By Shilpa Jamkhandikar
MUMBAI (Reuters) - He's starred in several Bollywood blockbusters, an Oscar-winning film and played a Middle Eastern leader on the American TV series "24".
Anil Kapoor is now wooing Indian audiences with an adaptation of the hit thriller series about a counter-terrorism agent.
Kapoor, the remake's producer and lead actor, says he wanted to bring the "discipline and professionalism" of U.S. television to India.
The 53-year-old spoke to Reuters on the sets of his new show, describing his experience with the U.S. series and how "24" will hook Indian audiences like slow poison.
Q: When you did the original "24" in the U.S., how different was the experience?
A: When I went to the shoot, I was totally taken aback by the scale. My only experience of an international film at that time was "Slumdog Millionaire" which we shot in India. Now I was shooting in America … It was much bigger than "Slumdog" - vanity vans and cars and the whole paraphernalia. It was huge. I went inside and saw the set. That day it was the U.N. set and I noticed the detailing. It was an exact replica. Exact. The detailing and everything was perfect.
I couldn't put the script down. We are not used to reading scripts (in India), we are used to narration. But I just had to finish reading this script. I thought this is like shooting a big commercial film. Everybody was well-prepared and completely immersed in the work culture. The way we shot it, the two camera set-up, the way it was. Slowly, I got completely sucked into it and started enjoying the whole process.
Q: Indian TV audiences are used to very different fare. Do you think you've taken a big risk?
A: Whatever I have done in my career - you like something, you go for it … You stick your neck out and I have stuck my neck out. I am not playing it safe, I am playing the lead. And I'm a movie star.
Q: When you conceptualized the show, was (director) Abhinay Deo part of the plan?
A: The written material was already there, but I needed to get an international scale and feel. Then I happened to see "Delhi Belly". When I saw the performances, the pitch of the film, I said this is it. He is the director. When I met him, it turned out he was equally passionate about "24".
Q: What does it take to make an international-level TV show in India?
A: The first is the scale and the budget. Everything is about money today. I can't tell you about the budget but I can say that we are trying our best to have the same scale. That was the major thing, the biggest hurdle to cross. Convincing the channels that this is what it is.
Q: In that sense, it is an experiment. Isn't it?
A: It's not an experiment, it's a challenge. What happens is, even if the first season is good enough, that will be enough. Then the second season will come with a bang. Even in America, the first season was OK-OK. It was only after the second and third season, (it) took off. Television slowly gets into you like a poison … They will realize that this will work like slow poison. It'll suck people into it.
Q: Do you have to add drama for the benefit of Indian audiences who aren't used to subtlety?
A: "Sholay" is a great example. The pitch is mainstream but real. You enjoy it. We are aiming for that kind of pitch and that's what I understand. The one thing Abhinay wants is for youngsters to watch television from "24". Somewhere, the footfalls in the theatres have increased and (TV) shows which were earlier successful aren't any more. There is a stagnancy. That's why they are going to theatres to watch these niche films. There are lesser sources of entertainment. The timing is very right.
Q: What if this doesn't work?
A: My wife says your body of work is so much, that it doesn't matter. You can move on. I am doing it when I am peaking. I am saying no to feature films. Big film-makers. Bigger stars than me have said yes to those roles. It doesn't work, it doesn't work. You move on.
Q: What would be the measure of success for you?
A: For me, it's already a success. That it's happening. I am already on seventh heaven. I have already celebrated.
(Editing by Vipin Das and Tony Tharakan)