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Star of the week: Shekhar Kapur

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

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Shekhar KapurShekhar Kapur is in the news again with "Mantra", a multi-million magical FX film which he will supposedly produce for director Vishal Bharadwaj.

But one never knows with Kapur. Some time ago, he was caught in a controversy when he announced a film called "Paani" about a futuristic water scarcity in Mumbai. Avant-garde director Dev Benegal claimed the idea was ripped off from his highly acclaimed 1994 film "Split Wide Open".

Kapur protested, though not strongly. Benegal fumed ferociously. He might as well have saved himself the trouble. Because months after the heated fracas one hears nothing about "Paani".

I'm not surprised. One of the actors who had been approached for the project had told me, "But why is Benegal getting agitated? 'Paani' will never be made. Trust me on that."

Another popular actress said the same thing. And now Preity Zinta is all set to feature in "Mantra".

Once upon a time Kapur got into the casting of a teen-flick "Tara Rum Pum", which would have been Preity's launch film if it had only gone beyond an idea.

Let's hope for Preity's sake, if not Kapur's, that "Mantra" gets made.

If we were to zero in on the biggest dichotomy of showbiz it would have to be Shekhar Kapur.

Undoubtedly one of the most gifted filmmakers from this part of the world, Kapur's indecisiveness, his inability to grasp at ideas and crystallise them in celluloid shapes is costing him heavily in terms of credibility.

After the profusion of assignments that he has mooted and/or signed and then abandoned, it would seem as though no creative person in the world can equal Kapur's record for backtracking.

Just think of the number of times he has said yes, raised hopes and dashed them to the ground.

Shekhar KapurLet's revert to his beginnings as a filmmaker in Bollywood. Apart from a helluva hyped-up stint as an actor when he did films like Basu Chatterjee's "Jeena Yahan" and Ketan Anand's "Toote Khilone" (the latter with Shabana Azmi), Kapur finally turned filmmaker in 1985 with the fabulously feted "Masoom" in 1981.

Everyone agreed this was no ordinary directorial debut. We all held our breath for the Next Explosion.

So what happened? Nothing! Kapur plunged into two new Hindi projects "Joshilay", a takeoff on "Sholay" with Anil Kapoor and Sunny Deol, and "Dushmani" a "Godfather"-styled drama featuring Manisha Koirala.

In both cases he abandoned the projects mid-way. They had to be completed by the respective producers.

Finally in 1987 Kapur did the much talked-about, and in retrospect overrated, "Mr India" for Boney Kapoor. The film was a happy experience for all. To no one's surprise Boney asked Shekhar to direct his youngest brother Sanjay's launch pad.

After hemming and hawing for years over "Prem", Kapur opted out. In the interim, leading lady Tabu began to lose patience and Sanjay Kapoor was ridiculed as the oldest newcomer in Bollywood.

With a reputation that preceded him, Kapur could only head one way -- westwards. In collaboration with Britain's Channel 4 he made "Bandit Queen", one of the most hard-hitting and unforgettable Indian films ever created.

The film's shocking violence, nudity and sex ensured it a longish run at the Indian box office and also renewed India's reputation abroad as a country of oppression, discrimination and brutality. We love to be shown our place, don't we?

What next? That was the question. Kapur took on what he always wanted to, a big Hollywood-styled biopic which surprised many. "Elizabeth", with its brooding biographical landscape, was a historical that got Kapur almost there. And not surprisingly, Kapur made nothing for the next four years.

Vacillating among numerous projects, he finally did a version of the A.E.W. Mason story about cowardice and valour at war. "The Four Feathers" was a miserable failure, putting a big question mark against Shekhar Kapur's career as an international filmmaker. Not that there has been a dearth of film offers. But there's definitely a creative anxiety about Kapur's career.

It's been more than two years since "The Four Feathers" was released. Since then, Kapur has been playing hopscotch with possible projects, considering them and then discarding them.

Shekhar KapurLet's take a look at the number of projects that have been mentioned in the same breath as Shekhar Kapur: "The Last Full Measure", "The Long Walk To Freedom" on the life of Nelson Mandela, a biopic on Mother Teresa and "The Golden Age", a sequel to Kapur's critically successful "Elizabeth". One also hears of Kapur directing a telefilm, "100 Days Of Darkness", based on a true incident of genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Now there is talk of a big Buddha blockbuster coming up from Kapur with Brad Pitt and Aishwarya Rai in the lead. Sounds glamorous but unlikely. Neither star has confirmed their presence in "Buddha". If Aishwarya plays the Buddha's relinquished wife Yashodhara, the role is unlikely to do justice to the actress.

As for Pitt, didn't he get his fill of Buddhism in "Seven Years In Tibet"? It seems unlikely he'd play another historical character after doing "Troy". (In any case, why do we need an American actor to play Buddha???).

Will Kapur please concretise at least one of the pending projects? Or does he intend to be known as just a passionate proposal maker who promised a universe of cinematic experience but finally delivered just a trickle of the promised goodies?


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