Danny Boyle almost didn’t read the script of Slumdog Millionaire because he dismissed its producer, Christian Colson, as “a gambler”. Besides, why make a movie version of the game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire anyway?
Boyle’s interest was piqued by the script writer, Simon Beaufoy, who had previously written The Full Monty and Yasmin. The 2008 adaptation of Vikas Swarup’s novel Q&A, in which a slum resident uses his life experiences to win the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, swept the Oscars the following year with eight gongs. The movie introduced the world to the talents of the ageless 1980s star Anil Kapoor, who plays shifty game show host Prem Kumar.
Kapoor’s son Harshvardhan was a huge fan of Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996), which helped Kapoor decide to sign the dotted line. “When I went to Anil’s house, his son’s room was covered in Trainspotting posters,” the director told Amy Raphael in the interview-based book Danny Boyle In His Own Words.
In Boyle’s book-length interview with Raphael, he described Kapoor as a man with incredible patience. “Although his English is fantastic, he was incredibly nervous about actually acting in English,” Boyle said. “I think Anil was very brave to take on the role of Prem… He did extensive research on [Who Wants to be a Millionaire host] Chris Tarrant and Amitabh Bachchan – the latter originally presented the Indian Millionaire… Anil is such a clever actor; he insisted on having the chair at home so he could practise sitting on it.”
Kapoor’s turn in Slumdog Millionaire fetched him roles in Hollywood films and American TV shows. In 2010, he played Omar Hassan, the president of the fictitious country Kamistan, in the highly rated television show 24. Kapoor returned the favour by co-producing an Indian version with the same title in 2013.
Kapoor also featured in Brad Bird’s Tom Cruise-starrer Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol as lascivious Indian telecom entrepreneur Brij Nath, whose roving eye costs him dearly. Seduced and then trapped by Paula Patton’s undercover agent, Brij Nath spills out the override code for a satellite that is set to launch a nuclear missile against the United States of America.
Kapoor’s voice was used in a contentious Family Guy episode set in India in May 2016, and he has also been cast in the pilot of the TV adaptation of Michael Faber’s novel The Book of Strange New Things. The futuristic TV show, directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, Sky Ladder), is about a pastor who is assigned to impart religious teaching to a mysterious new colony. Kapoor isn’t competition yet for Irrfan, who remains Hollywood’s go-to Indian actor, but he isn’t doing too badly for himself either.