Raghu Romeo, his first directorial project, found funds gathered through a website. And his latest film, Ankhon Dekhi, was financed by a Dubai-based fan. Clearly not much has drastically changed for Rajat Kapoor when it comes to making movies that he believes in! Yet, it doesn’t stop him from doing what he does best. The actor/filmmaker/playwright gets candid about the many lows and few highs that direction brings with it.

Despite having acted in mainstream movies, you make offbeat films that are high on content, and low on budget. What gives you the inspiration, strength and courage to make these films?

I believe in a certain kind of cinema very strongly. I don’t even watch films. I hate watching films ‘coz they are so bad. I watch one or two films a year. If I find it difficult to watch a certain kind of film, to make that kind of film is impossible for me. A film takes one and a half to two years of your life. So then how can you spend time doing something you don’t believe in? I have no interest or inclination to make the kind of film that I don’t believe in or stand for. The film that excites me is the only kind of film I would like to make. And I keep hoping that it will excite other people also. Having said that, it’s not been easy at all, just half an hour ago I had this thought that nobody is interested (in such films). And it’s not the first time. These kind of dark clouds keep coming to you. But the fact is that nobody is f!@#$%g interested. You might say this film is good and that film is better, but eventually what matters is the collections, even small films like Xpose gets weekend collection of Rs 10 crores. And I am like, wow! How do they do it? What is the secret? So obviously the country is tuned in for some other kind of cinema. Even if I try to do an Xpose I will not be able to make it. I can only make what I can and in where my conviction lies. The stories that excite me are weird, now what can I do. Something like Om Shanti Om is never going to excite me.

But most reviews and people on social networking sites have praised Ankhon Dekhi

Feedback on Twitter and Facebook was incredible. But the numbers just don’t add up. The response was great from people who saw it. But how many people saw it? That is the point! Not many. So what we did in a week, Xpose has done ten times in three days. So where do you stand man!

 Is it ‘coz of the poor or lack of a distribution system for niche films?

We keep analysing. But eventually none of it matters. Bheja Fry became big despite of the lack of distribution and marketing. When Queen became big, it was ‘coz something connected. We spent a hell of a money for marketing Ankhon Dekhi. We spent Rs 4 crores on production and our release budget was also Rs 4 crores, which is huge! We want to see stars in our films. It’s as simple as that! So if you have Sanjay Mishra and Seema Pahwa in a film, and give full-page ads in newspapers, it doesn’t even register in people’s heads. But it seems Himesh Reshammiya does make an impact.

Your first film, Raghu Romeo, was partly funded by family, friends and well-wishers from the virtual world. And even for Ankhon Dekhi you found a financier through Twitter. Do you think the social media has made it easier to source funds from unknown crowd?

To an extent, but not really! The Bollywood system, the star system, the studio system is too strong. In fact in the last six-seven years things have changed. In 2006, you could make a Bheja Fry or a Mixed Doubles and release it almost without publicity. But today even after spending so much money on publicity you don’t get that many shows. For Bheja Fry we got 30 drills, but we got some decent shows. Ankhon Dekhi got less shows than that.

Internationally crowd-funding is big. Do you think more of such platforms in India will help filmmakers like you?

We have – platforms like Wishberry, etc. But yaar, crowd-funding kar ke kya karoge! Funds will come, one way or another if you are driven enough. I managed to make, somehow, five films in the last eleven years, which is not bad at all. But I made them on limited budgets, by not paying people and cutting down the budget to absolute minimum. So if that is the way to be done, then we will do it that way. What I am trying to say is that even if you crowd fund a film, where is that great film that has to come out. Where are the films? Where are the scripts? I don’t see anything. In the last ten years, there have been just four-five films in the country that I can say ‘wow’ to. So that’s a shame.

When it comes to putting together finances for your films, it’s been an arduous journey. Does it frustrate you sometimes? Have you ever felt like giving it up?

I have my bad days. But (giving up) is not an option. It (Making movies) is like a sickness. It’s not me who can give it up – it’s the sickness that doesn’t give me up.

In a lot of your directorial projects, you have worked with actors with whom you share a personal rapport. Is it intentional or coincidental?

The problem is that Saurabh (Shukla) has repeated Vinay (Pathak), Ranvir (Shorey), Neha (Dhupia) and me in his films. But they are not my films. I have only repeated Ranvir in Mithya, Mixed Doubles and Fatso!. But yes, Brijendra Kala and Manu Rishi, I have repeated them in several films. But nobody notices ‘coz they are not stars. Anyway, if you see the actresses I have worked with – Raghu Romeo was with Sadiya (Siddiqui) and Maria Goretti, Mixed Doubles was Koel Purie and Konkona (Sensharma), Mithya was with Neha (Dhupia) and Iravati (Harshe), Fatso! was with Gul Panag and Gunjan Bakshi, and Ankhon Dekhi has Seema Pahwa and Taranjeet (Kaur). I have not repeated one single actress, and still everyone keeps saying you have a team. So it’s rubbish! I am always looking out for good actors. It’s a pleasure for me to seek out good actors. When Maya Sarao (Rita in AD) came for audition, she completely overwhelmed me with her performance. And I am always looking out for that kind of moment. For me it’s a great joy to find new actors. Yes, Ranvir and I have worked together in three films; and with Vinay, more than one film. But they are wonderful actors and these were roles that they could fit into. But in Ankhon Dekhi, I don’t think Ranvir could have fit in. So I don’t push it deliberately down.

