He began his career in the ’90s as an actor, but failed. Then he returned as a director, and could have vanished. But after his debacle of a debut, writer and director Abhishek Kapoor made Rock On!! (2008), a film that not only won several awards including one for best story, but also marked the debut of director Farhan Akhtar as an actor. Kai Po Che (2013), another compelling story, had Sushant Singh Rajput make his debut. And now, Kapoor is ready with Fitoor, based on one of the greatest novels in the world – Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
We met Kapoor in Delhi for a tete-a-tete over coffee. Excerpts:
You were an actor before you became a director. Why did you decide to shift roles?
I began acting in the mid ’90s which were really dark times for Hindi cinema. There was just mainstream Bollywood and a small segment of arthouse cinema. Of the few movies I did, two or three didn’t see the light of day. It was very disheartening. So I quit Bollywood and wrote a story about an underdog sportsman – Aryan. I identified with the story. And I felt I should make this film myself, even though I had no formal training in direction. It took me five years to complete the film Aryan, with Sohail Khan in the lead, because I didn’t have funds.
The promos started in January (2006), but the film finally released in December. I was advised not to release the film. People said, you are already known as a failed actor, now don’t be known as a failed director. But I couldn’t start with anything new till I completed this project. It was like trying to get pregnant when you already have a baby inside. Eventually, the film was delivered and I wrote Rock On!!, which became a hit and changed my life.
How does the film industry treat failure?
Bollywood can be very unkind to people who are not successful. Since I was born and brought up in Mumbai (my mother is Jeetendra’s sister), I always wanted to be an actor. When my career collapsed, I didn’t have anywhere else to go. If you are an outsider, you can at least go back home. In the film industry, if you fail, you are made to feel bad about it. You can’t escape it; it’s isolating and discouraging. And it hurt my parents too – to see someone young, frustrated and directionless can be disheartening for parents because they don’t know how to help their child. But you have to come out of it on your own. Failure makes you a stronger person.
Your films Rock On!! and Kai Po Che were on the theme of friendship. Fitoor, your new film, is a romance. As a director, what do you like?
Rock On!! and Kai Po Che may have had friendship as their theme, but their characters came from different social strata. Rock On!! had rock music as a background, was more upmarket and aspirational. Kai Po Che was more about the heart of India, with the earthquake and the riots in the background.
Fitoor is not just a romance. It’s about love and about the repercussions of love. Love and heartbreak go hand in hand. Love can uplift you or destroy you. When you fall in love, you let her or him inside your vulnerable space. Once the person comes in, she or he can make you or break you. And that can have repercussions. Heartbreak or bitterness could permeate every cell of your existence, and affect people around you including your children, and also affect how they respond to love in their lives. This idea had been with me since I finished Kai Po Che.
Fitoor is based on Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Have you adapted it for the Indian audience?
The characters and dynamics are similar, but adapted for an Indian audience. It was written 150 years ago, so we’ve adapted the book for the present. Also, I’ve made changes. For example, I don’t clearly understand Miss Havisham. Just to say she was mad because she was jilted at the altar is not enough. You have to understand the nature of her madness – what happens to her – so we’ve added value to the story by adding to her part.
We are all products of our environment and our upbringing. Estella/Firdaus (Katrina Kaif’s character) wasn’t born like that. The mother’s fears are passed on to the daughter, she is brought up a certain way, but even she doesn’t realise why she is like that. She has been programmed to think the world is a very cruel place, so she comes across as heartless. It won’t be difficult to understand the story if you haven’t read the book, because I detached myself from it.
Why don’t more filmmakers adapt books by Indian writers?
You are not looking at adapting writers, but stories. So where they come from is not important. If it’s relatable to the Indian audience, I will go for it.
What made you cast Katrina Kaif with Aditya Roy Kapur?
My story is an ensemble, a story of love between three people. But Katrina and Aditya provide the romantic angle. This is the first time Katrina is attempting something not completely mainstream. She is beautiful and a big star. That automatically makes her aspirational, and that’s what I needed for the character. So half the battle is won with the casting alone. She works very hard. We spoke a lot, we jammed, did readings. When I first met Aditya, I thought he was a handsome boy. He’s a Bombay boy, so he had to do a workshop to speak at the slower pace of his Kashmiri character.
Wasn’t Rekha the original choice to play Hazrat Begum, (based on Miss Havisham), the role that eventually went to Tabu?
When she came on board, Rekha was ready to do anything. Theoretically, we agreed on everything, but when we started the film, we had some creative differences. So we decided it would be best to work together on some other project. Thankfully, Tabu was available and she came on board in three days. She is an old friend of mine. We discovered so much about this character together.
What led to your fallout with Farhan Akhtar over Rock On!! 2?
I wrote the earlier drafts of Rock On!! 2 to direct myself. It’s my child; it was written in that spirit. The fight was about the credit. That’s why I decided to go to court and get my right.
As far as my relationship with Farhan is concerned, we made a very special movie together and that is the core of our relationship. I remember that equation. I don’t think relationships should stand only on one leg. Relationships are based on many pillars.
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From HT Brunch, January 24, 2016
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