High achievers spot rich opportunities swiftly, make big decisions quickly and move into action immediately. Clearly, Jeetendra’s daughter Ekta Kapoor, the young achiever who started her career at the age of 20, aptly fits these descriptions. Stepping out of her comfort zone on TV after doing about 70 shows, she has successfully changed her medium to cinema, but not before having to prove herself again.
Now ready with her most expensive production to date, the Rs 100 crore Once Upon A Time In Mumbai Dobaara, Ekta understandably is tense and edgy. She doesn’t take kindly to media reports that don’t align with her thoughts. “I don’t read the newspapers, especially when I have a release coming up. But I’m fed the content and that’s how I overreact sometimes”, she admits.
We met in the lounge of a suburban hotel and Ekta was fasting for Ramadan that day. In a flowing black chiffon gown, she looked pretty and managed to turn a few heads as she walked towards the table I was at. “It’s my aspiration that gets me the pressure. But on the day of the release, I become calm,” she says, starting our interview.
The just released Chennai Express, touted as your rival, has kicked off in a rather big way. Does that add to your anxiety?
I’ve learnt one important lesson from this recent hullabaloo. There is enough room for all films. The media scares us a lot by pitting us against each other. You cannot predict the future of a film. There’s no point in getting angry or disturbed. Whatever is going to happen, will happen. As for Chennai Express’ great opening, I’m happy for them. In fact my nervousness has come down a lot now. Even though we wanted to release on Eid, it didn’t work out as planned and we gave them a clean seven days. Now we can relax and release our film.
Tell us the exact reason why Once Upon… was postponed?
I know there has been a lot of speculation, right from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s involvement to Shah Rukh Khan talking my dad out of it. But I know the real reason. I shifted the dates only for my mom. She was looking after the distribution set-up and was awfully stressed that my decision would affect our business. I was fine with releasing Once Upon… in a few theatres on Eid, as only a handful of theatres were available. That was my plan. But mom was thoroughly stressed and I couldn’t see her in that state anymore. Also, the bigger the studio, the bigger their clout. When I was at Harvard, my CEO called me and conveyed mom’s state. Her happiness is worth more than any professional tussle and I stepped back.
So is Once Upon… your big ticket?
While it’s scary on the one hand, I’m emotionally and mentally ready to jump into the big ocean. If Once Upon… works, then I will go ahead and make more big films else I will go back to making small films. We pray that it works. A gangster film and Akshay Kumar is a great combination. And he is very naughty in the movie. He is playing a bad boy, a villain.
You’ve worked with two very big stars Ajay Devgn and Akshay Kumar. What about working with the big daddies (Shah Rukh, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan)?
These guys work in a different league. They have got their own relationships with the big studios and are comfortable in that set-up. I will meet them, as all of them are very lovely people. But to make a film with them will take me much longer. For instance to reach Salman today you have to make 50 people around him happy. So what’s the point? Anyways, his next four years are booked. So even if I go to him with the best project he won’t have the time. I’d rather spend time creatively working on a project, and making a film that may become the biggest hit and launch a big star with it. Therefore, I have to find my own Salman Khan.
Who amongst the younger lot you feel could become a big star?
Amongst the girls, I would say Parineeti (Chopra). She is the classic case of a girl next door, yet the fire in her is so palpable. Amongst the guys, I can’t really say. I have a soft corner for Sushant (Singh Rajput), as I have worked with him before. But, I’m now working with Varun (Dhawan) and Sidharth (Malhotra). These guys have a lot of energy. What happens to their career depends on the choices they make. You don’t know who’ll be supported by luck. I’m working with all the new kids and none of the big daddies.
But isn’t having a big daddy on one’s CV vital in Bollywood?
Why just Bollywood? Big brands always add weight. I’m working with Akshay (Kumar) sir. He is a huge star. Imran Khan and Emraan Hashmi are big stars too. I strongly believe that a studio (production) grows on its content and not on alliances alone. Alliances can run out, but the content can’t run out. I agree Bollywood was functioning in a different way earlier. Producers would hang out on the sets of films to please actors.
We all know that Ekta is an achiever in every sense of the word, but she’s also quiet hot-tempered and hyper. Right?
I am a Type A person. These are people who get heart attacks very fast. They get tensed easily, are most angry and most hyper. I am also a hypochondriac, which very few people know. I get scared fast and carry my tensions to bed.
But haven’t the know-hows of the world mellowed you?
