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January 31, 2000

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'I am a fighter and a survivor'

Anil Kapoor A man for all seasons -- no one fits this description better than Anil Kapoor. For someone who has been in the industry for around 20 years, it is remarkable how he still approaches each film with the enthusiasm and energy of a newcomer.

Anil is one actor who has never shied away from experimenting with his roles. Early on in his career, he did films like Tezaab, Eeshwar, Parinda and Lamhe. Then came 1942: A Love Story and more recently, Viraasat and Taal. Whatever the outcome of a film, Anil, the actor, has always managed to come up trumps.

Be it is his passion for films, his commitment to his family or his sense of humour, Anil knows exactly what he wants. This multifaceted man has another talent: he is a trained semi-classical singer, a fact which has never come to light, till now.

Sukanya Verma met him on the eve of the release of Pukar, another mega-budget film in which he is paired opposite Madhuri Dixit and Namrata Shirodkar.

Last year, you had four releases -- Mann, Biwi No1, Taal and Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rahte Hain. In the first three, you played parallel roles or the second hero. Is this deliberate?

It's a change of trend which I could foresee -- and I have the foresight. People should consider a strong character as the hero, and not the one who runs around trees. I felt the new millennium is going to see these kind of heroes, who are the real heroes.

You must have noticed when the audience came out of theatres, they appreciated these characters more than anybody else. My intuition and instinct were right in choosing these roles. Like for Biwi No1, I was offered Salman's role, the role that had more songs. But I opted for the other role and the gamble paid off.

Anil Kapoor in Taal It was the same with Taal. Mann was just a guest appearance. Hum Aapke...,on the other hand, was a conventional hero's role, which, to a certain extent, was one of the biggest hits of last year. In a way, you can say that I proved to be successful in all the things I did.

I also give full credit to my directors and scriptwriters. The way these characters were conceived is the reason why the roles came across so well.

How did you manage to get out of the rut?

I have always been like that. Whether it is Karma, Woh Saat Din or Mr India, I always played strong characters. At the same time, I did an Eeshwar. I keep experimenting and I have been fortunate that my experiments have been successful.

Your last release, Bulandi did not do well...what went wrong?

I feel my job is to perform. My performance was appreciated. I think that is more important. The box-office is not under my control.

Weren't there shades of Viraasat in the character you played in Bulandi?

Yes, there were shades, especially in the second character (dada thakur). But the content was different from Viraasat.

Coming back to Hum Aapke..., donít you think the climax was exaggerated?

Yes, it went overboard. In fact, I was not convinced about it at all. But the masses liked it, even though the intelligentsia and the elite felt it was over the top.

How was it working with Kajol who has the reputation of being a firebrand?

Anil Kapoor and Kajol in Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rahte Hain She was just the opposite. It was a pleasure working with her and I hope that she has a good married life. Iíve heard that she will continue working, which is a good thing. She has had the least exposure among the actresses. I think she has made the right decision and may God give her all the happiness that she wants.

How did you prepare for Taal? Did you work on your look?

Thatís what I have been doing since a long time. I tried doing it in Eeshwar, but I still had to wear a wig. Then I said to myself, let me not use these external props to change my look and character. So I decided to undergo drastic internal as well as external changes.

I tried it in Lamhe and 1942: A Love Story. Both the films were successful and critically acclaimed. Lamhe was not successful in India, but it was a big hit overseas. I won an award for the film.

Then came Viraasat where I changed my look completely. I lost a lot of weight for the first half, I grew my hair and beard, my entire body language changed. For the second half of the film, when I take over as the head of the family, I put on weight, grew a big moustache. Viraasat is one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. The film too, was a major success.

As for Taal, it was an exciting experience. When I heard the role, I thought, how do I make it interesting and different? I caught hold of my dress designer, met Pt Birju Maharaj, spoke to a few choreographers and video-directors, watched a lot of tapes. I came to the conclusion that I should cut my hair in a particular style and sport a beard to make the character look slightly older. Then I worked on my clothes. But when it comes to my performances, I can't explain it, it just comes from within.

What are the kind of movies you enjoy doing most -- action, drama or comedy?

That depends on my state of mind (smiles). Once I do two or three intense roles, then I start itching for comedy. If I do too many comedies, then I like to do something serious.

What is Pukar all about?

It is a wholesome entertainer. I am playing an Army para-commander (Major Jaidev Rajvansh) for the first time in my career. It is one of the most exciting roles that I've ever done. I am looking forward to Pukar. Lot of work and effort have gone into the making of this film.

