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Kaffeeklatsch with Kunal Kapoor
by Abhishek Bandekar

'Rang De Basanti' has surprised every trade pundit with its unprecedented success. The success of the film has made its young ensemble into overnight stars. On a Friday evening at his residence in Juhu, Mumbai, I caught up with Kunal Kapoor- the lyrical and lanky Bohemian Aslam in the film. Dressed in light casual wear, Kunal, who suddenly finds himself as a heartthrob, talks about his acting aspirations and more.

Q. You began as an assistant director to Rakeysh Mehra on Aks? How did that happen?
A. Actually, at the time I wasnít quite sure of what to doÖand hence dabbled in a lot of things. One of my friends who used to work as an assistant to Rakeysh called me and suggested that I audition for an ad that Rakeysh was planning to do. Apparently, I fit the look they were looking for. I eventually shot for the ad. Once I got on the sets however, I loved the way it felt to be amidst that action. So I chased Rakeysh for around five months to allow me to hang around the sets. He finally relented and I started as a production assistant. I did that for about a year or two. In the meanwhile, he began working on AksÖand I ended up assisting him. Iíd learnt the ropes by then because in advertising a production assistant and an assistant director are almost the same as you have to do everything.

Q. What prompted you towards acting from directing?
A. Acting was always at the back of my mind. I loved being in front of the camera. In fact, halfway through Aks, Iíd decided that I wanted to be an actor. Whenever they needed anyone to stand in or give the cues, Iíd volunteer. If a junior artist was missing, I used to fill in. I found the whole process very appealing.

Q. Are you sure the acting bug hadnít bitten you much earlier? If Iím not mistaken, your first tryst with acting was when you were sevenÖfor a film called Rustam.
A. (laughs) That was nothing. It was a one day shootÖvery irrelevant. They even edited my portions out of the film (laughs again).

Q. Youíve done theatre as well. Which medium do you find more challenging and ultimately satisfying?
A. Honestly, Iím a big film-buff. Besides the acting, I love everything else that goes into the making of a film- the editing, cinematography, production design and all the other technicalities. I am fascinated by the elements of cinema. However, cinema and theatre are two completely different mediums. Itís difficult to say that I enjoy doing one more than the other. Both have their separate unique joys. Theatre is gratifying because you find instant appreciation. The audience is more active as opposed to the passive nature of cinema. Theatre in that sense gives an altogether different high. Cinema on the other hand allows me to witness the creation of an end product. Having been an assistant director, I know what goes into the making and I respect the medium for that fact.

Q. Having been associated with directing, does that part of you influence your decisions in choosing a role?
A. Iím sure that subconsciously it does. As a director you envision, so Iím sure that having been oneÖit affects my decision. More importantly, I believe it gives me a broader outlook of the story. I know lots of actors who just read their parts outside the story, but as a director you look at the film as a whole and see how it works on a macro level. In that sense, being an assistant has given me the ability to look at a film as a whole which I think is very important.

Q. What do you look for in a role?
A. There are different reasons for choosing a role. Just recently, a director called me and asked me to read only three lines. I canít name him as Iím in the process of signing, but those three lines were so interesting that I immediately latched on to the project. There are also times when a script doesnít seem appealing on the first reading, and it takes even three or more readings to see how good it is. Itís not always the role. Sometimes the story attracts you and sometimes merely the opportunity to work with someone you admire, irrespective of the fact that you may not like the story. But youíre certain that the director will embellish it with his trademark style and vision, and push you as an actor to bring the best out of you.

Q. When you signed Rang De Basanti, were you the least bit apprehensive that maybe your role wouldnít eventually turn out as it promised to be in the script? Did the towering presence of Aamir Khan create doubts that perhaps at the editing table, youíd be given a raw deal in favour of the bigger star?
A. I was never apprehensive. Firstly, Iíve always been a big fan of Aamir. The opportunity to work with him was big enough for me. Secondly, I knew Rakeysh and Iíd read the script that heíd put five years in for writing. I knew that Rakeysh would never compromise with his vision. So even though Iíd heard these stories, rubbish actually, I was never insecure of being with Aamir. And Aamir as an actor has the greatest respect for the script. Aamir knew that Rang De Basanti is an ensemble film.

