The unbridled joy he showed on the Oscar and Golden Globe stage with team Slumdog Millionaire characterizes Anil Kapoor’s enthusiasm and sincerity. With around 100 acting credits, including the eight-Oscar winner in which he plays a game show host and the final season of hit American drama series 24, some say Kapoor is the most well-recognized Indian face around the world. Right now, his focus is on his home production Aisha, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma. Edited excerpts from an interview:
All in the family: Kapoor says Aisha is fresh and modern, and Sonam fits the bill. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Even though your father and brother are producers, you once said you never wanted to be a producer.
Yes, I never really wanted to be a producer, even though I was involved in all our productions. Production is in my blood, but I always wanted to be an actor, not a star. It was just that the films I did became so successful that I became a star, but the intent was to perform and be an actor.
What made you decide to produce ‘Aisha’? Isn’t a film with a female protagonist a risk?
Everything about it was a risk—the title, female-oriented subject, and it was not like the actress has done 10-12 films or was the No. 1 star. Sonam had done only Saawariya and Delhi-6 when Aisha was planned. But you have to take these chances. That’s the way I have always been. Also there was a certain conviction in both my daughters, Sonam and Rhea. I liked the script and felt it could be a good film. It’s fresh, new, modern and young. These roles suit Sonam. I felt instinctively that she has the presence and potential to carry it off. But when it was time to pitch Aisha to heroes, I told them to remove the name of the film from the script or no hero would agree to it. I was right—until the girls began to insist on Abhay Deol.
As a producer, what guidance did you offer Rhea?
It’s her film completely. I don’t know if she has learnt some things from me, but production and managing come instinctively to her. Her only prior experience was assisting Ayan Mukherjee on Wake Up Sid for about two months. I was in Los Angeles when Aisha went into production, so I was available to the girls on phone and email. My American assistants were surprised that during the day I was shooting and at night I was on the phone. In their country, they sometimes don’t speak to their parents for months. I said this is what India is; we have to be available to them 24/7, no matter what.
You have produced ‘Gandhi, My Father’ and ‘Short Kut’. What else is on the anvil?
I had okayed Aisha and No Problem even before Slumdog Millionaire and 24. I am also acting in No Problem, which will release in December. For now, my focus is on these two films. I have a lot of scripts to read. The next international project will not happen till 2011. Firstly, I don’t have the time right now and, secondly, because my agents are clear that I have to wait for something amazing to come along. I have such a big headstart that it has to be something spectacular.
Which recent role has challenged you?
My Wife’s Murder, in which I played a simple middle-class guy. Otherwise, over the last two-three years, I have moved to a different level and on to a global stage. I got Slumdog because I was ready to take the challenge. Others who were offered the role wanted to be the hero—they wanted Dev Patel’s role. For me, it has always been the script, that’s the reason I have lasted 32 years. And then I did 24, which was another great experience.
How different was it working in Hollywood compared with working in Bollywood?
We work exactly the same way as international films. Cinema, acting is the same everywhere. I wasn’t in awe when I was shooting 24. I was respectful, but my approach was that I know as much, if not more, and I have more to offer—culturally, emotionally, spiritually, and in terms of experience. The difference is that here there is a tendency to pull you down. Here, you encounter envy. Over there, once they start clapping, they don’t stop. In my entire career in Hindi films, I have not got the kind of reviews I got for Slumdog Millionaire and 24 even though I have done a thousand times better work here. But a few people here did say (that) when we look at you we see that hard work does pay. And it pays in a big way.
Aisha will release in theatres on 6 August and the final season of 24, featuring Anil Kapoor as Prince Hassan, will premiere on AXN on 23 August.