Could you elaborate?

Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit in Pukar (Thinks for a long time) First of all, we haven't treated the para-commanders as fighting machines. They are human beings, with their share of ups and downs, excitement, depression, lows and highs. We have tried to project the commitment they have for the country and their families. We had to really get into the psyche and skin of the characters. We worked on the authenticity of the film.

Working with a great director like Raj Kumar Santoshi, who has done such fantastic work in the past, made my job easy as well as tough. When so many names are involved, expectations are also high. We had to put in extra effort. We had a producer like my brother Boney, who has a lot of passion as well as patience. Working with him is challenging as he himself has got so many expectations from me and the director. I think Pukar is a film every Indian anywhere in the world should be proud of.

How actively are you involved in Pukar, besides acting in it?

Since it's a home production, I was involved in every aspect of film-making. Where the script is concerned, I didn't have much to contribute to. Rajkumar Santoshi and his team comprising Anjum Rajabali and K K Raina, did it. It is Rajji's baby totally. But, you have to work shoulder to shoulder in every department to make the job easy for everyone.

We also have a music director like A R Rahman, who is known to be the best composer after Shankar-Jaikishen, S D Burman, R D Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal. He is the most promising, respected and successful music director we have in the country now.

The entire team of Pukar is committed to films. I am anxiously waiting to see the result and what the public's verdict is.

What about your co-stars?

There are Om Puri, Danny Denzongpa, Shivaji Satam and two beautiful girls opposite me in the film (smiles). Namrata Shirodkar, who was Miss India and the third runner-up at Miss Universe, plays a model. Even in the film, she is shown to have won the Miss India beauty contest, and then she wants to win other titles. She and I get involved.

Then, there is my favourite Madhuri Dixit with whom I have done so many films, all successful ones. In this film, our relationship is something different, something we have never had in any of our films. That's precisely the reason why I think our magic has worked. The chemistry between us is something for all of you to see. Because the girl I am constantly trying to woo in this film is not Madhuri, but Namrata. I wouldn't like to disclose any further.

Did you and Boney have any arguments during the making of Pukar?

We have constant arguments -- verbal arguments and verbal fights. He is my elder brother, so most of the times I give in (winks).

This is the first time an Indian film has been shot in Alaska -- what was it like?

Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit in Pukar There are many firsts to the film. This is not just the first Indian film to be shot in Alaska, there are very few Hollywood films which have been shot there. You can count them on fingertips. Shooting in Alaska was a great experience.

This is also the first Hindi film to be shot in Mexico. Then, of course, there is Lata Mangeshkar, appearing on screen after 41 years.

What do you have to say about Madhuri Dixit's marriage?

Obviously, I felt bad initially (smiles). I said, 'Oh God, she is gone!' She is a friend and I felt happy for her. I think she has become more mysterious and exciting after she got married. When she was unmarried, it was impossible to get her. Now, it is next to impossible. I don't think in this life, I will be able to get close to her!

But I was fortunate enough to come close to her in all my films -- I wooed her and got married. I fell in love with her and she reciprocated, on celluloid at least.

Among all the heroines you've worked with, who do you think complements you the best?

I think Madhuri. We made the best pair.

Is there any actress you would like to work with?

There are lots of them. I haven't worked with so many beautiful girls. India is producing pretty girls like Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen, Yukta Mookhey, Lara Dutta...

Considering your busy schedule, how do you give time to your family?

That is the tragedy of our lives. It's a minus point -- that you don't get enough time to spend with your family. Once I met Sivaji Ganesan over dinner and he said, 'the only thing I regret is that though I have achieved so much, won so many national and international awards, I couldn't spend enough time with my family. I am getting to know my children now. Still, when I sit in front of them, I feel they are strangers. They respect me, but I can sense there is something missing in our relationship.' That is a price you have to pay.

I've tried my best to balance it by staying away from controversies, relationships, by ensuring that my family remains my priority. I remember when I had to make a choice between my career and wife. Those days, there was no satellite television or videos. Forget Internet, there was no computer at that time. Only the print media was strong. Its approach towards stardom was that a star had to be a bachelor. People advised me against getting married, saying it would be suicidal for my career.

I thought, what is more important to me? My relationship with my wife -- whom I've known for so many years, who was first my friend and then my girlfriend -- or my career? What do I do? I said, I have been friendly and going around with this beautiful girl whom I love. So I got married before I could really become a star.

