After 30 years of Bollywood, Anil Kapoor, who made his television debut internationally with 24, still yearns for exciting roles.
You finally made your debut on the small screen with 24. How was the experience?
Television abroad is completely different from what it is like over here. It’s very mainstream. Whether it’s the infrastructure, the logistics, the actors, the money or the budget — it’s as good as a big budget film. It was like working on a feature.
But it’s still television...
People over there are in awe of Jack Bauer… of Keifer Sutherland. They are fans of TV shows. Ben Stiller was telling me that for his wife’s birthday party, he asked Keifer to come as a guest to surprise her. That’s the way they look at Jack Bauer’s character. And it looks like the eighth season is going to be the last; that’s what the speculation is so far. So it’s a big thing for me to be a part of the last season of a show like that.
How has the response to 24 been?
I’ve got great reviews. They keep reviewing the various episodes one by one, on and off, and I keep getting good reviews about them. One says, Anil Kapoor continues to impress. It’s been great exposure for me. And this is the kind of show that is being played in the bedrooms of most of America and it just adds to my resume, my body of work, for the future.
Did you have to work very hard to play the role of President Omar Hassan?
Of course. I was playing a Middle Eastern president, so I had to work hard, read Words of Peace edited by Irwin Abrams, go on YouTube to watch the body language. I went through all the speeches of the leaders of the world. I bought all the books and read about those countries, their history… met a lot of Middle Eastern people and learnt to talk like them.
Did you have to do the same for Slumdog Millionaire as well?
Yes, of course. I had to practice a lot. It didn’t happen without any effort.
Were you nervous about working in Hollywood?
Yes, a little. But I was preparing myself. The crew over there and the actors are more organised. Of course, there are creative discussions, but they’re more or less prepared. So I decided to be totally prepared as well. They approached me after having heard of me as a popular actor in India. And they must have had certain expectations in terms of, ‘what can he bring to us?’ So, I went as prepared as I could and asked them, in turn, ‘what do you have to offer?’
In terms of the number of movies and the variety of roles you have done, you are a far more accomplished actor than Keifer Sutherland... And they gave me that kind of treatment too. On 24, as well as when I was working with Danny Boyle on Slumdog... A lot of Indian actors, who have done roles internationally, tend to get typecast with time...
How do you plan on avoiding that?
I have made a conscious effort not to let that happen. I was offered three roles by studios, all were Indian characters in second roles; one needed me to be an Indian taxi driver... but I refused straight up. The deal is if you’re giving me a role as an Indian, then let it be the lead, otherwise no. I guess I can afford to make that decision right now.
Will you have to set even higher expectations for yourself now...
I have completed two of my films — Aisha and No Problem. For the next six to eight months, my priority, obviously, is my children. There are a lot of interesting things I have in mind. But right now my children and family come first. The best part is ever since I made them my priority, exciting things started happening.
When I did Slumdog... I never thought the film would become such a huge success. When I did 24, I never knew this was the feedback I’d be getting. You’re scared of how people will react when you do the second thing, after something like Slumdog... It’s been absolutely overwhelming. The biggest question was what I will do after that?
After I finished shooting for 24, I began wrapping up Aisha. I have all my meetings set up in Hollywood. It has to be seen where it takes me now.
You’ve acted in over a 100 movies since 1978. From Lakhan to Arun bhaiya to President Omar... How has the journey been?
I never imagined it. I am taking it slow, I am not thinking about it. The last two years have been a rollercoaster ride, a journey I never imagined I would experience. I never thought it would open me up to the world, the filmmakers, directors, writers, actors, events, award ceremonies and red carpets.
Everything is like a dream. At least for someone like me, who was born in the small suburb of Chembur, this kind of a situation was not something I expected.
Are we going to see less of you in Bollywood in that case?
I haven’t been doing too many movies for the last few years. My focus at the moment is only on releasing Aisha and No Problem. I can’t concentrate on a new topic until I finish my previous chapter.
Any Hollywood projects lined up?
Depends on what is offered to me. But I will not do a role for the sake of doing it.
Do you prefer producing films or acting?
Of course I love acting. That’s my first love, my first passion.
Finally, what news of the sequel of Mr India? And will you be seen as Arun bhaiya in it?
The biggest challenge in making the sequel to Mr India is to be able to do justice to the first film. The second part will have to overcome what Mr India did, which is a very tough job. But, if it ever does, I would love to still play Arun’s role in that.
How did the show happen to you?
(Thinks) It’s because of Slumdog Millionaire, I suppose. Because of the critical acclaim I received for the film. What else could it possibly be? Nothing succeeds like success; it’s like film ‘chalti hai toh sabko kaam milta hai’ (if your film does well, you get more work). I was lucky also I guess.
What made you do the show?
The role and the fact that the show was successful. After Slumdog, I felt I shouldn’t wait for a feature film because they take years to develop and release. It’s a different ball game. The minimum time from start to finish for an average film to reach the screen is seven years, unless you’re lucky.
For many fans in India, their ‘Lakhan’ has now gone international. You’ve also earned yourself a new audience through 24. How will you satisfy both worlds?
Do you fear you might alienate your Indian audience in the process?
I never want to forget my roots. So I am going to balance it. I just don’t want to give all my attention to my life and career over there (Hollywood). It’s a tricky situation. I don’t know how I’ll do it, actually.
I’m going to use this global exposure not only for my acting career, but for the other things I want to do, like filmmaking and getting writers from there. There are many directors in India who want to work with certain technicians abroad. I’ll try and bridge that gap. It’s not as hard as it was earlier. Now that I have become a small part of the system, I may be able to do a little more. I am a member of the Screen Actors Guild over there and I pay taxes.
It will take some time, I’m still taking baby steps. I don’t want to make tall claims at this moment. I’m still coming to terms with managing two worlds.