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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Boney Kapoor: A Chat with Indian Cinema’s Illustrious Producer

Boney Kapoor hails from Indian cinema’s prestigious and well-respected family.

His father, the late Surinder Kapoor was an ace producer, his brothers Anil and Sanjay have made a name for themselves in the acting field, Boney has emerged as a highly successful producer.

As such, he has entertained us for several years through films like Mr India, Judaai, No Entry, Wanted and Mom, amongst others and now his children – Janhvi Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor are prominent and rising names in the industry.

In a truly candid interview with Filme Shilmy, Boney reflects on his career and his forthcoming production Nerkonda Paarvai, an adaptation of Pink.

Your father Surinder Kapoor was a leading producer. In what way did he help and guide you in becoming one?

Whatever I am today is due to his influence and guidance. It wasn’t like he used to sit with a stick and dictate what had to be done or how films had to be made.

The guidance was through merely observing him how he interacts with people and at the same time his experience as an Assistant Director with K Asif on Mughal-E-Azam.

I learnt a lot from his experience as a filmmaker. I was a part of at least two full-fledged films Ponga Pandit and Phool Khile Hai Gulshan Gulshan. It was definitely a big learning curve.

Besides learning from my dad, I was very close to Raj Kapoor sir – I learnt a lot from him and assisted Shakti Samantha for two years over five films.

Kamlakar Kamkhanis, editor of all Manmohan Desai films was editing Ponga Pandit.

I started my career in the editing room for almost two years – watching and observing him.

I spent the first six-months cutting, splicing and joining films because in those days movies were not shot on digital but reels. It was a lot more challenging.

Films are made on two tables – the editing and writing one. The writing table depends on one’s thought-process and editing relies on your interpretation of a director’s vision.

The best way to stay in sync with the director’s vision and to keep everything locked (in terms of the scenes and shots) is Steinbeck – the editing machine, which enabled more features to alter films.

Whilst I was assisting Shakti da, I used to visit Laxmikant Pyarelal’s music room… I was very much into music and intrigued by how songs are made.

Fortunately, I was able to be a part of the music room without playing any instruments.

I just sat there, observing and watching how songs are made… Some producers were gracious and allowed me to sit while their songs were being composed.

Your first breakthrough as a producer was through Hum Paanch. What was this experience like for you?

 It was thanks to that film, several of the actors came into a bigger league… Mithun Chakraborty was doing a lot of movies but everyone gained a lot from it.

The film mostly benefited me because I was just about 23-years-old when I did that film and we had Sanjeev Kumar, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Raj Babbar, Deepti Naval and Amrish Puri (amongst others).

I learnt a lot from Bappu (the director of Hum Paanch) he was so clear-cut in his planning and the shot-division used to be on paper. He was an artist.

So these were new things for me and it was a learning curve.

The best part of that film was that we shot in a village called Melukote in Karnataka. which was quite secluded… The nearest town was about 100 miles away.

But it was well-planned and organised. If you wanted South or North Indian food, you could get a bit of both… We had all kinds of chefs there.

It was a remake of the original Kannada film.

As a producer, how do you know what project will succeed at the box-office?

You don’t. I just followed my instincts with what clicks in my mind when I sign on a project.

When I’ve picked up remakes, I watch the original versions and when it comes to original subjects… There have been some successful and unsuccessful ones.

Speaking of original subjects, Prem has been a source of inspiration for many blockbusters… Those subsequent films were successful, unfortunately, mine wasn’t.

It marked Sanjay Kapoor and Tabu’s debuts, although it took a long time to be made because I was doing two films – Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja and Raat, alongside Prem.

The productions can be slotted into various categories for instance Mom could be a family drama, crime-thriller or a vigilante film.

Mr India was the first Sci-Fi film to be made on a big scale, whilst Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja was a full-on mainstream commercial movie and Prem was a reincarnation story.

So versatility has always been a key focus for me.

In fact, Shakti was the first time the late Sridevi’s name was attributed as a producer…

Yes, it was. I was running three companies: Sridevi Productions (for her), SK Film Enterprises (for my father) and Narasimha Enterprises (for which I was the proprietor).

The subject originally was chosen to make it with Sri as the main lead. But then she later realised that she wouldn’t suit the role and suggested Kajol.

Kajol was on board for some time but due to personal reasons, she was not able to do it and gracefully opted out… Subsequently, Karisma came on board.

She was terrific in the film and gave it her best. I don’t know about other films where she was a second choice but here she was always on our list for Shakti.

In addition to success, you’ve also experienced a few setbacks. How do you overcome failures, especially when its films made on a big canvas like Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja?

I have to take failure in my stride. I’ve never been all doom and gloom when a film doesn’t do well.

It’s all a part of the game as you win and lose some so there’s nothing to really be upset about.

As for Roop Ki Rani, I think the timing went wrong as it took a long time to be made.

Furthermore, there was a major hurdle due to the Mumbai riots.

The film was ready and the distributors didn’t want to release because being such an expensive venture, shows were being cancelled and in those days, there was a fear in the minds of people whilst going to the cinemas.

