India’s Got Talent got over this week. It revealed to us, the sensational group Prince, and the emotional judge Shekhar Kapur. Catch the world-class director on record@café
You burst into tears once as a judge on India’s Got Talent. What sparked it?
It wasn’t sympathy for sure. I was touched by that group’s (Prince Dance Group) performance. They did a splendid job with bhangra and they were all handicapped. To perform it that well, you need something inside you, apart from talent. That moved me to tears.
But one didn’t quite see you getting sharp tongued.
It wasn’t needed. I could politely put things across to contestants instead of rudely rubbing it in. And I did that to so many who did weird things in the name of talent.
Your blogs are quite popular. The one on Heath Ledger got a tremendous response.
It was an unexpected response. People were affected despite not knowing Heath Ledger in person. Some people, who’d never met him or maybe had just managed to see one film of his, left such heart-rending notes for him.
I knew Heath personally and I was taken aback with his death. I didn’t see it coming. He got nominated for Oscars and how many people alive have that kind of following when they’re gone.
Why do you think Mr India has never happened for you in Hollywood?
I would have loved to have a Mr India there. Once, a popular studio was making Alice in Wonderland. Tim Burton and I were in the running to direct it.
They obviously chose him. I almost directed another Hollywood movie too. I also know what went wrong with Four Feathers. The studio wanted me to make an adventure. I suppose I couldn’t sell them the idea correctly. I wanted them to get over their politics.
What’s the status of the Mr India sequel?
I know the story. It’s modern and exciting. I’ve written it but I want someone else to direct it. I’ve always wanted to see someone else direct it with as much passion as I did. And I didn’t see that happening in all these years. I think Koi Mil Gaya was close but Mr India was completely unabashed.
It didn’t have a mother’s part and the question asked to me was how could the hero not have a mother. We shot the whole movie and then came up with Mogambo. There’s a difference between fantasy and farce. That’s why I had the little girl dying. The scene where she was in a coffin had upset a lot of mothers and it was nasty of me to have that scene.
That kid wouldn’t lie in the coffin. I had to plead her mother to help us. She did and what a pristine look she had when she lay in the coffin, she looked dead. All the kids actually cried in that scene.
We’ve been hearing about Paani for so long. What’s happening to it?
You can’t conjure up art. You need to have something running inside you. I was excited when I was doing Mr India. Today, I feel very strongly about the state of our environment and society. Paani will be about injustice though it will be dramatic. I don’t seem to be able to lock that script. That happens when you’re too passionate about the subject.
In Masoom, Naseeruddin Shah modelled himself on you, right?
It’s difficult to write characters. Caricatures like Mogambo are easy but when you sit down to write two lines about yourself, it doesn’t come to you. When I offered Bandit Queen to Seema Biswas, a popular stage actress, she could write lovely lines about Phoolan Devi but she couldn’t write anything about herself.
Naseer modelled himself on me because he would often see Mr Malhotra in me. He even wore my clothes.
Very little is known about your family.
My dad is a doctor and mum is a journalist. Dev, Vijay and Chetan Anand are my maternal uncles. I was born in Lahore. The Anands moved from Gurudaspur to Lahore. Chetan Anand was an ICES officer then. After partition, we all shifted to Delhi. Dev Anand was employed at a post-office in Mumbai.
He went to Pune’s Prabhat studios and became an actor. That’s what he says at least. Meanwhile, my sister and I were born to my father. We were in London, we came back and my father went back to complete his education there.
We stayed at Pali Hill in a house that was threatening to fall apart any minute. There were the three Anands there, there was Raj Khosla and Guru Dutt too. Everyone was dreaming to make it big.
Dev gave rise to each one of them. And then, he got on to another side with Zeenat Aman and Tina Munim. They were very close friends.
Which uncle did you take the most from?
Chetan Anand. He experimented with movies when no one did. Whether you consider Neecha Nagar or Heer Ranjha. He made an entire movie in verses. No one has ever done that.
What gave rise to your ambitions?
Photography. Telling stories was a passion. Shabana (Azmi) whom I was dating as a youngster and all my friends will tell you that people ran the opposite direction from me because they’d fear I’d narrate stories to them at parties with
blaring music around. That eventually turned me into a filmmaker.
Were you so sick and tired of big stars that you stopped making movies with them?
After Bandit Queen, I decided to move abroad and make films. I’ve always worked with non-stars whether it was Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth or Seema Biswas in Bandit Queen and it worked.
It’s not that I don’t want to work with stars but I don’t trust them. They all have images in the audience’s mind.
What drew you back to India?
Unabashed entertainment. Om Shanti Om, Lagaan for instance. Even when I was abroad, I would go watch these kind of movies. Black Friday was incredible.
Once RGV and Vidhu Vinod Chopra were your close friends.
Vidhu still is. Ramu is making movies all the time. He’s made gems like Rangeela, Raat and Satya. But he’s made some disasters too. You can’t keep making movies all the time, even in your sleep.
Khamoshi and Parinda were Vidhu’s best works. Vidhu still has the capacity. I think his next true find was Raju Hirani. Parineeta was a classy production. Vidhu has grown out of passion today. He must make a movie.
You did a controversial talk show in the UK.
It dealt with minorities and their issues there. We talked about closet gays and a lot of parents were shocked to see their children opening up. A girl confessed that her father would flit the house every time her West-Indian dark-skinned boyfriend came home.
Barkha Dutt’s We The People is pretty much the same. I know her tricks of where to get the drama from and where you get the best comments.
Take us through your early drug-induced days in Juhu that you’ve written about before.
Trust me, all these things they show in the movies is not true. There’s no tsunami when you take it. It affects you drop by drop. I’ve taken it once with a bunch of doctors and then with my close-knit group of friends. And then I never went back to it. It’s a weird state of mind that everyone may not want to revisit. But yes, I’m glad I tried because unless you do that, you won’t know what not to do in life.