He runs or cycles for about an hour and puts in around an hour in the gym. Every day. Six days a week.
Not that he needs to – Anil Kapoor’s been in B-town for about 38 years now, and he’s no longer the matinee idol he was in the 80s and 90s.
His last film was the 2015 laugh riot Welcome Back. His daughter, Sonam Kapoor, is a style icon and the upcoming queen of Bollywood, and his son, Harshvardhan, makes his debut in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya, which released yesterday in the UAE.
Yet, when film-maker Aditya Chopra was directing hotshot star Ranveer Singh in Befikre last month in Paris, he found his star borrowing heavily from Anil Kapoor.
‘[After a particular shot] Adi [Chopra] sir told me “You’ve started acting like Anil Kapoor. I want your shot, not Anil’s”,’ Ranveer said in an interview recently.
So what is it about the 59-year-old star that makes young actors try to emulate him?
‘I don’t know, I just go nuts when I see him!’ Ranveer told the media recently.
Another younger actor Akshay Kumar had this to say: ‘It’s incredible, he’s still as frisky as he was in the 80s.’
That friskiness is very much on display during a Friday-exclusive photo shoot with the star at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai, prior to his press conference for the launch of the second season of the Hindi version of 24, a television series that’s quite the rage on Colors TV.
This Bollywood star has no starry airs. He breezes into the hall and announces: ‘I am all yours!’ in a self-mocking imitation of the television anchor he played in his Hollywood breakthrough hit Slumdog Millionaire.
He poses at a corner without fussing over the background, jumps on the stage for another shot, and is still raring to go when the photographer calls a halt. The only demand is that his trusted make-up man Deepak (‘I’ve been with Saab [Sir] over 10 years’) be around with the mirror and touch-up kit. Before every shot, Anil takes a quick look to check out the angle, shakes his head to either side like a boxer squaring up to face his opponent, and says, ‘Shoot!’
Does his son, who’s 25 and just starting out in showbiz, have his enthusiasm for photo shoots? Anil chooses to misinterpret the question. ‘Too early to say about my son, you should ask others!’ he says. ‘Let’s wait for his release, see his work.’
Anil, it is clear, would prefer speaking about the reason he’s visiting Dubai: 24.
‘We are eight episodes ready so far into the second season,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘We’ve shot almost 19, and we have another five left to shoot. So far it’s been very enriching, educative, exciting, exhilarating… all kinds of emotions.
‘There have been anxious moments because this is the first time it will be telecast simultaneously in the Middle East along with India. During the first season a lot of viewers wanted to know why they couldn’t get to watch it simultaneously. That’s why we decided to telecast in the UK, Africa and the Middle East along with India. It has a great following and people who had seen it are very enthusiastic, and we are very hopeful.’
There’s another reason why Anil is keen on showcasing his production in the UAE. The production company he launched in 2014, Antila Ventures, is based in Dubai, and Anil wants the maiden production of his company to be available in the host country. ‘This is the first show being produced by my company, so naturally we are interested,’ he says. ‘We’ve acquired a few formats that we’ll launch soon. It’s very exciting times ahead.’
He is careful in downplaying the ventures so as not to arouse high expectations. ‘Ours is a very boutique enterprise. We have no ambitions of becoming a huge production house churning out assembly-line productions. We go for quality over quantity. We first produced my daughter Rhea’s Khoobsurat, now we are doing 24, and soon Veere Di Wedding. There’s another film in the works called Mubaarakan with Arjun Kapoor. After 24 I will take a break for a month-and-a-half and then will begin Veere Di Wedding.
While these may appear to be regular productions, Anil has a big one up his sleeve – the Hindi remake of the Helen Mirren-Bruce Willis Hollywood hit Red. ‘I’ve tied up with [production house] Lionsgate for this film. The script is ready and pre-production work is on – budgeting. Only then will we cast the film. I am very excited about it. It will be my most ambitious film to date as a producer.’
A stickler for perfection, Anil Kapoor never signs on a film without looking at the script. ‘I’ve done that right from the beginning and I’ve been very lucky in that even when it was not the norm I was always given the complete script – even the films I did between 1979-80: Mashaal, Woh Saat Din, MS Sathyu’s Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaye, and Mani Ratnam’s first film Pallavi Anupallavi. I’ve been very lucky that way. I’ve worked with film-makers who believed in starting with a bound script. So, when my brother Boney and I started producing films we had the script ready first. With the other films I’ve done too I have made sure that the script was ready. For me, content is king – the script is the key factor in signing a film.’