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So far you have written all the films directed by you. Do you prefer it that way or are you open to directing other people’s scripts?

Yes, I prefer to write my own scripts. And that is how it will always be.

When you set to direct a film what is that you really look for in the story?

I am looking for different kinds of story. And I am writing all the time. Like, right now I have two scripts ready and I am working on my third story. So if I write three scripts in a year, two of them are junked ‘coz they don’t work out or something. But that one script remains and gets redrafted over the years. At any given point I have two-three scripts ready-to-go. I have written a gangster film, recently. I am trying to write a horror film, since ten years. But there’s a new idea that I am quite excited about, it’s a sci-fi film. For example, I wanted to do a theatre film for many years now. I still want to do it, but I haven’t found the story. I know everything else except a story. Like for Ankhon Dekhi also, this idea, of a man who will believe only what he sees, was with me for eight-nine years. Once I figured that I want to set it in a joint family, then everything was easy. So that’s the process. You have ideas or images or something, but it has to become more than that.

How is the process for you to act in your own film?

Ankhon Dekhi was very easy. Mixed Doubles was a little more difficult. ‘Coz I had to look good in that. When you a directing a film you are so tired that looking good becomes a problem. In Ankhon Dekhi that was not an issue, so it was ok (chuckles).

Everyone talks that the industry has become more acceptable towards unconventional films. What is your take on it?

Arey unka idea of an unconventional film is very limited, I am sorry to say. If you think Rock On! is an unconventional film, I am sorry, I don’t agree with that. And if you think Queen is unconventional just ‘coz a woman is a protagonist, I don’t buy it. So their idea of unconventional is also very mainstream.

But a lot of studios have a brand to fund offbeat and experimental movies. Have you tried to tie-up with any of these big studios? In the past you collaborated with PNC films but not after that. Comment.

Ankhon Dekhi went to all the studios, at script level and after it was shot. They were not interested. It went to every studio. In spite of what they say, they are not interested, unless there’s a dealmaker. And PNC thing happened ‘coz of Bheja Fry. It became a hit and then I was being chased. They thought it is an easy model and great money. But now that model has died. Like you go to the studios and say I will make this film with a big star, and with that I want to make a small film, that might work. But if you go to them with one single idea like Ankhon Dekhi, I don’t think they are interested.

In an interview, you had said that your inspiration is Woody Allen, because he makes films that are low on budget and high on content. But he casts star actors in his films. Have you ever approached star actors for your films? 

My comparison with Woody Allen was that he makes a film every year. And that is incredible. He’s made 48 films in 46 years! Speaking of casting star actors, this is another country. The stars are not interested. Are you kidding me! They are just not interested in looking at you. They are so busy. They have another agenda. They have another motivation in life. I don’t think anybody of them has aspiration as actors, except maybe Aamir (Khan) and Ranbir Kapoor. Nobody really aspires to leave behind a performance. It’s very different from Cate Blanchett or people who work with Woody Allen. I have tried approaching stars, but it’s not going to work. For Mithya, I had tried to get Shahrukh Khan or Saif Ali Khan, as they could bring a lot to the film, but for Ankhon Dekhi, obviously not.

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When it comes to direction you prefer to work on stories you believe in, but as an actor you seem open to doing mainstream roles. Comment.

Less and less now, as mainstream is not offering me anything exciting. So I have been saying ‘no’ to a lot of offers. Not because I am against it, but ‘coz I am not getting good roles. I started with Dil Chahta Hai, then did Corporate ‘coz it was a good role. If they ask me to play somebody’s father who comes in two scenes, then I am not doing it.

Not many know that you are actively involved in theatre as well. What you enjoy most – writing/directing or acting or theatre?

All things give different kinds of kicks. But what I want to do the most is make films, for sure. Acting is great ‘coz it’s an easy job. And I like being on the set, you get pampered and looked after, so it feels great. Directing is extremely difficult, but I enjoy it the most. And theatre is another kind of joy. It’s great, as everything is right then and there. The applause and everything is beautiful.

Is theatre pursued for passion or it helps meet ends too?

In the last five years theatre has started paying, which is very strange. But it has happened now. Funny thing is that our plays make more money than our films, which is not much ‘coz our films make little money.

What’s the next plan of action?

We are travelling a lot with both plays – ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Nothing Like Lear’. We are going to the US with ‘Hamlet’. Then we are going to Bangalore, followed by Delhi. Then we go back to the US with ‘Nothing With Lear’. This will go on till September end. In terms of acting, I am doing a serial called Everest with Ashutosh Gowariker. In terms of direction, I have written two scripts and working on the third story. And I will start looking for money very soon, once I get over the heartbreak.

– By Rachana Parekh