The London-based Shekhar Kapur made his directorial debut in Hollywood with 'Elizabeth ', in 1998. Unfortunately, despite the awards abroad, the movie failed to make an impact in India, maybe because it did not release nationwide. Now Kapur is back in the news with the sequel to 'Elizabeth', and his aim to make sure that it is released in theatres in every city of India. It also gives him a chance to reconnect with the Indian audience. He tells us about 'Elizabeth – The Golden Age', and more.
Q. 'Elizabeth ' was nominated all over the world for its costumes.
What kind of research have you done for costumes for 'Elizabeth – The
A. A lot of research. I met with a lot of people. I never spent too much time wondering how things must have been; I just focused on how we could make it look believable. I want to tell you about the discussions my costume designers and I had over materials and colours. The Virgin Mary is seen in blue, mostly, and this is her purest form. I wanted my protagonist in the same colours. However, in England, blue is not considered a sign of purity, so my designers advised me against it. I insisted, reasoning that blue was an expensive colour in those days, and only a queen could afford it.
Q. The British ruled us for so long. How do you think the Indian audience will take this film?
A. I have no idea.
Q. It is rumoured that you are planning to revive the project that was stalled 15 years ago – 'Time Machine'.
A. That is true. My friend, Karan Razdan, and I, wrote the story together. Both Karan and I have received many offers to revive the movie, in all these years. So we thought we should do it ourselves. You know, a lot of people told us that the story was way of its time then; but, again, most of my stories are perceived as being ahead of their times. Another reason for not completing the movie was the fact that our artistes and director had date problems.
Q. So will you use the same actors again, or do you have other plans?
A. The story is the same, and apt for this generation's audience. The cast will be different from the original one, obviously. The original cast members no longer suit the roles. I am looking for a director for this movie.
Q. Don't you think most Bollywood stories are ahead of their times, since they have more fantasy than reality?
A. Absolutely not. Fantasy is something else, and being ahead of your time is an entirely different issue. A fantasy can be based on the present or the future. I am talking about the time when there were only four genres in Indian films. I wanted to do something different, and I was told that the audience is not ready for a film like this. Now that we have had movies like 'Rang De Basanti', 'Chak De India', and 'Munnabhai MBBS', the possibilities are immense.
Q. Do you think Boney Kapoor's 'Mr India' was also ahead of its time?
A. It was. I was told, again, that it would not work with the audience, but it clicked, and became a hit. Ironically, the producer of 'Mr India', Boney Kapoor, thought 'Time Machine' was ahead of its time. Things have changed now. I still think that the audience was ready then, and we, as filmmakers, were not convinced enough.
Q. After 'Masoom' and 'Mister India', you have hardly directed any films in Bollywood. Any specific reason for that?
A. Not really. Since I left India, I have done 'Bandit Queen', 'Four Feathers', and both the 'Elizabeth' movies. I also worked with AR Rehman for some time. I launched my comic book company, and it has been pretty successful so far. I have been so busy that I don't remember the last time that I spent two weeks in Mumbai, without a care in the world. I had three homes – in India, USA and London. Now I have left London. I want to spend more time in India.
Q. You are rediscovering your roots...
A. I never forgot my roots. As far as filmmaking is concerned, the same stories that everybody had ridiculed 15 years ago, are now praised. I could not have made 'Paani' then, but now people are praising the story, and how!
Q. So who do you think is responsible for this change? The filmmakers, or the audience?
A. Filmmakers, mostly. The audience has always been ready, even in 1940. The audience always has a vivid imagination, and is receptive to good entertainment. We have to deliver the goods.
Q. You are a renowned director worldwide, and nationwide. Why do you make more movies abroad than here?
A. When I started, there were certain topics that I wanted to make, but I could not. I wanted to make a movie on Nelson Mandela, but could not. I am sure everybody knows that 'Bandit Queen' was financed from outside the country. Those days, nobody was willing to invest in different kinds of films, but now they are.
Q. You take quite some time to make a film. Why?
A. That is not true. 'Elizabeth – The Golden Age' was shot in 70 days flat. The first 'Elizabeth' was shot in 65 days. 'Four Feathers' took 90 days. Did you know that I took only 44 days to make 'Masoom'? I do not take too much time. Actually, if one makes a schedule, and sticks to it, a movie can be made within a reasonable span of time. In fact, I get impatient when things are delayed. If you have the passion for films, then make them quickly, and get over them.
Q. Have you ever had a problem with the portrayal of characters by the stars that you work with in your larger-than-life movies?
A. I have never worked with stars, so I have not had problems. Stars acquire this image after 15-20 films, and they find hard to let go of it. During the shoot of 'Masoom', Naseerudin Shah and Shabana Azmi were not stars, neither were Anil Kapoor and Sridevi in 'Mr India'. My incomplete film, 'Joshilaay', did not have stars. We found Cate Blanchette for 'Elizabeth. She may be a star now, but she is the only one, who can play the role in the sequel.
Q. Tell us about 'Paani'.
A. 'Paani' is the story of a city divided into two parts. One is on a higher level, and the other on a lower level. Lack of space has resulted in flyovers, and the higher city dwells on the flyover. The higher city accounts for 15 per cent of the population, the rich ones. The remaining 85 per cent live in the lower area, where they are cut off from open air and the sunlight. Due to global warming, the rivers have dried up. The rich citizens have access to all the water, and they measure out drops to give the poorer ones. A man can starve for a week, but he cannot go without water for more than a day. This is the story of how water can become expensive. And it is relevant to today's time, too. A litre of water costs us between Rs 15 and Rs 20. The story of the film is about the time when people protest against this injustice.
Q. After 'Masoom', and 'Mr India', do you plan to make any more movies for children?
A. I have written a story for children, 'Mantra'. I am looking for a director for this movie, since I have too much work, and I cannot direct all the films. I want to share the workload.
Q. Any director from Bollywood with whom you want to work?
A. I can't think of a director, but I can tell you some of the films I really liked. These include 'Rang De Basanti', 'Munnabhai MBBS', 'Gangster', 'Dil Chahta Hain', 'Jab We Met', and 'Om Shanti Om'. I am impressed with these directors.
Q. Rumour has it that you are planning an animation film as well?
A. I am making an animation film on a cockroach, called 'Very Aesthetic Cockroach'. It is the story of a cunning yet endearing cockroach, named Vicky. He has friends all over the world – in Greece, Spain, Russia, etc. He has found out that cockroaches can survive the holocaust, and is quite kicked about it. Then he wonders why humans rule the Earth, when it rightfully belongs to the cockroaches.
Q. Tell us about your comic book company.
A. I wanted to spread Indian culture abroad, and that is how I began writing some stories. First, I wrote 'Bombay Dreams', which was quite successful. Then I got together with some friends and decided to launch this company. Comic books have always been successful in Europe and North America. I have now opened a company in Bangalore as well, with 300 young illustrators and 20 writers. Books published here are read worldwide. Some comic books are also adapted as films, video games and animation films. I have delegated the work to various people, so I am a little out of it. I go there sometimes, write a story or two, lecture them, and come away.
-Rajnee Gupta (SAMPURN)