The evergreen veteran says that people close to him were in two-minds about him doing Dil Dhadakne Do but his decision to do the film has paid off. Read full interview here!

Anil Kapoor is on a high. His phone hasn’t stopped ringing after Dil Dhadakne Do. And he is feeling smug. Rightfully so, he stood apart from the ensemble cast. He was playing an older guy on the screen for the first time and it could have gone horribly wrong. He tells me how he and Zoya Akhtar had a standoff on the first day of shooting. He wasn’t happy with his hair and refused to shoot. She refused to back down because she had that location only for a day. Finally, they made do, he wore a hat and she got her shot. Here, he talks about playing dad on screen, being dad off screen and the plan ahead.

Playing dad in DDD was sort of a first, right?

No, I have done it many times. I have done Bulandi and Eshwar in which I played a grandfather. The only difference is that I also played a younger part in the same film. Even in a film like Lamhe, where I played a character as old as Sridevi’s father and I romanced her as well. In DDD, I am playing a character that doesn’t age from youth. Amitji (Bachchan) has started this trend from films like Khuda Gawah. He did those kinds of senior roles. In a way, it is also like what Dilip Kumar did in Shakti.

You had no reservations about playing a father to youngsters in their mid-20s?

In my head, Ranveer (Singh) is playing my son; I am not playing his father. So you have to see it this way: I am playing a patriarch. You need conviction to play such a character, like all the roles that Daniel Day Lewis has done or what Marlon Brando did in Godfather. My only fear was: how do I tackle the media because no matter how intelligent or sensible the editor or the journalist is, the question will be this.

Ouch. But it is valid because while your contemporaries had switched to doing character roles, you were still doing lead roles.

But this is a lead role. When Zoya came to me, she said ‘Anil, I am coming to you as a lead’. I am the lead in DDD. If I do a Race also or if I do Welcome or No Entry, I am playing the lead. I am packaging it and making it an ensemble because I am not a solo hero. See, it’s a very strategic plan I am following so that I can extend my journey as an actor. Every actor has to plan this to extend his career.

So playing an older character was always part of a plan?

Yes, I was just waiting for the right film. Actually, one of the reasons I agreed to play a father in DDD is to stop that perception of me that I have of being eternally young. People talk about a fountain of youth that I have discovered. I didn’t want to live with this image. It’s a trap. I just want to get out of it because it’s a very tiring trap. And I should not be delusional, like actors become. Obviously, I am going to look after myself but I know that as an actor, it is time to make some changes in the kind of roles I accept. Now I am in my 50s, I have grown children and my son is about to make his debut in films… I decided to get out of this trap. 22 years back, when Parampara was made, Yashji (Chopra) had asked me to play Aamir and Saif’s father. Feroz Khan wanted to make Godfather with me. He wanted to take Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty as my sons. I said no. I said you have to have that kind of integrity as Francis Ford Coppola had. He didn’t take stars to play the sons. He took Al Pacino who was nobody then. In DDD also, it was the casting that worked. Zoya was not trying to make a proposal. Also, I feel family is the best genre to play the patriarch in, rather than playing a boring Bombay elderly mafia don just because it sounds good.

I’ve heard that before you go for a shot, you look into the mirror and tell yourself: Kya dikhta hai! You are too good. Is that correct?

Everybody has some quirks; a little bit of madness and things you do to charge yourself. In my time, my contemporaries were much better looking and had better personas and got better breaks. I had to do something to make me feel that I was on that level as well, so I became my own cheerleader. If someone would ask me, ‘How are you?’ I would say: I am handsome. So yes, when nobody praises me, I look into the mirror and praise myself. You have to understand actors those days… There was Bachchan who had this larger-than-life persona. There was Dharmendra – the most good looking man in the world. Then there were Jackie Shroff, Sanjay Dut and Sunny Deol with their muscles. And then there was me — I was skinny, I had small eyes, my dance was not special and my looks were ordinary. I had to completely psyche myself and work. People used to say earlier that he is not good looking, and now people are talking about my looks. How did that change? From which angle do I look good?

At what point did you decide it was time to switch to playing characters?

