Indian actor Harshvardhan Kapoor, who is a proud non-conformist when it comes his acting choices and his career, has a bone to pick with all those who believe that Bollywood doesn’t experiment enough.
“We have this perception of Bollywood that we don’t produce new stuff. But when we try to test new stuff and be progressive, the support is really not there … We have made an attempt with ‘Thar’,” said Kapoor in an interview with Gulf News.
‘Thar’, starring his famous father Anil Kapoor, is a Western set in the arid landscapes of Rajasthan and jumps to the familiar beats of crime, retribution, and moral bankruptcy. Harshvardhan plays an antique dealer who seems to have a lot to hide, while his father plays a cop investigating a gruesome murder in the dusty hole of a town.
Harshvardhan, who labels himself as a misfit in Bollywood, claims his latest role was his nascent career’s most challenging roles. He has also co-produced this film, but it’s no ‘vanity-project’, he warns.
Excerpts from our chat with Harshvardhan on his slim-but-sturdy career, working with his charismatic father, and more …
‘Thar’ comes across as a ‘Curry Western’ and how would you sell this movie to us?
It’s a lot of things. It’s a Western and is set in that world. It has elements of a thriller, drama, and film noir. It’s very much Indian or Hindustani in terms of where it’s set and the characters that inhabit the world. It’s a ‘Curry Western’ with a story that’s truly Indian.
Have you always been fascinated with the Western genre — since you have produced and acted in ‘Thar’?
I have been very open to genres. With ‘AK Vs AK’, it was a meta-comedy, with ‘Bhavesh Joshi’ it was a superhero vigilante drama and we turned that genre on its head. With ‘Ray’ — in the anthology ‘Spotlight’ — we did a dark comedy that was a social commentary on organised religion and celebrity culture. My first film ‘Mirziya’ was a romantic musical that was different from the traditional Bollywood musicals. ‘Thar’ is following those templates where stories are India but it’s told in a global way and our performances are more nuanced, layered, and real as opposed to being larger-than-life. And, that’s precisely what drew me to this particular film. For me, it’s all about how good the writing is and how unique the vision. I don’t want any of my work to be fabricated or a replica of something that’s repackaged or rehashed. I want my films to offer something new, whether it’s good or bad. Look at any of my four films that I have done in the past, every film has been unique and a daring piece of work. ‘Thar’ is unique and daring.
Western films have always been emblematic of manliness with hyper-masculine heroes saving the world. Is there a place for women characters in your production ‘Thar’?
‘Thar’ is a film about men doing extreme things, but the women have a key part to play in it too. Fatima’s [Sana Sheikh] part is a very important role, but we can’t talk about roles as it’s a character-driven film rather than a plot-driven one. The characters are layered and it’s not going to be easy for the audiences to pinpoint who the protagonist or an antagonist is. You may even hate all of our characters or even be indifferent to a few of them and that’s OK. We are all open to interpretation. In ‘Thar’, we have created a unique world. But sometimes when you have directors who try to create a visually unique worlds, their narratives would turn simplistic and full of tropes. ‘Thar’ is ambitious in design and narrative.
Western is traditionally a Hollywood genre. Were you worried about borrowing ideas and aping the West?
‘Thar’ is specific to Rajasthan and the dusty landscape is a character in this film. The arid landscape shots represent the state of mind of these characters. We didn’t want to shoot in a green grasslands … There’s a lot of symbolism in this film.
Your character is intriguing as well with a lot to hide. You are definitely not a straight-laced antique dealer.
This is my fifth acting credit and it’s the most challenging role that I have done. It was very tough. It is very difficult to engage an audience when you play a character who can’t reveal his character to them. Usually in films you know what the character’s motivations are and it’s woven into the narrative right from the beginning. Here you don’t know why my character is doing what he is doing … I had to focus on creating a very detailed back story for the character. I had to create thoughts for the character. I used to think disturbing, repulsive, and heinous thoughts while playing scenes and I hope those nuances come through. There’s a quiet sexuality about my character so I had to work on this quiet, magnetic quality without saying or doing too much. I couldn’t be very expressive in the more kind of expected sense of the word.
