By Ranjib Mazumder
Rajat Kapoor on the existential crisis in his next film Ankhon Dekhi, and why he thinks acting is the easiest job in the world.
Most directors never disclose where their sympathies lie, and so you can only guess. But Rajat Kapoor, the writer-actor-director makes it clear that inorganic films are the curse of our cinematic present. He also says that he stays away from watching Hindi films unless they show greater artistic ambition than what is displayed at present. “I don’t watch Hindi films because they don’t appeal to me. I hate it. I don’t like it. I don’t find it entertaining. Why should I spend time, effort and money in something I don’t enjoy?” he asks. (Movie Review: Aanhkon Dekhi)
Kapoor wears many hats but the larger mass recognise him as Preity Zinta’s uncle from Dil Chahta Hai, and a slew of other films such as Bheja Fry and Monsoon Wedding, among others. In Ankhon Dekhi, his next directorial venture, he plays the anguished brother of Bauji, a middle-aged man (played by Sanjay Mishra) who refuses to believe in anything until he experiences it himself. Kapoor, however, maintains that he never looked at himself as an actor, since his main focus was always to be a filmmaker and still is. And acting, for him, is the easiest job in the world. “I enjoy acting because it’s a very easy thing to do. It takes no effort,” he says. Ask what about actors like Daniel Day Lewis who actually make mammoth efforts to play characters, and Kapoor shoots back. “That’s because he chooses to make it difficult. That’s not the way I work. I work without any pressure at all,” he says.
He feels the best actors are instinctive, and names Sanjay Mishra, Vinay Pathak and Ranvir Shorey in his list. “You can’t make acting into a job, into a baggage. I don’t enjoy people who carry the baggage of acting. When the intensity overwhelms you then the instinct is gone. For me instinct is very important. Either you have that or you don’t. If you don’t have the instinct then you do some methods, naatak, pretend that you are acting,” he explains.
Now some old and iconic names pop up, such as Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Marcello Mastroianni and Balraj Sahni, who for him defined an ease in their presence. “Acting is just about being present in the moment,” he says. Unless you are playing a biographical character. “Putting on and losing weight — I don’t consider that acting. I call it preparation. If you had to learn how to drive a taxi, I can understand you had to have the ease of driving, that’s a part of the job. That you must do,” he asserts.
Since he is an actor, he is more aware of what actors feel when he is directing. “Actors sometimes feel very humiliated. They feel they are out of the creative space of the film. There are hundreds of people involved, but they are mostly out of that process of filmmaking. I try to integrate the actors in the process,” says Kapoor. And what is the process? He has never done shot breakdown for his films. Rafey Mehmood, the Director of Photography for all his films is hand in gloves with this concurrent arrangement. “Every day we go to the shoot, we discover. For me it is interesting to see, this is the space and how all of us would react today at this moment.Maybe yesterday we would have reacted differently. There is a lot in the moment. What I was yesterday, I am not the same person today. So how can I do the shot breakdown today for tomorrow?,” he says.
Ankhon Dekhi began as a germ of an idea 8-10 years ago. But Kapoor struggled to put it into structure, mulling over it for years, looking for an emotional spine in the story. And one day, he figured out a joint family in Delhi’s neighbourhood. And when the twain met, Bauji’s character emerged. Bauji is a rare breed in Hindi cinema considering he is experiencing an existential crisis. “I think everybody goes through this dilemma in life. If not a dilemma, a nagging thought. For example if you are told that Rajat Kapoor is a b**tard, so you already have an idea about it. And then you meet the person and say are yeh toh aisa nahi hai (He is not like that!). Now what do I believe? I believe what I have been told or what I experienced? Bauji is the journey of a man who is open to all experiences. We slowly miss out on life itself because we are too caught up with our thing and our ideas,” he explains.
But as the trade pundits would predict, a young lead would have been a safer bet. “Bollywood is not even a point of contention. For me, when I am writing a story or script, it’s about being truthful to that story. He can be a 25-year-old too, that’s valid, but it didn’t happen to me. He (Bauji) is the head of the family, and because of his decision, what happens to the family is my story,” says Kapoor, who has dedicated the film to Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul, his teachers.
Kapoor is eager to know the fate of his film. “If Ankhon Dekhi bombs, it would definitely mean it will be very difficult for me to raise money for my next film,” he says. But then he has the stage to go back to, where an instantaneous audience is waiting. “When I can’t make a film, I do theatre,” he adds. Kapoor who exhibits Shakespeare on stage through a band of clowns, makes the odd man out as the protagonist in his films. Perhaps in the Bollywood idea of narrative, he will always be the self-confessed outsider.