Corporations keep funding duds, says Rajat Kapoor

The acclaimed actor and filmmaker, who returns to the screen with Mantra, lamented the miserly attitude that producers and film corporations have towards independent films while splurging crores on stars.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Mayur Lookhar

He looks dapper in a blazer, but Rajat Kapoor is a tired man. The long media interactions take their toll, but they are not what has made him weary. The acclaimed actor and filmmaker is tired of running after producers to get funds for his films. He has made a dozen feature films and produced three — Fatso (2013), The Owner (2012), and Raat Gayi, Baat Gayi? (2009) — and the common problem he has faced with all of them has been raising funds. Yet, Kapoor remains hopeful, promising to make his next film by hook or by crook. The actor will soon be seen in unheralded filmmaker Nicholas Kharkongor’s Mantra, a film that was conceived six years ago but only went on the floors two years ago.

In a chat with, Kapoor talks about the film, but the conversation soon veers towards his frustration at getting funds for independent filmmakers. Excerpts:

Be it Phas Gaye Re Obama (2010) or now Mantra, why is it that your character is always bankrupt?

(Laughs) That’s a good point you make. I guess somewhere down the line, filmmakers realize my reality. I may look like a corporate, but he has no money.  Look, I’m wearing torn jeans. It’s a good observation you made.

Gauging from the trailer, Mantra is a film about a dysfunctional family. Could you tell us more about it?

The real meat of the story is about the family. This man, Kapil Kapoor [his character] has been so busy chasing his corporate dream that he has completely ignored his family. He is completely bottled up. So, he does not express himself. He doesn’t share his problems with anyone else, pretending that everything is fine. He even refuses help from friends. His family is not even aware how badly his business is doing.

The film is also said to be about MNCs [multinational corporations] eating up small enterprises. 

That is like a trigger for his business to collapse and what happens to the family then. The film is essentially not about that. I have known Nicholas [Kharkongor] for a while. I had first read the script six years ago and was blown by it. Though he had offered me the role, he wasn’t sure whether he would be able to get the money. He even contemplated going with some other actors. I kept reading his draft over the years, and I always loved the script. He only got the money two years back. Because I had read the script many times, I got close to the character.

You were also part of Kapoor & Sons (2016), which, coincidentally, is also a film about a dysfunctional family. That makes it two back-to-back films on a similar subject.

Well, dysfunctional families are common these days. I shot for Mantra before Kapoor & Sons.

How about your family?

Mine is probably one of the very few functional families left in the city. No, I’m not joking because I see friends of my kids, quite of few of them are from divorced houses. It has become a disease. You just look around and you will find single mothers or fathers or they are single, unmarried. So, families are going through a crisis. The old structure that kept a family together is not there anymore. It’s more acute in the West. The same is on its way back home too. The days of a happy family are over.

All through this past decade and earlier, we kept hearing that there is a new wave in Indian cinema, but one is yet to see that. Independent filmmakers are still struggling to get funds.

All that talk [of new-wave cinema] is rubbish.

I’m sure you guys must be approaching corporations for funding...

(Interrupting) Corporates have never funded my film. Not even once. Be it Ankhon Dekhi (2013), Mixed Doubles (2006) or Raghu Romeo (2003). Mithya (2008) was funded by Planman Motion Pictures, though they were more within the independent spirit. So, all my films have been funded by individuals.

Have you stopped approaching them now? What’s their standard line of turning you down politely?

I keep approaching them but with no results. I have three scripts ready. For the last two years, all that I have been doing is meeting producers. The problem with the corporates is that first they have a creative team, which would like the script. Then it goes to the marketing team, which shoots back saying, “What is this?” They don’t know what to do with it and it all stops there.

They have an understanding of what works, what doesn’t. Unfortunately, their mind is so fixed that they can’t think besides that. They [the corporations] will keep funding duds after duds, just because there is a star in that. It’s like gambling, betting money on horses. Just because some horse won a race last time, it doesn’t mean he will triumph again.

They seem to know what they are doing. Or do they? Then why are studios shutting down? It’s obvious that they don't fucking know what they are doing. The sad part is that they pretend to know everything. How the fuck do you know? If you did, then why the hell did your film flop? What really gets my goat is that you don’t flinch when putting Rs50 crore on a big film. But when I come to you with a Rs3 crore project, you say it is too risky! The fact remains that I’m not able to get money for my films.

Has this sapped your energies?

No, because I know I must continue. The same thing happened before I was making Ankhon Dekhi (2013). I met everybody. One day, I tweeted, ‘I’m done with all the producers, now I’m starting a new play. Manish Mundra [producer] read that. He replied saying that he is a big fan and so he agreed to produce it. I gave him my number. He asked me the budget, I said Rs4 crore. He said no problem, and I started laughing telling him to stop joking as I’ve heard such talk before. I asked him to first read the script. He flew down to Mumbai and he funded Ankhon Dekhi. After that he has funded films like Masaan (2015), Waiting (2016) and Newton (unreleased). Sometimes a Twitter message can work. I’m an eternal optimist but at times I despair. I promise you that this year I will make a film, even if it requires me to rob a bank.

All the films you mentioned are often first screened at film festivals. Are these festivals the lone medium to spread the word about independent films?

It helps a little bit, but in the end all that matters is that you do the work that you believe in.

The industry cries itself hoarse that there are not enough good writers around.  

Yes, there is a dearth, but the industry is not really interested in good writing. Their basic understanding is stars. Take so-and-so star and start writing something around him.

How do you look back at your journey?

I’m very grateful that in spite of everything, I have been able to make six films. I didn’t try to become an actor, yet I became one, accidentally. I have done few meaningful roles, but I’m quite happy with it. It’s been a privilege to be able to make films that I truly believe in. I’m able to continue doing theatre. The only painful part is looking for money.