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'Modern Indian cinema lacks feelings'

"Indian cinema needs to be rescued from false values and false feelings," says a prominent actor of yesteryears. Has kitsch overpowered Indian cinema?

india Updated: May 07, 2006 17:34 IST

Actor and filmmaker Shashi Kapoor, who deftly blended the popular with the artistic in his decades-long career in showbiz, is outraged by the "kitsch" and "false sentimentality" that have swamped contemporary Indian cinema.

"Feeling is dead in Indian cinema. Indian cinema needs to be rescued from false values and false feelings," Kapoor, who has acted in 200-odd films, said in an interview.

Although not the kind to wallow in nostalgia and emotional posturing, Kapoor sported a profoundly forlorn look as he spoke about impresarios of Bollywood family extravaganzas "hijacking real feelings and content from Indian cinema".

"We didn't glamorise family sagas as it's being done now. They are trying to sugar-coat films. The kind of films Satyajit Ray did were realistic and beautiful films," said the veteran actor.

Clearly, opulent family musicals that often blitz the box office these days are not quite his taste. What interests him are films that strike a delicate balance between popular fantasies and the realism of feelings.

"Nowadays I am not keen to see films as they deal in escapism. The fare they dole out is not realistic," said a wary Kapoor, who bowed out after four decades of acting in the early 1990s.

"By realism, I don't mean showing poverty, filth and squalor. Raj Kapoor (Shashi's late elder brother) also showed poverty in films, but it was done differently," he said.

This delicate balancing act turned out to be a tough call as Kapoor has turned to producing and directing films. In his new avatar, he made some classy films that penetrated into the vanities and ironies of Indian urban middle class culture, but almost all of them turned out to be crashing box office disasters - an experience that left him sceptical about the future of meaningful cinema.

"My basic problem as a film producer was how to attract intellectuals as well as average cinema goers to my films. I wanted to please both kinds of audiences. I don't think I succeeded in it."

"I lost all the money I made from acting in the six films I have made - 'Kalyug', 'Junoon', '36 Chowringhee Lane', 'Vijeyta', 'Utsav' and 'Ajuba'," he confessed.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Shashi Kapoor, brought up on creative ecstasies of theatre, enthralled an entire generation of cine-goers with his versatile repertoire of roles in blockbusters like "Deewar" and "Jab Jab Phool Khile".

Where he failed, Raj Kapoor succeeded spectacularly, he said.

"He (Raj Kapoor) managed to get both learned and unlearned audience to his films in great numbers. He had tremendous grasp of the medium and music that made his films such box office hits."

Having seen the best and worst of Indian cinema all these years, Kapoor has now turned almost a recluse and prefers to spend most of his time with terminally ill cancer patients and a host of philanthropic projects "started by my father and continued by my wife".

"I spend a lot of time with terminally ill patients. Financially, I am not able to help much. Emotionally, I am however able to help them," says Kapoor, his face glowing with compassion for the stricken and memories of his parents and his wife who died of cancer.

"It's a deeply moving, and sometimes wrenching, experience to find someone you meet and befriend disappear forever in a month or two. I talk to them to give this feeling that they are going to live forever."

"Your insides are however telling you that you are lying. But the joy in their eyes gives me happiness."

What keeps the 68-year-old actor ticking? "I am very fond of life. Film-making gives me a high. But I am glad I am off it now. I am constantly discovering and re-discovering new interests in life."