Seasoned Indian actor Anil Kapoor is just done with playing those impossibly good-natured guy roles and is craving for an acting job that taps into his dark and wicked side.
Enter the Indian adaptation of the acclaimed Hugh Laurie-led series ‘The Night Manager’ in which Kapoor, 66, plays a suave businessman and avaricious arms dealer aptly described as “the worst man in the world”. His character has blood on his hands, but greasing his palms with money makes it all worth it.
“Most of the times in my career, I have played those good people on the screen … I am either someone’s favourite son in films like ‘Laadla’ and ‘Beta’ and ‘Eshwar’ or the good husband/father in a film like ‘Judaai’ … It can get tiring and monotonous,” said Kapoor with a laugh.
His last Bollywood release, ‘Jug Jugg Jeeyo’, in which he plays a “bad husband” prone to philandering, was a welcome exception. But imagine getting a role in a spy thriller that pegs you as a cigar-smoking rich man/arms dealer who makes money off war, trauma, and human suffering.
“But I’m not even a smoker in real life and here I smoke a cigar a day as this rich business tycoon. There was a time when I fell unconscious like a leaf because I wasn’t used to all that smoke … After each scene I was coughing. And pretending to know my way with a lighter was a whole new challenge,” said Kapoor. But this actor, who is perennially hungry for meaty roles, didn’t let a measly cigar come in his way of digging his teeth into a complex, morally bankrupt-war profiteer role. The gamble seems to have paid off.
On February 17, Kapoor will spearhead the Hindi-language adaptation of John le Carre’s eponymous novel, and transport you into a murky world where revenge, materialism, and deception is glorified. While Kapoor steps into the role made famous by Laurie as the sharp and suave arms dealer Shelly Rungta, actor Aditya Roy Kapoor takes on Tom Hiddleston’s role as the night manager of a hotel. Actress Shobitaa Dhulipala plays Shelly Rungta’s bodacious girlfriend. The ensemble thriller also boasts stellar talents like Tillotama Shome and Swastika Mukherjee.
But how did Kapoor humanise and empathise with a character that had few redeeming qualities? Apparently, Kapoor mitigated the negatives by bringing “a bit of himself” into this role. He also did extensive research and preparation by re-visiting the original series and watching interviews of the cast and crew to get a grip on his character.
“You have to understand that no matter what, you get a lot of yourself into a character – consciously or subconsciously … So there will be a bit of Anil Kapoor in Shelly Rungta. I had to humanise him to make him believable, relatable, and fun to watch … It was such a challenge to find my own voice here,” said Kapoor.
This award-winning actor, who has thrived in Bollywood for over four decades and has been a part of dozens of blockbusters, gives us an example. His character’s wardrobe choices and his body language was carefully put together to make the series compelling.
“I have worn sharply tailored suits in this one … But it’s not just enough to dress up like a tycoon and a rich man. My body language has to reflect it too. The way I walked and spoke had to reflect the fact that I am someone who effortless smokes a cigar and is fond of the finer things in life,” said Kapoor. Apparently, he struggled with lighting a cigar because he treats his body like a temple.
But Kapoor’s greed for good roles ensured that he nailed this part with conviction. The actor, whose career catalogue is a prolific mix of romances, action dramas, and family entertainers, claims he has no ego when it comes to asking for good work.
“If I want a role, I pursue it relentlessly. I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer … I am willing to reduce my money [fee], free up dates in my calendar, or even lose money to get a good role … While I have no ego when it comes to my work and I respect good talent and filmmakers.”
In his four-decade plus reign Kapoor has straddled a raft of powerful and stirring roles. His turn as a crafty and smooth-talking businessman in ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’ or his role as a dutiful and doting son in ‘Beta’, Kapoor was always on top of his game. He’s also a master at bringing Indian adaptations to hit Western dramas. In 2013, Kapoor rolled out the Hindi version of the hit English-language thriller series ‘24’ by acquiring its right from the original makers. And since he was no stranger to transplanting hit shows set in the West to India, he had a few cautionary tales up his sleeve.
“I am a hawk when it comes to adaptations and I am keenly aware if you miss any point. But you know that you have cracked an adaptation when everything is written on paper and the story act is relatable. In just one single hearing, I loved the adaption and I even forgot about the original show. I consumed it like a person from my part of the world,” said Kapoor. But he warned the Hindi makers of this particular tendency.
“Don’t try to change anything for the sake of changing it … Just because you have bought the rights doesn’t mean you can change everything arbitrarily,” said Kapoor.
Apparently, the biggest stumbling block was finding valid references of arms-dealing in India.
“And that was tricky. We have no reference in arm-dealing in India unlike making a film on a spy agency. We didn’t want to end up showing arm dealers in a stereotypical and caricaturist manner. We wanted this show ‘The Night Manager’ to look real,” said Kapoor.
His second piece advice to his makers was equally pragmatic.
“Cast good actors who you know can do the scenes well,” said Kapoor, who’s also a top producer in Bollywood.
“I kept telling them that they are not starting an acting school where you tell the young, inexperienced actor to take a break for 20 minutes or they are allowed to sit in their van and drink juice in between shots. This cannot happen in a show where you have to cover 20 pages and you have to be relentless,” said Kapoor. His third piece of advice to his makers was not to succumb to any pressure from the channels or streaming platforms at the cost of compromising the show’s authenticity and feel.
“Many wanted to make ‘24’ brighter and that wouldn’t have worked. We stuck to our vision,” said Kapoor. The makers of ‘The Night Manager’, naturally, took note.
So is he happy with how his career has shaped up?
“Every actor wants to experiment and I just hope and pray that young directors and filmmakers want to give me roles and job opportunities. My films like ‘Thar’ and ‘AK Vs AK’ were radical films … I look at a role like I am buying land … One is rubbish land in a horrible location and other one is in a prime location and is smaller and lot more expensive. I would rather go for the latter no matter what the cost. I go after roles in the same manner.”