Someone needs to gift Rajat Kapoor a book on how to win friends and influential people. He’s already a gifted screenwriter, film-maker, theatre director and actor. But, given recent events, no one can deny he needs help as a salesman.
Kapoor has written and directed six films: Private Detective, Raghu Romeo, Mixed Doubles, Mithya, Fatso! and Ankhon Dekhi. His signature is to make entertaining films in an artistic way, which is why film critics are usually pleasant towards him, such as Shubhra Gupta, who wrote in The Indian Express, “He is one of the few Indian directors who understand whimsy.” But, in a classic case of self-sabotage, Kapoor has a knack for attracting creatives and repelling suits. He made Raghu Romeo only after borrowing money from friends. Of the experience, he recalls, “What I did stupidly, I said, ‘Even if the film makes a loss, I will return your money. If the film makes a profit, you’re a partner in the profits.’ Which was a stupid thing because the film didn’t make money, I lost a lot of money, and for the next five years, I was [repaying].” In 2011, he was ready to quit films when he couldn’t find a producer for Ankhon Dekhi. In a remarkable turn of events, entrepreneur Manish Mundra slid into his DMs and offered to wire the money. And, most recently, for another of his scripts, Kadakh, the producer “ran away before the shooting started. But, somehow we managed to finish the shoot anyway.”
Kapoor is now ready with a script called RK/R Kay, which has a “slightly mad” plot. It’s a film-within-a-film in which the fictional lead character becomes a person in real life. He needs `2.5 crore to make it, but given his history, he isn’t knocking on the doors of film producers for the dough. “They (producers) read the script, and they reject it,” he says, without any trace of heartburn. “They say, ‘It’s very nice, but not for us.’” What of the producers who have already worked with him? “Sunil Doshi produced Mixed Doubles and Bheja Fry, and then he stopped the business. Mithya was produced by Planman [Motion Pictures], and then they stopped the business. Don’t blame me. PNC (Pritish Nandy Communications) did Fatso! and they haven’t done very much after that. Manish Mundra is doing well (Mundra founded a production house called Drishyam Films after Ankhon Dekhi). Manish Mundra is one producer who has grown from strength to strength, but he didn’t like Kadakh and RK/R Kay.” So, now Kapoor is asking his fans, such as the two-lakh-plus people who follow him on Twitter, to donate money via crowdfunding.
Kapoor and I meet in an apartment in Bandra, Mumbai, that’s filled with discarded furniture and discarded scripts. Kapoor writes prolifically, churning out at least two new scripts a year, in addition to polishing his old drafts. When I tell him of writers who don’t even manage to finish one script a year, he interjects, “Woh toh gaddhe hai jinki nahi hoti kyunki woh likhte nahi hai (People who don’t sit down to write are donkeys). I think it’s a problem of discipline. I manage to sit down and write. The thing is that what you are writing is not going to be the masterpiece as you finish it. But, I always tell myself that, ‘It’s okay. It’s only a first draft.’ The important thing is finishing it, not [just] having a great idea. I have been writing RK/R Kay for eight years.”
Kapoor, 57, started out by directing plays in Delhi. He then studied film direction at FTII, Pune; assisted film-makers such as Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul; and directed a clutch of short films, before directing his first feature, Private Detective, in 1997. Since the early 2000s, he’s also had a parallel career as a character actor in films such as Monsoon Wedding (most memorably) and Kapoor and Sons (most recently). And, in between fulfilling all his ambitions, he’s also found the time to interpret Shakespeare with clowns (Hamlet, King Lear, etc) for the stage. He’s certainly more qualified than most clowns making films in the Hindi film industry. And, yet, he finds few takers for his stories. “You would think that after six- seven films, people will trust me a little more. People (the audiences) have liked Mithya and Ankhon Dekhi and Mixed Doubles. I mean, Ankhon Dekhi is playing on Star Select every day. Obviously, somebody is making a lot of money just showing it on satellite. But, they don’t want to invest [in me] in the first place, because they want to buy cheap and make lots of money.”