Yes, I have calmed down. I don’t take people for granted anymore, nor do I fire people. I internalise stress, which I think is quiet harmful for a person. There is a philosophy that says you should let it all out. If you let it grow inside, you let the stress grow. So, I have stopped screaming, which is good for the world, but bad for me. But having said this, I am not a paragon of virtue. I am spitfire. My anger comes back if I’m pushed to the wall. In the meantime, I have tried to find solutions to demons in my head. That’s the best way to survive. I also reach out to my dad, because he gives me the right advice.
Your rage has cost you many good associations in the past.
It’s a big myth. People who work with me know it. There is a saying in the TV industry that we don’t leave Balaji, we only go on a holiday. People who have worked with me for 9-10 years are in touch with me. They have moved up in life to higher jobs. So when there is a fight, for a third person it’s a gossip, but for the people involved, we know how valuable we are to each other. So be it giving them raises, financial help, cushy jobs or even fighting with the HR head of my company for my people, I would always be in the front. Most of my core team stays with me. I am working with the same people I worked with 15 years ago.
How do you justify that films from your production house are extremely high on bold content?
They have been very edgy too. When I started my career on television, my strategy was to make mass-oriented stuff. And in doing so, we suppressed the edgy kind of content. You tend to dilute even normal conversation for TV audience. So, essentially it was all bottled up.
And you found your creative release through movies?
I thought, ‘let’s do something edgy’. That’s how we channelised our creative freedom. There was LSD (Love Sex Aur Dhoka; 2010) that talked about youth and the fabric of youth as far sexuality is concerned. There’re revenge sex and MMS incidents happening. Then came The Dirty Picture (2011), which was about a woman and why she is looked down upon if she is comfortable with her sexuality. There was a sex comedy, followed by gangster flicks.
I’m sure with your brand name you could have had a bigger and better line-up of films than the ones you started with?
I was from a TV background, someone who was famous for making typical television dramas for a certain kind of audience. So, I had to face a lot of discouragement and distrust in the industry regarding my perceived sensibility. I was stuck with my own limitations. What could have I done? I didn’t have three Khans ready to work with me. I was a new producer. I really worked hard and from whatever resources I had, I focused on building them. I concentrated on smaller, high concept films and wanted to create the right noise about them. Thankfully, I had got Ajay Devgn (Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai; 2010) and I can never forget the fact that he supported me, heard the script and told me that I will work with you because you are very hardworking and I love your script. He saw some spark in me and said I am with you. That meant a lot!
So, can you tell us which of the Khan’s refused your offer?
One of them and I cannot name him. But he was nice to me. Because of my dad, the doors were open, but contrary to popular belief, they weren’t open in such a way that I could have put a foot in. Entering the room is a completely different story. So, it was like, ‘the daughter of well-known producer wants to become a producer. Chalo mil lete hain (ok, let’s meet her).’
Can you share something about the stardom trajectory of your father?
Yes, I have seen many things. Producers would hang out on the sets of dad’s film when he was a big star. But I have also seen my dad’s worst phase and how these people disappeared. So, I decided that when I grow up, I shall not hang around on the sets of stars and instead build my own content and relationship with people who will respect me for my work. I have learnt to internalise my own success and failure. Luckily, we all grew up realising that family is above all.
Your fashion sense has constantly come under attack by the fashion police, especially your black platform sandals? How do you see all this?
Murder me for it but I’m not going to change. I believe in wholesome fashion, not the refined sorts. I’m a producer, not an actor! So why am I suddenly being measured with the parameters of an actress? I haven’t changed my room for years now. That’s my comfort zone and that’s what I’m. I buy my clothes and I will repeat them as many times as I want to, and attend functions and parties in them. I’m not one of those who hire clothes and attend parties. There’re many who indulge in this cheap stuff. As for my ugly platform sandals that have been written about so much, let me tell you, I’m flat-footed and I don’t want to end up with a knee problem so soon in my life. I can’t walk around in stilettos. I believe in comfort. Anyways, whoever is observing such silly things is too shallow and frivolous. Get a life!
Which historic character can you associate yourself with?
Jackie Kennedy. She’s a superb multi-tasker. She handled so many things at the same time, yet played the role of a perfect housewife. It shows the solidity of the person. I want to do TV, films, manage friends, family, be a good sister and an able daughter. I want to be able to wear many more hats. I also feel I’m a lot like Amrita Pritam (author). She was bold and creative. She questioned the norm and never followed it.