In terms of viewing figures, Indian television has overtaken Bollywood, and now thanks to forward-thinking actors like Anil Kapoor, it is getting a global sensibility.
With the Indian remake of hit US drama 24, the star has not only popularised finite series on TV in the country, but also raised the standards in terms of production values, and prompted others to look internationally for inspiration.
The recently commenced second series of 24 on Colors has further raised the bar and shown that Kapoor is one of the hardest-working actors in India today.
Eastern Eye caught up with him in London recently to talk about 24, being a game-changer, his work ethic and more.
What is the secret of you looking so young?
(Laughs) There is no secret, Asjad. I am just happy and just keep on working. Work keeps you young and fit. So my advice to everybody is, don’t stop working. Just work, be happy and be positive. That is the way. And of course, you have to exercise, look after yourself, and don’t go berserk with your diet.
Last time we spoke, you were doing heavy training in preparation for season one of 24, but the second season seems like it is even more intense?
That’s right. I trained a lot for the first season and trained even more for the second.
I am finding it more difficult to exercise as I get older; how do you find it?
(Laughs) I am finding it easier. The more you train, the more you keep yourself fit and prepared for when you go on set.
What is your fondest memory of shooting with Kiefer Sutherland in the original show 24?
I didn’t have many scenes with him because all of mine were with the actors playing my wife and in the UN with the US president. I had only about three or four scenes with him, but obviously he was a very thorough professional. He not only knew about what he was doing, but also knew about what everybody was doing. Once he was on set, he would completely take over and I could see that 24 was in his blood.
When did you know you wanted to remake 24 in India, with you taking on Kiefer’s role?
I knew once I started shooting about three or four episodes. I was reading scripts that came to me and thought: ‘Why is it that when I get scripts in India, I sometimes read them, put them down and read the rest later?’. But these scripts, I could not put them down. They were relentless and that was the eighth season; the writing was still so fantastic. I said, I have to do it in India.
24 has become a game-changer, with people now making finite series and raising the level of writing. Was your intention to transform Indian television?
(Smiles) I know people say that and I am so grateful. They are very kind and generous to say that 24 is a game-changer. When people do something like this, they don’t really think about making a game-changer. You just like something and feel instinctively it is going to work.
Then you’re motivated and get inspired by it. And you inspire everybody else to be as committed as you are. You shoot it, and if it becomes successful and a game-changer, you are happy about it. So you don’t really go into it thinking you want to do this. You can’t do that, it is not possible.
You seem like you’re involved in all areas of the show. How much do you get involved in the production and writing side of things?
I have a great team, so my involvement comes when they get stuck and that’s it.
In terms of the writing, it seems like every episode of 24 is like a mini-movie. Is that intentional?
If you see these kinds of big shows like House Of Cards and especially 24, they are like that, and it’s one of the reasons why I decided to do it in India. When I reached the (original) 24 set, I realised it is bigger than a film, so I thought: ‘Why can’t I get this kind of work culture and thinking in India?’
TV in India was actually looked down upon and I had heard about actors not being paid as much as they deserved. Not much time was given to it. I said: ‘Let me try to get the same kind of work culture and scale in India’.
It must have been a challenge making it happen?
It took me time. I said: ‘Let me use my little bit of status which I have to make this happen’. So obviously me being part of it and acting in it helped. I had done movies all my life and people did say: ‘Are you sure you want to do TV and fiction? It’s a risk as you’re staking your entire career’.
(Movie) people had been on television, done reality shows and been judges, but nobody had done fiction like this. Usually when you do a character in a film, it is blown up on the big screen and more money is spent. It is projected as larger than life.
Here you become smaller on a small screen, so the storytelling and performances have to be so good that people forget about the big screen and think it’s better. So keeping all these things in mind, and the way I saw them working, I said: ‘Let me go for it’. I stuck my neck out so we could make it happen.
As I said earlier, the second season of 24 seems a lot more intense. Is that correct?
Yes it is. (Laughs) It gets more intense.
You are one of the greatest Bollywood stars of all time, but does it affect you when you’re doing something like this that is so emotionally and physically demanding?
It does get emotionally and physically tiring, and it does exhaust me. I do feel emotionally drained! But when you have something to look forward to the next morning, it becomes mind over body. So you send signals to your mind.
Also if I compare what I am doing on the show to hardworking people in the world who do so much more in life, it isn’t anything. They are stronger people, so I am nothing in front of them. I make them my role models. If they can work so hard, then why can’t I? So that is the way I motivate myself. I get up in the morning, go for a work out, get the blood circulating, get pumped up, reach the set and pick it up.
So that is the secret of you been able to take on such a heavy workload?
There’s no secret. Like I said, I am not doing anything compared to other much more hardworking people in the world. I believe people do much more than I do. People do so much and still are successful, happy and have all the time for everything they do. So it is like decentralising things, delegating your work to professionals, and you can make it happen. If you have the right people and right team who can support you, then you can do even more.
Can you share any behind-the-scenes stories from the new series of 24?
Well, obviously the stories behind-the-scenes are fewer than in films, it’s more in front of the camera because there is not much time to spend. In films of course, you have these moments where you spend a lot of time with each other, including after pack-up. It’s a lot more laid-back.
With TV, there’s just no time to have a lot of behind-the-scenes stories. So all the great stories are in front of the camera. How we make it work, how we all have to be prepared, how not a single moment can be wasted. Those are the best stories from the set of a series like 24.
What is happening with the other big American serials that you are planning to remake in India, shows like Prison Break and Modern Family?
Right now, my entire focus is on the second season of 24. I think immediately after this, I am going to get into Modern Family.
Will there be a season three of 24?
One hundred per cent there will be, fingers crossed. If I have your support and more people watch, it will be easier to make the third season. If I don’t, it will be difficult, so please support 24, the second season.
Are you nervous about your son Harshvardhan Kapoor being launched into Bollywood with soon-to-be-released film Mirzya?
I would be nervous if he was not hardworking, because success and failure is not in my hands. But hard work is in his hands. He’s definitely much more hardworking than I am. I think that is what is going to make him successful.
Finally, would you like to give a message for your fans?
I want to thank them, especially my fans over here in the UK. You have always been very kind and generous, and I will always be grateful to you all.
Season 2 of 24 is on Colors TV UK on Saturdays and Sundays at 9.30pm on Sky channel 786, Freesat channel 662 and Virgin channel 826. Log onto www.colorstv.com to find out more.