After the successful screening of Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire at this year's London Film Festival, DEVANSH PATEL brings you an exclusive interview with Bollywood actor
Anil Kapoor on what it feels to work with a top Hollywood director
WITH entertainment dominated by fresh-faced actors nowadays, it's extremely heartening to see someone break into the corridors of power when in their late forties.
Better still when that person is an accomplished actor making a comeback in Bollywood.
But what if I say that he is just about to make his Hollywood debut in what's said to be a film which undoubtedly is going to win accolades at the Academy Awards and the Bafta's next year?
The film is Slumdog Millionaire, the director Danny Boyle - step forward Anil Kapoor, a renaissance man who's squeezed several (mostly successful) lives into one and come out on top of the Bollywood tree.
In this world-exclusive interview, the actor talks in depth about his first Hollywood film Slumdog Millionaire, his London Film Festival experience, his expectations, his family reactions, his special message to his fans and above all, praises, praises and more praises for his director, the award-winning director Danny Boyle.
Q We are all eager to know how an acclaimed Hollywood director like Danny Boyle signed you up for a role in his next film Slumdog Millionaire?
A I received an SMS saying that Danny Boyle wanted to meet me regarding his next film Slumdog Millionaire in which he had a role for me after he watched Tall and Virasat. So I mentioned this to my son as he is a big Danny Boyle fan. He loves his kind of cinema which is out of the box, pulsating and youthful. He got very excited and told me to reply back to the SMS which was lying in my inbox for quite a few days. So I called my friend Deepak Nayar in LA who coincidently was handling the production of the same film. He informed me that Danny Boyle is a cult figure in the US. Then the script came and me and my son read it. We loved it, fixed an appointment and there I was, without any auditions, a part of Slumdog Millionaire!
Q Were you at all worried about the screen space Danny would give you when he initially offered you the film?
A When you're working with the likes of Danny Boyle and when the script is written by Simon Beaufoy, there is bound to be a good role for you irrespective of the length of your own role. When you work in an international film like Slumdog Millionaire, even two scenes done correctly in the film work wonders. And you're forgetting that I had already read the script. It's only in India that you worry about screen space and the length.
Q Danny Boyle has projected Mumbai in Slumdog Millionaire like no other film maker has ever done. What do you think?
A I am more than happy about it. In fact, Slumdog Millionaire is a fairy tale kind of a film. You have to see the film to believe it. I mean he has shot some scenes in the slums so beautifully, you feel touched by the direction and the camera work. It was so perfect.
Q People across the globe who've watched Trainspotting, A Lifeless Ordinary and The Beach won't be expecting a Slumdog Millionaire, will they?
A Danny has got his own style. When the chief of Fox Searchlights, Peter Rice, was introducing Danny Boyle in a tribute to the director in LA, that's the time I realised the kind of respect he has across the globe. Peter Rice said: "Danny has never made the same kind of film, ever". When Danny was asked to direct Alien 4, he was offered a big cheque which he refused. He just wanted to direct films which he would believe in and wanted to make. He chose to direct a $15m film rather than a $150m one. He is a risk taker in a way. I mean, the only well known face in Slumdog Millionaire is Irrfan Khan who is known worldwide. All the rest are new comers, including me.
Q You play the host of the famous TV series Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. From Big B to SRK and now comes Anil Kapoor. Any kind of research went into playing the role of Prem?
A A lot of literature was sent to me through the script anyway. But first I spoke to Danny and the way he saw the character and how he wanted him to behave. Then he gave me some material on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. In Mumbai, I contacted Siddharth Basu, the person who was responsible for the programme in India. He was very helpful. Playing an engineer, stock broker, doctor or a businessman is easy because you meet them in your everyday life. But there are very few hosts of TV television programmes who you meet regularly. You see them only on the television. So there was not a direct reference point here except for the episodes of Mr Bachchan and Shah Rukh in India and the shows done by hosts in the UK and the US. I went through all these tapes and started doing some episodes with Siddharth and his team. I also had a lot of workshops with Danny and the main protagonist of the film, Dev Patel.
Q How was it to be working with the British talent Dev Patel, who plays the boy from the slums winning the million rupees?
A He is the main hero of the film. His journey has three actors who do the same role. How as a child in the slums he grows up, then becomes a bit older and then it is Dev Patel. There are three actors and the casting of those three Dev Patels is phenomenal. I was speechless after watching the film at the London Film Festival and thanks to Loveleen Tandon who has done an amazing job of casting in the film.
Q Was Dev at all nervous when he met you for the first time?
A Not at all. He was a thorough professional. He originally comes from Gujarat but was born and brought up in London and has also done one TV serial called Skins in the UK. For me, it was my first English film and for him, it was his first feature film. So we both were a bit nervous initially even though I had come with a lot of experience behind me. We got along very well and Danny also told me to help Dev out in whatever way I could. He had to play a slum boy and because I've had personal experiences in the slums and have done films like Mashaal, etc I could identify with his role. It was very handy in adding flavour to my and Dev's role.
Q The critics in the UK are backing Slumdog Millionaire to get selected as the Best Film nominee at the Academy Awards in the US and at the Bafta Awards in the UK. What do you have to say?
A It's a bit too early to discuss this right now. Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope that what you've just mentioned comes true.
Q What differentiates Danny Boyle from all the Bollywood directors you've worked with so far in your career?
A Danny is not only different from the Indian directors but international directors also. He has his own stand and style and when people do have this speciality in them like Danny has, they always are different from others. As I've mentioned before, he is one director who hasn't repeated his style. Danny improvises a lot and never tells his actors how to act. He gives you the script and lets you be. His instructions are minimal and the most important thing is, Danny didn't come to India with any attitude. Instead, he told us to help him make a good film. That made a world of difference. It's a hallmark of a great human being and a great director.
Q Has your family seen the film and what did they think of it?
A Yes they all have seen the film. My wife, Sonam, and my son, all loved the film. They've said it's awesome. The kind of feedback I've received is incredible. The best comment I received was from a critic who writes for The Independent in the UK. He said, "Anil Kapoor makes a memorably narcissistic and two-faced quiz host smiling disingenuously while trying to ensure the contestant loses"! Even the newspapers like the Observer, Telegraph and The Times have praised not only my performance, but all the other actors in the film who were truly worth admiring, especially Dev Patel.
Q Any message for your fans who are awaiting your first ever Hollywood film?
A Yes, I'd like to tell my fans in the UK that the film releases on January 9 next year in the UK and to my India fans - well, you'll have to wait just a little bit more. Slumdog Millionaire releases in India in the last week of January. That's our tentative date. We are also planning a special premiére of the film. And more importantly to all my fans across the globe, Slumdog Millionaire isn't a cross over film in English. It is a Hollywood film directed by Danny Boyle. Looking forward for all your comments next year.