Stepping into the midst of an animated discussion between Harshvarrdhan and
Harsh and Anil have a, shall we say, divergent, take on how Harsh has charted, and is charting, his career in cinema. Anil would perhaps like the son to be a little flexible in a few things, but that is the one thing Harsh isn’t comfortable being. “I am very particular about the things I like and dislike,” he tells you emphatically. “I am very clear about my tastes in all aspects of my life – whether it’s movies, the way I dress, the way I look at my life, and it’s all very clear to me. I have very strong instincts, and I really, really listen to those instincts. The worst thing that you can do is betray those instincts, I feel because in the long run, you know, then you have regrets. When things go wrong, I don’t blame anyone. I don’t say that it was this person’s fault or that person’s fault. There is a complete, 100% accountability, and I am kind of ready to live and die by those choices.”
Anil is watching, expressionless, his face not giving away his take on this “live and die by those choices” sentiment. Is it a challenge as a parent, sometimes, to get across a divergent viewpoint in the face of such strong views? Anil, after all, has seen the ups and downs of the industry and navigated it fairly successfully, staying relevant for over forty years now, still going strong, doing more projects than his son. How does he share a point with Harsh which may differ from Harsh’s own?
Sunita Kapoor requested Harsh to meet her “half way” in taste and sensibilities while picking projects
“There are times when we have these discussions, and it’s okay… I sometimes suggest, as Sunita said – a ‘come halfway’ kind of situation (referring to an Insta post from her after Ray released). But then, what makes me happy is not the thought that he becomes the biggest star in the country; that’s not my ambition. My ambition is that he is respected, and he’s happy doing what he is doing. And automatically, if you work hard, you do things, you make those choices – and if that is the way bigger success comes, I think that will be much more solid.”
“That’s sweeter and long-lasting,” adds Harsh.
Are you comparing him with his compatriots professionally, because that’s what we do in India, right? Sharmaji ka beta and all that – does that happen?
“Obviously, it’s very, very natural.” And do you say it to him?
“I do, but in a very positive way. There are a lot of ways to tell. Not pumping him up unnecessary or inflating his ego… not in a way that it sounds like I am trying to, you know… (pause) if I do it also, he is so sharp, he knows (if I’m praising him excessively) – ‘why are you trying? I can see through you’ (laughs). So I have to be very real with him, and keep on giving a reality check.”
Does Harsh believe in the idea of coming halfway?
“I don’t understand the halfway thing. This whole process is not supposed to be about somebody else coming and giving me advice. I mean, one has to identify one’s taste, right? Be clear about that taste and be in pursuit of that. And through that process, make your own learnings and then further continue to apply them. That’s what being an artist is about. Over a period of time, if you keep pursuing your individuality and through that you find excellence, then you create something of your own.”
‘WE HAVE MAJOR FIGHTS…’
Have there been difficult moments in working on projects, like, where Harsh has a very strong divergence of take from his father’s?
“Ya. Everyday. That’s a daily thing.”
And how does that go? Does anybody get angry?
Harsh doesn’t choose the politically correct route here, either:
“He (Anil) can’t sit down and talk. He just gets anxious. I am saying, just sit down and talk about it calmly, and you’ll feel better,
but then I think we all have different ways of dealing with things. I just like to talk; I like to sit down and talk about it. I really like to get into details of why. Because I think the why is very telling. Do you not like something because you feel that creatively it doesn’t work with the rest of the film? Or do you not like it in isolation because it’s a little abstract? Or it’s not something which you are used to seeing? That sheds so much light on where that point of view is coming from. It’s about the movie, finally; it’s not about him and it’s not about me. I am not here to do vanity projects. For me, it is always about the movie.”
After Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018) didn’t do well, I told my parents that I have got to do streaming: Harsh on his film choices
We turn back to Anil, who is today playing the strong, silent type. Is it that simple? If your son is disagreeing with you on a creative element, and you have been in this space, this industry, for a very long while, you are his professional senior, is it easy to have your point of view put aside?
“We have major fights. We had a fight last night also… a big fight.”
That wasn’t tough to guess. But there is always a softer tone when Kapoor senior is making his point.
“See, obviously, being an insider… I’ve been very… how do I put it, there is a certain way of (pauses) – of always finding a way which is slightly out of the box, but still a little safe.
