Rajat Kapoor: True to his vision

An Indian Film and Theater Director, writer and actor that I have admired for many years is, Rajat Kapoor. He has an impressive, and prolific body of work. In April, I had the pleasure of watching his latest film Ankhon Dekhi, at IFFLA, which I loved and wrote about here.

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A few lucky people in America will have the opportunity to watch his theater troupe perform ‘Hamlet The Clown Prince’, an interpretation of the Shakespearean play by six clowns – it promises to be brilliant! Please check the links for detailed listings of the play in the Bay Area, Chicago and New York. Details for the New York shows are on the poster below. UPDATE: I just saw on Rajat’s facebook page that his US tour has been called off :(. No idea why, but its our loss. 

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I spoke to Rajat about his latest work and also his journey as a filmmaker/artist. I was moved by Rajat’s candor and saddened to know that a film as original and well made as Ankhon Dekhi fared badly at the box office in India. It is a pity that people didn’t make the effort to go out and watch it.

Why is it that audiences will go out to watch a Dhoom 3 or an Ironman in large numbers and totally ignore an original, very creative film like Ankhon Dekhi? The Producer Manish Mundra believed in this beautiful script, its gifted Director and his extremely talented crew of award winning technicians, Cinematographer Rafey Mahmood, Oscar award winning Audiographer Resul Pookutty, National award winning editor, Suresh Pai and Production Designer extraordinaire Meenal Agarwal. But the dismal box office response will most likely make him weary of taking a risk on a non-mainstream film again. If we want meaningful content, each of us has to support films when they release, go out there and buy your tickets and let your voice be heard at the cash register.

As ‘market forces’ race towards the greatest common denominators that sell stories, clothes, movies, music, lifestyles and foods to the largest number of people, a few artists, writers and creators try to preserve what is unique, quirky and non-main stream about India.

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Here are some excerpts of my conversation with Rajat Kapoor, a visionary auteur who doesn’t shy away from cinematic work with clichés and caricatures, but takes the time to create well rounded, honest to the core, real Indian people. It’s films like this that we will turn to in the ‘future new shining India’ to remember our Baujis and Bittus.

Anjalika(Anj): I watched Ankhon Dekhi at IFFLA. I thoroughly enjoyed it and got totally into it, laughing out loud! Great work!

Rajat Kapoor(RK): Thank you, thank you..

Anj: The typical categories of ‘yeh experimental hai’, ‘yeh alternative hai’ or whatever don’t apply to you I feel like you are creating your own vision and your own way, that’s what’s really interesting to me as a film maker and a viewer. I loved the very talented ensemble cast and the dialogue was pitch perfect. You must be feeling happy about how the film turned out?

RK: Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the film, we all worked very hard…You know Anjalika, now, right now..I am going through a phase..I’m fighting it, I’m trying to not give in, but the fact is, its pretty depressing. Ankhon Dekhi didn’t do well at all. Right now I’m not in a very happy state..I’m trying to fight it, trying not to give in, but I’m pretty low. Every morning I try to wake up gung-ho but then by the end of the day I’m down again..Ankhon Dekhi didn’t do well at the Box office at all. It was completely ignored at the National Awards, it didn’t win anything. The Producer lost a lot of money, so the prospects of my next film are very dim..I don’t know when I’ll make it, after 6 months, one year, 3 years, ever again..I don’t know, I have no clue..and that’s not a happy thought..

Anj: I’m sorry that you are feeling this way..but it just doesn’t add up in my head. You know I don’t know what they are thinking in India..it doesn’t compute, this is a great film!

RK: No, it’s like that and it’s always been like that, for the past fifteen years that I have been trying to make films. You would think that things would get better, you know after 5 films, 6 films..but they don’t and they haven’t, at least for me…

Because I‘ve tried very hard to be in this space where I am,  in terms of my films to make exactly what I want to make, its been very gratifying and I have no regrets and I would do it all over again. But the journey, even though it has been exhilarating, has not been easy ever…

You know if AD had done well, even a little better, I would have been making my next film by the end of this year, but now I have no clue, when, who, how…? I have two and half scripts with me and 2 are ready and the third one I’m working on and I have to start the whole process all over again.

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Anj: Hmm

RK: I don’t mean to sound sad, because this is something that I have chosen and I have no regrets…but I’m just stating facts.

I’ve got a lot of love for Ankhon Dekhi and I’ve got incredible amounts of love for this film, random people have come up to me and said, “Sir can I give you a hug?” I mean its just beautiful, and people on the internet, on twitter people just flowing out love, and I’ve not experienced this kind of love for any of my other films, so its been very gratifying and all of us are very proud of the film, the whole team the camera man, the Production designer, the music director, the actors, we all know we have made something really good.

And, I also know that the film will live and blah..blah..blah..blah …but..(laughs lightly)..in spite of all that, in the day to day working, trying to reach producers, trying to get them to call you back…that can be kind of frustrating.