I became less exciting to the media since they couldn't write about me having an affair with so and so or getting caught in brawls over girls. This kind of gossip gives stars a lot of publicity and showbiz is all about publicity. I didn't get any of that, it was only my work which people spoke about from the time I started my career.

Till today, after so many years, I am still written about for my work. I always complain to my wife, 'Look at these guys who have these girlfriends, they shoot for these pictures, isn't that exciting?' She says, 'You don't know what you have got, you have got me and such beautiful children, aren't you happy with that?" And I say, 'Of course, I am happy.'

I think I made the right decision and God has given me everything.

Is Sunita responsible for the way you have maintained yourself?

I think so. Her contribution is tremendous, because when you have a fitness freak in the house, one who runs a fitness centre and who is so health-conscious, it obviously helps. She is in the heath business, but the funny thing is I have never been to the centre (laughs). I don't have the time.

Are your children going to take up acting?

It is too early and they are too young to think about it.

Would you launch them if they want to join films?

I haven't given a thought to it. They are growing up now, they are still in school.

What other films do you have besides Pukar?

I am doing Indra Kumar's Rishta, another film with Rajkumar Santoshi. In fact, I might be doing two films with him. There's Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai which is already on the floors. It's again a home production directed by Satish Kaushik and it is kind of a sequel to Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rahte Hai. The only difference is that Kajol is not there in the film this time. Instead, there are Aishwarya Rai and Sonali Bendre. It is an intense love story between a noble executive and a rape victim, played by Aishwarya. Sonali plays the catalyst. It is not a love triangle, but she (Sonali) has an important role in the film.

There is another interesting film I am doing with Rani Mukherjee and Manisha Koirala -- again, two girls (smiles mischievously). The film, yet to be titled, is a thriller. I haven't done a thriller before.

Aren't you doing any David Dhawan type of comedy?

I am not doing any comedy at the moment, just concentrating on these films. I think I will do a comedy soon.

Do you plan to get into direction?

No. It is not my cup of tea. There is too much of responsibility involved.

Is there any dream role you have in mind? Or have you already played it?

No, no no, my career has just begun (laughs). This is like the starting phase of my career where all great characters are coming my way.

Which are your all-time favourite films?

Gone With The Wind, Mughal-E-Azam, Ganga Jamuna, Titanic, Sholay, Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, Taxi Driver, all the films made by Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and Satyajit Ray. Raj Kapoor's Shree 420, Sangam. Shekhar Kapur and Boney's Mr India, which I consider an all-time classic. And now, Pukar (winks).

Looking back at your career, what do you think are the highlights?

Anil Kapoor The highlights of my career are Woh Saat Din, Sahib, Mr India, Ram Lakhan, Tezaab, Lamhe, 1942: A Love Story, Viraasat, Eeshwar and Taal. I have been lucky, I have a few films that are timeless, which I don't feel ashamed of when they come on television. Films that I am proud of. There are films like Lamhe and Chameli Ki Shaadi, which haven't done well, yet people love them.

You had sung the title song of Chameli Ki Shaadi way back in the '80s. Nowadays, there's a lot of hype associated with an actor singing a song. Will you sing again if asked to?

No, because I am a singer. Only non-singers are singing songs these days (guffaws). I am a trained semi-classical singer and I am not bad. I have a good voice, that is the reason why I am not singing.

How did you learn singing?

For three years, I took lessons in semi-classical songs. I was training under Chhote Iqbal who is no more. He had trained quite a few singers, Nitin Mukesh, Laximikant's (of Laxmikant-Pyarelal fame) daughter. Tabla-maestro Baliji, who too has passed away, and Chhote Iqbal used to come over twice or thrice a week to train me. I did record a few ghazals and nazms.

But singing needs a lot of riyaaz and I am out of touch. If I have to get back to singing I will have to do riyaaz again. I had learned singing not to become a singer, but so that I could enhance my acting. While acting, you need to have a certain knowledge of rhythm and music, songs, the beats. Singing helped me broaden my spectrum as an actor. But acting is my first love and my passion.

If not an actor, what would you have ended up as?

I am a fighter, I am a survivor, I would have done something and definitely been a success in whatever I did. I am not just a survivor, I have to be at the top in whatever I do. I had an instinctive feeling when it came to acting, I knew I could rub shoulders with the best in the world.

RELATED FEATURES:
An encounter with Boney Kapoor
The Madhuri Dixit interview
Madhuri unplugged -- In Real Audio

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