In a powder-blue shirt and boyfriend jeans, sporting the beard of a distinguished European poet, Kapoor is bristling with integrity from every pore. “Who are [our] producers?” he asks, warming up to the subject. “Our producers are the big studios who make big-budget films. They only know one way of film-making, one template of film-making. So, even if they like it, they’re not willing to go for it. Some of the studios, for example, which rejected Ankhon Dekhi, have seen Ankhon Dekhi and said, ‘My god, what a beautiful film.’ So, it’s not that they’re illiterate; they’re not. But, it doesn’t work in their philosophy of what they want to make. They want to make this (points to an advertisement of Ajay Devgn’s Raid), and this (points to a photograph of Kartik Aaryan).” But, surely digital platforms (ahem, Amazon) have some loose change hiding in their office couch? “What has Amazon made so far?” he asks. “Amazon is only buying films; they have not commissioned any film. Netflix has not commissioned any film. What digital players? Maybe it will happen after two years.”
Even then, going the crowdfunding way, isn’t that a fool’s errand? “It’s a desperate measure because I have to make films, yaar. I can’t stop making films just because conventional funding sources have dried up. What is difficult is the amount because Rs. 2.5-3 crore for a film is not much, but for crowdfunding it’s a lot. We’ve got about Rs. 32 lakhs so far, which is a lot of money, with promises of more to come. Some 570 people have contributed so far. People have given Rs. 500, Rs. 2000, Rs. 2 lakh. My idea is that, for example, I say that I want to do something for the environment. I don’t know what to do, so I do nothing. But, if tomorrow somebody comes to my door and says, ‘Uncle, I need this because I want to clean up the garbage on the streets,’ I say, ‘Yes. Take it.’ So, I’m hoping that there will be many people who say, ‘Okay, I want to see different cinema. I want a change in cinema. What do I do?’ So I’m going to them and saying, ‘This is what you can do to start — `500, `5000, `50,000 — whatever you think you can throw away and not feel the pain.’”
Kapoor also has an ace up his sleeve: Ankhon Dekhi , the story of Bauji (played by Sanjay Mishra) who refuses to believe anything he hasn’t witnessed himself, charmed its way into many hearts. “The love for Ankhon Dekhi is incredible,” he says. “Tomorrow, we have a show at Cinepolis, [in Andheri]. Ten tickets are left out of 200. Jab picture release hua tha toh nahi aate the log, yaar. Abhi kya fayda iss word of mouth ka (When the movie released, no one saw. Now, what’s the point of this word of mouth)? Unless it translates into my next film,
into RK/R Kay. Then there’s a point. They’re watching it for free. People are watching it on YouTube, Netflix, Hotstar, Star Select. That’s what I’m telling people, ‘Ki saala, you watched it for free, now at least for my next film, pay in advance. Make amends.’”
The thing with Kapoor is, once you’ve met him in person, it’s impossible not to root for him; he’s disarmingly sincere. The pragmatist in me wants to warn the idealist in him, but Kapoor dismisses my concerns. “RK/R Kay will happen this year. I’m very confident. I have faith in people in general. And why shouldn’t I? [Bertolt] Brecht said something very nice. ‘Will there be singing in dark times? Yes, there will be singing in dark times. There will be singing about the dark times.’ People are beautiful, and people are capable of doing incredible things. Somebody wrote to me on Twitter, saying, ‘Sir, I was watching Ankhon Dekhi yesterday, and my father was watching, and he loved it. So, I told my father that this same director is wanting to make his film and is crowdfunding. My father said, “Paanch sau rupaiye meri taraf se de do (Give Rs. 500 from me).” Meri ma ne kahaan, mere bhai ne kahaan (My mother and brother chipped in). Toh, sir, yeh hai dhai hazaar rupaiye hum paanch logon ki taraf se (Here’s Rs. 2500 from the five of us).’ How beautiful is that? How can you not feel grateful for a gesture like that? Somebody from Bangalore has given Rs. 5 lakh. I don’t know who that person is. That’s why I’m saying this will happen. There’s so much good energy coming my way. I’m overwhelmed by the generosity and love of people.”
Much like Ankhon Dekhi’s Bauji, Kapoor has chosen to place his faith in people because he sees them for who they truly are. Perhaps, it isn’t Kapoor who needs help with making friends, but the rest of us who could take a lesson or two from him.