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“I’m a stubborn, idiotic, risk taker”

Bollywood filmmaker Shekhar Kapur at the 8th NFDC Film Bazaar 2014, held at the Marriott Hotel, Panjim, Goa, India on November 23, 2014. (Ramesh Nair/SOLARIS IMAGES)

Yes, they do because you are aware of the stories other filmmaker are telling. You become aware of the trends in international cinema, you become aware of other cultures, you meet directors from other cultures. If you go to film festivals and interact with the international community, you will come back with good ideas, you come back with a little more learning. Learning a little about other films and other cultures helps expand you as a filmmaker.

But if filmmakers were to make films keeping the international market in mind, what would happen to our Indian market? Do you think the Indian audience is ready to accept that kind of cinema?

Oh, they accepted The Jungle Book. There have been films like Bandit Queen, Monsoon Wedding, The Lunchbox… now these are not Rs.300-crore films. But there are no Rs.300-crore kind of films overseas but they do well. I think Monsoon Wedding was 15 years ago.

More… and it earned 30 million dollars then.

So just think about it, Monsoon Wedding did 30 million dollars, worldwide, about 15 year ago, with those ticket prices. I think, today, that would translate to 60 million dollars. So it did really well! It was the biggest overseas hit India had made in a long time.

I read somewhere that you also want to make Time Machine.

I would still make it if someone is willing to make it with me. But Paani is more important to me right now. I was certainly disappointed it did not happen. I have been with the story for 10-12 years. And there have been many changes over that period of time. I sat down with Yash Raj Films and I thought we were going to make it but that didn’t happen and it was very disappointing. I tied up with Yash Raj Films because they are a big production company and they are good at producing. But the next time I try and make a film, I will try and produce it myself.

Are you in touch with Aditya Chopra?

Yeah, yeah… I am in touch with him! We are still good friends. I think everyone has a business perspective in their lives and their companies. But, yes, I will make Paani with Adi if he wants to do it. The only thing is that I am such an individualistic filmmaker and people come to me for my individualism… I don’t know how to do a film except for making it by being me. Whether Masoom or Mr India or Bandit Queen or Elizabeth, I am very individualistic about how I make it. So, yes, they have to accept my individualism. Like I took off on Mr India… completely took off on it and no one could have stopped my instinct when it came to making that film at that time.

And, yes, films are a collaborative effort and everyone has to collaborate to make a film but the vision has to be led by one person. Cinema is the world’s most collaborative art that there is, but there has to be just one vision. You can’t have several visions in a film, they’ll just dissipate.

How do you see the future of Indian cinema?

I think cinema is changing. We filmmakers, have to decide that we are also storytellers. We want to make films because we want to tell stories. So if I make a film for Netflix, it is still a film. So it is changing according to the various forms it is distributed on, and we are going to adapt to those forms.

In India, we only have 7,000-8,000 theatres but we have 800 million cell phones. Out of this, in the coming years, most of these phones are going to be smart phones with the facility of streaming videos. So if somebody says, ‘here’s a story’, I have to think about which market I want to hit; whether I want to tell the story for the big screen or am I willing to ignore the 800 million smaller screens? I can’t! And this change is actually making it easier to make films.

When I made Masoom, I had to wait for 12 years because the only way I could make a film was with a 35-mm camera with the most expensive stock, and the only way I could get it seen was the big screen. Now 90-95 per cent of films are not screened in theatres. They are watched on these digital platforms. So it is changing because now people will directly go to these channels and for new filmmakers this has become easier.

Does this mean the big screen is losing its charm?

No, it is just that there are not enough screens and there are big filmmakers making enough movies for the big screen. But a lot of brilliant filmmakers will also make films for digital screens and make more movies there.

So it is a good time for the new filmmakers!

Yeah… absolutely! It is a better time for these filmmakers because soon, Jio will become something like a Netflix for India. So the avenues to show your film are going to multiply.

Has money ever trumped creativity
for you?

Every time  I start thinking like this, I remind myself that I used to be a CA and most of my colleagues from that time are multi-billionaires. And this is what I wanted and if that was true… if money was important, then I should have never left accounting. I left it in the pursuit of something that is more artistic and satisfying. So, no, for me, I don’t think money could ever trump creativity.

Does it ever strike you that for a lot of people, you are THE Shekhar Kapur, and that’s why they want to watch your movies?

Every morning, I get up thinking I have not done enough. Every morning, I think I should have made better movies. I know that people say this about me and I get very surprised. Because I feel I could have been better. I could have tried harder. There are people in the world who are better filmmakers than I am and I should really aspire to be as good as them. That has always been my goal. To better myself, learn more and find better ways of making films, shooting films differently, to cross over the edge of cinema, to not be confined by traditional things. I want to explore that which has not been done. That’s always very important for me. This is why I went abroad.

In India, we ignore production design. And I think that’s where most Indian films fail. We forget that design also tells the story. Look at the films we remember, like Ridley Scott’s films or Alfred Hitchcock’s films. They are not just telling stories.

Look at the design, look at the way they were shot. And when I say ‘design’, I don’t mean mounting in a glamorous way. Look at the way Akira Kurosawa shot his films. I think this is the one thing that we don’t do in India. And I think that Mr India has lasted so long because the story is in the design of the film.

Going back, I can’t imagine that the same person who made Masoom also made Mr India, and the person who made Mr India made Bandit Queen. How did that happen?

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