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Anj: I don’t know how to say this in a delicate way…you know ‘kadar nahi hain’ India mein, I don’t know why?

RK: Kaheen bhi nahi hai..yaar..kaheen bhi dekh lo, if you look at the box office hits in the US the top 10 grossers, its all Captain America and Thor and blah blah…it’s what’s working, you know that kind of crap…anywhere in the world it’s the same, maybe in India it’s a little bit worse. For instance last year, I really loved the American film ‘Inside Llewellyn Davis’ completely ignored everywhere, at the box office, the Oscars, everywhere…what a film…we’re in good company so I’m ok.

Anj: I really appreciate your candor and honesty…I am often plagued by insecurity myself. Half the time I don’t know what the f*&% I’m doing, wondering why I’m doing this? Why don’t I just go get a job in a bank or something but I think an artist, can’t help but express themselves and we are all the richer for that…

RK: Yeah, I often say it’s a sickness that you can’t get rid off. You have to make films, you know it’s a sickness so you have to…Very often I’ve asked myself this, ‘why, why? Why do you want to do this when it’s a daily humiliation, really, at least trying to make the film and then trying to release it and its huge it takes…a lot. 20% of my time is actually making the film and then 80% is trying to get it off the ground. And I ask myself, why? The only answer is, that it’s a disease…there’s no way out, so you have to do it…

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Anj: I think that your core team that you surround yourself with, you work with the same people over and over again, and they are all incredible. How long have you been with them?

RK: Rafey was one year junior to me at film school, in FTII and I assisted on Mani Kaul’s ‘Nazar’ and Rafey assisted Piyush Shah on camera, so that was the first time we worked together and we’ve worked together ever since. It’s very nice to grow together in a way, with your collaborators.. that’s one thing that I like, in theater people I’ve worked with 25-30 years back, I’m still working with them and we’re still creating together. I think it’s fabulous.

Anj: I am so envious of that, you have no idea. In my mind, that is success.

RK: I think so, I take great pride in these relationships, we go through shit also you know, not with Rafey but with many others…we’ve fought, we’ve not talked to each other for a year …and after that we’ve come together and still worked on things together..I think that’s great!

Anj: I admire that, you’re creating your life on your own terms, and you’ve found the people that believe in you ..whether the box office registers it or not..the fact that you’ve worked with these people for so many years, that’s incredible to me, I would give an arm and a leg for that!

RK: I feel so good right now!

Anj: You should! To have a close community of artistic collaborators, what is more important than that?

RK: You know Anjalika, I often say this and I really believe it that in fact the truth is, there are about 15-20 people in the world whose admiration and love and respect I crave and if these 15-20 people like my work, it’s done for me. If it’s a box office hit, great. If it gets awards super, and if it doesn’t that’s ok too, if these 15-20 people like my work. My essential thing is my film should please me and after that these 15-20 people. And I want them to say, ‘Wah wah wah! Kya film banayi hai aapne!’

Anj: Wah wah wah kya film banayi hai aapne!

RK laughs

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Anj: Your artistic journey had been so prolific, and I’m counting Theater and film Directing, writing, acting..all this stuff, you have such a great body of work. Where do you get the energy? Where does your spark come from?

RK: I am driven that’s for sure and I am disciplined. I do manage to put in time for writing,. When I’m not shooting, I put in at least 3-4 hours a day.  I look at Woody Allen and I am envious of that! That guy has made a film every year, that is something! How does he do that? He writes, shoots, does post and starts writing the next film. I mean he goes on and on, and he makes good films. It’s amazing! So that’s my inspiration, I have a long way to go. 48 films in a 45-year career! I’m a big fan and I’m still discovering his films, I saw ‘Celebrity’ two days back. Wow. Wow, what a film!

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Anj: You talked about the importance of discipline in your creative work.

RK : If I don’t spend 3-4 hours a day, doing something worthwhile, I start feeling very restless. I also spend a lot of time with my kids and my wife, a lot of time. I think I spend more time with my kids than most fathers do, but I still manage to find time for writing. A few days ago I was travelling to Poona to go to FTII with a film. The journey was 4 hours. For two hours we were talking and the rest of the time I spent working on my script. I was trying to find solutions to problems in my film..

Anj: Can you share what you are working on? Or is it too early?

RK: Sure, there are three things I’m working on, one is a gangster film, which is ready which will need at least 6 crore to make, which is big by my standards, I don’t know where that money will come from. The other one is one I like very much..its a mad kind of film, its more in the  space. Its called RK RK, which I like very much..and I want to do it fast, but it will also need about 4 crores, but I’m thinking if this money Is not going to come easy, I’ve started writing the third one, which I think can be made in 1.5-2 crores, which is like a horror film.

Anj: What is the theme of RK RK?

RK: RK RK bata doon kya aapko ?

Anj: Aapko batana hai, to batayiye.

