April 01, 2020
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"I Used The Style I Learnt In Bombay"

Between continents, calls and a rush of glit ter, Shekhar Kapur

"I Used The Style I Learnt In Bombay"
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A big-budget film about Queen Elizabeth I by an Indian director; how did that happen?

Don't ask me. I was in Los Angeles one day and they approached me. I knew these people from Working Title. They'd seen Bandit Queen, and they were very impressed. Bandit Queen you know was a huge success. They'd had a conversation at Working Title about who they should get to direct Elizabeth. My name was suggested and everybody said yes. In fact, they thought I might say no.

Did you make changes in the script?

No, there was no question of changing the script later. I came to UK last February. Michael Hirst had written one script already, and then Michael and I, we sat together and together we reworked the script.

Is it tough being an Indian director in the West? How's it different?

Once you're on the set it's the same thing. Then you don't feel someone is English or not. But it's the surround thing, it's the culture of the set that is different. It's very disciplined. If I'm on the set at seven in the morning, no one else will come at one minute past seven. At seven in the morning on the dot I was on the set, and so was everyone else, including the stars, every-

body. That culture's good, I've never worked like this in my life. We are much easier about this. And it's different in, say, how you get to the script. The negotiating process is different. And the producers have a far greater involvement in the production, they have far greater importance here than in India where they mostly just provide finance for the film.

So does all this mean that you'll put India Talkies behind you?

Someone else has to make a film with India Talkies. For the last two months or so I haven't been in touch with Mani, but we've been talking on the phone. We have to decide now who should do the next film for India Talkies. Well, India Talkies was never supposed to be a film production company. Anyone who felt like could do a film for them.

Where do you see Bombay cinema, what do you think is wrong with it?

I'm forever optimistic about the Bombay film industry. I've learnt my craft from the Bombay film industry. People talk to me about the Bollywood style of film-making, and they talk about it as a compliment. See Elizabeth. It's been directed in our more extroverted style, and I've learnt that in Bombay, where else? I've used the style, the ways I've learnt in Bombay, where else? Indian cinema has a style, an energy that has a lot to offer to the world. In Romeo and Juliet the whole film's style was adapted from Hindi cinema. For the next film they are going back to watch a lot of Hindi movies. I think Bombay has a lot to offer to the world, and we should not deny our own style. But we get restricted by the kind of stories we can tell. That sort of stymies it. We need different stories to tell.

What are your plans for the film on Mandela?

I met Mandela, and I will be meeting him again (soon). We plan to begin filming in January and the film should be out by the end of next year.

Is it going to be a big budget film?

It'll be a $30 million film. For South Africa that's big because the costs are lower. It'll be like a $60-80 million film in the West.

Does all this mean an end to your career as actor?

I'd like to continue with both, I've just been away. You never know, I never thought I'd make Elizabeth one day. If a really, really interesting role came along that I could do in 30-40 days, I'd love to do it.

Any thoughts about what you'd like to do after the Mandela film?

I'm getting a lot of offers to direct films coming out of the West. The variety to choose from is much larger. But I'm going to make a science fiction film after Mandela.

A film you will produce, devise, con-ceptualise?

Yes.

A big budget film?

Yes.

Coming back to Elizabeth, there's been some controversy that you haven't let her be the Virgin Queen everyone thinks she was.

That she was the Virgin Queen is only a historical interpretation. It came on the basis that she declared she was the Virgin Queen, and everyone believed her. But that is only one historical interpretation. I have just taken my interpretation based on the fact that she declared herself a virgin. But why declare it, maybe it was because she was not a virgin. The virginity was not just a physical thing, it was much more intricate than that, and I have looked at the politics behind all that.

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