Anil Kapoor: People think I’ve done it all, I haven’t
Anil Kapoor, Harshvarrdhan Kapoor and director Raj Singh Chaudhary on crafting an Indian western with Thar
The Hindi western is resurgent. In 2019, we had Sonchiriya and Laal Kaptaan, two gritty, gruesome period pieces. And now comes Thar, which proudly slings the label of a ‘western noir’. Shot in the scorching titular desert, it’s about an antique dealer (Harshvarrdhan Kapoor) who comes to a Rajasthan village and gets caught in a violent plot. There are horses, bovine carcasses, and Anurag Kashyap on dialogue. “I have a feeling this film isn’t about Gabbar…” muses Anil Kapoor’s grizzled cop in the trailer. Let the revisionism begin.
In a chat with Cinema Express, Anil, Harsh, and writer-director Raj Singh Chaudhary fired off on all things western. Excerpts….
Sholay is held as the ultimate Indian western. But there were several other attempts, such as Shekhar Kapur’s forsaken Joshilaay (1989).
Anil Kapoor: I have good memories of shooting that film (co-starring Sunny Deol). I didn’t know how to ride a horse. I had done only a few hours of riding in Mumbai. But the terrain and atmosphere of Ladakh, where the film was shot, was such that I felt I could do it. Once during the shoot, I lost control of my horse. I couldn’t see the road for miles. And the horse wouldn’t stop! My hands were sweating and I felt this was the end of my life. Ultimately, we reached the tar road and the horse started slipping because of the horseshoes. I finally managed to get off it.
What are the westerns you watched or referenced for Thar?
AK: I revisited all the Sergio Leone movies. I love Once Upon a Time In the West, which wasn’t a big hit on release. I also watched a lot of contemporary westerns: No Country for Old Men, Hell Or High Water, Django Unchained, Godless. Harsh also made me watch Drive which is not a western but has some elements of the genre.
Harshvarrdhan Kapoor: My key reference was the series Too Old To Die Young by Nicolas Winding Refn. There’s a young protagonist with elements of film noir. There’s a lot of stillness in Miles Tiller’s performance that I wanted to take from.
Raj Singh Chaudhary: I grew up in Darjeeling and Rajasthan with a lot of western films and comic books. There were the classics (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Bud Spencer & Terence Hill). There were Ennio Morricone soundtracks and a lot of novels by Louis L’Amour. They all stoked a child’s imagination. I think I may have been a cowboy in my last life.
AK: A rather violent cowboy (laughs)..
The western performance, like Harsh said, has its own rhythm. One of the best things about Sholay is just how dry and broody Amitabh Bachchan is. It’s not the traditional mode of acting for Hindi film heroes.
HK: I found it quite challenging. My character, Siddharth, is unable to reveal who he really is. The task was to make a person like that magnetic. When he talks to someone, he shoots them a dead-cold stare. But behind that stare something is on. I tried to outline his thought patterns. Then came a lot of concentration and breathing exercises. I also worked on his voice. My previous two roles, in Ray and AK vs AK, were too loud and self-involved. This was a complete departure from that.
Anil, from the gunslinger in Joshilaay, you are now the grey, hardbitten cop...
AK: I am doing this part at the right time of my career. People think I’ve done it all, but actually, I’ve not. There is so much left in me to do. Then they tell me the time is up. Some mean it well, some don’t. So I tried to channel these feelings into my character.
Why was it important to set up Thar as a home production?
HK: I love films that contribute to pop culture. There isn’t much like Thar out there. That’s why I decided to produce the film with dad. The uniqueness and the authenticity of the world had to be protected. Because Raj is a new director and I am a new actor, our visions aligned. It was about making sure nothing gets in the way.
Thar releases on Netflix on May 6.