Caution: spoilers ahead.
“I have always been a serious actor, but I never tried to project that I am an intellectual actor – I just had fun and enjoyed myself,” said Anil Kapoor, who turned 64 on December 24, the same day his new film AK vs AK was released on Netflix.
Kapoor was supposed to work in Kashyap’s movie Allwyn Kalicharan in the early 2000s – one of the flash points for the staged confrontation in AK vs AK. Kashyap’s character kidnaps Anil Kapoor’s daughter Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and tells the actor to locate her within ten hours. Kapoor’s search is filmed by Kashyap’s assistant Yogita (Yogita Bihani).
Motwane had previously directed Anil Kapoor’s son, Harshvardhan Kapoor, in the ambitious but unsuccessful Bhavesh Joshi: Superhero. Harshvardhan Kapoor cheerfully appears in Motwane’s film in a hilarious sequence, as do Anil Kapoor’s brother, the producer Boney Kapoor, and Sonam Kapoor Ahuja. Kashyap’s buddy Nawazuddin Siddiqui has a voice cameo.
Behind the film’s wacky pleasures of seeing two public figures tear into each another is a commentary on the Hindi film industry, the relationship between celebrities and fans, and the thin line between fiction and documenatry. Kapoor spoke to Scroll.in about his experience with AK vs AK, and how the movie fits into his vision of being a “serious actor”.
How did ‘AK vs AK’ happen?
Vikram came to my residence sometime in the end of November, handed me the script, and ran away. He says he was afraid I would throw it on his face, but I had the exact opposite reaction. I read it then and there I loved it. The same night, I tested it with my family members and my team. The next day, I said let’s do it.
Shooting began in January, ended in February, all wrapped up in 21 days, including my rap song.
How improvised is the film, particularly Harshvardhan Kapoor’s monologue?
There was not as much improv as you think. We had readings and rehearsals for five-six days with the cinematographer and sound recordist, trying to get long eight-nine-minute shots. Then we would forget that, come to the set, do afresh, improvise, but within the parameters set by the script and with respect to changes in location, environment, and logistics.
This particular scene with Harsh was in the script, and he worked really hard on it. Anurag and Vikram kept adding things on set. With a newcomer, it is difficult to prepare one way and then adapt on set. But he loves Anurag and Vikram and believes in their cinema.
He is one of the bravest actors around, and I do not say because he is my son. I was so worried about this scene, this being the longest monologue in the film, but as he was doing it, we were all like, wow kya zabardast kar raha hai. [He’s doing so well].
How did you manage to insult only so much as to not leave permanent scars?
Anurag [also the dialogue writer] and Vikram had decided to go all out from the very beginning, and whatever wouldn’t work could be cut out. I said, okay. On set, we would remember an insult here and there, and go, ye bhi daal dete hai [let’s have this too].
We were not doing it for the sake of it, not trying to sensationalise or commercialise our thoughts. We were trying to stay true to the story and what we were making.
What about the fight scene between you and Anurag?
We rehearsed for that as well. Other filmmakers have big budgets, but here with limited time and money, we were trying to achieve something of a certain quality. We came a day early, rehearsed, trying to make it look real and not choreographed, and yet not injure ourselves.
The toughest part was the physicality, according to Anurag. I am 60-plus. He is 45-plus. He feels I am least very, very fit, but he is not. He has promised that he will get back to shape so that we can do many more films together.
No one’s shooting you with their phone when you have collapsed outside the railway station.
Some parts in the film are staged, but most of them are real, like the entire chapter of me searching Sonam on the streets. The cab drivers are real, the selfie requests are real. The crowd in Dharavi, except some, are real. In that scene, so many times, I could not get up stage. I would get pulled back.
Boney Kapoor was a real sport.
He was only interested in himself. He didn’t care. He heard us and he was very graceful to do it. Initially, Sunita [Kapoor, his wife] was supposed to do it. The character had to be someone who calls the shots in the house. But she doesn’t want to talk to the press from the very first day, she has made her own decisions, she said I cannot be part of this journey.
With ‘AK vs AK’, the Cred ad, and ‘Welcome’, you are a rare star who is not afraid of parodying himself.
People I respect and love tell me that the reason for my longevity is that I am not delusional. I take my work seriously, not myself. Throughout four decades of working in the industry, I have always said I am ready to fail, try new things, raise the bar, doing something no one has done before. I search for such characters, stories, and filmmakers, and if they find me, that’s great.
Fortunately, I have been pitched such films and I was sensible to pick them up. Sometimes, I am not sensible. Then my son or daughter have been a catalyst. It is important to have the right people around you to help keep your feet on the ground.
I always had this thought that the more you make fun of yourself, the better. Taking yourself seriously is tiring. I want to work, not get tired.
‘AK vs AK’, ‘Mr India’, or ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’, as unique as they are, are ultimately fun films. But you have also done sombre movies like ‘Calcutta Mail’ and ‘My Wife’s Murder’.
If I do something light-hearted, I try to mix it up with something serious. Nayak was an expensive film, made at a magnificent sale, sold at a great price. Immediately after, I did My Wife’s Murder, whose budget was Rs two crore.
I would cycle for an hour and a half to set to get the sweat running and get into the skin of a lower-middle class film editor working in a secluded room. I wouldn’t be able to work if I reached the sets staying in a five-star room, travelling in a five-star car. Unfortunately, nobody saw it, but whoever did, loved it. It’s the same with Calcutta Mail, one of my most favourite films.
At the time of ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’, you spoke about ‘multi-acting’ and ‘single-acting’, which is underplaying and playing to the gallery, respectively.
When you have been working for 40-45 years, you have to have a tongue-in-cheek humour on set, in life, or you will get bored. The way I am on set, in my interviews, this multi-single, I do this or I will get bored, I will stagnate, I will start taking myself seriously.
I started off with the MS Sathyu film Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya, worked with Mani Ratnam, Mahesh Bhatt when no mainstream star was working with him. I did Parinda and Eeshwar, I became invisible for Mr India, I did Slumdog Millionaire when others didn’t. I always tried to be a serious actor. When a script comes to me, I first think of myself as an actor.
Actually, I am fortunate that my characters have become popular, not me. I go out, people don’t shout “Anil Kapoor”, they shout Lakhan, Munna, Majnu Bhai. In Los Angeles, I met foreigners saying my Slumdog Millionaire dialogue, “What a player”.