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Kapur, Shekhar

Category: Filmdirectors

 

Shekhar Kapur (born 6 December 1945) is a visionary filmmaker and storyteller who works at the intersection of art, myth and activism.

A Golden Globe-winning director, Shekhar makes lush, international period films -- such as Elizabeth and The Four Feathers -- and Indian hits like Mr. India.   He gained international recognition with the 1994 Bollywood film Bandit Queen based on the life of infamous Indian bandit and politician Phoolan Devi, which won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi, Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie and Best Direction for that year. The film was premiered in the Directors Fortnight section of the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, and was screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival.

His historical biopics on Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth (1998) and The Golden Age (2007)) won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, and two Academy Awards. He has been the recipient of the Indian National Film Award, the BAFTA Award, the National Board of Review Award, and three Filmfare Awards. In 2010, He served as one of the Jury Members (International Competition) at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.

 

Kapur's short film "Passages"" was part of the October 2009 film anthology New York, I Love You. He also sat on the judging panel for 1 Minute to Save the World, a competition for short films about climate change.  His film Paani – the hindi word for water – explores mumbai's shrinking supply of water and its distribution underworld.  As such one could classify him as a caring, ecologically minded man concerned about people and interested in film as a medium to suggest change and expose problems.

There are two important quotes that show just how aware he is of the inequalities that exist in the world and especially India, and how he is using film to try to expose this cruelty [for cruelty is what it is]  .............

Now, where does this upper city and lower city come? There's a mythology in India ... It says that the rich are always sitting on the shoulders and survive on the shoulders of the poor. So, from that mythology, the upper city and lower city come. .....  And what happens is that the people of the upper city, they suck up all the water. Remember the word I said, suck up. They suck up all the water, keep it to themselves, and they drip feed the lower city. And if there's any revolution, they cut off the water. And, because democracy still exists, there's a democratic way in which you say "Well, if you give us what [we want], we'll give you water."

an allegory of wealth..........

Interview at Cannes film festival
Question:  You have committed yourself to the ‘Paani’ (Water) project. Why have you chosen this particular commitment?
Shekhar - I work a lot and have been working on water issues for a long time. I’m a member of the Global Water Challenge worldwide. I’m the face of water in India. And the reason for doing it is because I grew up in a water-stressed area, and for 10 years I have been banging on to those people to say that this problem is coming. And it is not something in the future; we are in an explosive situation right now. There are people dying in India because there is no water; there are people in Africa killing each other for water... It cannot continue like that, we cannot live in a way where people can have showers for 2 hours... Do you know that one minute of showering in America is enough water to provide for a whole family of five in India?

 

His presentation on TED, which is provided as an observation, also has a very strong mystical quality about it, meaning that if he wasn't such a good director he could equally well have been classified as a modern mystic.

Interview at Cannes film festival

Question - “He who looks too much at his dreams becomes like a shadow.” As a filmmaker on the one hand, and a Jury Member on the other, what do you think of this Indian proverb?
Shekhar - I think just completely the other way. I think that when you have a dream, you make it a fantasy, and when you make it a fantasy, you make it an obsession. And once you have made it an obsession, you’re creating. A dream is not tangible but a dream followed to its end is an obsession that drives you to create something external to yourself. A filmmaker, in order to go through the idea of creating a film from nothing, especially independent films, needs a dream.

Equally at home in Hollywood and Bollywood, he's also a comics mogul; in 2006 he co-founded Virgin Comics as a venue for turning Indian and Hindu myths into pop-culture icons. For the company, now reorganized as Liquid Comics, he co-created the series Ramayan 3392 A.D., based on the Ramayana. His newest Liquid series: Devi.

Life

with first wife Medha

Shekhar was born in Lahore, Punjab, British India. The nephew of famous Indian actor Dev Anand, he was discouraged from getting into films by his father.  He studied economics at St. Stephen's College. And at 22, he became a Chartered Accountant.

The Times of India - Interview March 16th 2003

I was a pampered child: My earliest memories are of my parents pulling my cheeks at our house in Lahore, where I was born on December 6, 1945.
My father, Kulbhushan Kapur, was a doctor and had a flourishing practice. My mother, Sheel Kanta, was a journalist and a keen actress who performed on stage. Partition saw my family, including my sister Neelu, moving to Shimla.
My imagination ran wild: From Shimla, we moved to Nizamuddin in Delhi and I attended Modern School (Barakhamba Road), where my father's brother was the principal. Those were carefree days — I was a good student, interested in swimming. I was teased for being Dev Anand's nephew and was often isolated. I made up for this by creating my own world. I loved weaving stories.
My first crush was crushed: I was 15 when I fell in love with Sheela, who studied at CJM. She commuted by bus and I rode my bicycle alongside till she entered the school gate. This went on for months before I gathered courage and went over to her place. Her mother opened the door and, when I asked for Sheela, she came out sleepy-eyed. I told her I loved her, but she said she was in love with Elvis Presley! I was totally heart-broken for days and went into a shell.

 

I loved being reckless: After school, my swimming credentials got me admission to the economics course at St Stephen's college. Surprisingly, I never swam after that. My parents bought me a Lambretta scooter — I used it to attract girlfriends and do crazy things like driving at full throttle on the wrong side of the Ring Road!
I discovered my sexuality: Those were the days of flower power. I grew my hair long and tried to look like a Beatle. I doped and danced but was never part of a core group. After college, I went to England to be a chartered accountant. There, I wooed women while claiming that I knew a lot about the Kama Sutra. Anything Indian was considered hot and I used this to full advantage!
I wasn't cut out for a 9-5 job: As a CA, I got a fairly good job, but felt bored. I returned to India, dabbled with photography and the arts and even reached Bombay wanting to be a director. But nobody took me seriously and I became an actor under my uncle's (Dev Anand) Nav Ketan banner. I featured in Ishq, Ishq, Ishq and Toote Khilone , but realised I was a bad actor. I took to modelling to earn my bread and butter. All in all, this wasn't a great phase.