And the fact is that I have more years than he does, he has fewer responsibilities and I have got more responsibilities, so obviously there are times when I make decisions and I react because of the kind of responsibilities and priorities that I am answerable for – and he has fewer, you know, things to be responsible for.”
Harsh doesn’t quite agree.
“But I also think that I have lot at stake.
Because ultimately, if I make a decision and it doesn’t work out in my favour, I have to bear the consequences.
If I decide to go against the grain, and if I really believe in something and I push it and it doesn’t work, ultimately, he’s going to move on, right? He’s gonna have other work. But it’s me, na? I am not trying to self-sabotage and be regretful later. I am just trying to kind of bring to life what I really feel is exciting. So I think everybody has responsibilities and everybody involved has things at stake, and it’s just different, you know?”
‘… BUT I’LL BACK HIM TILL THE END’
Anil has been talking about reinventing himself for a decade or more. Isn’t Harsh, in a way, talking about the same – not wanting to do what is stereotyped?
“Not just the last decade. I have been doing this all my life, my entire 40 years. I would, every once in a while, do what the industry wanted me to do and what was the right thing to do according to what the current market was. And then one project, I would do what I felt like. I always did that. I started my career with Mani Ratnam, Baapu
and MS Sathyu, and all those kind of films. So it wasn’t difficult for me to reinvent myself, over and over.
To a certain extent, I guess somewhere this trait of mine is there in him (laughs).”
Harsh joins back in the conversation.
“He balanced that work with very commercial films that made him a household name. But what I’m saying is what if today somebody became a household name by doing something that is not expected?
There are so many tags – action or comedy or romantic hero. I don’t want those tags. That’s not who I am, so I won’t be able to sustain it. I won’t be able to be happy. You want to keep doing this for 10/15/20/25 years. I don’t want to have one good weekend or two good weekends, and then be like that’s not who I am, and now they expect this from me, and I am stuck!”
“What I tell him is that take a step, do something which is slightly mainstream,” Anil counters. “Then you will be able to do your kind of films, even more of them. It won’t be so difficult to make your kind of films (as it is right now)… Gaps itne bade nahin honge. Like, for example, he can do more work. He is doing relatively less work now.”
Harsh: But it’s like running a boutique as opposed to a shopping centre.
Anil (patiently): “Don’t become a… (pauses, leaves it unfinished) thoda beech mein aake dekho, then you will be able to do slightly more work, enjoy more work and will spend more time being on set.
To a certain extent, jo doosre spaces bhi hain, initially, these studios came and these platforms came, they were still encouraging. Abhi unn pe bhi pressure hai to give results – more subscribers. So they are also, to a certain extent, wanting things which are a little more, you know, simplistic. The pressure is for everybody.
I’m moving around and meeting people, so I know. That’s why there’s lesser work (in sticking to specific genres). You can do more work, that’s what I am saying. There are exceptions,
options kam hain. And that’s why I keep on telling him –
thoda aadha raaste aa.. Main toh itna nahi bolta
There’s a small pause before he basically overturns everything he’s said so far, and ends this with a simple “But I’m ready to back him till the end.”
His tastes and social likes and dislikes are very different from mine: Anil on how different he and Harsh are
‘NOT EASY TO HAVE THESE CONVERSATIONS WITH PARENTS’
Harsh moved out of his parents’ Juhu home one day, a decision about which he informed – rather than consulted – them. It was not the easiest task to convince them.
“I started the process of moving out without telling anybody”
, he recalls. “I started going and looking for homes because sometimes you have to just do it as opposed to sitting down, having a conversation, getting approval.”
And how did your dad take it?
“He was like, why don’t you wait for some more time? But… I just think that tomorrow never comes. Just got to jump into and take a leap, if you feel like. Don’t betray your instincts. Even on a personal note, even though at that time it was hard to imagine, but I think moving out, living by myself, has been better for me, and for them as well, because I feel like they also need the space, they just didn’t want to admit it.”
How does Anil respond to that?
“We are happier.”
That’s not what I was expecting. Then he continues.
“Yes it was difficult; Sonam got married, she left, then Rhea got married, and she left.
Rhea and Harsh going together at the same time – toh uss waqt thoda sa, we felt it’s too…
(long pause) difficult. And then, at that time, everybody outside was reacting much more than Sunita and I were reacting. Now, it is like actually, he’s right, we feel we too are happy, I guess. We meet each other, but we also definitely need that space sometimes.
