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Anil Kapoor on Slumdog's Success

March 2009
Anil Kapoor on Slumdog's Success

By Maria Giovanna

“Sometimes films just happen to you and they just come from nowhere to create an impact worldwide.” Poignant words indeed, considering Anil Kapoor uttered them in an interview with Khabar prior to the film’s unprecedented sweep at the Academy Awards (Eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director!).

Sure, by then Slumdog was well on its way to both critical acclaim and box office success. It had bagged awards galore at almost all international film fraternities, including four Golden Globes and seven BAFTA awards. Yet, Kapoor is quoted in post-Academy interviews as saying that the film’s phenomenal run at the Academy blindsided all who were involved in the film—including director Danny Boyle.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, one can’t help but marvel at the fact that the film’s “against all odds” journey from a low-budget sleeper production to an unmitigated top dog is no less fantastical than its protagonist Jamal Malik’s journey from a lowly, uneducated chaiwala to a multimillion jackpot winner in India’s nationally popular quiz show.

Anil Kapoor, who plays the oily Kaun Banega Crorepati host, Prem Kumar, has become a very public face for the film, as much so as Dev Patel, who plays the young adult protagonist, Jamal Malik. Somewhere between the Golden Globes and the Oscars, this veteran Bollywood star has had several appearances on American TV. He danced on the NBC breakfast show, Today, having found a diehard supporter in co-host Meredith Vieira (who also hosts the current version of ABC’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire), and played a mock version of the game with former U.S. Millionaire emcee Regis Philbin on his morning chat show. For India’s NDTV, Kapoor has brandished a microphone while taking their cameras along to document the ride while hopscotching between the United States and UK in the lead-up to the Oscars.

When he spoke to Khabar in a phone interview days before the Academy Awards, and an hour or so before jetting off to yet another film festival, Kapoor revealed that he first received the offer to work on the Danny Boyle film via an SMS on his cell phone. He was interested, but Kapoor says his children’s reactions to the text message were far less measured. He says: “They just sprang up and said, ‘Dad! This is Danny Boyle you’re talking about!’”

Kapoor, who has starred in such hits as Mr. India, 1942: A Love Story, Virasat and No Entry, admits he loved Boyle’s signature opus, Trainspotting. “So I asked them to send the script, which I read, and loved my role. And then I went and met him and I said ‘I’ll do the film.’”

Kapoor says he never had to audition. Boyle knew he wanted him, and that was it. He filmed his Slumdog scenes in January and February of last year, only some three or four months after receiving that initial SMS.

The film was screened in a sneak preview at the Telluride Film Festival in late summer, starting a slow buzz that grew when it went on to great glory at the Toronto Film Festival, winning the People’s Choice Award, and as Kapoor says “I think it just didn’t look back after that.”

Kapoor admits he wasn’t a regular viewer of the popular game show, either in its initial Amitabh Bachchan phase, or the later Shah Rukh Khan period. But he became a quick study once he accepted the role of Prem. “Then I watched a lot of game shows, and I watched Mr. Bachchan’s Kaun Banega Crorepati. When I started working on the role, I realized it’s quite a tough job. Television is a completely different medium. And then playing a game show host is again completely different because you are sitting on a chair constantly and you have these hanging cameras, you have to work with the computer and with the teleprompter and you have to basically perform to the audience there in the studio, then to the contestant, to the teleprompter, to the camera which is the audience outside the studio watching you sitting at home.”

More than all that, Kapoor goes on to explain the challenges he faced as an actor: “It’s a completely different kind of body language and interaction. You hardly get an opportunity to really stand and perform, you are constantly sitting down. And the entire projection is completely different. Your pronunciation, your diction, the clarity of what you are speaking, you can’t sit there and mumble. And still you have to be natural, you cannot be artificial. Then I was playing this role of Prem, which is completely different, the whole performance and the whole character is very double-faced. He is something when facing the audience, and something else when facing the contestant in real life.”

Kapoor talks about working with Danny Boyle to get into his role: “First he briefed me on what he wanted, how he saw the character. And then obviously, we started interacting with each other. When I started working on the role, I said ‘This is what I have in mind’ and he really liked that, and we worked on it.”

“We had role workshops before we could really start shooting, with Dev who plays Jamal, the leading man, and Danny and myself. All three of us would sit down in the room and start doing our reading. We did quite a few workshops where we discussed. And Danny was not only working with my character but he was working with Jamal’s character also, simultaneously. And then I got in touch with the producer of this reality show, Mr. Siddhartha Basu. He is a very well-known producer over here and a director of these reality shows. He has directed Kaun Banega Crorepati also. He was of great help. When I went on the sets we were all so well prepared that during the shooting of the film, it just went like a breeze, the whole performance, the whole role, the whole shooting. And we really got along and had a blast shooting this film. I had a great time working on this film.”

Post-Slumdog, Kapoor has just finished the dubbing and is now doing the post production for his next film, Shortcut, a mainstream Hindi comedy also starring Akshaye Khanna Arshad Warsi and Amrita Rao. Kapoor will soon start another production with Anees Bazmi, with whom he made Welcome.

Now that he has arrived on the U.S. film scene, one can’t help but wonder if Kapoor would like to stay on for some American productions. “It won’t be a priority,” he says, “but if there is anything as exciting as Slumdog, I will definitely do it. I mean, I am a professional actor. And if I can get a job or opportunity from anywhere in the world, I would love to do it.”

Even before the film opened in India on January 23, there were some who criticized the film for its portrayal of poverty and emphasis on it. Given that he’s a native Mumbaikar, born and bred there, when asked if he thinks Danny Boyle got his city right in the film, Kapoor replies, “More than right.”

Maria Giovanna blogs about Hindi movies and more at Filmiholic.com

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