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Rediff.com  » Movies » 'Nobody calls me Anil Kapoor. They call me Mr India, Munna, Ram Lakhan'

'Nobody calls me Anil Kapoor. They call me Mr India, Munna, Ram Lakhan'

Last updated on: January 17, 2014 17:57 IST

'Nobody calls me Anil Kapoor. They call me Mr India, Munna, Ram Lakhan'

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Aseem Chhabra

'I am not a high maintenance kind of person and that helped me in Hollywood. Internationally, high maintenance doesn't work.'

'People like Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery and Morgan Freeman are my idols. They age so well. They have wrinkles on their faces, par aankh main woh chamak hai.'

'I want to be here for the marathon. I didn't want to just come and go. So I started making my own projects or sometimes I do a film free.'

Anil Kapoor, in candid conversation with Rediff.com

There is a refreshing earnestness and passion to Anil Kapoor, which was in evidence in New York where he addressed the media for the 15th International Indian Film Academy Awards.

The actor, who had already traveled to Los Angeles and Tampa Bay, Florida (the venue of the awards scheduled for April 24-26) sat down for an exclusive chat with Rediff.com's Aseem Chhabra, where he discussed the risks he takes, how he is trying chart out his path to ensure longevity of his career, his passion for performing live on stage and of course what draws him to the IIFA Awards.

Why is IIFA so important to you?

The entire concoction makes it work differently. It's a festival, it's an awards function and it really travels, which is something unique, like our films.

We have premieres and workshops, our films are screened and there are fashion shows.

It's not like the award ceremonies in India where we're all like raat ko party ke baad ghar chalein (after partying at night you go home). It is something special.

There was no institution behind the people who started it.

The Wizcraft people started from scratch. It started as a joke. But it';s been 15 years now. It's not easy to convince all these countries to host the event.

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Image: Anil Kapoor
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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'We felt we were no less than Elvis Presley, or Michael Jackson'

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Aseem Chhabra

What is special about performing before an audience?

I did my first shows very early in 1984-85 and we felt we were no less than Elvis Presley, or Michael Jackson. That's the kind of love we would get.

People would ask, 'Really, 30,000 people come to watch you?' Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) and I used to come and we would fill up stadiums.

I remember seeing a show at Giant Stadium.

Yes, in New Jersey at Giant Stadium. It was packed. They would see us in flesh and blood and watch us perform, sing.

It was a way for people, who had left the country, to reconnect... a reminder, nostalgia, and emotional connection. People would hold you, touch you.

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Image: Anil Kapoor
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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'Amitabh Bachchan was the first Bollywood star to perform on stage'

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Aseem Chhabra

You joined the film industry to be an actor, but these shows take your acting and film persona to a very different level. Did you ever think that you would make this kind of connection with your audience?

No, I never thought of that.

This performing on stage actually started with Lataji (Lata Mangeshkar). Amitji was an anchor at one show. He saw the love and affection. So he said main kyon na karoon(why shouldn't I do it)?

He was the first and after that it became a big phenomenon. For us it would be a short holiday also.

But everybody couldn't do this.

It worked only for actors who had a big persona and loved to interact with fans.

The shows had to be backed by great music -- like 1942, A Love Story or Shah Rukh's (Khan) films. And then we would pick some dialogues from the films.

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Image: Anil Kapoor
Photographs: Courtesy Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week

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'I wanted to act, but I never imagined I would become a movie star'

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Aseem Chhabra

Let's talk about your career. After 36 years, you have a hit television show (24). Slumdog Millionaire took you to a new level and in Mission Impossible 4, you had a brief role. Where is your career at this juncture?

I had never imagined any of this. I wanted to act, but I never imagined I would become a movie star. And then my characters became very popular.

Nobody calls me Anil Kapoor. They call me Mr. India, Munna, Ram Lakhan. And after Slumdog they address me as a Who-wants-to-be-millionaire (says it in the accent he used in the Danny Boyle film).

I was lucky that I worked with great filmmakers and writers who created my endearing characters.

What did you do right to get these international opportunities?

I didn't try to make it in the West.

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Image: Anil Kapoor in 24, the television serial her produced.


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'They knew I did not always ask for a hero's role'

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Aseem Chhabra

But you were picked for a film that became a huge international success.

I had already made a small film, Gandhi, My Father.

Hamare Hindustan main ek kahawat hai ke karm karte jao(They say in India -- Keep doing your work).

That film was not as successful as we would have wanted it to be. But one has to keep on working.

As a journalist, every article of yours cannot work. But one day, one article becomes a success when you are consistent with your honesty and integrity.

But when you made Gandhi, My Father, did you have a sense that you wanted to do something different?

My intention was to increase my audience, to go global. You have to dream big. So I had a dream that I would make a better film than Richard Attenborough had made, with the minimum amount of money.

You can fail also. Mujhe bilkul sharam nahin hai fail hone se (I am not ashamed of failing). I had taken so many risks that the casting director for Slumdog Millionaire thought I would take the chance. They knew I did not always ask for a hero's role.

I met Danny and pretty soon I was a part of the project.

And then there were my interactions with J J Abrams. Then I did 24 with Howard Gordon and it is because of him that I could bring 24 to India. Howard is now part of the Homeland team.

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Image: A scene from Gandhi, My Father
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

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'I am not a high maintenance kind of person'

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Aseem Chhabra

So what's next for you?

Next is the second season of 24. We are going to start writing the next season as soon as I get back.

Did you ever think 24 would become such a big success?

The reaction and the feedback have been phenomenal. People are saying it has revolutionised Indian television, it's a game changer.

This is just the beginning. I have just taken baby steps. Television has taken baby steps.

When I did Parinda and 1942, A Love Story, some of the mainstream stars asked me, directors ke gharon main kyon jata hai, itna maska kyon lagata hai, itna discussion kyon karta hai (why does he go to the homes of directors, why does he butter up people and have so many discussions)?

But then I realised that these are the films that will be remembered after 30, 35 years. 24 belongs to that category.

And since I had already worked there (in Hollywood), I tried to bring the entire work culture here, by doing workshops. I am a producer's son so I could adapt myself to that role.

I am not a high maintenance kind of person and that helped me with this kind of work. Internationally, high maintenance doesn't work.

I have always been a director's actor so that made it easy for me.

I had that adaptability. My thing is always how to make the director happy rather than how to make myself happy.

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Image: Anil Kapoor with Manisha Koirala in 1942, A Love Story.


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'People like Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery and Morgan Freeman are my idols. They age so well'

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Aseem Chhabra

It's interesting that at this stage in your career -- you are now in your 50s and have been in the industry for more than three decades -- you have only recently started redefining yourself.

You did a small role on American television, now you are doing television in India, while your Bollywood career is going fine.

I think for longevity you have to do that. If you want to create an impact for 10 or 20 years then the route is completely different. I want to be there for 50 or 60 years, until my dying day.

People like Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery and Morgan Freeman are my idols. They age so well. They have wrinkles on their faces, par aankh main woh chamak hai (but they have that glint in their eyes). For that you have to take these chances.

I really want to be here for the marathon. I didn't want to just come and go. So I started making my own projects or sometimes I do a film free.

The Slumdog team said they didn't have money to pay me. And I said maine paise mange aapse(did I ask you for money)?

Kuch to paise diye honge (They must have paid something)?

Bahut thode (very little)!

You will never believe, but I didn't ask for anything.

They themselves gave me a backend (a share of the film's profits after its success) and (with that) I made much more money than I had made with any film before.


Image: Anil Kapoor in Slumdog Millionaire


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