Four decades in the industry don’t seem to have slowed Anil Kapoor, and as he releases his latest film, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, he talks to Bhakti Mehta and Titas Chowdhury about his love for good stories, his approach to his characters, and what it feels like to be acting alongside his children
Bhakti Mehta (BM): What is the first thing that came to your mind when you heard the story of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga?
All good stories have to be told. They have to reach the audience so that the audience can appreciate them. That is what we are working for. This film has a good story and it is very important that the audience gets the opportunity to experience that story.
BM: You said at an event that your character in this film is the Mukesh Ambani of Moga. Can you give us a glimpse into his life?
In actuality, the character that I play wanted to be a chef. He loves to cook. He wanted to be the best chef in the country. Unfortunately, due to family pressure, circumstances and situations, he joined the garment business. He worked hard in it and made that business successful too, but the passion that he had to be a chef, it never went away. He married very young. His wife delivered two children and passed away. So he is a young widower. He is very close to his mother. And because of his great love for his wife, his family, he has decided that he will not remarry.
This is just like so many men out there who don’t remarry but concentrate all their efforts on looking after the family. And it is a happy family. His character is liberal and secular. He has friends and employees from all religions. He respects all religions. He is still a person who is traditional, but not in a fundamental way.
Titas Chowdhury (TC): You have been part of the industry for a long time. What was it like to work with a debutante director?
It is very scary to work with a debutante director. I feel very insecure. I have not come here, in this industry, to make anybody’s career. I am telling you this honestly, I came here first to look after myself and my future. I have worked so hard to be what I am today, to be where I am, for my children and my family. I want to protect myself, so it’s scary to work with a new director because you have no idea whether they know the work or not. You do not know what will happen on set, whether things will go the right way, because experience comes into the picture. This fear is always there.
I have been very careful about working with new directors. Usually, I have worked with directors who have done at least one film. A completely new director is quite scary. That was my first apprehension. So what happens is that you hear the story, the script, when they narrate it to you, and you like it; you get to know who the producer is and who the technicians are in the film with the director. That way you know that if anything goes wrong, there is someone to protect that person. You see to it that everything is right and then you take that gamble, go on set and shoot the film. Sometimes the gambles pay off and sometimes they don’t.
BM: Did Vidhu Vinod Chopra, being a producer you have worked with back in the day, help ease those apprehensions for you?
The thing is that a producer is not present on the set, and the tough part happens on the set. Producers get the money and they are there after the film is ready. Ultimately, only the director is on the set and we are just actors. But, yes, Vidhu Vinod Chopra being there is protection of sorts, especially financially, in the sense that if there is anything that needs to be reshot or rectified, he is there to tell us we can do it. His experience is there. Without that it is difficult to pull it all off. But if the director is not good and if the actors have not done their job, then the producer cannot save the film. It is a very big risk.
BM: Going back to the apprehensions, the core theme of the film is a very sensitive subject in our country. Did you think twice about taking it up?
No. I just heard this story and found the script very entertaining, a lot of fun. And I felt that it was important, especially because it says something. We are communicating something important to the audience, to the masses. But we are doing that without being preachy. It has been done in a very commercial, nice, family-entertaining way, something that the young generation of today will definitely be able to relate to. That is the chance you take – that the youngsters will connect to it, the families will connect to it and the audience overall will like it.
There are many films which are commercial, play it safe with their treatment but still somehow the audience doesn’t connect. There is a feeling you get. But you have to keep on working at it. I would like to repeat what Vinod said at an event recently about the film: Acchi lagi toh bahut accha hai, agar nahi acchi lagi toh doosri banayenge (Laughs).
TC: You also mentioned earlier that you liked learning from young people, namely your daughter Sonam Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao, on the set.
When I say that I learn from them I mean that I observe people. The fact is that nobody can ever teach you how to act. To act is to know thyself, to a certain extent. The greatest teacher that you can have is yourself. But you observe, you understand and you are sensible enough to see what the good qualities are in other people. How they react to some situations, how they think, the way they look at things, the way they behave. You just keep learning from everyone around you.
