Tuesday, March 29, 2011


For previous installments in the series, please visit the index.

Now that you’ve met The Three Khans, let me introduce you to some of the other important Heroes in town these days. These guys are still A-list and can set the box offices blazing but they aren’t The Three Khans popular. Some of these guys are scrappers who have been racking up moderate hit after moderate hit for years and some of these guys are huge stars on a gentle downward slope. Either way, you will want to know who they are!


Anil Kapoor - the man, the legend, the moustache... In the wake of
Slumdog Millionaire, if there is one Bollywood actor that non-fans knows these days, it is Anil Kapoor. His character as the sleazy yet charismatic gameshow host is a far cry from how his Bollywood fans know him. Anil has had a long and well-celebrated career, going from a wide-eyed (and mustachioed) hero to a well-regarded (and mustachioed) character actor. Unlike his contemporary Sanjay Dutt, Anil Kapoor has mostly left the herogiri behind him but he is still highly visible and highly respected in the industry and is worth discussing as a current player instead of a historic one.

While films are now a family business for Anil, he wasn’t launched into stardom as some of his peers were. His own father was still finding his footing in the industry as Anil was growing up and the young Anil did theater and regional cinema before he finally found a place in Bollywood.* What this means in practice is that Anil Kapoor has a large and varied filmography - ranging from gloriously campy
masala potboilers to serious drama and everything in between. In one film he will fight robots (and, recently, a gorilla) and then in the next he will put in a remarkable performance as an autistic man or play a middle-class professor. And every character is believable.

After some early success playing a
tapori (or street thug - think The Wire) in the rough and tumble films of the 1980s, something big happened. If you have only seen Anil Kapoor in action in Slumdog, it may surprise you to find out that his first career-defining box-office-breaking role was as Bollywood’s First Superhero:** Mr. India. Mr. India (the film, 1987) is the story of a mild mannered orphan (Anil Kapoor) who discovers the secret to becoming invisible and then uses his powers to romance a hot journalist and rid India of one of the most evil (and entertaining) bad guys in Bollywood history: Mogambo (Amrish Puri from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.) This film has it all - sex, romance, melodrama, songs, cross dressing, James Bond-style intrigue, robots, a volcano lair... and it cemented Anil Kapoor’s superstar status.

Through the jet-setting 1990s and into the 2000s, Anil Kapoor remained a hometown hero. He played rural characters in an era when the trend was to film glamorous scenes set in Europe; he played to the cheap seats while filmmakers where chasing the upper and middle-class viewers. Unfortunately, he played himself into a bit of a box with some remakes of regional films in the early to mid 2000s*** that couldn’t quite compete with the super-fashionable and ultra-modern films breaking the box office. He went from starring in multiple films a year to just one or two; from ruling the box office to not even charting.

Thankfully for audiences everywhere, Anil never gave up. He came back from a low point in 2004 with a box office hit in 2005 -
No Entry, a two hero comedy also starring Salman Khan. And his career has ticked steadily upwards ever since.

To put things in perspective, in 2008, the year
Slumdog Millionaire was released, Anil was in five other films. He played:

1. himself in a cameo role for a friend’s film
2. a smart yet eccentric South African police officer in one of the year’s biggest hits
3. an ill-educated gangster spouting mangled English in a cult classic
4. a middle-class Delhi professor in a realistic film on terrorism
5. and an autistic man (in a really amazing performance.)

And that’s Anil for you.

His personal life is fairly tame. He has a wife and two daughters (both working in Bollywood); his brother produces films; his other brother is also an actor. And they all show up a lot at Bollywood functions to lend support. In interviews, more than anything else, Anil is mostly just excited about whatever project he is working on. He likes Bollywood; he likes pleasing an audience; and he likes winning awards.

Anil Kapoor is one of Bollywood’s most reliable actors - he can chew scenery until the cows come home but he can be a team player when he needs to be. He really has a remarkable talent and is an invaluable part of Bollywood today.

Here are some good places to start:

Parinda (1989) - If you enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire it is worth checking out Parinda, which is an authentic Bollywood film that follows a similar story. Two brothers are abandoned at a young age - the elder turns to a life of crime to finance the younger’s education. It’s a heartbreaking and very emotional film and one shot in a more realistic style than you may expect from Bollywood.

Mr. India (1987) - The story of an orphaned Anil Kapoor reconnects with his father and becomes India’s First Superhero, Mr. India is a gloriously campy potboiler of a film. Everything in it is over-the-top and should be enjoyed as such. This film has everything and the kitchen sink - action, adventure, romance, sci-fi, sexy ladies, invisible men, adorable moppets, robots, volcano lairs, and Miss Hawa Hawaii. I know I often caution away from 1980s films but this one has enough familiar Hollywood-style ingredients that it’s safe for non-Bollywood viewers.

Lamhe (1991) - This cross-continental, cross-generational romance was a box office dud in India but did really well overseas. It’s the story of a young man (Anil minus his trademarked facial hair) who falls in love with a young woman... and thenfalls for the woman’s daughter. Don’t worry, it’s much less sleazy than it sounds, since there is a time jump halfway through. Beginning viewers will find much to enjoy in this film, including a beautiful Rajastani folk song and a medley of vintage Bollywood songs. The one caveat I have is that the comedy of Anupam Kher is extremely over-the-top and some may find it extremely annoying.

* The regional piece is key because unlike some of the more urbane and polished heroes, Anil Kapoor has always had a bit of a homespun edge to him. It’s what the moustache is all about - regional heroes have moustaches, Bollywood heroes do not. You have to go back as far as
the 1950s to find a Bollywood hero with a mouche but regional heroes are less fussy about facial hair. If anything, the recent trend of moustaches in the Neo-Masala films is being used to emphasize this homespun connection. The Hollywood equivalent would be something like... a moustache. Imagine Brad Pitt deciding to sport one for a film set in Idaho - seems much more “country,” right?

** Which is hyperbole, obviously, but entertainment media has a short attention span.

*** These films may not have been hits but some of them are really quite good. If you decide to become a Anil Kapoor fan, there are some gems buried in his box office duds of the early 2000s.


jjake said...

Aw I love Anil! He is one of my fav's. I have barely scrathed the surface of his films, but I love him paired with Madhuri. Being a Southie fan I also love that he and his Brother produce a lot of Hindi remakes of Southie hits. Now if he can get his Sisiter in Law Sridevi to make a comeback film it would be awesome.

Amaluu said...

Oh you must also mention films like Woh Saat Din, Mashaal, Beta, Ram Lakhan and 1942: A Love Story! :-)

bollywoodfoodclub said...

I like my Anil goonda style hai, like in Awaargi (1990);



and especially in Benaam Badsha (1991). yet I also appreciate simpleton Anil acting, as exemplified in Beta (1992), Yuvvraaj (2008,) and Parinda (1989). But now that I think of it I like the jaunty Anil of Taal (1999) and the righteous Anil of Lamhe (1991) and Meri Jung (1985). So many Anils, so little time hai! How do you prefer YOUR Anil?

All the best!

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
.article .article-content { word-break: normal !important; }