That is also the reason Anil doesn’t mind working with film-makers who have yet to establish their credentials. ‘When Vidhu Vinod Chopra came to me with the script of Parinda I agreed to do the film even though he’d done only a small film, Khamosh,’ he says. ‘The reason was his completed script. When Mani Ratnam came to me with his very first script, Pallavi Anupallavi, in Kannada, I didn’t know him at all. But when he met me in Chennai and narrated the script, that did it for me, and I ended up doing my first Kannada film. Back then I had no way of knowing Mani would become the great film-maker he is today.’
Art-house film-makers as well as the regular Bollywood producers – Anil is in demand with everyone, and his due diligence to his craft is to credit for this. But Anil doesn’t subscribe to any particular school of acting: ‘I just try to be as honest as possible,’ he says.
‘There have been films I’ve done very instinctively like Welcome, where I based it on a character I’d observed in real life. When I did Biwi No.1, I based it on an uncle who was just like the character I portrayed – a Delhi guy who always wore a muffler, always full of life. It depends on the character. There are certain films that need a lot of research, a lot of thought has to go into it. There are certain characters that you can’t relate to, that have no basis in real life.
‘When I was doing Mission Impossible 4 they asked me to play this multibillionaire who is pompous and arrogant and so full of himself. What I did was pick up books on all the billionaires of the world, picked up traits here and there, and then I, of course, had Vijay Mallya in mind! The way he speaks on the phone, the way he has his phone brought on a tray, these were all aspects I added to the character.
‘When I was doing Jai Singh Rathod in 24, I wanted to make it authentic and real, so I met the head of ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) in India, and he was very helpful and introduced me to a lot of agents, and they have always been on board. Whenever I am confused about anything on the show I call them up, or they come to the sets to discuss it with me and the writers. Sometimes a lot of work is required on the character. Different roles, different ways of making it believable and real. The primary concern is that the audience does not feel that I am faking it.’
Unlike many actors, Anil does not have a dream role. ‘I don’t think like that. You just wait, listen to the scripts that come to you, and if it sparks an interest in you… I do what’s offered to me. I don’t hanker after anything.’
There are quite a few roles Anil feels he cannot pull off. ‘I cannot play Rambo, or a Terminator, or a role as a dancer in Saturday Night Fever,’ he says. ‘The way Stallone or Schwarzenegger or Travolta pulled them off. I love these films, but I certainly can’t do them.’
There has been talk of uniting him again with Jackie Shroff, the hero he was most paired with in the Eighties and Nineties. ‘I would love to get back with Jackie Shroff for one last shot – but there has to be a role, a script,’ he says. ‘Actually, I want to get back and work with all the actors I’ve worked with in the past. Sanjay Dutt, Sunny Deol… they’ve been my contemporaries.’
Though the fire for Bollywood still burns bright in him, Anil now also manages to focus on other areas in his life. ‘There was a time when I was simply immersed in making movies,’ he confesses. ‘I’d shoot three or four shifts, working on more than three films at a time, work on holidays, and other important days when I should have been with my family. I was caught up in establishing myself. My wife had to bring up our children almost single-handedly, and all credit for who they are goes to her.’
But his wife Sunita also made him support the social causes she espouses. ‘Because of her I’ve been part of an organisation called Plan India for the past 10 years,’ he says. ‘Now we are working on a project focusing on the girl child, for which I will be travelling to Bangladesh, Africa and also some of the smaller villages in India after I am done with 24 Season 2.
‘I believe in giving time for such work, I don’t believe in doing anything half-heartedly. I have to feel it, live it, to really give my best, with the same passion I approach my work. I try to organise an auction of paintings, mobilise my friends for the fundraising, and the money collected goes towards poor kids’ upkeep.
‘I tied up with the producers of Slumdog Millionaire and now all the children of Planet India are being looked after by them. Danny Boyle is very much involved… nobody knows about it. He comes to Mumbai and oversees everything. Plan India is the custodian.’
The talk again turns back to 24. ‘My wife and children are patiently waiting for me to get done with 24 so I can be with them,’ he says. ‘It’s been very relentless, working on it. Really hard work, it takes a lot from the actors, and it’s about the best you can have on television, for an actor. It’s like doing theatre, only on film. It requires a purity. You can’t just faff your way through. You have to be honest. Otherwise, it’s better not to do it.’