BM: We’ve seen you play a father in Race 3, in Fanney Khan and now in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. How do you approach the same roles differently?
I don’t approach these roles with the thought that they are fathers. I approach them as characters. Everybody needs to play either a father or a son. But I take all my roles as characters. So you can ask me, how do I play Shamsher, Balbir and Avinash differently? I play Avinash in Total Dhamaal where I am a father too. How I play them depends on the character.
BM: Times have changed. Initially, an actor would just shoot the film and leave. Now there are additional pressures in the form of social media and film promotion. How do you view this change?
It just has to happen organically, without really compromising on your health or personal life. You have to do what you are capable of. Don’t push yourself and force yourself to do things. I like doing things in a very smooth and organic way. This is the way it should be and this is important for my work, my career, my personal life and my happiness. If I feel like my work is not giving me joy, I will stop doing it. I will work as much as I can. It depends on your capacity and strength. I believe in working to my strengths and enjoying everything that I do. I do not do something that I do not enjoy. I should have fun, enjoy myself and I should be paid for it. If they did not pay you to do this interview, then your parents would ask you to stay at home (Laughs). Art toh theek hai, par uske saath commerce bhi hona chahiye.
BM: In the past few years, we have seen the emergence of the 100-crore, 200-crore, 300-crore clubs. As an actor, does that kind of goal affect your film choices?
No. Never! I have never even thought about it. I have done films if they have a good story and a good script. I enjoyed myself during the making of those films; I had a lot of fun. It is important for you to like your own films. If you like your films, people will also like them. Sometimes they like them, sometimes they don’t. If they do not like one, you make another film (Laughs).
TC: Is that your motto as a producer too?
Yes! In fact, this goes for everybody. We feel lucky that we get the chance and opportunity to do good films. We are blessed and fortunate that people have appreciated us and our films. It feels great!
TC: You have worked with your children, Sonam and Harshvardhan. How does it feel to be a part of this legacy that you have created for yourself?
A legacy? Arrey waah! (Laughs) I think I am very lucky and fortunate to have got the opportunity to work with my children. How many people have received this opportunity? Not many; only a select few. All of my children are doing well for themselves in their respective fields, which is fantastic.
BM: Are there any apprehensions regarding the release of this film. Do you still get butterflies in your stomach before a release?
That is a given. You are worried before the release of every film. You want all of them to do well. You want people to appreciate your work. That is always there. It is a very natural thing if you are a conscientious person.
TC: What do you want the audience to take away from Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga?
The film says something. Besides entertainment, it holds the power to make people think. If we can make even a few people change their attitude towards others and encourage them to stop judging other people, that would be nice and that would make me feel good. I think this film will affect people positively.
BM: Is that still a higher gratification for you than the numbers?
Of course! A 1942: A Love Story or a Parinda did not have the numbers of a Ram Lakhan, a Tezaab, a Welcome or a No Entry. But there is immense delight because people still talk about those two films. It is definitely a greater gratification. Am I right or wrong?
TC: Absolutely right!
There is longevity associated with those films. You automatically end up making money. We think about making money only in the short term. But filmmakers have made the maximum money with the longevity kinds of films. They keep on selling the rights to those films as new avenues and platforms emerge. There are so many ways to monetise the art that you have created, the work which you have done and what you believe in. People realise this much later.
When Race 2 first came out, people said Race was better and Race 2 itni chali nahi hai. Now, after the release of Race 3, they are saying that Race 2 was more successful, even though Race 3 has garnered about `300 crore worldwide. How many films make that kind of money?
I know how films work. That comes with experience. These things do not affect me, unless it is a disaster where people lose their money. Then I feel bad. But if a film has made money but a handful complains that it did not, then it doesn’t matter. Hum toh pocket mein daal lete hai paise! (Laughs)