Shekhar Kapur on fear, films and ‘taking the scenic route’: A Wknd interview - Hindustan Times

Shekhar Kapur on fear, films and ‘taking the scenic route’: A Wknd interview

ByKarishma Upadhyay
Jul 27, 2023 04:43 PM IST

What’s Love Got to Do with It? is his seventh film in four decades, but each release has made news, won awards. Fear of failure motivates him, says Kapur, 71.

Early in the process of making his new film, What’s Love Got to Do with It? (2023), Shekhar Kapur asked a group of young women assistants how many of them were registered on a dating app.

 (Getty Images) PREMIUM
(Getty Images)

“They looked at me like I was stupid and said, ‘All of us’,” he says. “That’s when I realised what a social phenomenon these apps have become. I was in London when the Pill first came onto the market and I saw how empowering it was for women. It completely eased the fear of pregnancy. Dating apps have signalled another huge shift in women’s empowerment, by giving them control over their interactions.”

What’s Love Got to Do with It? is a cross-cultural romcom that examines cherished ideals of love, and the difficulties of finding it, both on dating apps and in arranged or assisted marriages.

Zoe (Lily James) is a London-based documentary filmmaker who decides to follow the story of her neighbour and best friend Kaz (Shazad Latif), after he agrees to marry someone his parents have chosen. Zoe, a romantic, has so far failed to find Mr Right herself. Written by former journalist Jemima Khan (ex-wife of the Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan), the film features Shabana Azmi and Emma Thompson too.

The tale has clearly touched a chord. What’s Love Got to Do with It?, a British production, has been nominated in nine categories, including Best Actress and Best Director, at the National Film Awards UK.

The response has been heartening, says Kapur, 71, who went in knowing how the arranged-marriage ecosystem works, but has never used a dating app.

That world is a mystery to him, he adds. “Our fundamental human nature is to find intimacy, from the time we are born and placed on our mother’s breast to the time we die, hopefully holding someone’s hand. How, then, do you find intimacy through a screen?”

His sense of mystification is perhaps what makes the film resonate, for a generation struggling to get it right too.

Months of corresponding with James about love, intimacy and this new-age phenomenon helped too, Kapur adds. “I encourage my actors to explore their characters and through that, I also learn.”

What’s Love Got to Do with It? is Kapur’s first feature in 15 years (the 2007 period drama Elizabeth: The Golden Age was his last release) and his seventh in a career spanning four decades.

“I wish I had made more films,” he says, quickly adding, “but I do a lot of other things.”

Many of the other things have involved theatre. His first major project in this arena was co-producing Bombay Dreams, a West End musical, in collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber and AR Rahman, in 2002. “In 2018, I directed Matterhorn, a period musical in German by Michael Kunze, at Theater St Gallen, Switzerland. It was very challenging because I didn’t speak any German. More recently, I directed Why? The Musical, for Expo 2020 Dubai, with music by Rahman. I am hoping to do a Korean musical on the life of Beethoven, with K-pop stars, next, and I have written one called The Song of the Whale, which is about the environment.”


It is fear of failure that draws Kapur to different mediums; and fear of failure is the reason there is no typical Shekhar Kapur film. “That fear is a great driver of creative endeavour,” he says, adding that it drives one to set ever larger goals, and then do all that is in one’s power to meet them.

Kapur’s seven films certainly represent range, and ambition. He made his directorial debut with the family drama Masoom (1983), starring Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and a young Jugal Hansraj. Based on Erich Segal’s bestselling novel, Man, Woman and Child, it is the story of a happy family whose life is upended when the man confesses to his wife that he fathered a child on a one-night stand; and wants the child to live with them, since the mother has died.

Next came the superhero movie Mr India (1987; starring Anil Kapoor and Sridevi). Then Bandit Queen (1994), based on the life of the gangster Phoolan Devi. This film made news worldwide for its chilling gang-rape scenes, and catapulted Kapur to the international stage.

His first international project was another biopic, Elizabeth (1998), with Cate Blanchett starring as the young woman soon to be queen of England. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Motion Picture - Drama, and won five British Academy Film Awards (or BAFTAs).

Kapur next directed Heath Ledger and Kate Hudson in the 2002 war drama The Four Feathers. Then reunited with Blanchett for …The Golden Age, a sequel to Elizabeth that traces the reign of the iconic, 16th-century monarch. “I need to climb a different mountain every time. Familiarity is always going to lead to mediocrity,” Kapur says.

For every movie made, there have been others that were announced, some shot, but not released. This includes the sci-fi feature Time Machine, starring Aamir Khan, abandoned midway because of an uncontrolled budget. The final part of the Elizabeth trilogy, …The Dark Age; an adaptation of Philip Reeve’s period fantasy, Larklight; and biopics on the Buddha and Bruce Lee are among those that didn’t make it to the floors.

And then there is Paani, a passion project that Kapur has talked about for almost two decades, during which time multiple actors have been linked to it, including Hrithik Roshan and the late Sushant Singh Rajput. Kapur describes it as a “futuristic Blade-Runner-type script based on India’s haves and have-nots”. It has stalled over creative differences with producer Aditya Chopra.

The missing lines in his filmography don’t bother him, though. Kapur is content with each project he has put out. “At 24, when I quit my job as a chartered accountant, I promised myself that I would never fall into the trap of ‘having a career’,” he says.

That resolution has taken him from films and theatre to creating characters for comic books such as Devi and Snake Woman (released by Virgin Comics in 2007) and co-founding Qyuki, a digital platform for young musicians. “Whenever a new door opens, the experience of life expands further,” Kapur says.

Next, he plans to revisit his classic, Masoom, for a story built around the children. He wants it to capture the humanity and innocence of the original. There will be more theatre too, and who knows what else.

“I left accounting not to join the movie business but to discover life,” Kapur says. “I am on an adventure. I’ll go wherever it takes me.”

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