfect timing

“In the TV show 24, as an anti-terrorist operative who is having problems with his family, I did not smile even once.” As for his varied comedies even outside Bazmee’s work, he says, “Some people term most comedies mindless, but I don’t look at them that way. In my view, it is a dramatic film for me. I need to do the scene very seriously, though the situation may be such that it makes you laugh. A lot of effort is needed on the part of the actors, writers and director to make a comic film. In every role, you have to use your instinct, intelligence and experience, and it’s no different in a comedy. Look at the hard work Charlie Chaplin put in.”

He adds, “That is why more and more total comedies are being made. The public, the critics and the trade are slowly beginning to understand this. When you are paying Rs 200 for a ticket, why should you do so to get depressed?”

Golden run

Does he consider this phase his golden time? “I think I have been having a golden time since I began. I pray that this continues, and I get to act in films like these that can be watched again and again 10, 30 or 50 years down again, like the best films of Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and many others. I think that films made with the heart and soul always connect with the audience. And all these films, be it a Hum Aapke Hain Koun..., Sholay or my No Entry, are evergreen, across generations.”

The actor is always grateful to his humble roots. “My small roles from 1977 to 1982 are those I can never forget,” he says. “I remember even shooting in Kalimpong for one of these films. Then there is the unforgettable visual in my head of me doing a cameo and enacting a scene with Dilip Kumar-saab himself, with Ramesh Sippy behind the camera, and Mr Bachchan and Smita Patil-ji watching me. In my first real break as a hero, Woh 7 Din, I got the honour of working with Nilu Phule-saab, a powerhouse performer, and Padmini Kolhapure. After that, I got to see the world, travel, have the money to do so many things. Every day, every minute, I feel fortunate.”

So what motivates him at 63? His answer is almost expected: “Life motivates me.”

And that is the essence of Anil Kapoor.

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