So you were on call to be brooding in a covertly sexy manner …
If you try to be brooding in a sexy manner, you brain is blank and it may come across as flat. I am quite hideous in this film, but the ponderous persona comes from your thoughts.
In comparison, your father and actor Anil Kapoor plays a relatively more conventional role of a cop?
Yes, but his role is different from the usual cops in masala films in Bollywood. He’s not some larger-than-life cop. He plays a very empathetic and sensitive cop who values his family. He is about to hang up his boots because of the pressure he gets from his higher-ups. He’s vulnerable and he has a lot going on in his world. Ultimately, this film is about men doing extreme things ... I don’t want to reveal too much of a plot. But like I said, it’s about men doing extreme things.
Is it a good idea to work with family?
We did ‘AK Vs AK’ and people loved us. It was a resounding success both critically and otherwise. The only reason why I am doing this film is because only he could have done that role.
From the outside, it looks like you were privy to a world of privilege. You have acted and co-produced the film. How did you ensure it wasn’t a vanity project?
This film is basically director Raj Singh Chaudhary’s vision … We are here because we love his material. If we wanted to do a vanity project, it wouldn’t be a Western where I don’t have hair or make-up and am shown suffering throughout the entire film. If it was a vanity project, you would have multiple good-looking men and women, foreign locations and I get to be charming. I get to wear the best clothes in my wardrobe and Anil Kapoor is Anil Kapoor 2.0 version himself. You have none of that in ‘Thar’. After this film, I don’t think anyone will let me do a vanity project. They might even be scared of me. By making this film, I have effectively scared off the remaining five people who might have wanted to work with me. I will definitely be unemployed after this film [laughs].
You are so self-deprecating … You have tried and some films landed and some didn’t. But, do you think you are still a misfit who’s trying to find his place in Bollywood?
If you ask me, I have done four films in my career and only one didn’t work. ‘Bhavesh Joshi’, my first superhero film, was extremely well-made and found a cult following. I have people writing to me for years begging me to make a sequel. ‘AK Vs AK’ and Vaasan’s [Bala, director of ‘Spotlight’ anthology in ‘Ray] film did extremely well. The only film that didn’t reach its potential was ‘Mirziya’, but it was a beauty of film. I have been lucky with the last three films. I will always feel like a misfit and I am a bit of a non-conformist. A non-conformist will never feel like he’s any part of a clique or a group. And that’s the life I signed up for.
So you are privileged since you are not a sell-out …
There are people who do what makes them happy and I do what makes me happy. It’s simple. All sorts of people need to exist in this world and there’s no right or wrong in an art-form. While ‘AK Vs AK’ was a great film, there is a million people who liked ‘Bhavesh Joshi’ more. You can never make a piece of art that pleases everybody. Even for ‘Thar’ I am sure there will be some who will love the film and some who can’t get through it. We are here to make art that will polarise and start a conversation. Art is supposed to be polarising.
As a producer and actor, was it liberating to have Netflix premiere ‘Thar’. Streaming platforms aren’t dictated by strict censorship on violence, graphic scenes, or profanities …
The censor board works in funny ways — there are days when you can get away with something. I don’t know what’s the mood of the country is right now. But luckily, we didn’t have to worry about that. We are more liberated. I don’t get censorship in films anyway. When you open the newspaper or put on the news, you get to see all the horrific and heinous stuff that’s going on. It’s not censored, but for some reason when you go to a movie, it’s completely sanitised. It’s weird sort of juxtaposition that I don’t understand. Luckily, we didn’t have to think about it much because we didn’t go the conventional route. ‘Thar’ is a global film which will stream in 190 countries. We could go out there and make a film that we wanted to make.
Don’t miss it!
‘Thar’ is out on Netflix on May 6
“I have grown up watching all sorts of films. But I am not a true-blue fan of Western films. It’s not a genre of my choice, but I don’t like superhero films and I ended up doing a unique film like ‘Bhavesh Joshi’. ‘Thar’ is not your traditional Western. The protagonist is a young guy here, he’s not some middle-aged cowboy,” said Harshvardhan Kapoor on whether he likes Westerns or not.