The celebrated Indian actor talks about his role in the Best-Picture winning film and it's worldwide acclaim
Anil Kapoor was a name known primarily in Indian film circles, and a name that hadn't quite been recognized on this side of the pond. That all changed with his smashing performance as the delightfully dastardly Prem Kumar, the Indian host of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, in the breathtaking Slumdog Millionaire, which hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on March 31. I had the chance to talk to Kapoor over the phone about his role in this film that took home the Oscar for Best Picture, and here's what he had to say.
I was curious how the film first came to you. I read that they had first offered the role to the original host of the Indian version of Who Want's to Be a Millionaire? and then they went with you. I was just wondering what your first impressions of the script were?
Anil Kapoor: Well, to be honest with you, I did not know that he was offered the role. I was aware when the film was offered to me, that it was being directed by one of the biggest directors in the world, Danny Boyle. I was not really aware of him, but it was my son that made me aware of him.
Yes. I saw that on the special features that your son read the script and loved it.
Anil Kapoor: Yeah, and I just said I want to do the film because my son wants me to do the film. So I did it and I hope my son can recommend some other director and go on to win eight Oscars as well.
Your son will be your top reader from now on, right?
Anil Kapoor: Yeah. He's my best teacher.
So could you talk a little bit about how you built this wonderful character Prem? Amitbah was the original host, so did you get any insight from him about the show, on the set?
Anil Kapoor: What happened was, when I tried with Danny, and he said this is how I want it to go, he said, 'You know Al Pacino in Scarface? I want him to be all-powerful, very flamboyant, wants power and he's the one from the slums and from there he becomes the host of the biggest show in the country.' I wanted him to be power-crazy and power-drunk like Al Pacino was in Scarface, you know? The emotion is the same. So now I'm the host of the show, but I didn't know the technicalities of professionally what he does, how he behaves, how he walks, how he sits in the chair, reads the computer, the TelePrompTer. There were so many things happening, I had to set up a mock studio, mock TelePrompTer, all these things to get me to be a professional host. See, when you really get a show, you get a few shows to warm up. Here, on the first shot I had to be someone who had already done thousands of shows, so I had to warm up, I had to be professional. By the time I got to the set, I had two rigorous workshops, an entire team, who directs and edits these shows in India. They were helping me to really learn the ropes of hosting the show and I had a lot of feedback from Danny (Boyle) and Dev (Patel) and by the time I got to the set, I felt I was... I was scared and insecure, but when I sat on that chair, I knew that I could really pull it off.
So your scenes are almost exclusively with Dev and this is truly a breakthrough role for him, so how did you enjoy working with Dev in this film?
Anil Kapoor: What's good about Dev was, although he is a very good actor, he wants to learn, he's the one that respects his elders and Danny directing him. He really surrendered himself to Danny and he, you know there are certain actors who will have a face, especially if you're a leading man, you have a face that's very still and expressive, he has phenomenally expressive eyes. He had the look of an underdog and when you see him in real life, he has that look of vulnerability and likeability and your heart goes out to him. He's so wonderful and that really helps me. Performing in front of him, it felt that it was actually happening, that he was a contestant and I was the host and he was actually from the slums and he's scared in front of me and nervous in front of me.
You said you hadn't been familiar with Danny Boyle's work before, so what were your impressions of working with him and how would his style compare to other Bollywood directors that you've worked with?
Anil Kapoor: This is my first English-language film. I have done a lot of Indian films and I have worked with a lot of actors and directors but for me, this English film was obviously a completely different experience. But now things are changing and there are some very fine actors and directors whose cultural values are more the same. Of course, having Danny is special. They don't make many directors the way he is, and as a person and a leader. He was very fair and exceptional and, for Great Britain, he's like a national treasure. I felt it when I was working with him, and I think I feel it more because of the way he is so down-to-earth and outgoing and honest. He gives credit to people who really deserve it. He would say this is not because of me, this is because of Dev and that's wonderful because it is actually because of him.
Can you talk about your Oscar experience a little bit? You were here in Los Angeles for the event with Dev and Frieda and all them, weren't you?
Anil Kapoor: Yeah, I was there with Dev. It was wonderful and fantastic and with the children around, it just made it... the Oscar was them. They should be there and they should enjoy it, because I genuinely felt the film belonged to them. They set up our performances and they made the film look real. They made the film look magical. There was so much joy.
So, with the amazing success of the film, I was wondering if a lot of offers from the Hollywood system have started to come your way since the release?
Anil Kapoor: There have been a lot of opportunities, and I'm just looking at the offers and figuring out what I should do next.
I was kind of surprised that when Warner Bros. first had the film, they were actually going to release it straight to DVD, which I was kind of blown away by. How do you think this film will really change the way that studios and audiences will look at films that are set abroad like this?
Anil Kapoor: I'm sure it happens to the best of people all over the world. Sometimes they just don't know exactly what is there, especially with films like these. It happens to the best of us and it happens to anyone. Sometimes you have an opportunity that comes your way, and sometimes you really miss it. Warner has done great films, but it's one of those times where you misjudge a great film. It could happen to anybody, at any studio, anywhere in the world. Whether you're the most intelligent or whoever you are. It could happen to anybody and it happened to Warner, which is unfortunate. They just felt, at that moment, that it's just not the right film for them. They felt that this should be released on DVD.
Finally, with the Oscar's and the theatrical success of the film, the word is definitely out on Slumdog Millionaire, but do you think that the DVD and Blu-ray release will make this film reach an even greater audience?
Anil Kapoor: This is kind of film, whenever you see the film, you find something new, so DVD's will give people that saw it in the theater the chance to see it again and again.
Great. Well, that's about all I have for you, Anil. Thank you so much for your time and the best of luck with your future endeavors.
Anil Kapoor: Thanks, Brian.
You can see Anil Kapoor as the wonderful Prem Kumar in Slumdog Millionaire, which hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on March 31.