Q. Did you worry about Rang De Basantiís prospects or do you move on once youíve finished work on a project?
A. No, on the contrary I get much attached to something that Iíve worked on or been a part of, especially something like Rang De Basanti which Iíve seen right from its evolutionary stages. As far as hit or flop, you obviously want your film to do well but you can never tell what business a film is going to do. There is one thing however that Atul Kulkarni had told me, which has stuck by me. He said that heís done films heís embarrassed to have been involved with but in the case of Rang De Basanti, hit or flop apart, heíd be proud to face the audience when they leave the cinema-halls. We all felt the same way about the film, and we had that feeling of pride.

Q. Rang De Basanti has become a cultural phenomenon. It has spawned real-life incidents where people have openly voiced themselves in protest over issues that concern them. The rally at India Gate over the Jessica Lall murder trial and the recent medical students protest has been inspired by the film. It clearly proves that cinema has the power and reach to affect and influence people. Should films then strive to make a social comment or should they just suffice being pure entertainment?
A. I believe that cinema has two purposes. The first and more important purpose is entertainment. If I expect someone to shell out 100, 200 or 300 bucks, like it is now, to come to the theatre; I have a duty to entertain them and make them get their moneyís worth. They donít expect to be lectured. But at the same time, cinema has a purpose of giving a message. In olden days, theatre was a medium of entertainment which was also used to give message as it reached out to people. I think cinema has that role to play today. Great cinema is that which entertains but also has the ability to touch people and get across what it has to say. Having said thatÖI still feel that the entertainment factor of cinema cannot be negated. Itís an expensive medium and you cannot make a documentary on a budget of 30 crores! It would be great if it served both the purposes.

Q. There have been voices that decry the actions of the protagonists of Rang De Basanti as glorifying violence. Even the argument that the film offers vis-ŗ-vis Siddharthís interaction with the public over the radio where he urges joining the civil services, etc. seem to be contradicted by his own actions upto the point. How do you defend the film against such statements?
A. (very long pause) The reason they go to the radio station is because of the fact that they realize that thereís a certain futility to their actions until then. Their intent is to tell the people that weíve gone through the process, and killing one or two people is not the solution to changing a system. They realize the futility of their methodÖthat is why when Siddharth is asked who else is on his hit-list he replies in the negative. Because, the person that heíll kill is likely to be just as corrupt as he himself is. So, how many people do you go killing? Itís a fruitless process. Had the message of the film been a violent one, it wouldíve ended with them killing all those involved. But thatís not what the film says. It shows them going through a crisis, react emotionally to it and eventually realize the vainness of their manner. I donít think the message is a violent one, itís just been misinterpreted by some that way.

Q. Youíve played a Bohemian of sorts in both your films yet. Will you be averse to playing such characters again in fear of being typecast?
A. Actually, I will be. Averse is probably too strong a word, but yes, I would like to play different characters. In fact, I have been offered similar characters that Iíve refused. Iím here to play different roles and charactersÖso be prepared to see me in an out and out masala filmÖdancing around the trees and all!

Q. Directors and writers have muses. What do actors have?
A. (pat) Actors have directors! (laughs aloud)

Q. So youíre a directorís actor?
A. Absolutely. Everybody is. Cinema is a directorís medium. A director can make a bad actor look good and vice-versa. Nasseruddin Shah had once told me that if your director is adept, thereís nothing to worry about but if your directorís incompetent youíre screwed anyways!

