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Cinema: Anil Kapoor: Scene Stealer

By Baisakhi Roy Email By Baisakhi Roy
February 2024
Cinema: Anil Kapoor: Scene Stealer

With his well-crafted performances, actor Anil Kapoor has impressed both fans and critics over the years. He’s been a happy-go-lucky street thug in Karma, a violinist with a heart of gold in Mr. India, a love-struck wrestler in Chameli ki Shaadi, and a ruthless arms dealer in The Night Manager. Even in mundane potboilers, Kapoor hardly strikes a false note, making the films watchable.

Khabar caught up with Kapoor when he was in Toronto last year.

Cinema_04_02_24.jpgAfter more than 40 years of acting in the Hindi film industry, 40 of them as a leading man, Anil Kapoor remains a class act. That easy charm is second nature to Kapoor and has obviously helped him with his character—Professor—in the recent Thank You for Coming. In an entertaining cameo, he plays a silver fox who spouts poetry to hit on women way younger than him. Despite an ensemble cast of four female actors who take center stage in the film, Kapoor had no qualms about accepting the role.

“People think, Bahut chota role hai mehnat nahi karni padegi. But that’s a fallacy. It’s easier to do a lead role, but when you have just four or five scenes in a film to make an impact, you are more nervous and anxious,” he says. He would know—his best remembered cameo is Prem Kumar, the boisterous quiz show host in the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle.

Among other cameos, Kapoor cites the role played by Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook. “I admire and appreciate supporting actors. So many of them—Sean Connery, Robert Duvall in The Godfather—have done small roles in big films,” he says. To prepare for his brief role, Kapoor was fully immersed in the process, trying out different looks in a photoshoot and even sitting in with the writers to work on some of the lines. For someone who’s been admired for his youthful looks (there’s a line in the film where his character says, Main young dikhta nahi hu, main young hu!), the lack of vanity is refreshing. “I dye my hair, so I had to stop doing that for the film because they wanted a salt-and-pepper look for this character,” he admits candidly.

Cinema_03_02_24.jpg

But nervousness isn’t a trait that one immediately assigns to an actor who’s played a plethora of characters over the years, taking risks with roles like that of Kunwarji in Yash Chopra’s Lamhe, where Kapoor is seen romancing both mother and daughter, played by Sridevi. That film tanked at the box office but remains one of Kapoor’s most loved characters. The Mumbai-born actor—he was delighted to learn that, like him, I’m a native of Chembur, a Mumbai suburb—made his debut in Hindi films with Umesh Mehra’s Hamare Tumhare. He also starred in a Kannada film and a Telugu film before playing one of his most beloved roles—as a singer named Prem Pratap Singh in Woh Saat Din. 

But it was his portrayal of Raja the tapori (Mumbai slang for a street thug) in Yash Chopra’s Mashaal that put him on the map.  His mustachioed look, which was unconventional at that time for a lead actor, became quite the style statement as did his abundant hair and goofy grin.Cinema_02_02_24.jpg His solid performances and his willingness to experiment with diverse roles in big and small films—even OTT shows—have been the reason for his longevity. “I'm always listening, looking at new ideas and content, new directors. Baat sab main hoti hai. Nobody can be written off. Sometimes, for example, people say about a director, Iske saath kaam mat karo, yeh toh khatam ho gaya hai, isme baat hi nahi rahi . . . but sometimes something fantastic can come from this person. Then I think, Isike saath karna hai mujhe, chaar flop hua toh kya hua? I want to keep on finding roles I haven't done yet—or how to do something differently,” he says.

Kapoor has been pushing the envelope for a while—in 2015, there was Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do, where he plays a self-obsessed patriarch with flourish, and in 2020, there was AK vs AK, the meta black comedy where he plays the character “Anil Kapoor.” That was followed by Thar, where he plays a stoic yet frustrated police officer with poise. Kapoor held his own alongside Ranbir Kapoor in the recent mega hit Animal. He plays Ranbir’s father, despairing over his unhinged son and his obsessive love for his dad. Kapoor’s presence on screen were some of the steadying moments in a film that really did not know where it was going.

“I have been fortunate that people react like this to some of my roles,” he says. “But sometimes you can be in the background and give a great performance— you don’t have to stand out every time. When I’m performing, I try to be sensitive to everyone around me yet love myself too. Main apna kaam na kharab karoon kisi ko improve karne ke chakkar main. I have to achieve this balance.”


Baisakhi Roy is a culture writer and journalist based in Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, Chatelaine, Broadview, and CBC. Formerly a reporter with The Indian Express in India, Roy is an avid Bollywood fan and co-hosts the Hindi language podcast KhabardaarPodcast.com. Email: baisakhi.roy@gmail.com

 

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