RK: Its with me, I’m playing RK, a film director, I’ve just finished the shooting of a film and I‘m editing it and its not going well at all. And I’m also acting in that film, the one that I’ve shot and I’m editing in the film. Then I find out from my editor that the character has run away from the film. The film is about getting him back into the film, so that I can finish the film. That’s what it is. I’m so excited about this film, but  I don’t know how to get money for this film? Who will finance it..blah blah blah blah..

RK: I am very excited about my upcoming trip to the US with my new play. We will be playing in San Francisco, Chicago and then we will play in a small theater in the Village in NY. I am so excited! You would like the play, if you like my films…it’s a mad play it has 6 clowns who are trying to play Hamlet, and they massacre it in the process..

Anj: Of course!

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Anj: Who do you think watches your movies? What kind of person watches your movies?

RK: You know it became possible for people like us to make films, Anjalika, after the multiplexes came in in India in 2000. Because, a. there were small screens with 150-200 seats, so it became economically possible. And a lot of people who had stopped going to cinemas that were watching satellite TV and cable at home started coming back to cinemas, I think the middle-income group and young professionals and students. Young professionals and students are our audience. Even when we go out in the country with our plays to Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, the people that come to watch our plays are young Profs and students.

This group of people is looking for new types of entertainment. They also watch Salman Khan films, but they also watch our kind of stuff. But they still don’t want to go and buy a ticket for 250 rupees, they would rather watch a pirated copy at home. They will watch Dhoom 3 in the theater, and they will all say what a dumb film it is, how stupid, how bad but everybody will watch it, so it will make 300 crores in two weeks, But for this type of  film they say, ‘arre dvd par ayega to dekhengey’

Anj: What kind of movies do you like to watch?

RK: All kinds, I have a huge list! Number 1 for me has always been Chaplin, Fellini. After that I have a huge list which goes from Ozu, to Eric Rohmer, to Scorsese, Pedro Almodovar, Billy Wilder, Ritwik Ghatak…it’s a huge list..People I really admire.

Anj: Who would you say is pushing the envelope creatively in India today?

RK: The only person I like is Anurag Kashyap once in a while, I’ve liked Dev D, Gangs of Wasseypur part 2, I know it’s harsh but that’s what I think, I also liked a Marathi film Harishchandrachi Factory, I liked it very much. Oye Lucky was not bad, Love Sex aur Dhoka I have not seen, but Shanghai was terrible. I am not that enthused by others.

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Anj: Did you watch Ship of Theseus, Fandry?

RK: I saw SOT..Fandry I liked, but you know..I like it but you know…its in a tradition of realism that is at least 40 years old, so it moves you, it impacts you, but I could have left that film in the first half an hour. Its cute, its nice, its sweet, its well done, the boys are great..but I could have left the film. But I’m glad I stayed, I liked the end, which was very impactful, and its nice but I can’t say anything more.

Anj: I think I know what you mean, the details in your film, the props, the costumes, to the oil in the hair, the language, the house, the streets, the authenticity of characters, to the sounds in the background…people don’t realize the density of thought and work, it just goes by in a second…

RK: Yes, that’s cinematic work you know. The problem with us is you know that we get swayed by the story. ‘Kahaani bahot powerful hai yaar.” Or “It’s a story that needs to be told” but that doesn’t make great cinema all the time.

Anj; at what point in your life did you decide that I want to express myself? I want to do this ..

RK: When I was 16 I was absolutely certain that I wanted to make films

Anj: What did you watch that made you feel that?

RK: There was no one film, I grew up on Bollywood and Hollywood films like everybody else, but at the age of 16 I joined a film society in Delhi University, where for the first time I saw Fassbinder and Godard, Herzog and Bergman..it just blew my mind. I’m not sure if the decision was made after that or if it was already made..I think it was already made.

I knew ‘I’m going to make films’ I just didn’t know how it was going to happen, but I knew I wanted to make films. When I would think of my future, I saw that ‘camera’ and ‘action’.

Anj: Do you think that you are beyond your time?

RK: Laughs lightly..I wish it was like that. You know I don’t think I’m doing anything great, Anjalika..Kumar Shahney and Mani Kaul, I think what they did was something great and what Kumar continues to do. Of course I think I’ve been true to my vision, and they to theirs. But their journey has been one that has been really hard and admirable. And the fact Mani didn’t get to make a film in the last ten years of his life, and I was very close to him in those years…and he kept trying and he kept wanting to make a film, even on his death bed he was talking about his next film, I think, that’s heart breaking. We as a society, the moment he dies we all say oh what a great man, what a great artist, but when he lives nobody gives a crap..

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Anj: What are you trying to achieve when you make a film? What would make you happy?

RK: I told you, the love and admiration of those 20 people..you know I really think that success is how close you come to a vague image that you had in your mind at the beginning. I think that’s the only criteria for success in art. Because you have an idea, a vision, an image in your head and you try to come close to that. The whole process of making a film is to try and realize that, to come close to that. I think the only gauge of success is how close you come to that, if you have or haven’t.

Anj: I really admire your work, and I hope that you will continue to follow your vision

RK: That you can be certain about..

 

 

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