Shekhar Kapoor talks about what went into the making of Mr. India and why it continues to be one of the epic films of Indian cinemaâ€¦
25 years since Mr. India was released. How does it feel?
Well, you know on Twitter when we've Mr. India the traffic has to be blocked because it gets so huge. People tweet the dialogues! For me as a director the most overpowering film I made was Bandit Queen. But it's Mr. India I am most known for in India. No doubt about that. And it has grown in popularity over time. When we made it we wanted to make sure that the audience remained glued to the seats for two and a half hours. To keep that momentum for so long was tough. Even when the kids in the film were eating they were tapping the tables with spoons. It's a very agile livewire film. Everyone is super-energetic. It's a hyper film.
One reason why Mr. India is so fresh in audiences' mind is that you haven't been prolific over the years?
I don't agree with that. I think the reason is, other filmmakers haven't really come out shining in that genreâ€¦yes, we haven't really had one of those super-hero films, though I am not sure if Mr. India was a super-hero film.
Why has no one else in Bollywood attempted something like Mr. India?
We were fearless while we made the film. The other day somebody pointed out to me that the reason I made so few films is because I look for live adventure in everything I do. Making Mr. India was a live adventure for all of us. Everyone with me in Mr. India was fearless. Maybe that sense of fearlessness was missing from the subsequent super-heroes.
The Invisible Man theory was done once before Mr. India in Mr. X In Bombayâ€¦
Would you believe, I haven't seen that film to this day. While making Mr. India I tried to get a copy of Mr X, but couldn't. I've never seen any film on the invisible man.
So where did that come from?
It was an idea brought to me by Boney Kapoor based on a script that Salim-Javed had written. I never read that script. I am a hundred percent sure that what we made finally was very different from what Salim-Javed had written originally. I never saw that original Salim-Javed script which I believe had been conceived for Mr. Amitabh Bachchan. As for what you saw on screen in Mr. India, the scenes were written as we were filming. There was a constant improvisation on the sets. Do you know, Mogambo was written after we started shooting.
No, seriously. We knew there was going to be a goofy villain who'd have to go beyond Daga and Teja. But we didn't know who or what it would be. Javed Akhtar was struggling to create a new kind of villain. Mogambo was born as we were filming, just like ideas like Sridevi going into the villain's den dressed as Charlie Chaplin. Like I said, we were a bunch of fearless people making the fantasy-film we wanted to.
More than fearless you guys seem to have had funâ€¦
(Laughs) I don't think our producer Boney Kapoor had much fun. Poor guy! Every morning he had to go out and arrange the money for the day's shooting. He was the one guy who didn't have that much fun. While we thought of the shots for the day, he was out looking for the money. We needed someone who loved cinema as much as I did. Today's corporate producers look at the share market and things beyond cinema. Boney was looking at the rushes in the evening and looking for money in the morning. There are no producers like Boney Kapoor anymore. If it wasn't for him the film couldn't be made.
Did you and Boney have creative differences?
Of course we had arguments. Then me and Javed would sit and scream and shout. Anil Kapoor was also very involved. I am sure there were discussions between Boney and Anil about what an extravagant director Boney had signed on. I am sure such conversations happened. But I was blissfully aware of these doubts about me.
Tell me about the 18-20 child actors in Mr. India
There were only 10 kids. What helped was that I have a little child within me. I think I'll die a baby. So it was easy for me to get a childlike performance out of everyone including the villain Mogambo. He is very endearing, not intimidating. I think the reason Mr. India stays fresh is because it has a childlike quality about it.
Anupam Kher was supposed to play Mogambo?
You know, we had spoken to Anupam. But if you ask me where Anupam changed to Amrish, I can't remember. The transition was seamless. I clearly remember my conversations on Mogambo's costumes and dialogues with Amrishji. I can't imagine anyone else playing Mogambo.
Who is your favourite character and performer in Mr. India?
It has to be Mogambo and Amrish Puri. That performance anchors the pitch of the film. All the other characters pitch themselves around Mogambo. Each time he says 'Mogambo khush hua', a new chapter in the characters' lives begins.
Did Anil Kapoor mind being invisible?
