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Shekhar Kapur becomes a name to reckon with in Western cinema 

Aasheesh Sharma  
New Delhi, March 10: At 52, director Shekhar Kapur is the toast of Los Angeles and Mumbai. After winning critical acclaim for Bandit Queen and the most outstanding British film award for Elizabeth, he commands the respect of studios like 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks.

The films that he is beginning work on now are a good indicator of Kapur's popularity as a director. He has signed up Antonio Banderas in Phantom of the Opera, a cinematic adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit musical and is directing Morgan Freem in and as Mandela.

Finally, even his worst critic, father Kulbhushan Kapur, has begun to acknowledge his directorial finesse. Kapur Senior admits that he no longer feels his son would have been better off as a chartered accountant-a sentiment he carried for many years when Shekhar was struggling to make a mark as an actor. ``It was after the first screening of Masoom that I felt he was capable of doing justice to his calling. I realised then that all this while, I had been making a mistake in interfering with his way of thinking,'' says his father. The going has not been smooth for the debonair director. But Kapur has always been one to choose the unconventional and the adventurous over the routine. ``I always remember myself as a rebel.

Treading unknown paths is part rebellion and part adventure. It is a very human trait. The adventure, essentially, is to explore something new. We want to go conquer the world, go across the seas to see what there is on the other side or go out in space,'' he says.

It was this penchant for adventure that brought him to the world of movies. Kapur, a product of Modern School and St Stephen's, New Delhi, left chartered accountancy in London when the acting bug bit him in the 1970s. His forays into acting were ``lack-lustre'' and he was labelled a flop.

Given his first break by uncle Dev Anand in Ishq, Ishq, Ishq, Kapur did a few films like Pal Do Pal Ka Saath, Jeena Yahan and Toote Khilone. But failure at acting did not put him down. Kapur resurfaced in the early 1980s with Masoom, produced by Devi Dutt, Guru Dutt's elder brother. A poignant performance by Jugal Hansraj, supported by the brilliance of Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah, the movie holds a special appeal for Kapur.

``The search for innocence has been a common feature of all my films. I have a desperate need to hang on to innocence and a fear of losing it. This began with Masoom,'' he says.

Another common feature of Kapur's work, one notes, is his fascination with historical personalities. He gave a humane touch to the plight of the young Phoolan in Bandit Queen, went on to make a colourful period film in Elizabeth and continues his preference for biographical scripts with Mandela. Does he need a strong character to inspire him? ``I don't think so. Elizabeth and Bandit Queen are not just stories about strong women characters. They also hold a mirror to social realities. While Phoolan's story opened my eyes to the oppressive caste system in our villages, Elizabeth was about power. The politics, deceit and strife in her story reminded me a lot of Indira Gandhi. Mandela, again, represents black pride and their fight for equality,'' he explains.

Age has mellowed him and it reflects in his work, says Kapur. ``If Masoom was the Shekhar Kapur of that time, Elizabeth is an extension of my personality today. Experience changes you. Today, the films that I write are explorations of the heart and the soul rather than an outlet for anger,'' he says.

For Kapur, the greatest director that ever lived was Akiro Kurosawa. `I feel that I am closest to him in the way that he thought about life. Also, the kind of mythical backgrounds that I like to give to my films are an influence of his work. Other directors whose style of making films I admire are Chetan Anand, Vijay Anand, Ramesh Sippy, Steven Spielberg, Milos Forman, and Oliver Stone,'' he says. How difficult is it to handle themes from two worlds, one asks him -- the ravines of the Chambal river, which formed the backdrop of Phoolan'story and Elizabethan England -- did he ever feel alienated working with an Australian actress, with American producers, on a film about an English queen?

"Elizabeth is as close to my heart as Bandit Queen. India is divided very clearly into the rural and the urban. Even Phoolan's world was alien to me. The only difference is that of scale. Since Bandit Queen was a low budget film, I didn't have to face any market pressures. Elizabeth was made in $20 million, there was a feeling that it had to recover its money. With Bandit Queen, nobody cared,'' he says. Kapur's future projects include a Fox film based on Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy. ``It is a sci-fi story set 25,000 years from now in another galaxy,'' he elaborates.

But what Kapur is keenly looking forward is not an Oscar, but fatherhood at 52, in July. Married to Indipop artist and actress Suchitra Krishnamurthy, Kapur has set up homes in London, Los Angeles and Juhu in Mumbai. And he hopes to take to his role of father as easily as he does to that of director.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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