The new release of the week, Pagalpanti is the third film starring Anil Kapoor to release this year — the actor has already scored a box office hit with Double Dhamaal and received encouraging reviews with Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga in 2019.
Anil is still fit as a fiddle (“I have to maintain myself. I am in showbiz,” he had declared the last time I met him) and he is obviously one of the busiest actors around...not bad for someone who has been in films for four full decades now — he began with a cameo in Hamare Tumhare back in 1979! Anil Kapoor is proof that 60 is the new 40.
Recently, when we reconnected after a break, he remarked on our long association, saying: “Both you and I have tried to stay relevant and not lost our sense of humour.” Anil and I bonded from day one, though we did begin on a sour note.
I was a headline-seeking cub reporter at the mahurat day of Love Marriage (1984, co-starring Meenakshi Sheshadri) and I bluntly asked him an awkward question about the non success of a small film he had headlined in his initial days.
But, I liked the air of determination he wore like a cloak around him and I intuited that he would make it big one day, never mind his caterpillar moustache and scrunched-up eyes. He made no bones about his beginnings: “At heart, I am still the everyday guy from Tilak Nagar, Chembur, where we had common bathrooms,” but he also made it clear that he was going places.
Sure enough, a spate of hits — Karma (1986), Mr India (1987), Tezaab (1988) and Ram Lakhan (1989) — soon made him a star. I met him often in those days when he would be shooting for one of his many co-starrers with Jackie Shroff such as Yudh or his home production, Mr India. Even in those early days, Anil aspired for more than just box office numbers.
Eeshwar, in which he played an endearing simpleton, was released within weeks of his crowd-pleasing tapori acts in Tezaab and Ram Lakhan. Anil was justifiably proud of his performance in the film.
After Eeshwar was completed, I was invited to the preview (they were called trial shows in those days) at Dimple theatre. I reached late and there was no seat in sight. Anil, who was interacting with guests, pulled me by my hand, made me sit on the carpeted aisle and plonked himself beside me.
I am fond of Anil Kapoor — just like he is fond of himself. Yes, he exhibited an obsession with self that amused me no end. Anil was always very conscious of his looks and would peer at every reflective surface to check out his looks.
Once I saw him tweezing his moustache and smiling at his own reflection in a mirror, I asked him, “Anil, do you love yourself?” My candor didn’t faze him. He asked pertinently, “If I don’t love myself, how can I expect others to love me?”
His enthusiasm characterises most of my conversations with Anil. But he keeps punctuating his conversation with, “Samajh raha hai, na? ” So once I jocularly retorted, “Anil, I am an intelligent man, I understand the first time.”
When I met him for a recent interview at his residence, he asked me mid sentence, “You understand, na?” and I broke into a grin. Some things do not change. Only, after Slumdog Millionaire and 24, ‘Tu samajh raha hai, na’ has transformed into, “You understand, na?” said with flair and a trace of a newly acquired American accent.
When I come across Anil of late, I find several other changes too — he has more thairav and listens to questions before launching onto his answer. He reveals his international stint has “been a learning curve” and says,
“When one meets people from varied walks of life, countries and work cultures, gives you different kinds of experience, exposure and education. You imbibe what you feel is right and you discard things which you feel are not right for you.”
What I find remarkable is his ability to reinvent himself. After cruising through the nineties with Lamhe, Beta, Judaai, Virasat and Pukar, which won him the National Award for Best Actor, Anil smoothly transitioned to being part of ensemble films — Taal, Biwi No. 1, No Entry, the two Welcomes, the three Race sequels Dil Dhadakne Do.
His personal longevity is not an accident. He told me, “I keep improving the craft, I keep on learning. I do everything that I can for every role. That has been my attitude since Woh Saat Din.
Today, people are talking about learning dialects, doing exercise, and losing weight, I have been doing that for decades.” It’s all in the attitude. His character in Anees Bazmee’s Mubarakan says: “Goli maaro un buddhon ko. Baat aapas mein hi rakhte hain...youth mein” and draws not a derisory but a knowing laugh.
Pagalpanti is Anil’s sixth collaboration with Anees Bazmee. Perhaps it’s Anil’s ability to juggle Bazmee’s No
Entry and Welcome with the likes of Slumdog Millionaire and Dil Dhadakne Do that has kept him ticking for 40 years.