“I took an instant dislike to him when I first set eyes on Anil as he stepped out from the lobby of Holiday Inn…dressed in black drainpipes, red shirt with front buttons open, pulled up collar .. his posture crying out loud ” Look at me!” I reckoned he was a rich brat .. a producers son .. Kapoor attached to his surname makes him expect everything on a platter..
I was horrified to learn that he had been cast in a bit role in my film Ek Baar Kaho and that I would have to suffer him for a month long schedule in Darjeeling. I decided to keep him at an arm’s distance although as a matter of habit, I mingle very easily with my younger co-stars.
On set I discovered that he was the opposite of the upstart i had expected him to be. He was hungry to learn and like a ticking battery absorbed everything that was happening on the sets. The other youngsters in the film couldn’t wait to party as soon as pack up was announced … he would hang around hoping to catch favour with the director Lekh Tandon so that he could be given at least one scene on his own where he could make a mark. Oh how he wanted that song that was picturised on Dilip Dhawan to his complete envy! He didn’t get it but he didn’t let his disappointment turn into disenchantment. He had trained under my acting guru Roshan Taneja and acting was his life’s blood. At the age of ten he used to travel by bus all alone from Chembur to Pedder Road to take sitar lessons for a film called Tu Payal Main Geet in which he got to play the younger Shashi Kapoor. He earned my respect and we became friends.
He was so earnest, so committed, so vulnerable behind that cocky posture that my heart went out to him..
Thirty odd years later my heart still goes out to Anil..He remains vulnerable with every new goal he attains.. he wears his fame lightly with a wry sense of disbelief “Let the world say what it wants” he seems to say “I know how ephemeral success can be and so I must never let up, never pause to take it easy, never rest on conquered laurels!”almost as if he needs to pinch himself to accept the extraordinary degree of success he has achieved..
He is driven .. as no other I know in this profession and also has a sharp sense of making the right choices.. Even at the height of his “herogiri” he realised that if he had to guarantee longevity of career he would need to bag roles that offered him an opportunity to play substantial characters beyond the routine song and dance numbers. After being celebrated universally in Mr India he took a calculated risk in doing Lamhe. He did Eeshwar, Beta ..roles that could have saddled him with a ‘vegetarian’ image but he balanced these with a romantic 1942 A Love Story , a robust Ram Lakhan, a forceful Tezaab ,full of every commercial ingredient that ensured box office success.. He had the canny sense to do No Entry after doing Slum Dog Millionaire. Most would have gotten so carried away with international recognition and the Oscar that they would have turned their backs on ‘masala’movies .Anil keeps his doors wide open.. he is accessible to all . He does Television,Radio and now a web series..a step ahead of the times. When Priyanka Chopra was in two minds about whether she should do Quantico or not it was Anil who pushed her to take the plunge.. it is for all to see what a gamechanger thats been for her…Anil has ensured that he will be around as an actor as long as he wants to..Success has become his handmaiden..
Has this changed Anil? There has been growth ofcourse .. he is more polished, is a much better public speaker.. (he used to be tongue tied in his earlier years…)he can make friends with Hollywood stars and Prime Ministers with aplomb but at heart he remains the same.. He is loyal He has the same circle of friends.. his staff remains the same. He remains grateful for every kindness that came his way.. On the sets of 24 he gave me his personal vanity van and shifted into a smaller one discreetly. He ensured that my every need was met and treated me like a queen… I was very touched…He never fails to mention Javeds support of him in his early years. When Javed was pushing Yash Chopra to cast Anil in Mashaal he personally sat and edited bits from MS Sathyu’s Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya to make a showreel for Anil because Javed believed in Anil’s talent.
The person Anil has become today has been largely shaped by Boney in the early years and after that by Sunita.She is his strongest pillar of support and keeps him firmly grounded. He is a surprisingly good father and an unexpectedly responsible family man for a person as self absorbed as he is. Sunita humours him but also ensures he doesn’t take himself too seriously. She keeps a facade of irreverence although it is evident that she does not only love him , she also admires him. He in turn can barely function without her. And confesses that he wants her to accompany him on every trip from now on because he needs her..Mercifully he still has the ability to laugh at himself. Many a morning ( we both get up early )he has called me and had me in splits over his creaking bones and the effort that goes into getting on to that treadmill, in lifting those weights , in starving himself to project his youthful exterior. “Andar se sab gal chuka hai – kab chhutti milegi mujhe? Kab khana kha paaoonga ?” he rues. Sunita is a fanatic about fitness and keeps a tight rein on him..The Punjabi boy from Chembur now lives on salad,quinoa and dry fruit! Arrghhh…
Abhishek Bachchan tells a very funny story about him.
Abhishek once accompanied directors Abbas Mastan to narrate a script to Anil.They wanted him to play father to Sonam.Anil was quick to retort in horror “How can I play father to Sonam?The Public will never accept me as the father of a grown up girl!”The irony was completely lost on him and Abhishek says “I fell in love with him that day onwards!!” Everyone who knows AK has similiar stories to tell.
It is rare to sustain friendships in the film industry. Ours has survived over thirty odd years and is spilling over into our children’s’ lives. I cannot explain the deep sense of fulfilment I experienced when Anil worked with Zoya or when I worked with Sonam or when Rhea worked with Javed or when Harsh worked with Saiyyami.. this is the stuff Hindi films are made of.. friendships passing on to generations. How blessed we are ..how thankful that life feel nostalgic and a bit sentimental. Lots of love wrapped up in a tear… Happy birthday AK. Jeete raho khush raho. Lage raho lage raho…..Shabana”