Home >Lounge >Interview | Dimple Kapadia on her career and fishbowl life

It’s apt that Dimple Kapadia’s new movie prominently features a fishbowl. The 56-year-old actor who plays a crotchety divorcee in the forthcoming comedy, What the Fish, has been in the public glare since her early teens—she had made a sensational debut in Raj Kapoor’s Bobby (in 1973), married matinee idol Rajesh Khanna (she was 16, he 31), and given birth to a daughter (Twinkle) by the time she turned 21.

The emotional turbulence that the still ravishing actor has navigated over the years and the rockiness of a career characterized by comebacks and disappearances, highs and lows, awards and opprobrium, has never left her deeply expressive face, which Mrinal Sen memorably called “a landscape of desolation". Kapadia has always appeared to be a bundle of nerves getting on with the business of life and movies, and in its most literal interpretation, this volcano simmering beneath the surface has resulted in a host of irritable aunty roles, most memorably in Homi Adajania’s Being Cyrus.

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Kapadia in a still from ‘What the Fish’

Kapadia was initially sceptical about the role, like she has been about several of her roles. One of the running motifs of her previous interviews is self-disparagement of her work and choices. From lover girl to unfaithful wife, vigilante to ghost, she has run the gamut despite the “bizarre" gaps in her filmography caused by her marriage and later, separation from Khanna. “I have had so many gaps that I have not been consistently working, and the thing is that you get better with more work," Kapadia says. “It takes me some time to get into what I am doing—since I am not a trained actor, I don’t have that skill. I have to think of what I am doing and how it comes through."

Kapadia remembers an incident that typifies her difficulty in trusting the judgement of others. “I was doing a film and I gave a shot, and after that flowers were sent to me," she says. “I remember writing in my diary at the time that how can I accept these flowers when I know what I have done? Sometimes, I have also felt that a shot is working and then I see it on the screen and think, what the f**k."

She chooses films depending on a variety of factors—the pay packet, the contours of the role, the narration given by the director. “There is money involved, but it just doesn’t seem right to do a film just like that," she says. Like most old-fashioned stars, Kapadia prefers the narration—in which a director and writer enact the screenplay—to the printed text. “I am mad and eccentric, and that’s the kind of reading I like," she says. “Most of the directors these days are closet actors in any case."

Despite her various self-doubts, Kapadia has emerged as one of the strongest selling points of What The Fish, directed by Gurmeet Singh and being released by Viacom18 Motion Pictures. The famously reticent and self-confessedly moody ex-siren even submitted to a series of conversations with journalists, though she doesn’t set much store by the pre-release interview. “Audiences decide on a trailer and that’s why they decide to watch a movie, but this (publicity) routine must be working somewhere for the producers," she says. The movie business has changed drastically since she first loomed on the screen in the 1970s. “In those days, you had a mahurat (a launch party) and the occasional film magazine cover," she says. “These days you don’t have silver and golden jubilees any more, and you need to rake it all in within the first week. I do one film at a time and I have a lot of time on my hands, but they (the younger actors) are doing films as well as promotions…and they have to look good everywhere they go. The pace is crazy and I am amazed at how people do it."

What the Fish, directed by Gurmeet Singh and starring Dimple Kapadia, Manjot Singh, Anand Tiwari, Manu Rishi Chadha and Sheeba Shabnam, will be released on 13 December.

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