Home/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Rajat Kapoor’s new movie ‘Ankhon Dekhi’

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Rajat Kapoor doesn’t entirely agree, but the title of his latest movie, a picaresque comedy about one man’s matchbox-sized dreams, is autobiographical in nature. Ankhon Dekhi, which is set in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk neighbourhood, is inspired by the new-found belief of its lead character that lived experience is superior to second-hand knowledge. The 21 March release also doubles up as a return to roots for Kapoor, who grew up and spent 25 years there before moving to Mumbai.

It’s Kapoor’s first film to be set away from Mumbai, and uses people and places dredged up from his memories of growing up in the Walled City. “It is autobiographical, in a way, but the title is also most apt for a film that talks about the knowledge you gain from experience," Kapoor says.

What took him so long to return home?

“I finally had a script," he says.

Ankhon Dekhi stars an ensemble cast of film and theatre veterans, but gives pride of place to Sanjay Mishra, best known for his off-kilter roles in several films. Mishra’s Bauji is a travel agency employee who chucks up his job one fine day and embarks on a series of minor adventures to understand his place in the world. Forging ahead with the belief that lived experience is the best teacher of all, Bauji turns his world inside out, much to the chagrin of his family, pushing his long-suffering brother (played by Kapoor) into moving out of the family home. Most of the movie plays out within the confines of the joint family set-up, with the location and production design by Kapoor’s wife Meenal Agarwal lending immense flavour to this home-cooked soufflé of the self-transforming efforts of an ordinary man.

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Writer-director Rajat Kapoor. Photo: Meenal Agarwal

Since the story unfolds over several months, Agarwal assigned the colours of Delhi’s various seasons to key phases—deep blue and cold lighting for winter, for instance. “The idea was to create an actual house—to make things as real as possible," she says. “We sourced the props in terms of what the characters in the movie could afford to buy, borrowed stuff from people’s houses in the neighbourhood."

The main location was rented from a Chandni Chowk resident, who lives on the floor below the terrace flat in which the bulk of the story plays out. “I believe in the energy of the space very much," Kapoor says. “I believe the film is made because of that." Cinematographer Rafey Mahmood, Kapoor’s long-time collaborator, effectively conveys the family’s cosily cramped conditions, dividing the frames into sections and planes spilling over with bodies and bric-à-brac. “When we realized that a lot of the film would be indoors, we started cramping the space," Kapoor says. “That became very interesting—we didn’t move the camera, and every frame spills over with people. This also happened with the sound, where there are several people talking at the same time."

Kapoor has worked with Mahmood since his first feature in 1997, the unreleased noir drama Private Detective, and they decided “never" to do a shot breakdown of the screenplay, says the film-maker and theatre director. “It’s terrible when you say that you know exactly what you are going to shoot—it kills the excitement, makes for dead shots and is not organic at all," Kapoor says. “We did have a script, but when we got the actors together, we asked them how they wanted to play out the scenes."

The improvisational quality, which is also an influence of Kapoor’s years on stage, pushes the characters to the forefront of the narrative. Opinion is likely to be divided on whether Mishra successfully carries off the journey inwards into his soul, but the movie is a late career boost for the silver-haired actor, who has been seen in a prominent role only in low-budget films such as Saare Jahaan Se Mehnga....

Kapoor cast Mishra after working with him on the kidnapping drama Phas Gaye Re Obama in 2010. “When I was writing the film, his face kept coming before my eyes," Kapoor says. Mishra brought his own tics and tricks to the part. “He has a weird sense of humour, he can play scenes on a tangent, and he is great with improvisation," Kapoor says. “When we started shooting, some people in the unit thought that he was on a wrong note, but I was willing to go with the way he was playing it."

Also standing out in the diverse cast is Maya Sarao, who plays Bauji’s lovelorn daughter, and has previously appeared in a small role in Patiala House. The joy of film-making is “to find actors who work for the role and who are great actors too", Kapoor says. Ankhon Dekhi is characterized by an insistence on portraying the Walled City’s denizens as a shiny, happy bunch whose cuteness insulates them from the anxieties of being part of a rapidly globalizing city-state. “The idea of humour is very important to a narrative," says Kapoor, a self-declared acolyte of experimental film-makers Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani whose own cinema has rarely been as abstruse or inaccessible as his mentors’. “The idea is to explore a series of totally unpredictable experiences, but without any judgement."

Ankhon Dekhi releases in theatres on 21 March.

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Updated: 15 Mar 2014, 12:10 AM IST
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