He is a 53-year-old father of three, with over a hundred films on his filmography, but Anil Kapoor’s excitement for his latest project is almost infectious. The actor, who stars in and has produced the Indian version of the hit American thriller TV show 24, is over the moon with the phenomenal response the show has received. “It’s been incredible. Whether it’s been on social media or people SMSing, the feedback has been more than what I expected. I knew that we had a good show on our hands, but I was also aware of the fact that the show is unlike anything on Indian TV today. And, it seems like people have embraced 24. It makes all those months of crazy work on and off the sets of 24 completely worth it,” he says.
To prepare for the role of Jai Singh Rathod, an anti-terrorist unit agent, the first order of business for Anil was to be in prime physical condition. “I started learning t’ai chi and hand-to-hand combat. I had to unlearn the filmi way and then learn the proper professional way of handling a gun. I am a quick learner, but there was just so much preparation required for this show… there were days when I have gone without sleep. It was exhausting but totally worth it,” he says, the satisfaction of a job well done palpable in his voice.
While Indianising the show, the distinct advantage Anil had was that he had worked with the makers of the original series in Hollywood. Season 8 of 24 revolved around Kiefer Sutherland’s character Jack Bauer’s being roped in to thwart an assassination attempt on Anil’s character, President Omar Hassan. “One of the first things I noticed when I landed on the sets in LA was that it was being shot like a film. Whether it was the technique or the aesthetics, everything was how one would shoot a big budget
Hollywood film. Of course, we didn’t have the same budgets here, but this has been our guiding philosophy for the show.”
The show works not just because Anil and his director Abhinav Singh Deo have kept it real and gritty but also because the actor has pulled in a top-notch ensemble cast. From Shabana Azmi to Anupam Kher, Mandira Bedi and Anita Raj, the show is chock-a-block with talent. And, this is where Anil, the producer, has triumphed. “This cast is a dream come true. Shabanaji immediately said yes when I approached her. Anupam is an old and dear friend who reported on the sets after having travelled 36 hours straight. We have cameos by Richa (Chadda, Gangs of Wasseypur) and Rahul (Khanna). Mandira and Tisca (Chopra) are going to be regulars. Strength of 24 is its cast.”
After 35 years in the business, Anil insists no project has challenged him like 24. “I don’t think I prepared for any role like I did for Jai Singh Rathod. I think I have even impressed my daughters,” he says with a big laugh. This explains why Anil is not too upset about having to refuse film work to concentrate on 24. “I have given more than a year of my life to this show. The shoot for 24 was delayed by a bit and I had to let go of offers that I would have loved to do. But I don’t regret it at all.”
Though season one is just a few episodes old, there is also a buzz about the second season of 24, but Anil is cautious about committing. “I have a few films that need to be completed. If season one continues to be received just as well, we will have a second season. But there will be some gap between the two.” On the film front, the actor has Welcome Back, a sequel to Anees Bazmi’s comic caper Welcome and a host of other films. “There is Nayak Returns which I am very excited about. It’s not a sequel in the traditional sense. There is also a film with Rajkumar Santoshi and Sharmaji Ka Astom Bomba with Abhishek Sharma. So I have my hands full and that’s how I like it.”