I decided that before people tell me ‘You shouldn’t do these (young) roles,’ they should ask, ‘Why did you do this (older) role’ and ‘How did you have the guts to do this at a time when you look so f**king good?’ I have always done interesting characters, like in Taal or in Biwi No. 1. I remember at the time, Arunaji (Irani) wanted to make a film with me as a leading man, and she was very upset when she saw me in Biwi No. 1. She said, “Aapne kyon kiya? Main toh aapko lead bana rahi thi, aapne jaake second lead kyon kar liya?” I had to explain to her that I have a longer vision. For me, it’s a marathon and not a 100 meters run. That’s why I did it. Even with DDD, kaafi logon ne bola mat karo. Everybody was subtly saying that it’s a wrong decision.

Did you discuss it with anybody?

No. Except Aamir. He already knew. He said I must do this film. Also, Ranbir (Kapoor), Adi (Chopra), Rhea and I don’t know if I should add the name of my son my son Harsh here, who was also a deciding factor. Uska dimaag nahi kharab hona chahiye. He also got the credit for me accepting Slumdog Millionaire (laughs), but he pushed me to do this role. They all said I have to do this film.

Why Ranbir?

Ranbir, at that time, was doing the film and even after he opted out, he said, ‘Sir, you please do it. Nobody else can do it.’ It was like one gang working. Zoya ne shaayad paise khilaaye sabko. And my entire team, including my PR, said don’t do it. Even Sonam, Sunita and Boney told me not to do it.

And what does Sunita think now?

She is thrilled but she knows me very well. She used to always tell me, “Anil you are just latkaoing them and I know you will not do this film.” In my family they all believe that I just pretend to be very mainstream but heart of heart, I am arty. They have the heartiest laughs at my expense. They feel I am more artistically inclined and they feel I have to be pushed to do a little mainstream; otherwise I would go totally deep in serious cinema. I feel I have maintained a correct balance, which is a much more painful journey. Doing only one thing is far easier than trying to balance and becoming a star and an actor.

So you’re more open to play dad now?

It’s not the question of playing dad. I feel somewhere it will open gates for all actors. Aamir is doing it in Dangal, Akshay Kumar in Brothers, Ajay (Devgn) in Drishyam. So it’s great for us. I think salt and pepper is the new sexy.

You were very secretive about your look in the film. You didn’t want it to be revealed.

I didn’t want people to speculate and write things ke baal color kar raha hai, yeh kar raha hai, woh kar raha hai. Why should I take that f**king stress? Once they saw my work and when the theatrical trailer came out, people would anyway know. So I put my foot down and it was a part of my contract that I won’t promote the film and I won’t be in any teaser or poster.

But you were on the film’s poster.

Yes, that was decided later. Ritesh and Farhan came to me and said it’s a patriarch’s film. It’s from his point of view – actually it is from Pluto’s POV — the patriarch Kamal Mehra is the main part. It’s a family film about these four people. Without the main member of the family, it might come across as a romantic film and send out the wrong message. Then I did one poster and the theatrical trailer after a lot of bargaining. They told me you are the first actor we have met who is saying he doesn’t want any publicity. Yaar, kitni baar publicity mili hai, I am not a bloody bhookha for publicity. I guarded my look so much. Not a single picture came out during shooting. Given that on the ship there were 2700 people, someone or the other could have taken a photograph. Even all my co-actors were taking selfies.

How did you manage that?

I protected myself. I bought lot of camouflage stuff from LA. I had a full production team and security around me to ensure no one took a picture. I used to constantly be wearing hats and caps. Once, from Mehboob Studios only one top shot was taken. Someone had fixed a camera and taken a top shot. But the first time people actually saw me was when we gave the first look in one of the newspapers and then the theatrical trailer.

You did South films at the beginning of your career. Why not later?

I was going there because beggars can’t be choosers. At that time, I was not getting any work here. To work in South films is a tough journey. You want to be with your family, you want to stay where your roots are. I only went there as I was not getting any work here and there I was getting roles as a leading man. Here everybody wanted to give me bit roles only. There came a stage where they wanted me only for one scene. That was very humiliating. I wanted to rise. I got out of here because mentally I decided, “I am no longer going to do that.”