It’s a good balance now. Obviously, there’s some worry always because he is living alone. But it’s very close by…”
“I am also not a very outgoing person”, Harsh adds. “I kind of always just like quiet and alone time really. There are people that use their place, maybe, to entertain a lot. I don’t. It was also about having my own space physically, just have some separation, while you’re still living just 25 minutes away.”
Is it slightly difficult for young Indians to sometimes explain to their elders that wanting space is not disrespect?
“Absolutely”, says Harsh. “I have a lot of my friends and acquaintances who feel almost trapped in a way where they feel like they want to break out and have a space of their own, but they are not able to have that kind of conversation with their parents because they don’t think that their parents will understand.”
What does he advise them?
“It’s like you have one life, and you are going to be young just once, so you have to fight for that. At least for me, I need my space to just think and to exist. I don’t think I would have been able to do the work that I have done if I was still living here (in the parental home), honestly. It pushes you, right? It pushes you to be more responsible for yourself.”
Harsh and Anil at the former’s residence in Mumbai’s Bandra West
‘THE THINK TANK WE HAVE IN OUR FAMILY IS ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIC’
How headstrong were you Anil, at his age?
“At his age, I was very naive, vulnerable, gullible. Mainthoda sa bewakoof tha,” Anil smiles.
Do you ever wish you could have fought a little bit more like he can fight today?
“Yeah, I wish…”
Is that why you sort of back what he fights for, finally, even when you don’t agree with him?
“No… ya, of course. At least, he should do what I couldn’t do to a certain extent.”
We see the divergence in cinematic choices, but it is a reflection of father and son being very different personalities, right?
“Yes, it’s not only cinema. I think his tastes and social likes and dislikes are very different from mine. Except for a few things, which are random… but for most things – like the way he has done his house, his passion for the kind of clothes that he wears, the kind of places that he wants to visit, the kind of friends that he has, the kind of games he likes. Kya kya cheezein hoti hain. I am more external in my emotions, and he is more internal. He might be much more sensible than I am. Mera sensitivity nazar aata hai, iska nazar nahi aata. He might be, andar se, shayad mere se zyada (sensitive) hoga. Mera emotion nazar aa jata hai– ‘kitna achha aadmi hai Anil yaar’ – lekin shayad ye mere se better aadmi hai.”
He’s clearly very sentimental about his son.
“Aisa nahi hai… every father is.”
Have your parents been indulgent or lenient, we ask Harsh.
“In the middle somewhere. Not very strict at all, but not very…”
“I toh have been very lenient,” Anil is emphatic.
Harsh laughs and confirms that.
“Yeah, he is very lenient. But also very honestly, I am not into alcohol and I’m not into drugs and I don’t like to party. I don’t like to smoke up. What are my interests – health and fitness, fashion in the last 4-5 years, and always making movies. That’s it. I am not really coming here and saying that let’s have a party with 200 people and spend a ridiculous amount of money, buy me a first-class ticket. I barely travel also.”
Anil and Harsh pose in front of a small slice of Harsh’s massive sneaker collection
Last year, in response to a query on whether he would be a doting grandparent, Anil had said, “I don’t know, I was never a doting parent.” But everything that one has seen in this interaction goes against that – he sounds and acts like a very doting parent.
The ostensibly ‘not-doting’ parent takes a moment to think it over.
“That’s what my wife also feels, actually. But I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Is this just a demonstration of how Indian fathers find it difficult to be expressive? Is Anil reticent, or, in reverse, very demonstrative about defending Harsh?
“I’m not very physical, and I am not very expressive, even with people or ideas… What I want him to do is to that he should do more, interact more, meet more people… In any case, it is not as if I am his guide. I have gained more from Harsh and Rhea than they have gained from me in my career, in life, in so many things.”
How is that?
“In my choice of films, in my thought process – jab kabhi atak jata hoon, I turn to them. I’ll ask Rhea ki yaar, is film ko kaise market karoon? And she’s like – just keep quiet. Baat hi mat karo (laughs)! You know what I’m saying? Things like that. Wherever actors or fashion is concerned or where marketing is concerned. I get different perspectives (from Rhea and Harsh). They bring newcomers to our projects, people I wouldn’t know. Anurag, Vikram (Motwane) and some other filmmakers that I am working with – they connected to me via my children. The think tank that we have in our family is absolutely terrific.”