Q. What does an actor draw upon during the process of acting then? What enables him/her to enact a certain part?
A. Frankly speaking, I havenít played too many parts to answer that question. In fact, even in theatre Iíve only played a few certain types of roles. But yes, for some roles you have to draw upon your own personal experience whereas in some cases you simply play the part for what it is.

Q. So there is a part of self involved in the acting process?
A. Completely. In fact, only the self is involved. Because no matter whom youíre playing, you portray it according to what you have seen in that character. So when I play Aslam, itís Kunal whoís playing Aslam. Had Siddharth played Aslam, he wouldíve played it entirely differently. Heíd look at Aslam differently and subsequently think differently. Itís you that is there inside the character at the end of the day.

Q. Is that why actors tend to become caricatures of themselves over a period of time?
A. I think it has more to do with the method you follow. Actors do not become caricatures of themselves so much as the audience enjoys them in a particular mode. As an actor you can play a role either with that notion in mind or not. For example, Aamir is completely different from Shahrukh when it comes to approaching a role. But they are both successful in their own rights.

Q. But donít actors get stifled within the parameters of that comfort zone when they choose to deliver the same expected stuff? Would you, for instance, prefer to fall into a comfort zone?
A. I think itís obviously easier to play the same, and just being the same. Acting is all about the thought; and if you play the same kind of roles you donít have to worry about thinking differently for each role. But I donít find that approach exciting. Iím here to play different kind of roles, different personalities and I would never be happy playing the same type of roles over and over again.

Q. Acting in Bollywood has always been over-dramatic. We donít believe in the virtues of underplaying a part. Why do you think that is?
A. I think itís got to do more with the society that we live in. You look at our politicians- theyíre dramatic, you look at the people around you- theyíre dramatic! I remember going to Budapest and Prague and opening the newspapers and finding them boring because thereís no drama in their lives. Here we constantly have drama around us, and it permeates into our cinema as well. Cinema is a reflection of our society, and as people we are more emotional and dramatic. That is why cinema around the world is different, because it reflects the kind of society and culture that it comes from. Our society is dramatic by nature- you just have to put on the news and itís like a soap opera!

Q. Should actors become bigger than their films?
A. If you have the ability to, then sure go ahead (laughs). Honestly, every film has something to say and when an actor becomes bigger than a film it takes away from the film a part of the directorís vision. As an actor youíre efforts should be directed towards the intent of the film.

Q. Thereís a spate of Shakespearean adaptations happening- Maqbool from Macbeth and Omkara from Othello and also an adaptation of Hamlet in the pipeline. Which play would you like to see adapted?
A. Sincerely, Iím not into Shakespeare. I think we have a lot of Hindi plays that we can adaptÖIsmat Manto, etc. We donít have to always turn to Shakespeare for inspiration. There are so many good Indian writers and the Indian literature is so vast to draw upon. I mean, the Mahabharata for example, has more stories to tell in it than anywhere else in the world. Iím not a big Shakespeare fan and Iíve never been one. I believe thereís a lot of Indian literature that can be adapted and itís actually begun happening now. I know a couple of directors that are looking into Indian literature for inspiration.

Q. Post Rang De Basanti, what kind of roles are you being offered?
A. Strangely, Iím being offered a lot of jihadi roles. Thankfully, Iím also getting other offers that belong to different genres- a thriller, romance, comedy, etc. More importantly, they are all different characters and thatís what makes me happy.

Q. I have to ask you this- were you offered Mani Ratnamís Guru?
A. (laughs) You know what, sometimes youíre just in talks and meet certain people. That doesnít mean youíre doing their film. That was all there was to it.

Kunal Kapoor comes across as a jovial and down-to-earth person unaffected by his sudden celebrity status. Whatís more heartening is the fact that he seems more concerned about establishing himself as a good actor and not necessarily a crowd-pandering one. Kunal Kapoor is definitely one to look out for!

- Abhishek Bandekar

28th April, 2006


link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=1814
originally posted: 04/30/06 23:38:17
last updated: 05/12/06 17:35:09
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