He’s in Dubai, I’m in Mumbai, but thanks to technology we are just across from each other on the screen as Shekhar Kapur discusses matters of the heart, the Oscars and how when it comes to East and West, the twain has met.
Excerpts from an interview:
Has your latest release, What’s Love Got To Do With It?, changed your concept of love and marriage in any way?
Everything you do as an artist or a filmmaker influences you. In this case, what the film did was that it reaffirmed for me something that I had always suspected — that love is, and always will be, a mystery. And as long as it is a mystery, it survives. But we perceive love as a relationship and with the “I love you” and “You love me” a feeling of ownership creeps in. And love disappears! That’s important to understand. We have touched upon it in the film.
Also, in every film, I work very closely with my actors. And in this film, I was working with some really good actors. As a director, my job is to provoke my actors into finding the characters themselves. And as they start to understand them, my learning process starts. I’ve learnt from Lily James’s interpretation of Zoe, a girl addicted to dating apps, from Shazad Latif’s Kaz, a doctor in London who decides to go in for an arranged marriage, from his mother, Shabana’s (Azmi) Aisha Khan, who came into the country as a young immigrant, became a British Asian and her fight to reach where she is in today. Their interpretation doesn’t necessarily have to be like mine, in fact, it’s exciting when they think differently.
It’s a dream casting, getting Emma Thompson and Shabana Azmi together in a film. Looking back, was there a moment between them that for you encapsulates the film and makes it unforgettable?
They are very good friends in the film and they became very good friends for real during the first meeting itself. They would stand on the set with their arms around each other as if I still had the camera on. It was stunning how in a moment these two suddenly became best friends and have remained friends to this day.
You have worked in India and in international projects abroad. Have the two styles of working fused now or is there still something you would want to change here?
I’ve not been back in India since Bandit Queen. Everything that I have done since, be it theatricals, OTT, TV or theatre productions were made outside India. But I have been watching a lot of OTT, and I can see that India has changed.
The patterns of saying, “This is the formula” are breaking down. And I see amazing talent. Manoj Bajpayee, whose first film was Bandit Queen, is constantly creating different characters on streaming platforms. And when it comes to Hindi cinema, Ram Gopal Verma, Sudhir Mishra and Anubhav Sinha who has just come out with an amazing film (Bheed) have been redefining content. Then there is Malayalam cinema, which has always been extremely good. I was introduced to what we used to call “regional cinema” then as Chairman of the National Film Awards jury. It is often far better than Bollywood films and I am encouraged to see this cinema finally coming into Indian cinema.
You come from a family of actors and filmmakers, one of whom was Dev Anand. How much has your uncle influenced you as a filmmaker?
The reason I came into films was because of a deep desire to tell stories. And my first step in show business, my understanding of cinema, was thanks to Dev uncle. In 1974, Ishk Ishk Ishk, into which he had put a lot of his own money, released to great initial reactions. Everyone was calling to say how much they had loved the film. But that quickly turned. I could see the pain and disappointment on Dev uncle’s face as he realised he’d lost. He excused himself, saying, “Abhi aata hoon (I’ll be back).” He was in the washroom for five minutes, then he came out, whooping, “Chalo Shekhar, let’s make another film, I have an idea!”
That day, I learnt from Dev uncle, who had lost all his wealth on a film which was a huge flop, to never look back with regret. Give a project all that you have, then, write the next one.
Having been a part of the Oscar race yourself, did you expect RRR’s “Naatu Naatu” and the documentary, The Elephant Whisperers, to bring home the Oscars?
I thought both documentaries stood a chance and was disappointed All That Breathes didn’t win. But others in the category were also very good. I was amazed by the way SS Rajamouli promoted Naatu Naatu. I loved the film, but it wasn’t what you’d call Oscar-winning. But he took the battle to the Western audience and they ended up loving it. The Elephant Whisperers had Netflix, RRR had no one. But Rajamouli and his colleagues proved you can be absolutely Indian in your story-telling and still conquer the world. You cannot win an Oscar without fighting hard.
Do you think you could have fought a little harder for your films?
(Smiles) Well, I definitely didn’t fight for the first one. I was out trekking, like I always do, when I got a call from the producers informing me that Elizabeth had got seven Oscar nominations. I was like, “Really?” and that was it! My producers were big, Universal Studios, and they must have fought, but I was kind of blissfully unaware. For me it was chalo aage bado (lets go forward).
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