When I first met Anil Kapoor four years back, he was still excited about Slumdog Millionnaire. But what brought out the squint in his eyes and the quintessential smile on his face was when we spoke about his debut in American television. Excited like a child, he was all geared for the New York premiere of the eight season of super thriller 24. I hadn’t seen the series until Anil Kapoor was going on it, and I had to get him to agree for a show that I was producing back then. Which meant that I had to watch 24 if I had to talk about it to him! So a little fact finding thanks to Google Baba and Youtube, I did my prelim research and walked into his sprawling bunglow in Juhu.
‘So, why American television?’ I asked. His Hollywood debut had him play the not-so-friendly host to the big ticket game show, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire (another very successful American format that has been splendidly adapted in India). So is television his next goal, I wondered. Anil Kapoor told me that many shows on Indian television had been offered to him. The money was always big, the projects were truly large. But he refused them all. And then one day he realized, “maine nahin kiya aur mere se bade logon ne haan kar di. They are doing it and I haven’t done it. I was a fool. But sometimes you have to wait. And now I do something on TV which was bigger than the biggest. You just have to have patience.”
Anil Kapoor played Omar Hassan, the President of the fictional Islamic Republic of Kamistan. Kapoor received rave reviews for his role with the Los Angeles Times calling him the most promising star of the season! Invited on the Today Show for his performance, Anil Kapoor wowed the hosts and talked of how Tom Cruise and Di Caprio want to work in India.
Less than a month later when Anil Kapoor returned from the premiere of 24, he confessed that he couldn’t come back with the episodes of his own show! To the press he said, “I’m sure Fox would’ve given the episodes to me. In fact, they gave the first four episodes to every journalist beforehand with a secrecy clause. So I could’ve easily asked because my daughters Sonam and Rhea and my brother Sanjay were all keen to see my television debut. But I just couldn’t ask. I was too shy. Can you believe it?” Earlier he had told me that he was delightfully surprised that American television treats its shows nothing less than cinema. The concept of television premieres is still alien to India, so when Anil Kapoor decided to bring home 24, I knew what it meant to him.
When the posters and theatrical premiere came out in August, it gave us a glimpse into what he was getting into. It is one thing to ride high on the success of a Hollywood debut and bask in rave reviews; it is a completely thing to make it a successful indigenous production. 24 is not just the first Fox production that is getting an official makeover, it is also by far the first international fiction series that is being customized for Indian television. Unlike the American counterparts, Indian television works on far stringent budget. Scripts and story lines are developed overnight. Actors work overtime and there is scanty imagination. One of the reasons why I don’t watch anything on Indian television, but that’s another story. To me, last night’s premiere of the Anil Kapoor’s 24, totally lived up to the hype.
And here is why:
1) Pace – 24 is all about pace. A narrative that runs by the clock, it ticks with action every second. There is movement, action, dialogue that runs simultaneously across different scenes. Last night’s episode had 5 parallel narratives running together jostling for our attention in one hour.
2) Taut – Crisp and sharp, the story line is precise. The scenes were brilliantly posed, kept strategically to keep our attention from one narrative to another. So much happens within an hour that the time zips by really quickly. A thriller cannot be written with gaping holes; Rensil D’Silva (the man behind Kurbaan) has ensured his script is seamless.
3) Cast – From as much the show revealed itself in the first episode; to me it is very well cast. Anil Kapoor reprising the epic character of the ATU chief (played by Keifer Sutherland in the original) is brilliant. At 56, he is lean, fit and sharp as a razor. Mandira and Tisca fit their roles. Anita Raj is a wonderful surprise and she looks good in her second innings on television. The other actors playing Singhania’s play their characters well.
4) Background Music – Perfect! I like to describe the music in a thriller as edgy. You know the kind of music that gets you to sit at the edge of your seat. That, music!
5) Good Production Quality– If you put many filmwalas in the equation, you will naturally get a product that is sound production wise. Well, at least by television standards.
For starters, the initial story line seems to circle around the assassination plot of a young leader, a prime minister about to be sworn in actually. The similarities between Singhanias and Gandhis are all too obvious, so the comparisons are a bit tedious and frankly speaking distracting. But then that’s only a small detail.
Will it change the face of Indian television? It will if there are more fiction shows that are made to match the quality. For one, if ‘24’ manages to appease the Indian viewer who is addicted to American thrillers, it would be a brilliant start! So far, India television has adapted many international formats (Kaun Banega Crorepati, Bigg Boss, Indian Idol, Masterchef, India’s Got Talent, Jhalak Dikhla Jaa and many more), but in fiction this seems to be the first of its kind. Does that mean we ‘adapt’ more shows? Castle, Homeland maybe? I would say, ‘yes, yes, yes please!’
The boy from Chembur who wanted to move to the ‘city’, calls himself a true Mumbaiker. He often cycles on to the streets of the city, which happens to be his preferred mode of transport on the way to work. He is the man behind the show, as producer. Season 2 begins production end of next month and it will be one of the first fiction shows that will follow the seasonal cycle. But ask him about being producer, Anil Kapoor will tell you that the producer has a thankless job. He is an actor and will always want to be an actor. But really Mr Kapoor, we don’t think you make that bad a producer either!