He was a joy to work with. Throughout the film he wore one cap, trousers and jacket. There were no duplicate clothes. He actually wore only one set of clothes throughout. The jacket was the hardest to find. We finally bought it in Chor Bazaar. It had to look ancient and tattered. Anil still has the jacket.
Now tell me about Srideviâ€¦
(Silence) She was amazing. She understood what she had to do so perfectly and then give more too every scene that I asked for. I don't know any other director got the opportunity to get that kind of an ebullient performance out of her. After Mr. India I lost contact with Indian cinema for a long time. But recently, I saw Sri in Moondaram Pirai .I saw bits of her from Mr. India in Moondram Pirai. She surrendered completely to me.
How did you think of Sridevi as Charlie Chaplin?
It just happened. I thought of Sridevi in a moustache and I immediately thought he's look nice in a moustache.
You've got some imagination!
(Laughs) The rest all followed. When I told her about the Charlie Chaplin sequence she picked up all the Chaplin films and watched them all night.
At least that's what she told me. She did a perfect replication of Chaplin. I challenge any actress to do that sequence the way Sri did.
And 'Kaate Nahin Kat Te'?
I will tell you how that whole idea came along. One day I was sitting at Anil Kapoor's place. Boney came to visit Anil raving about Sri's dance number with Feroz Khan in Jaanbaaz ( 'Har kisko nahin milta'). Boney said, 'Shekhar, nobody can make Sridevi look sexier than that.' He shouldn't have said that to me. I took it as personal challenge. When I heard Boney say that I said, 'Oh, really?' That's when 'Kaate Nahin Kat Te' started to play in my mind. I thought of Sri making love to an invisible man in a blue saree.
Good question. I don't know why it was blue. It could have been flaming orange or a crimson red. She'd have carried them off just as sensuously. Sri was very unwell when she shot the song. If Boney hadn't provoked me I wouldn't have done it. All it took was to tell me that no one could make her look sexier than Feroz Khan.
What makes Mr. India so unique?
You know, it keeps being described as a super-hero film. Krissh is a super-hero film. I think what made Mr. India special was the innocence. You believed in those kids. You cried when the little girl died. And still on some level it worked as a very tongue-in-cheek fantasy. The lightness of touch on this scale has never been tried. In a strange way it's a very delicate film. It never moves away from its genre.
Mr. India pre-empted films like Krissh and Ra.One?
I don't think they were trying to make another Mr. India in Krissh or Ra.One. These are more in the tradition of The Avengers. India has a tradition of super-heroes like Hanuman and Rama in the mythology. Effectually we should have our own culture of super-hero films. But we don't. And that's because our film heroes have traditionally been larger-than-life super-heroes anyway. What was Salman Khan in Dabangg?
A cop who could fly?
There you have it. I think the first Krissh film with ET and Preity (Koi Mil Gaya) got the super-hero idea right. It has to be about an ordinary guy acquiring super-powers. In that sense Mr. India got it right. On television, there's Shaktimaan. That got it right too. It has to be about a transformation from everyman to superman.
Why have you distanced yourself from the sequel to Mr. India?
Because I'd disappoint myself and my fans if I repeated myself. What I can do is use the same characters to tell a different story. If I repeat myself it would erode my fan base. If a sequel is made I'd nurture and watch it. But I won't make it.
Whom would you like to direct the sequel?
I had battled with that question when I was co-producing the sequel. Then it all fell apart. I couldn't think of anyone.
Can Mr. India be taken further?
Boney Kapoor is doing a 3D version. That's a really cool idea. I've been telling him to do a 3D version of Mr. India for years. The way we shot it the narrative lends itself perfectly to the 3D format.
What would you finally like to say about Mr. India?
I'd like to do another film like Mr. India. In India we need a bit of sunshine in our entertainment. Our films are screaming themselves hoarse trying to be funny. You know what I mean? But here's what I really want. I want to see the film with an audience just once. I haven't seen Mr. India with a live audience. I want to experience that. I am begging Boney to have one public screening with kids. So the one wish I have for the 25th anniversary of Mr. India is to watch it with the public. Please, Boney?
Finally when are you finally directing another film?
I will let you know in a few days
You've been saying that for a few years. Is it Paani?
I am thinking.
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