Making an enviable dent in showbiz sans any pomp and pure business is no mean feat. But Rajat Kapoor has cracked this code in the film industry, with his years of hard work and preserving belief in his dream. We get hold of steaming cups of Masala Chai and a rare culinarily candid mood of the Filmmaker, Playwright, Actor, and Writer to chat about everything from Duvidha to Daulat Ki Chaat.
“I just knew I was going to make films, I had no idea how or what, but I knew that fact,” he shoots when asked about his unwavering conviction to make movies at the age of 14. “Maybe it had something to do with my father who was a film buff and would take me to watch movies like Mani Kaul’s Duvidha. Not many fathers take their kids to watch National Award winning films at that age! He was interested in discovering cinema, a big Raj Kapoor fan too; I think these experiences must have crept into my system to give my teenage self the sureness that I’ll make films one day.” Yet it was neither the gradual education of cinema nor a light bulb moment that sealed Rajat’s foray into movies, “It was not like ‘this is what I want to do in life’ or a profession, it was a half baked dream, almost like a fantasy. A fantasy but also a certainty with it, let’s say I wanted to be Superman & knew that I was Superman but just didn’t know how to fly yet!” From that fantasy to a film career spanning almost 30 years now, Superman has certainly soared high since.
Born & bred in Delhi, he left the capital at 25 and enrolled at the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune to further his dream. We ask whether his hometown often acts as an inspiration when it comes to work, as it did with the movie Ankhon Dekhi, “You never know how something moves you in a particular direction, but I’m sure everything moves you towards a specific path. Even though it’s intangible, but each experience does lead up to where you are today. So yes, Delhi has definitely influenced my way of being.” His works reflect that he draws on his own life experiences, also the reason why it revolves around the two cities he’s lived in for the major part as he tells us, “Bombay and Delhi are the only two places that I really know. To make a film based in New York or London would be a lie as I don’t know the life & nuances of these places. For an artist, work becomes worthwhile if you can peek within and find something that’s unique to you but is shared as a life truth by everybody – that’s what makes it interesting.”
Speaking of the cities of his past & present, we talk about his childhood memories of growing up near Old Delhi and are chuffed to know Rajat shares our love for Delhi’s winter desserts. “I grew up in my grandfather’s house, which was very close to Bauji’s (protagonist of Ankhon Dekhi) house in Chandni Chowk. Every other shop housed a Halwai and his smashing treats – Daulat Ki Chaat, Gajar Ka Halwa, Kalakand, Bedmi Aloo, mango shake…oh man..it was amazing,” he recalls fondly. He might have shifted base from Delhi, but Delhi didn’t leave him and showed up as his weekend Sheera – making tradition with friends & family, “I made it once and it wasn’t very bad, so it became a ritual!” he says. “Sitting with family and peeling peas for hours on the day peas were cooked is also something I remember with great warmth,” he laughs.
You never stop creating memories with food, and we were in no doubt that Rajat’s journey is generously sprinkled with unforgettable food moments. “15 years back Vinay (Pathak) had moved to Bombay and none of us had any work, so we used to get together and cook a lot. Now nobody has the time for such pursuits, but I would love to cook up a storm again.” Trying not to fall prey to the mother of all comparative questions, we end up asking the quintessential query about which city remains closer to his heart, “I have great nostalgia for Delhi because of a happy childhood in that beautiful city with great food. But now, Bombay is home for me, this is where family and work is, and it is the best place in the country for work – none other like it.”
On that note we ask if we’ll see new creative projects from him in 2017, “Mantra, a film about a family that is going through shit as the business goes down, will come out by April. I’m really fond of this film, it’s directed by Nicholas Kharkongor and stars Kalki Koechlin, Lushin Dubey, and Adil Hussain.” We sip on another cup of cutting chai discussing the reach & scale of independent cinema and he makes an equally cutting observation, “Films live, that’s the good thing about them. Even today people are watching Ankhon Dekhi and I hope even 10 years forth someone will be watching it.” Kicking off a tour of four Shakespearean plays this month, he chuckles,, “Four plays, three months, 11 cities. We’re enacting Hamlet The Clown Prince, What’s Done Is Done, As You Like It, and Nothing Like Lear across India till mid-April. As our troupe says, it’s going to be a clown orgy!”
We’re definitely blocking our dates to see this group perform in the city, and before we let this Gajar Ka Halwa-loving maverick go off, we heat up the signature DSSC rapid fire.
Q. Your go-to comfort food?
Rajat: Dal Chawal.
Q. Most intriguing food experience till date?
Rajat: My first time trying steak. It was chewy, dry, and tasted so so bad, I wanted to spit it out immediately.
Q. If today was your last day on earth – which city would you like to eat in?
Rajat: Rome or New York.
Q. Favourite dish from Delhi?
Rajat: Gajar Ka Halwa.
Q. One impress-the-guests dish that you love to cook?
Q. Signature celebratory dessert?
Rajat: Tiramisu or Panna Cotta.
This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace folks of their industry who map its course one stroke at a time.