If we all believed in things only after seeing them, we’d probably lose our minds. This is what Rajat Kapoor is preoccupied with these days, as he promotes his next directorial venture, Ankhon Dekhi.
“The film is about a middle-aged man’s existential crisis. He only believes in something after he has seen it. He is a middle-class aam aadmi. How can you convince him that the earth is round?,” says Kapoor, whose film premiered at last month’s South Asian Film Festival in New York.
An actor, scriptwriter, film director and theatre person, Kapoor is known for making small-budget, intelligent films that tackle societal issues. His last project Fatso (2011) featured actor Ranvir Shorey as a fun-loving overweight artist looking for love. Mixed Doubles (2006) was a look at swinging or swapping among married couples in India.
Ankhon Dekhi follows a rather philosophical approach compared to Kapoor’s earlier films; it examines a character’s mindset. Set in an Indian middle-class family in old Delhi, the film’s protagonist has an epiphany that makes him question everything around him. A 50-something Bauji (Sanjay Mishra) has a disagreement with his daughter after he is misinformed about the choice of her spouse. Embarrassed about the whole episode, he swears that he will only believe in things after he has seen them with his own eyes. This takes a toll on his life as people label him a fool.
Kapoor admits to having a soft corner for characters who are marginalised by society for their choices. “If you look at Vijay Raaz’s character in Raghu Romeo, Ranvir Shorey’s character in Fatso and Bauji in this, there is a faint similarity. They live on the margins of society. I only notice it now after making three-four films,” says Kapoor, who has also acted in the film with lesser-known actors such as Seema Bhargav Pahwa, Taranjeet Kaur, Maya Sarao, Namit Das, Manu Rishi Chaddha and Brijendra Kala. The film releases on March 21.
Kapoor’s brand of humour has been dark, dry and at times slapstick, similar to his inspirations — Pedro Almodovar, Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen. “Such films stem from my deep love for Chaplin. His comedy belonged to the silent era and cannot be replicated,” says Kapoor, who has just wrapped up his part in the multi-directorial, X.
It is not uncommon for Kapoor to be involved in different projects at the same time. Currently, he is touring with two of his earlier theatrical productions, Hamlet the Clown Prince and Nothing Like Lear across Bangalore and Chennai. Kapoor started his career with theatre in Delhi in the ’80s as a member of Chingari. But filmmaking always interested Kapoor and in 1985, he joined the Film and Television Institute (FTII) Pune to study direction. Over 12 years later, he finally debuted with Raghu Romeo (2000) as director, which won him a National Award. “I couldn’t make many films earlier because there was no money, but now things are better. Acting doesn’t take much time, it gets over in 20 days, but direction takes longer. But I feel very gratified that at least people know me as an actor. If one film does well, then it helps me gain some recognition as a director,” says Kapoor.
Ankhon Dekhi took two-and-a-half years to complete, from scripting to post-production. Kapoor is working on two more scripts — a gangster film and “something else”. He dislikes compartmentalising his films into genres, “Ankhon Dekhi is not a comedy. It is a reality. It is difficult to put my films into genres. Why slot films? That time has passed now,” he says.