Surrounded by street kids, Anil Kapoor looks like the perfect Mr India, laughing at their jokes and answering their questions.
This isn’t a promotional activity for his new film, No Problem. Kapoor has been a goodwill ambassador for the NGO Plan India for three years, part of an attempt to make philanthropy his life’s priority. "I want to reach a level of spiritual alertness where I forget everything else and am fully devoted to this," he says. It’s unlikely to be a problem for the actor-producer – he’s already donated his entire fee from the film Slumdog Millionaire to the NGO.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Kapoor has lost interest in movies. In fact, he seems to be expanding his boundaries – after roles in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and the popular US TV series 24, he has just landed a part in the Tom Cruise film, Mission Impossible 4 (MI 4).
So do we now refer to him as an International actor? Kapoor laughs. "I would prefer to be known as an Indian actor who has been lucky to work in Hollywood," he says. "Whatever I have learnt has been through experience and the people I have worked with. So I consider myself fortunate to have had these breaks in International projects."
In MI 4, Kapoor plays a villain, a role most Indian stars dislike. It doesn’t bother him. "More than a role, I prefer to talk about performance," he says. "In India, people are still not used to taking cameos seriously. For me, a good role is about good acting. Beyond that I’m not worried."
He’s used to taking chances – his role in Slumdog Millionaire as a nasty man who aims to deprive a boy of his rightful winnings was hardly heroic. "But I stand by my beliefs and usually I am proved right," he says. "When I was on the threshold of becoming a star, people warned me against getting married and ruining my career. But I had made a commitment to the woman I loved. We have now been together for 38 years, and my career flourished after marriage."
Kapoor won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Slumdog Millionaire. He also got rave reviews for 24. Impressive, because that was the first time Kapoor had been on TV. "Over the years I did get offers, but I had been following the philosophy of actors like Dilip Kumar, Raj Kumar and Dev Anand who never sold themselves," says Kapoor. "Today, I agree with the fact that to reach people, especially the younger generation, you need to try different mediums."
Was this why he did a commercial for Mont Blanc pens with his daughter, actress Sonam? "I liked the concept," says Kapoor. "My father had told me I had to make my own path, and in the ad, I tell my daughter to do the same."
That his children are following him into the industry is a surprise for the 50-year-old. "Long ago, I had told them that they were free to do whatever they wanted to do," he says. "So I was surprised by their choices. My wife Sunita was happy with just one celebrity at home. But I guess my genes are stronger than hers!"
While Sonam is an actress, Kapoor’s younger daughter Rhea is into filmmaking and Harshvardhan, the youngest, wants to write. "When Sanjay Leela Bhansali told me he wanted Sonam in Saawariya, I said it was her choice," says Kapoor. "Rhea, on the other hand, was always keen on making films. My son is studying in Los Angeles and wants to write screenplays."
But the biggest star in the Kapoor household remains Anil Kapoor. "Acting is my first love," he says simply. But over the years, he adds, his style has changed. "I’ve mellowed since I played the aggressive Munna of Tezaab, but at the same time, I’ve never felt as physically fit, as sharp in mind and as quick in my reflexes as I do now," he says.
Action doesn’t rule his life now. Kapoor is happy doing fun films, such as No Entry, Welcome and the just released No Problem. "Don’t look for a storyline in this film," he laughs. "It is just a fun film with lots of short items and a good star cast, all of whom are great at comedy. It’s just paisa vasool."
- From HT Brunch, December 12
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