exclusive by Devansh Patel
With entertainment dominated by fresh-faced actors now-a-days, it's extremely heartening to see someone break into the corridors of power when in their late forties. Better still when that person's an accomplished actor making a comeback in Bollywood. But what if I say that he is just about to make his Hollywood debut in what's said to be a film which undoubtedly is going to win accolades at the Academy Awards and the Bafta's next year? The film – Slumdog Millionaire, the director – Danny Boyle, step forward Anil Kapoor, a renaissance man who's squeezed several (mostly successful) lives into one and come out on top of the Bollywood tree. In this world exclusive interview from London, the jhakaas actor talks in depth to Devansh Patel about his first Hollywood film Slumdog Millionaire, his London Film Festival experience, his expectations, his family reactions, his special message to his fans and above all, praises, praises and more praises for his director, the award winning director Danny Boyle.
We are all eager to know how did an acclaimed Hollywood director like Danny Boyle sign you up for a role in his next film Slumdog Millionaire?
I received an sms saying that Danny Boyle wanted to meet me regarding his next film Slumdog Millionaire in which he had a role for me after he watched Tall and Virasat. Now as you are aware that in Bollywood one is so busy with their commitments that they tend to forget who Danny Boyle is. But when you talk of films like Trainspotting and The Beach, suddenly the name of the director pops up. So I mentioned this to my son as he is a big Danny Boyle fan, in fact all youngsters are. He loves his kind of cinema which is out of the box, pulsating and youthful. He got very excited and told me to reply back to the sms which was lying in my inbox since quite a few days. So I called my friend Deepak Nayar in L.A who coincidently was handling the production of the same film. He informed me that Danny Boyle is a cult figure in the U.S. Then the script came and me and my son read it. We loved it, fixed an appointment and there I was, without any auditions, a part of Slumdog Millionaire.
Were you at all worried about the screen space Danny would've given you in the film initially when he offered you the film?
When you're working with the likes of Danny Boyle and when the script is written by Simon Beaufoy, there is bound to be a good role for you irrespective of the length of your own role. When you work in an international film like Slumdog Millionaire, even two scenes done correctly in the film work wonders. And you're forgetting that I had already read the script. It's only in India that you worry about screen space and the length.
Danny Boyle has projected Mumbai in Slumdog Millionaire like no other film maker has ever done. What do you think?
I am more than happy about it. In fact, Slumdog Millionaire is a fairy tale kind of a film. You have to see the film to believe it. I mean he has shot some scenes in the slums so beautifully, you feel touched by the direction and the camera work. It was so perfect.
People across the globe who've watched Trainspotting, A Lifeless Ordinary and The Beach wouldn't expect a Slumdog Millionaire, will they?
Danny has got his own style. When the chief of Fox Searchlights, Peter Rice, was introducing Danny Boyle in a tribute to the director in L.A, that's the time I realised the kind of respect he has across the globe. Peter Rice quoted, "Danny has never made the same kind of film ever". When Danny was offered to direct Alien 4, he was offered a big cheque which he refused. He just wanted to direct films which he would believe in and wanted to make. He chose to direct a 15 million dollar film than a 150 million dollar one. He is a risk taker in a way. I mean, the only well known face in Slumdog Millionaire is Irrfan Khan who is known worldwide. All the rest are new comers including me.
You play the host of the famous tele series 'Who wants to be a Millionaire'. From Big B to SRK and now comes Anil Kapoor. Any kind of research went into playing the role of Prem?
A lot of literature was sent to me through the script anyway. But first I spoke to Danny and the way he saw the character and how he wanted him to behave. Then he gave me some material on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. In Mumbai, I contacted Siddharth Basu, the person who was responsible for the programme in India. He was very helpful in the research too. Playing an engineer, stock broker, doctor or a businessman is easy because you meet them in your everyday life. But there are very few hosts of the television programme whom you don't meet regularly. You see them only on the television. So there was not a direct reference point here except for the episodes of Mr Bachchan and Shah Rukh in India and the shows done by hosts in the U.K and the U.S. I went through all these tapes and started doing some episodes with Siddharth and his team. I also had a lot of workshop with Danny and the main protagonist of the film Dev Patel.
But how was it to be working with the British talent Dev Patel who plays the boy from the slums winning the million rupees?
He is the main hero of the film. He is the protagonist of Slumdog Millionaire. His journey has three characters who do the same role. How as a child in slums he grows up, then becomes a bit older and then it is Dev Patel. There are three actors and the casting of those three Dev Patel's is phenomenal. I was speechless after watching the film at the London Film Festival and thanks to Loveleen Tandon who has done an amazing job of casting in the film.
Was Dev at all nervous when he met you for the first time?
Not at all. He was a thorough professional. He originally comes from Gujarat but is born and brought up in London who has also done one T.V serial called Skins in the U.K. For me, it was my first English film and for him, it was his first feature film. So we both were a bit nervous initially even though I had come with a lot of experience behind me. We got along very well and Danny also told me to help Dev out in whatever and whichever way I could. He had to play a slum boy and because I've had a personal experiences in the slums and have done films like Mashaal, etc I could identify with his role. I was very handy in adding flavour to my and Dev's role.
The critics in the U.K are vouching Slumdog Millionaire to get selected as the Best Film nominee at the Academy Awards in the U.S and at the Bafta Awards in the U.K. What do you have to say?
It's a bit too early to discuss this right now. Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope that whatever you've just mentioned comes true.
Any other Hollywood films you're going to be a part of in the near future after the thunderous applaud you received after the screening?
I am at such a stage of my career that whichever film comes across me has to be exciting, on par or better than the one I've done earlier. Currently I've got my hands full in India as far as Bollywood is concerned and if someone does come knocking on my doors from the West, why not?
What differentiates Danny Boyle from all the Bollywood directors you've worked with so far in your career?
Danny is not only different from the Indian directors but international directors also. He has his own stand and style and when people do have this speciality in them like what Danny has, they always are different from others. As I've mentioned before, he is one director who hasn't repeated his style. Danny improvises a lot and never tells his actors how to act. He gives you the script and lets you be. His instructions are minimal and the most important thing – Danny didn't come to India with any attitude. Instead, he told us to help him make a good film. That made a world of difference. It's a hallmark of a great human being and a great director. There isn't a game show being used as the main part of any feature film script. That's the USP of Slumdog Millionaire.
Has your family seen the film and what did they think about it?
Yes they all have seen the film. My wife, Sonam and my son, all loved the film. They've said it's awesome. The kind of feedback I've received is incredible. The best comment I received was from a critic who writes for The Independent, UK. He said, "Anil Kapoor makes a memorably narcissistic and two faced quiz host smiling disingenuously while trying to ensure the contestant looses". Even the newspapers like the Observer, Telegraph and The Times have praised not only my performance, but all the other actors in the film who were truly worth admiring especially Dev Patel.
Any message for your fans who are awaiting your first ever Hollywood film?
Yes, I'd like to tell my fans in the U.K that the film releases on January 9 next year in the U.K and to my India fans, well, you'll have to wait just a little bit more. Slumdog Millionaire releases in India in the last week of January. That's our tentative date. We are also planning to keep a special première of the film. And more importantly to all my fans across the globe, Slumdog Millionaire isn't a cross over film in English. It is a Hollywood film directed by Danny Boyle. Looking forward for all your comments next year.