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A perfectionist uninterrupted
After a slew of impressive roles and dubbing for Ben Kingsley in 'Gandhi', Pankaj Kapur had very few good film offers. He turned to television instead, but directors with bound scripts and meatier roles have brought him back where he belongs.
In a room lit by a dim, cadmium-orange light, Pankaj Kapur sits in a chair in front of a sketch of William Shakespeare. It is quite apt since Kapur has not only essayed Shakespearean characters in his National School of Drama days but also played King Duncan, named Abbaji, in the film Maqbool, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth by Vishal Bhardwaj.
As the drunkard Harry Mandola in the film Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, Kapur is unpredictable, temperamental, conniving but above all human, just like a Shakespearean character. His latest role may have won him a lot of acclaim but success hasn't come easy for Kapur, whose Bollywood career extends 31 years.
So, didn't he ever feel the temptation to dabble in mainstream commercial cinema where money and fame come more easily? He says, "I am not against mainstream cinema. I admire the films produced by Raj Kapoor, Vijay Anand, Chetan Anand, Shekhar Kapur and other such directors. I also want to work in entertaining films. But where are characters in these films?" He also points out that the fact that directors in those days did not work with a bound script was a problem.
After his NSD days, he bagged the role of second secretary of Mahatma Gandhi in the film Gandhi. He was noticed more for his dubbing for Ben Kingsley in the Hindi version of the film. This was followed by variety of roles such as a juror in Ek Ruka Hua Faisla, a doctor whose genius is unrecognised by the society in Ek Doctor Ki Maut, and ruthless contractor in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. He also essayed the role of Amrita Singh's father in the film Chameli Ki Shaadi. "I was 29 and she was four to five years younger. "
In later years, with the exception of a few films such as Raakh and Roja, very few good film offers came his way. In characteristic candour, Kapur says he was offered roles of young villain, heroine's brother or hero's friend. Instead of waiting, he found television to be an interesting medium to satisfy his creative urge. Then came Doordarshan classics such as Karamchand, Zabaan Sambhaal Ke, Lifeline, Phatichar and Office Office. All the characters were different from each other.
During Kapur's television decade, the methods of working in the Hindi film industry had changed. Directors with bound scripts and meatier roles began making different genre of films. A new breed of filmmakers had begun making a mark for themselves.
Among these directors, the association with Vishal Bhardwaj proved to be fruitful for Kapur. This association has developed and prospered like the Spanish actor-director duo Luis Bunuel and Fernando Rey. One of the finest performances of his career is in Vishal Bhardwaj's Maqbool. He says, "The role of Abbaji was supposed to done by Naseerudin Shah. Vishal had approached me for the role of Kake done by Piyush Mishra. It was Naseer who suggested my name for the role stating that he has done such kind of roles in his long career. " Even then, Kapur did not give a nod to the script. He read the script for a few days, began internalising the nuances of the character and later accepted the role. But what did it take to perform such an authoritative figure with such minimalism? He says, "I tried to discover the life story of the given human being and reconstruct it. One is constructed on the level of writing and the other has to be reconstructed at the level of you working as an actor. It is on paper to begin with but you have to make it come alive. You have to give it flesh and blood. " That is acting for Pankaj Kapur.
He denies that the role was modelled after Godfather. He believes that any old man who has been having betelnut for years would develop such hoarse element in his voice. The character, he states, was developed with lot of deliberation with Bhardwaj and those discussions brought a lot of plausible logic to it. With Bhardwaj, he shares trust.
"We understand each other very well. I feel like a tiger when he shows his complete faith in me and says no one except I can do the role. " Beside Vishal Bhardwaj, his works with other directors are also exceptional. His role in Dharm with first time director Bhavana Talwar received wide acclaim.
Does it bother him when his performances continue to receive consistent appreciation but the films do not work? He says, "It is a very tedious thing. It makes you feel good that somewhere your role is being appreciated. But at the same time the fact that the film is not appreciated makes me feel horrible. As an actor, for me the most important thing is the content of the film. But one does not have control over the outcome of the film. Ideally, I prefer the success and the appreciation of performances and content. It is a perfect blend. But how many of us can achieve perfection. We can only strive towards it. "
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