 

Shekhar started his career working with a multinational oil company. He moved to the United Kingdom in 1970, and spent a few years working as an accountant and management consultant.  But in the end the draw of film and the creative life was too strong and aged around 30, he returned to India.  Initially, Shekhar started his career in films as he says. He also appeared in several Hindi television dramas, like Udaan opposite Kavita Chaudhary and Masoom opposite Neena Gupta.

He turned director with the family drama Masoom (1983) starring Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi and a young Jugal Hansraj. The film followed the story of a young illegitimate boy who struggles to find acceptance from his stepmother. He then directed the 1987 science-fiction film Mr. India starring Anil Kapoor, Sridevi and Amrish Puri in his most famous role as the villain Mogambo.

"Puri's most famous dialogue in this film "Mogambo Khush Hua" is still remembered".

Shekhar has been married twice. 

The Times of India - Interview March 16th 2003

With second wife Suchitra and daughter Kaveri

His first wife: During the making of the movie Masoom, I met Medha. We fell in love and got married.  But Medha and I drifted apart: Masoom was a hit, but my next film Joshilay didn't work.
Mr India, on the other hand, was phenomenally successful. I was on a high but, feeling incomplete, I stopped making movies! I went to the Philippines and became a scuba-diving instructor. Still not sure of myself, I returned to England and became the host of On The Other Hand. In the meanwhile, my marriage with Medha was on the rocks and we separated.

His second wife:  I was drawn to Suchitra's earthiness: I met Suchitra while she was working for Kundan Shah's Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. In a way, I have always been attracted to earthy women — be it Medha, Shabana or Suchitra. I am like a kite which wants to fly higher and higher — I need a woman who can hold me back. My marriage with Suchitra has worked despite the physical distance. Kaveri [his daughter] is my anchor: I cherish the relationship I share with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Kaveri. While in London, I take her for a walk in the park each Sunday and narrate stories to her. Sometimes, she falls asleep, but I keep on talking. Her company is comforting — it takes me away from everything else.

Beliefs

Suchitra

Shekhur has both a strong feeling for spiritual and Hindu  values, a sense of the beyond which he calls [for simplicities sake] 'God'.  It appears that Shekhar's concept of God is closer to that of the atman or Higher spirit.

God is a state of mind: I look forward to the day when I can .... 'embrace' God, when I can sit down with God. .... God is a figure we can't touch. God is not a friend one can have tea with — He is a state of mind we look up to.
.... My current obsession is my next project, Paani. But if I have one burning desire, it is to be in space and travel in time.

There are also indications that he is interested in Sufism and Buddhism - all mystic movements and all adding evidence of his mystic leanings.  Furthermore he has a clear drive to want to help people understand these mystic movements better, for example:

TED talk transcript
I'm thinking of making a film of the Buddha -- and I often wonder: If Buddha had had all the elements that are given to a director -- if he had had music, if he had had visuals, if he had had a video camera -- would we understand Buddhism better? But that puts some kind of burden on me.

I think the answer is yes, burden or no burden.  His films incorporate the spiritual because he himself sees the spiritual and mythological in the story the scriptwriter has developed.  Here is an example, he is talking here about the film Elizabeth:

TED talk transcript
Here's the story I was telling: The gods [were] up there, [and] there were two people. There was Philip II, who was 'divine' because he was always praying, and there was Elizabeth, who was divine, but not quite divine because she thought she was divine, but the blood of being mortal flowed in her.
But the divine one was unjust, so the gods said, "OK, what we need to do is help the just one." And so they helped the just one. And what they did was, they sent Walter Raleigh down to physically separate her mortal self from her spirit self. And ... gradually he separated her so she was free to be divine. And the two divine people fought, and the gods were on the side of divinity.

11:48 Of course, all the British press got really upset. They said, "We won the Armada."

11:55 But I said, "But the storm won the Armada. The gods sent the storm."

 

Source of inspiration

with his daughter

The main sources of Shekhar's inspiration on a day to day basis are love, making love and high emotion.  The emotion can be positive or negative - both seem to work! 

The Times of India - Interview March 16th 2003
I have put in my share of struggle: Most people feel that I am this happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Few know of the rejection I have faced, the hard work I have put in. I left the Hindi film industry because too many people were telling me what to do. I missed the loneliness of making my own decisions. Creativity needs solitude. Yet, when solitude turns into loneliness, it can be devastating.

 

And here is an example of using fear or thoughts of annihilation to drive you....

Death defines everything we do: Even my sexuality and eagerness for work is defined by death. In fact, when I really need to feel creative, feel really alive, I allow the fantasy of death to loom large in front of me. In a fantasy, death becomes something one is not scared of and the source of creativity in its purest form.

In effect Shekhar has the longing of the mystic for annihilation.

Overall

 

The observations I have provided all come from his TED talk and the transcript, but his films are very adequate testimony to his talent and creative ability.

There is one further point we can add to this description.  Shekhar is not an egotistical man.  He has kept the drive and will needed to create, but it is not a will driven by ego.  Thus we can also say that one of his other activities that appears to have borne fruit is to  Squash the big I am

My life is full of regrets: I don't believe people who claim they have no regrets in life. I wish I hadn't troubled my parents as much as I did. I wish my first marriage hadn't broken up. I wish I had made 12, and not six, films. I wish I wasn't such a thinker. Still, I am a fighter driven by challenges. Yes, I am a very difficult person to live with, but I will always be the way I am.

 

Observations

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