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Big on the small film
Rajat Kapoor is all smiles after the release of Mixed Doubles; (above) with his Mixed Doubles co-actors Koel Purie and Ranvir Shorey

Rajat Kapoor had a not so novel way of raising money for his first movie, Raghu Romeo. He was several lakhs short so he sent out e-mails to all his friends pleading for donations. Amazingly, they didn’t hit the delete button but sent cash instead ' and they even forwarded the e-mails to others, who also responded with cash. Says Kapoor, “Desperate times call for desperate measures. I started getting all kinds of support from strangers, from people I had never met and the film was made.”

It would be nice to end that little tale by saying that Raghu Romeo turned into a smash hit, making Kapoor and all his generous friends rich. Sadly, Raghu Romeo, died a quiet death at the box-office. But it did attract attention and was screened at the Piazza Grande section at the 56th Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland (the only other Indian film to have made Piazza Grande was Ashutosh Gowatrikar’s Lagaan). The shoestring budget film went on to win awards at half-a-dozen international film festivals. However, Kapoor is still paying back the debts he ran up for Raghu Romeo.

The awards laid the ground for Kapoor’s second full-length film, the controversial Mixed Doubles, which is now showing in theatres around the country. Mixed Doubles is a movie that probably couldn’t have been made a few years ago before the multiplex boom gave birth to a new genre of films aimed at urban India. It’s the story of a couple who has been married for 10 years and are beginning to feel the urge for a bit of adventure in their sex lives. The protagonists, Sunil and Malti (played by actors Ranvir Shorey and Konkona Sen Sharma), decide to experiment with ‘swinging’ or wife swapping as it’s otherwise known. “It’s about an urban and modern marriage and the subject of sexuality. I don’t think sexuality should be treated as a heavy thing. It is beautiful. It is not a bold movie, but a sweet love story,” Kapoor insists.

And this time Kapoor didn’t have to pass the hat around for finances. The movie is produced by Sunil Doshi. Says Kapoor, “This time there were no risks for me.”

But Kapoor is not a run-of-the-mill filmmaker who’s eager to make a mainstream, multi-crore Bollywood blockbuster. For a start, he still thinks small. His latest entertainer has been shot on a meagre budget of Rs 60 lakh. “I can’t imagine how a film can cost crores. I always tell those who are trying to make their first film, to make it on 35 mm and to find innovative ways of dealing with the money because there is so much wastage in mainstream cinema,” he explains.

Mainstream cinema, Kapoor insists, is not his cup of tea. “A mainstream film lies about everything, it romanticises everything. I don’t want to lie,” he says.

The film bug caught Kapoor early. He had company at home as his father and brother too liked to watch films four times a day if they got the chance. He says, “I feel everything happened to me by accident, except one. I knew by the time I was 14 that I was going to make films. I did not how, but I was sure that one day I would direct films. Acting just happened and I took it gladly.”

Kapoor has seen a lot of ups and downs during his career as an actor, director and theatreperson. Born in Delhi, he started his career in theatre in 1983 with a group called Chingari that was based in the city. In 1985 he went to study at the Films & Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune.

Over the next decade he went through plenty of lean times. He focused mainly on theatre and it became the driving force of his life. “Being on stage gives you confidence. Acting in movies is very different from acting on stage, but it takes away your inhibitions. On stage I’ve even dropped my pants,” he says.

His luck changed after he appeared as Preity Zinta’s ‘Rohit uncle’ in Dil Chahta Hai. Then, came his role as the child-abusing uncle in Monsoon Wedding. He even makes an appearance in Mixed Doubles ' an experience, which he says, left him exhausted.

“Acting and directing at the same time is very difficult. There have been masters at the art ' Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt and Charlie Chaplin. As a director you don’t get enough sleep, while as an actor you are supposed to look good in front of the camera. I was worried all the time about the dark circles under my eyes,” he laughs.

Ironically, his next movie is Mithya (meaning lie) for which he will start shooting in July. “I have waited six years to make this film. It’s about a very bad actor who is looking for work. When he gets it, it’s about how involved he gets,” he adds. The cast' It could be Saif Ali Khan, Ranvir Shorey or Arshad Warsi ' is all he will reveal.

If in the 90s there were times when he was short of work, it’s now the opposite. Besides directing his own movies, he's also acting in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Corporate where he plays an industrialist. Kapoor will soon also appear in a Bengali film as Raima Sen’s husband.

In addition, he’s doing advertisements and endorsing brands like Raymonds and Aviva Life Insurance. “Basically there’s hardly anything like free time,” he says.

Kapoor reckons that almost everything in his life has happened by chance. The best piece of luck was the way he met his wife Meenal at Churchgate station. “That train ride together to Santacruz led to my present life and I can never rid myself of the feeling that if she hadn’t gone to town that evening to see a film, and had I not been doing whatever I was doing there, we would never have met.” And, then, he adds thoughtfully, “We would never have known each other, and two beautiful creatures ' Rabia and Vivan ' would not have existed,” says Kapoor referring to his eight-year-old daughter and two-year-old son, with whom he likes to spend his leisure time.

As Kapoor says, life’s a game of chance. And in the last few years, the dice have suddenly started rolling his way.

Photograph by Jagan Negi

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