Home >opinion >online views >The black and white behind Anil Kapoor’s evergreen looks

Next week, actor Anil Kapoor will make his small screen debut as Jai Singh Rathod in 24, based on the hit American television series of the same name. Kapoor plays the role essayed by Kiefer Sutherland in the original—Jack Bauer, an army man. For an actor who the media claims is now 56 (there is some disagreement about his exact age, especially after daughter Sonam claimed in an interview that he was born in 1956), the first thing that hits everyone is his youthful personality. This is also the most frequent observation about Kapoor, a successful star and actor. Lists that name Indian celebs who look “forever young" invariably include Kapoor; he has also acquired—quite rightfully—the “evergreen" tag once exclusively used for the late actor Dev Anand. To cap it all, Kapoor hardly looks like someone dragging his feet to 60 years, has a slender frame and a flat stomach, a barely wrinkled face mostly (and smartly) shielded by a two-day stubble. His neck is usually covered by buttoned-up formal shirts and smart ties, so it doesn’t serve as a giveaway feature in assessing his age.

If Kapoor seems a tad bored with unoriginal compliments about his looks, he disguises it with his warm and impish smile. When prodded, he explains this youth-friendliness with fundamental and real-sounding reasons: moderate and regular exercise (no gym heroics or body conversions from three to six packs, then back to zero), good genes, good diet and a caring spouse. “Hair dye", too, as he told motormouth TV personality and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu when he arrived as a guest on Comedy Nights with Kapil to promote his forthcoming 24.

Yet, seldom talked about are a dozen other factors that give Kapoor this winsome age-defiance. Not to mention his ever-readiness to joyfully break into a dance to his hit and “evergreen" song, Aeji, Oji, Loji, Sunoji, from Subhash Ghai’s 1989 blockbuster Ram Lakhan. Kapoor doesn’t exhibit the reflective world-weariness that Irrfan does, for instance, though the latter is much younger. Nor does he have the impatient angst of Nana Patekar denoting frustration with the overall world order. Without niggling health issues mandating major surgeries, Kapoor’s body doesn’t show physical trauma that gets converted sooner than later into signs of ageing as it has done in the case of Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) and observers predict will unravel soon for Hrithik Roshan. Without the self-conscious aloofness of a Clint Eastwood or a cultivated one like that of Vinod Khanna (who has been disappointing his fans and weighing machine for years now), Kapoor retains a mild earnestness we associate with youth. At the same time, he looks self-assured, never giving away an excessive need to be liked as Jackie Shroff did.

Kapoor also uses his dimpled smile to communicate what appears a reasonably self-deprecating nature, evident from the manner he responds to interviewers. He is never intellectually intense with an “I-Know-Better" point of view, nor is he idiotically syrupy with celebrity clichés. He talks gamely of his strengths and limitations as an actor, his occasional befuddlement as a father of precocious adult children and a global artiste recognized by the likes of Danny Boyle and Tom Cruise.

More strategically—and this is where his fame machine has done a fabulous job—is that he has not endorsed any anti-ageing product. Kapoor’s first endorsement happened in 2009, after all those years as a top league star-actor. This was for Mont Blanc pens, a joint commercial with his daughter Sonam, famous for being a fashionista. He is the obvious top choice for any of the many products thrown at us by the pulsating, buzzy and enormously successful anti-ageing industry. But Kapoor has never sold green tea, anti-ageing medical solutions (like Jeetendra who endorsed 30 Plus tablets), fairness creams for youthful skins (like SRK to John Abraham and Arjun Rampal do now), or life insurance schemes for the day when youth turns truant. Amitabh Bachchan sells both age and adolescence in the form of Dabur Chyawanprash and Maggi noodles but no company has netted Kapoor to sell any cola, deodorant, sporting equipment, running shoes or a hair dye. Clearly, there’s power in not becoming the face of what you have a natural copyright on—the age-defying gene. Why let products take the credit?

Kapoor does walk the ramp for select fashion designers. I saw him in August as the show-stopper for designer Raghavendra Rathore’s show in Delhi and he was an absolute delight. “In no way does this man look like Sonam Kapoor’s father," hissed the cheering audience.

Also because he incites empathy, instead of envy, it is really difficult to dislike him and his brisk body language (usually people become sluggish with age) seldom borders on condescending hurry. It may be a recipe worth following for those who want to appear evergreen—from the secret diary of Mr. India.

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