Everyone resists change: Shekhar Kapur
The Bandit Queen director, an advisor to Expo 2020, gets candid with City Times about revolutionary filmmaking and more on a visit to Dubai.
The name Shekhar Kapur has been synonymous with great storytelling for a long time now. Whether it's the magical Mr India (1987) the hard-hitting Bandit Queen (1994), or the magnificent and powerful Elizabeth (1998), it's difficult not to be swept away by the emotions that envelop each and every Shekhar Kapur project.
So the news that the renowned filmmaker is an advisor to the upcoming Expo 2020 event in Dubai, which has been tagged as 'The World's Greatest Show,' never really took us by surprise. Visiting Dubai for his Expo 2020 duties last week, Shekhar found time to drop into the Khaleej Times office for a chat.
He insisted on removing his shoes, saying it was a childhood habit and something that kept him 'grounded', a charming quirk that endeared him to us even before the interview began.
After an animated conversation about Expo 2020 and the delights and innovations that await attendees, Shekhar went on to discuss some of his most iconic films and the politically charged and polarised atmosphere that is prevalent in Bollywood and the world today.
"I had to (almost) go to prison to get Bandit Queen released. The high courts went against me. I had to go to the Supreme Court just to get a film released. Change is always resisted by those that have gained out of being static. If you have yourself a position, you don't want to change, why would you? Even in the film industry, if you're making ordinary films and you're at the top of ordinary filmmakers, you've got to that position by making ordinary films. Why would you want to change?"
Shekhar believes people have a tendency to continue in their comfort zones. "Everyone resists change. I can tell you that I'm probably the first filmmaker in India to fight against the government to release a film. See the change Bandit Queen brought about - filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap - they came up after they saw that this (kind of cinema) is possible. Then a whole slew of films started to come out in India, actually attacking on a much baser level, not an intellectual level."
'Bandit Queen is my most honest film'
Shekhar maintains he doesn't take critics' views too seriously, even when the subject is one of his most famous films, Bandit Queen.
"I have less interest in critical acclaim because even critics are subject to jingoism. I would say that Bandit Queen is my most honest film. Because even though it was about her (Phoolan Devi), it was about me as a Punjabi male - in that situation would I have done the same thing, is the question asked. How else would you tell a story, except by putting yourself in that story? When I put myself in the story, I was frightened, about myself, and therefore it became an honest film."
'It cannot be Mr. India 2 without Mogambo and Hawa Hawaii...'
Did you know that Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna were offered the lead role in Shekhar's iconic 1987 film Mr. India? The role ultimately went to Anil Kapoor. Now, a burning question on the lips of all film buffs and lovers of invisibility is, will Shekhar be a part of Mr. India 2, reportedly being made by Boney Kapoor? "I'm not. Mogambo is gone, Hawa Hawaii is gone - it cannot be Mr. India 2 without Amrish Puri, without Sridevi. It's a completely different idea and story - people might make something in that format but it won't be Mr. India 2."
Super 30 made me cry, says the 'gypsy' filmmaker
Shekhar, who is pretty active on Twitter, recently tweeted his appreciation for actor Hrithik Roshan's biopic on mathematician Anand Kumar, Super 30, and said that watching Hindi cinema in the theatre is a cathartic experience for him. We asked him why. "Super 30 made me cry a lot. What I do is go into the back seat of the cinema; I'm Shekhar Kapur and I'm not supposed to be crying but supposed to be this great intellectual and at the little bits I start sobbing! It's like all of you, you left your home countries. I've been a gypsy all my life and you know you have a strong connection to your land. You never really become part of another land. For me, Hindi films is that connection."
Entertainment for a cause
Shekhar believes that good cinema strikes a balance between entertaining the public and putting out a message on important issues.
"I have done this (struck a balance). Even in Bandit Queen, when I spoke to the Director of Photography, I said, let's develop images that people can't tear away from. That's why Bandit Queen was so strong in its imagery. But I also brought in a character I saw on stage one day, and said 'he's so light and he's so funny', I need to lighten the film up a little bit because there is a point where, when anything gets ugly, the audience turns off. You have to balance the two."
The film industry is getting increasingly polarised with stars taking sides on political issues and getting extremely vocal about their opinions on social media. Shekhar believes the jingoism that arises from such behaviour isn't confined to Bollywood alone.
"Jingoism is the most pressing issue in the world, which is becoming polarised. We've become slaves to keywords. There's too much language, there should be more music! That's also what Expo 2020 is about - let's get rid of these keywords, let's get rid of jingoism, come and be a collective and take away the barriers of jingoism that have formed between us because we need to do something about the planet, we need to do something about humanity, otherwise we're headed to disaster. One thing we should do is get rid of these absolute silos we've built between us.
Every identity, every description becomes jingoistic. so then you become a slave to identity. 'I'm that,' you say. No, you're not that, you're everything that is possible. These are words of the people who are running Expo 2020. When this was first narrated to me all of a sudden I had tears in my eyes. So how could I say no?"
One of the comments made by Shekhar during this freewheeling interview that really struck a chord was: "You go to a Karan Johar movie and you feel better about yourself for three hours - what's wrong with that?" Nothing indeed.
Shekhar's message for fans in the UAE
"Come and see the amazing, dazzling Expo 2020. I'll meet you there - I'll be singing and dancing with you!"