I am not a writer as such. As of now, I am in the middle of a hailstorm that is a consistent part of every actor's journey: pre-release film promotions. I was asked to write a blog for Huffington Post India and I decided to do it on a whim, wanting to see if I get excited to put my thoughts down on paper and sound coherent at the same time. Finding a subject proved to be harder than expected though. I introspected and figured it's a cliche but I decided I still want to speak about what a fanboy I am where cinema is concerned.
A quick flashback:
I realised my love for cinema after watching my father's magnum opus Mr India a billion times on VHS. It had everything that our cinema stood for at that time -- humour, emotions, naach-gaana, maar-dhaad, opulence, good vs evil -- you name it. There was so much riding on the film for us, more than just the money we had pumped in. It was a MAMMOTH project of epic proportions. It did well enough I guess, in perception but truth be told, it wasn't a money spinner like it is perceived today. My dad just about broke even.
My last film, Finding Fanny was not a big film, at least not in the conventional sense of the term. It seemed like a big step ahead for cinema, given the esoteric space that the film was placed in. But within the tropes of commercial Hindi cinema, it was a small film with a big heart, if I may add. Finding Fanny did more for me as a person than I had ever imagined. It was a fulfilling and a wholesome experience, it allowed me to just be in a space that wasn't my own, and eventually feel a sense of belonging, and I genuinely feel I am better off for it...as a person and a actor.
The fact is that one doesn't make films with either just money or movie stars (PS: sometimes u need both). The heart of the filmmaker has to be in the right place. The keyword here is PASSION. Not sure if it was a family heirloom handed down to me, or something that I acquired, growing up amidst the grime and dust of the film sets I used to hang out in, but ever since I can remember, it felt like home.
The reason I speak of Finding Fanny and Mr India in the same blog is to sort of put into perspective this term passion. Mr India took two years to make while Finding Fanny took less than two months. The effort at the end of the day was to tell a story, to live a journey, to encapsulate audiences and entertain them. Now I know both aren't runway blockbusters, but I have two unique cases to look back on to figure out that film-making is difficult and doesn't guarantee results, the process of it results in you taking home your experiences and being a better man for it. I mean, no one can guarantee success, but you have to be that involved in the journey that you look back and find a reason to smile because you were a part of a film.
At the time when Mr. India was being made circa 1985, it was a tough movie to make because the technology wasn't as advanced. Back then, there was no way to add VFX during post-production; everything was shot on camera. It has been a little more than 25 years since it released and 'Mr. India' still holds strong even today.
Biased as it may sound, I think 'Mr. India' perhaps is right up there with the legends of Hindi cinema. It took that amount of an auteur's vision, passion and an ambition of that scale to pull-off a Mr. India. Not to take away the innocence of 'Arun bhaiyya', and like Shekhar sir often says, "The fact that all the actors involved took the attention away from the visual effects." To add to it, what I saw was the hunger to make a passion project that will stand the test of time.
Many examples might exist where, even with the right minds and the right amount of passion, things have still gone wrong. But the people involved day-to-day with the making of that film will inherently know if the leaders of the film -- the producer, the director, the actors -- are just cashing-in a pay cheque or if they care about making each take, each shot, each day count. That energy flows on a set and is infectious during the making of a film. Eventually it's a relationship you have, although be it with a pre-meditated expiry date. The foundation has to come from an organic place devoid of the crores and the awards or rewards.
There are very few films that do so, and then we have a film like DDLJ that will soon complete 1,000 weeks and might still run strong. As an actor, my biggest success will come when I am a part of one such film. Such films are rare, and I have a very long way to go to get anywhere close, but yes, let me just say that for me cinema is beyond just weekend collections, the screen time I get to hog, or any other such miscellany. I certainly don't live in a utopian world, and I just hope that I am prepared when any such role comes my way.
As the audience evolves over the times, our cinema has changed too; for every money-spinning commercial pot-boiler, we have a Lunchbox, Kai Po Che, Vicky Donor, Queen that can co-exist and find an audience beautifully.
They don't mind a realistic, gritty, violent, retelling of Romeo and Juliet in Ishaqzaade, or a beautifully-made, larger-than-life operatic version in Ram-Leela. As long as we work on creating a world with suspension of belief, the audience is willing to pay attention. Our audience now has access to the best of world cinema, yet it's a surreal feeling to watch them go berserk, when Salman bhai bares his torso, or even when SRK spreads his arms while a romantic song plays out in the background. It's as inexplicable as the evolution of the mobile phone. Basically our diaspora of audience is so vast, we still haven't fully tapped into it or been able to fathom their likes or dislikes completely. There aren't any fixed set of likes or dislikes, it changes Friday to Friday, film to film. Each film that works is an anomaly in a sense that only the audience knows the factors that make it click. We just have to set out to entertain them, if they bite, then great, if not, you take it on your chin put your hand up and try again with equal gusto and passion.
I remain a poster boy of being a by-product of this new audience sensibility in India. Truth be told, I am still trying to find my niche in between Ishaqzaade and Finding Fanny. Every time I walk into a film set, I am just as excited as I was when I first did. The eagerness to read a well-written part is only growing by the day. The nervousness to hear the director's reaction to the shot remains as it was. And all this is eventually to live the experience that I have grown-up wanting to be part of. Honestly, so many films have made me break through the fourth wall and take me along for the ride, I want to be part of films that give a young kid that joy that cinema has given me ever since I saw films as a 5-year-old like Back to the Future or Ram Lakhan. That's why I love movies, you live vicariously through them.
The bottom-line here is that the only place I feel at home is in films. As a wise man once said, "You can take a Kapoor out of the cinema, but you can't take the cinema out of a Kapoor."
Arjun Kapoor's photo was taken by Zaheer Abbas.