For Pankaj Kapur, all the world's a stage.
Image Credit: Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Senior Reporter
Bollywood actor Pankaj Kapur has fought hard against stereotypes. And there are several attached to his name. Despite acting in witty detective TV series such as Karamchand (1985), which brought him instant fame, the 62-year-old National School of Drama graduate is considered an actor for the cerebral elite. A serious, thinking person's actor, if you will.
Give him a role with grey shades such as the troubled terrorist in director Mani Ratnam's celebrated romance Roja , and he will yank the glory away from the handsome lead Arvind Swamy, whom Kapur kidnaps for ransom in the film.
He's your quintessential 27 percenter, a term borrowed from Empire Magazine and their theory bestowed on those actors who are consistently good in their roles and make a flawed film 27 per cent better just by their presence.
"I take acting seriously, but I am not a serious person as such - My entire life is all about not getting stereotyped. So if you look at my career, I have tried never to repeat a character so that the audience, producers and directors look at me differently," said Kapur.
On Friday in Dubai, his love for being versatile will be put to test. After a gap of three decades, Kapur is back on the stage, for the dramatic reading of his own novella Dopehri at Ductac in Mall Of The Emirates.
"All I need is 80 minutes of your undivided attention. It's a dramatic narration in the Hindustani [Hindi] language. So the audience needs to keep in mind that I will have a script in hand and I will read it out aloud," said Kapur, who is keen to underline that Dopehri isn't a play in the conventional sense. It's not a one-man act where lines are memorised either.
Limited props such as a study table to show the inside of a mansion, a sole chair and ambient lighting will be used for his theatrical experiment, which he wrote 20 years ago.
Dopehri will transport you to Lucknow and into the world of Amma Bi, an old lady who lives alone. Apart from her domestic helper, who turns up daily to clean up, her life is devoid of action or adventure. But her decision to rent out her mansion to a well-meaning doctor alters her life and propels her to a path of self-realisation.
"Many people in the UAE will be able to relate to this story because all of us have our mother, grandmothers and great grandmothers back home in India. It deals with the loneliness that exists in their lives."
Dopehri is produced by his wife, actress Supriya Pathak, and their theatre company, Theatron, and has garnered positive reviews in India. The UAE will be their first international stop.
"You will be surprised at the number of people who are [interested] in theatre these days. They have all appreciated Dopehri and like this novel idea of storytelling. It's a human story and the concept of human relationships have not changed, so it will resonate with the audiences everywhere. The audiences in Dubai are well-read and will surely enjoy this," said Kapur.
Such one-on-one interactions will also help him touch base with his fans and return to his roots. He began his career with theatre. After four years of staging plays, he made his acting debut in 1982 with Shyam Benegal's Arohan .
But if there's one criticism that has stayed with the National-Award winning actor, it's that he doesn't take on enough work. Being prolific isn't his style.
"But that's not my doing. If some kind of sensible work comes my way, then why would I not want to be a part of it? Why would I choose to sit at home or office? I am passionate about my work, but it's a question of what's offered to me. Because I do pay serious attention to the script and that's the least expected of us [actors]," said Kapur. His expectation for a solid script could prove elusive in an industry such as Bollywood that prides itself in having a lucid script and hiring actors based on the lead actors' personal equations with the actors who are seeking supporting roles.
Salman Khan's productions are often littered with sidekicks who are also his friends in real life (Khan's box-office debacle Jai Ho is one such glorious example).
But Kapur hasn't done too shabbily, despite power games in the notoriously unorganised industry. He has managed to do one film a year in the last three years including Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, Finding Fanny and Shaandaar with his son, actor Shahid Kapoor. Although these films didn't conquer the box-office or capture the public's fascination, his performances never came under fire.
Kapur, who has acted in films including the social satire Halla Bol and in Maqbool , based on Shakespeare's Macbeth , is also unwilling to act in substandard TV serials.
" Karamchand was a character that made me popular with the audience. It was a role that got the directors and producers to wake up and realise that there was an actor called Pankaj Kapur. But the kind of TV series that are being made today - I cannot relate to it. With due respect to the actors who are in them, I cannot be a part of something that I don't believe in."
Kapur isn't a fan of comparisons either.
"That's so unfortunate - instead of saying that you as an actor have your own distinct qualities, the need to compare is strong. If you are a good writer, the tendency to say that you write as well as somebody else is strong. Why should there be any such comparisons in the first place. Can't we all have our own distinct approaches to acting? A young actor is compared to an older hero, why?"
But did his beliefs stand in the way of advancing his career?
"Though I have been in the industry for 40 years, I don't boast about owning bungalows and driving expensive cars in the world. Nor do I have a fixed deposit that will take care of me for the next twenty-five years of my life. But at the same time, I am settled, I am happy with myself and at peace today. This has been my journey and somewhere I feel the hand of Almighty is on me," said Kapur.
*Don't miss it
Dopehri is on September 2 at Centrepoint, Ductac, Mall Of The Emirates. There are two shows, at 6pm and 9pm, and tickets cost Dh150. Call 04-3414777.
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