This year Dimple Kapadia completes four decades of being a Bollywood actress. It was in the winter of 1973 when the country fell in love with an innocent teen wearing short skirts and that iconic polka-dotted top. “The shoot for Bobby was a picnic. I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. I didn’t have to do anything at all. I just had to follow whatever Rajji told me. He took care of everything from my clothes, to my hairstyles to how I spoke. I was a puppet in his hands. I remember I was so excited about having signed a film,” remembers Dimple about her debut film that also launched Rishi Kapoor.
Looking back at her long career, Dimple’s biggest regret is surprisingly related to her debut film. “While shooting I didn’t realise I was working with such a great genius. At 13, I think I was too immature to understand what it meant to be directed by Raj Kapoor. That’s my one big regret.”
Now a mother and a grandmother, Dimple is far from the wide-eyed girl Raj Kapoor discovered, but on screen she still command’s attention. The 56-year-old is back in theatres this week with the release of What the Fish, a comedy.
So, at this stage of her career, having acted in 80 films, what attracts her to a film? “A good director, a great script and an interesting character. And, of course, good money (laughs). My criteria for picking a film hasn’t changed much over the years. In the case of What the Fish, it was the character. What I liked about her was that she is removed from reality. She is a drama queen. I am nothing like her and I don’t remember ever playing a character like this before.”
In the film, Dimple plays a cantankerous divorcee, someone who is far removed from who the actress is in real life. She confesses to relying on her director to help get under the skin of her character. “Honestly, I don’t do anything. I leave it to the director. Before I get to a shoot, I’ll obviously read the script a few thousand times and try to figure out my take on the character. But it never works because whatever I try to think of for a character ends up having no connections with her. The director then comes into play and he is the guiding force. I am a director’s actor. If I don’t have a good director, I fail. So, it’s very important for me that I pick the right director to work with.”
In the four decades that she’s been making movies, a lot has changed in Bollywood. “Obviously, the pace of shooting a film is different. Films are shot over 20 or 30 days, so it’s far easier to stay in character. The kind of homework that everyone associated with the film does before they start shooting is something that wasn’t there either. Directors are so well prepared with the story and their characters that it’s far easier to get into character. Earlier, I would get to a set and end up waiting for hours for people to finish writing that day’s dialogues (laughs). To be honest, I don’t know if that process was better or being prepared is the way forward because those days we acted instinctively. Now it is a lot more thought-out and rehearsed. Also, every department is so involved and no one works in isolation.”
Of all the roles she’s played through her career, the role that she’s enjoyed the most is that of a grandmother. But she is not an indulgent grandmother, she says. “They indulge me. Recently, I was coming from town and I was craving Chinese food. So, I called Aarav and told him to meet me at the Holiday Inn so we could have a meal together. Then I realised that I didn’t have any money, so I asked him to bring money as well. So, my grandson took me out for lunch. When I offered to pay him back, he got upset. I smoke all the time, so when Aarav comes home, I have to hide my cigarettes. But no matter where I hide them, he always finds them. The other day, I wrapped up the packet in a plastic and shoved it inside my shoes and he still found them! And, once he finds them they are either thrown straight in water or are broken into bits. So there is no hope of ever retrieving them,” she says with a laugh.