The Telegraph
Wednesday , December 19 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pankaj Kapur, the struggling actor

Were you easily swayed by the fact that Vishal Bhardwaj was directing Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola?

Quite a bit. The script and the fact that Vishal was directing it are the two reasons why I decided to sign on Matru.... The script is most important and in this case, I knew this was a film that I’d want to be a part of. As for Vishal, I feel comfortable working with him. This is our third film together (after Maqbool and The Blue Umbrella), so I feel very confident working with him. We both know that we can take certain creative liberties with each other. The creative guidance that one gets on Vishal’s set is also quite good.

In your three-decade-long career you have been a part of some landmark projects, both in films and on TV. What excites you about a film?

I just want to play a different person. Lately, I have started feeling that I also want to entertain my audience but that doesn’t mean buffoonery. There is a thin line between buffoonery and entertainment. Also, I want my films to reach out to as many people as possible.

This is your third film with Vishal. How do you see him progress as a director?

I think he has become more mature and that’s reflected in the way he writes a subject, directs it or even how he handles a project. We first worked together in Maqbool and then The Blue Umbrella. There was a gap of a couple of films between The Blue Umbrella and this one. So, the difference was all the more obvious. His approach towards cinema at large seems to have undergone a change. Maqbool was practically his first film. He was tentative on the sets, still trying to understand how everything comes together. Now he feels secure. He knows what he wants.

You got a chance to work with Shabana Azmi after 20 years. What was that like?

It was wonderful. We’ve done two-three films together but the one that I remember most is Ek Doctor Ki Maut. It’s always great to work with an actor who knows his/her job. It makes the actor in you feel more secure. You don’t have to constantly worry if your co-actor is getting the scene right.

Imran Khan went through quite a few workshops before he started shooting for the film. What kind of homework did you have to do?

I had my own set of workshops. Every actor has to work on his character. Sometimes you take external help and sometimes you don’t need it. I had to do a lot of rehearsals for all the dancing bits. This is the most I have danced in any of my films. It was initially tough but eventually I had a ball rehearsing the dance steps! Another big challenge was that I am a teetotaller and my character in the film is an alcoholic. I based my performance on friends and acquaintances who love their drink.

How do you look back at your career?

God has been kind to me. I have had the best of both worlds. I indulged in both mainstream and new wave cinema. My earlier films weren’t seen by many people because they were ‘hardly released’ but thanks to television, many of my films got a wider release. But I am still a struggling actor, still looking for good work. Considering where I come from, it’s a miracle that I have had this career.

You were a part of some cutting-edge art house films in the past. The line between art house and mainstream cinema is blurring...

And that’s a healthy sign. Mainstream filmmakers have realised that efforts that are ‘different’ also work. At the end of the day, it’s all commerce. Today, even the smallest film costs Rs 3-4 crore. Art house directors have learnt that they just can’t write off that money, so they have to reach out to a large audience. Art house films aren’t drab and dry any more. These directors have learnt to express better. As more people are getting exposed to world cinema, intelligent cinema in India will only grow but not at the cost of mainstream films.

You tried your hand at filmmaking with Mausam. What went wrong?

I still don’t know what went wrong. All I can say is that possibly it was too long. Maybe it could have been 15-20 minutes shorter. In terms of the narrative and what I had set out to make, I personally don’t think there was anything wrong. We did whatever we could under the given circumstances. But that’s not running away from the fact that it wasn’t liked by critics and viewers. Mausam has been an immense learning experience, not just for me but also for my whole family.

Karishma Upadhyay

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