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The king of epics: Shekhar Kapur

The director of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Shekhar Kapur, has a healthy disregard for history and the fine print, writes Madhusree Chatterjee.

entertainment Updated: Nov 23, 2007 23:38 IST
Madhusree Chatterjee

I exist because you imagine that I do. The cryptic one-liner that anchors film-maker Shekhar Kapur’s official web site sums up the man. “I am an adventurer and film-making is a part of that adventure,” says the maker of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which hit the theatres this weekend.

The charismatic Kapur straddles multiple worlds — physical, creative, business and even the metaphysical — with equal ease. Some call him the number man. He is comfortable both in the boardrooms of production powerhouses and among the rusty water channels of Dharavi — splitting hair on the colossal waste of precious paani (water), an issue close to his heart.

The wisdom of ancient Zen masters, universality and relativity come to his aid as he battles to plug the holes that the media has punched in Golden Age. The sequel covers that part of the virgin Queen’s life when she comes out of the shadows to rule England for four prosperous decades. It is studded with wars, romance and climaxes with the destruction of the Spanish Armada by the English troops. Critics have panned the period extravaganza for being historically inaccurate, “melodramatic and opulent, to the point of being silly”. A Vatican-backed historian called Golden Age a “distorted anti-papal travesty”. The Catholics were apparently rubbed the wrong way. As a result, the movie was released with a disclaimer. The liberal in Kapur seethes with anger and he is almost defiant in his defence. “I wanted to make a statement about religious wars. Fundamentalism is the domain of the Catholic Church. The western world seems to be up in arms,” he hits back.

Royal fire

And as for the travesties of history, Kapur’s utter disregard for the fine print deals a blow to the purists. After all, it happened 500 years ago. So much has changed. Would anyone remember what Elizabeth told her men on that fateful day, shining in her golden armour and with her red hair flaming? “Probably, only 10 out the 5,000 soldiers heard it,” says Kapur. And fewer remember. Kapur is no chronicler. History, according to him, is all about interpretations. “I faced this problem even the last time I made Elizabeth. I wanted to probe the human being behind the myth,” explains Kapur.

Beyond Elizabeth

Right now, Kapur is relaxing.“Give me a break,” says the director. The last two years were high pressure — the excitement, sweat and the fact that those who had spent $60 million on Golden Age were constantly watching him. The interlude “between now and his next project, a script that he is writing for Warner Bros,” is full of meaningful chores.

He is dabbling in new media — writing for Virgin Comics, which he co-founded with friends Richard Branson and Deepak Chopra and a few others in 2006. “I am also trying my hand at animation and creating a media eco-system. It is a fund and a platform through which people can create intellectual property. Who knows, probably, the next Google.com will come out of India,” says the avid blogger, who has not been posting his thoughts for the past two months. It is one of the few things he does “honestly.”

Sublime moorings

Idealism keeps Kapur afloat. “I am no career director. There is a lot of passion involved in what I do.” Estranged wife Suchitra Krishnamoorty calls him a director with an incomparable power of storytelling peppered with myth and drama. And loads of sub-texts. “He is known as a maestro all over the world and with good reason…. But personally, I wish he would revisit the innocence of Masoom or Mr India, which for me was pure magic in my growing up years,” says the actress-turned-singer-artist.

Friend Boney Kapoor, who produced Mr India, however, remembers him for his clarity. When Boney met Kapur for the first time, he was working on the script of Masoom and was down with jaundice. “He was narrating some of the sequences to Shabana (Azmi), who was with him. I was struck by the kind of clarity with which he was visualising the scenes. How easily he could communicate.” Boney signed him for Mr India, even before Kapur began shooting Masoom. At that time, Kapur was married to Medha, who is now Anup Jalota’s wife, the producer recalls.

The man behind the director’s mask came across as “warm, articulate and very clear about what he wants to do.” And patient, says actress Sridevi. “I was mighty impressed with the way he handled the bunch of kids in Mr India.”

Moving on

Past 60, Kapur seems to have switched worlds. The accountant, who left for England at 22 to become “uncomfortable with a comfortable job” overcame his existential dilemma with his foray into Bollywood in the early Eighties.

He was a model, an actor and even a chat show host till he debuted as director with Masoom in 1983. “It’s all a part of the adventure I left behind,” says Kapur.

The director often rubs critics the wrong way with his mix of cold pragmatism and irreverence. “Do you think Sir Walter Raleigh, as history likes us to believe, really threw his cape on the mud for the Queen to step on so that her feet do not get wet?”

No way. “That was no age of chivalry. Englishmen in the 17th century died at 30 and their teeth fell off at 25. You interpret Elizabeth was in love in Raleigh,” he laughs. Was she? It’s all inference.

For a man who believes in love without ownership, the logic makes sense. “It’s when love turns to need, it’s when love turns into possession…it’s when you say you belong to me...that is the beginning of the end of love,” muses Kapur. His kind of love is purely unconditional. And it’s that love which helps him connect to his daughter. “She has influenced the way I live”.