Looking into a mirror: In conversation with Rajat Kapoor

It can’t be a coincidence that the title of Rajat Kapoor’s film is a play on his own initials. So is the depiction of his own struggles in the film world an exercise in narcissism or a genuine theme that film-goers will find relatable?

Looking into a mirror

Rajat Kapoor

Delhi-born Rajat Kapoor, 61, was recently in the capital with his star cast for the screening of RK/RKAY at PVR Plaza in Connaught Place. It stars Kapoor himself and Mallika Sherawat as the leading couple, and also Ranvir Shorey, Kubra Sait and Vinay Pathak. 

The satirical comedy is written and directed by Kapoor himself, and the protagonist is a filmmaker. The plot runs as follows: RK is making a new film in which he also plays the lead character, Mahboob. It is a quaint film, a tribute to the cinema of the 1960s. People close to him are not really sure why RK wants to make this film. 

As the edit begins, RK has a sinking feeling that the film is not going to come together. He gets nightmares warning him of an impending disaster. Sure enough, one afternoon, RK gets a call that Mahboob has run away, run out of the film! Nobody can really understand why he would leave, where he would go. But he is not there anymore in the rushes and is missing from the film negative as well! 

The mystery behind his disappearance is solved when it is found that Mahboob was running away from his killers. RK finds him, brings him home. But Mahboob has no idea where he is from, or that he is any different from the people around him. Slowly, he is convinced to go back to the film so that RK can finish his film. 

The storyline is reminiscent of the time Kapoor was making Kadhak (2019). That film too was suffused with black humour and in real life, the producer disappeared, abandoning the project. Somehow, the shooting was completed. 

Kapoor’s RK/RKay may have a convoluted plot but the film has catchy dialogues between Mallika and Rajat, and a song “Meri jaan…” sung by Shaan, which may give it a shot at the popularity stakes. Asked about his choice of leading lady, he shot back: “Mallika Sherawat is a bold, sexy and beautiful actress! And the audience wants to see her. A good-looking girl wearing a traditional saree appeals to the audience. Secondly, she is bold enough to play any role. In RK/RKAY, she is seen as a simple woman. But the chemistry between us as husband and wife was great.”

STARRY AFFAIR: Rajat Kapoor with Mallika Sherawat for RK/Rkay’s promotion

Rajat has been active in Bollywood for over three decades – writing, acting and directing. He started his career with Chingari, a Delhi theatre group, in 2013. Afterwards, he went to Pune to study at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).

Rajat started acting in parallel cinema with his debut in Kumar Shahani’s Khayal Gatha (1990). Those were difficult days for struggling actors with few opportunities to showcase talent. So he started writing scripts and also directing shorts. He made his full-length directorial debut with Private Detective: Two Plus Two Plus One (1997) along with Irrfan Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. It had its fair share of popularity.
This film got him a break to play character roles in Dil Chahta Hai, Corporate, Bheja Fry, Raghu Romeo, Mixed Doubles, Mulk and Mithya, among others. There was no dearth of opportunities but lead roles were elusive, despite his good looks and the ‘Kapoor’ surname. 

At the international level, in Monsoon Wedding (2001), made by Hollywood film-maker Mira Nair, he essayed a negative character. While that role is memorable for Indian audiences, less known to us is his portrayal of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s role in a television film in the UK. He wrote and directed Last Days of the Raj (2007). 

So far, Kapoor has received three National Awards. A high point of his career was when Raghu Romeo, which he wrote and directed, got a National Award for the best feature film in Hindi, though it had not done well at the box office. He was also nominated for Best Performance by an Actor for Siddharth: The Prisoner at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in 2008.
With such a distinguished career behind him, why did he have to go crowd-funding for RK/RKay? “As you know, film-making is not as easy as common people think, especially after the coronavirus pandemic. There was no activity at all. Producers are not interested in putting their money in a film unless you have big stars in your film. It was quite challenging.”


Interestingly, ordinary people whom he dubs “real film-lovers” sent him modest sums like Rs 100-500, Rs 1,000 and more. He remembers all the amounts clearly: 13 supporters contributed Rs 25,000 each, 32 contributed Rs 5,000 each, 27 contributed Rs 10,000 each. 

There was a ‘return gift’ for such fans. “We sent signed selfies with high resolution posters of RK/RKAY film to them. For some, we arranged studio visits during post-production to meet and greet the team. In the end, it worked out well. That’s how I made this film!”

Perhaps he could have made a film about the making of most of his films. About 12 years back, his script for Ankhon Dekhi — depicting the life of a middle-class family in Old Delhi — was turned down by most producers. He was in despair, planning to quit the movie business. Unexpectedly, an entrepreneur Manish Mundra offered to fund the film. 

Ankhon Dekhi, with brilliant performances by Sanjay Mishra and Seema Pahwa, was quite a hit. It showed the life of a typical family which lives in a small, crowded place, which a critic called ‘a perfect story about imperfect characters’. Perhaps this will continue to be his trademark genre in years to come. 

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