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It was his children’s urging that propelled Anil Kapoor, one of India’s biggest movie stars, to take on the role of tv show host Prem Kumar in Danny Boyle’s latest movie, Slumdog Millionaire.

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of how impoverished Indian teen Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) became a contestant on the Hindi version of Who Wants to be A Millionaire? – not so much with the prize money in mind, but in an effort to prove his love for his friend Latika (Freida Pinto), who is an ardent fan of the show.

The tv show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ maintains a strong presence throughout the film. The real life show, launched in May 2000 in India, is a huge sensation and was originally presented by Bollywood’s screen legend, Amitabh Bachchan and, more recently, India’s number one box office star Shah Rukh Khan. The top prize in India’s show is 20,000,000 rupees. Anil Kapoor, who plays Prem Kumar in the film’s fictional representation of the show, is a major Bollywood name himself, often playing the villain in Bollywood blockbusters. Kapoor explains how he came about being cast as the show’s host.

'He wants to hold onto his power'

“I got an SMS message from a dear friend of mine mentioning this film to me and Danny Boyle and I started sending e-mails to each other. To be honest with you, I didn’t take it that seriously. And casually I happened to mention Danny Boyle’s name in front of my children. Both my children, my daughter and my son, they just sprang up and said, “Dad, that’s Danny Boyle!” I said, “Yar, really?” They said, “He’s made Trainspotting, The Beach. He’s a great director. He’s a fantastic director. At least go and meet him. Go and see what it is all about””

Kapoor was able to relate to some of Kumar’s character traits in that his own career began with small roles, bit parts, before he began securing major leads in some of Bollywood’s biggest titles. “This host, Prem Kumar, is also from the slums and he makes it big and he’s a big star and he’s become a big anchor. His show is the number one show. He’s the producer of the show as well as the host, so he controls everything. To be honest with you, as an actor I’ve been working in Indian films for many, many years and obviously when I started my career, I started modestly and worked my way up. So, you see, there were a lot of things that I could identify with but not the morality part. He doesn’t believe in any kind of morality. He wants to hold onto his power.”

“They sent the script over and- as usually in India we don’t read scripts - I said, “Who’s going to read this script now?” I asked my son. I said, “You read the script.” He read the script and said, “If you don’t do this role, if you don’t do this film I’m going to go, I’m walking out of this house.””

'You’ll be able to smell India in Slumdog Millionaire'

As an Indian actor, Kapoor was intrigued to see how well Boyle and the team translated their vision of India onto the screen and the results impressed him. “The way in which Anthony and Danny look at India… It’s just got that kind of feeling that the soil of India will be in there. You’ll be able to smell India in Slumdog Millionaire, which I feel none of the films that have been made by foreign filmmakers have really been able to capture before. And the kinds of places where Danny has shot this film… I don’t think even Indian films have been shot in those kind of locations.”

Kapoor feels he has learnt a great deal from the experience of working with Boyle and a project that comes from outside the realms of Indian filmmaking. “I never felt that I was working with a foreigner. I’ve also learned how to lead, how to keep the entire team together so that everybody gives their best, from watching how he handled everyone so well.”

“If I was going wrong anywhere, he would say, “Keep it dry”, because we Indians have this thing of over reacting, of over-expressing ourselves. So there are times he would let us go, let me go, but still control me here and there but he was also completely open to all my instincts, my suggestions, you know, anything I came up with, my interpretation of every scene and most of the time he agreed with it, which is very, very surprising. It is very rare for directors in India to agree to the kind of interpretation that actors have.”

Published December 18, 2008

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