It was sold to various distributors at a high cost, in fact, that film fetched the highest price from every territory.

So we kept delaying the film and amidst this, other movies released.

Furthermore, at that point, the music trend started to change and new musical talents like AR Rahman and Nadeem-Shravan emerged.

Comparatively, our film had many fun/dance numbers, we didn’t have a particular ‘melody’ per se.

You’re set to adopt Pink in Tamil with the film Nerkonda Paarvai. What prompted your decision to do this?

Sri had worked with Ajith and wife Shalini in a number of films and we had met them on several occasions in Chennai.

We shared a very warm relationship with them.

When English Vinglish was being made, for the Tamil/Telugu version, we needed a big star from South-India who could do Amitabh’s special appearance.

Ajith readily agreed and was so gracious that he came at his own cost… Forget charging money for his work, he didn’t even allow us to pay for travel or accommodation expenses.

When he came home for dinner and whilst we chatted, Sri expressed her desire that I should be doing Tamil films too – because her roots were there.

At that point, Ajith said he would be happy to work with me. From then on, we explored different avenues and I even met a few directors… But nothing really materialised.

Pink released in 2016. Sri and I had given an award… We appreciated the film. She was really overwhelmed and thought this should be made in all possible languages.

Then one day in 2017, while Ajith was at our house, Pink had released and done well… We were talking about plans, so he suggested adapting this.

When Ajith mentioned the film, Sri was ecstatic and I was also happy. She felt that this film could resonate with the Tamil audience.  

In our society, sometimes the respect for women is there only in words, not in actions.

At times, women are taken advantage of and seen as weak, somewhere the respect due to them is not there and this film addressed a lot of those issues. 

Perhaps that is what clicked with Ajith too. 

What are your expectations of venturing into South-Indian cinema with this film?

I’m extremely happy with the way the film has shaped up. Ajith is exceptional and has added layers to what the character was.

Amitabh ji is a master and did a fabulous job. We’ve followed the spirit of Pink but have made some changes. 

We have tweaked the screenplay to make it more palatable and acceptable to the Tamil audience and mainly to the Ajith fans.

So keeping the spirit intact, we have some additional layers, like Vidya Balan playing Ajith’s wife and there are some action sequences too. 

Your productions launched several family members but Arjun and Janhvi were launched by other production houses. What prompted this decision?

I never launched Anil. He was launched earlier in a Telugu and Kannada film. Then he did a few side/supporting roles in a few Hindi movies.

Being the elder brother, I was a bit indulgent and so I launched Sanjay.

After making big films like Mr India and Roop Ki Rani I was perhaps known as the ‘extravagant producer who will go out of his way’ which put a lot burden on Sanjay because he was the hero.

Soon after Prem, Raja released and that did exceptionally well.

The problem was that a lot of expectations may have been raised when Prem was being made because of the attention it got:

It was a new pair, the same team who worked on bigger, successful projects before… So there were a lot of high expectations.

Due to this reason, I decided not to launch Arjun and Janhvi. I didn’t want to load them with high expectations.

My father never held a stick in his hand and told me what not or what to do.

Same goes with Janhvi, I’ve never really sat her down and guided her… But there have been times when she came up to me and asked me a few things. 

There have also been times when Arjun has come and spoken to me about what is to be done.

I’m always there for them but I don’t necessarily have to guide them on their day-to-day activities or their choices.

I can advise and give suggestions, but the choices they have to make because it’s their journey.

This is something which probably is gelling well with the youngsters of today.

They want to feel independent and think that whatever they achieve is on their responsibilities. It, in turn, makes them feel better.

Now that you’ve cemented yourself as a highly successful producer. Would you consider directing films?

There was a time when I wanted to direct a film but it’s too late in the day now. I’m better off just producing films.

My hands were full as a producer and I always had a couple of films on floor. 

That ambition and goal of mine as a filmmaker is yet to be fulfilled. But at this point in time, I don’t think I have the bandwidth to take the additional responsibility for directing a film whilst I’m producing several others.

I am a passionate producer… I give it my all and try to give more than what the director can think of. 

So if I’m doing this for the directors working for me, I will get indulgent to the extent of losing the numbers involved. 

I am a very difficult person to get easily satisfied. This is one thing which keeps me away from getting into directing films.

I will always be there to back/support new directors.

In fact, most of my productions had only 2/3 established directors… Most of them have been new or upcoming filmmakers.

I’m always there to see that the filmmaker’s vision is fulfilled and I leave it entirely to them when they approach me for any kind of suggestions.

From beginning in his initial days as an observer to now emerging as a highly prosperous producer, Mr Kapoor has faced a spectrum of life… Especially in light of recent incidents. 

However, he and the family have overcome all setbacks with courage, positively proving that ‘Life Goes On’.

With Nerkonda Paarvai releasing this August, we are sure that venturing into the South-Indian film industry will be a rewarding and pleasant venture for Boney Kapoor and team.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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