Siddharth Roy Kapur’s earliest relationship with films was birthed in tears. The then some four-year-old Kapur rushed out of a cinema hall crying. The film he watched was For the Love of Benji (1977), which was the story of a stray dog longing for a home and humans. Though the film ended happily, the distraught Kapur could not bear to wait till then, choosing to bolt when the dog was lost. “I can’t remember a time when I was not obsessed with films. I loved the experience of being in a dark cinema hall watching a film unfold,” said Kapur.
That obsession grew to a voracious reading of film magazines, including trade publications, to understand what went on behind producing magic. It helped that the Roy Kapur home was subsumed in art. His mother, Salome, a trained Indian and western dancer and choreographer, was born to parents who were dance teachers. His father Kumud, an Army officer, had a father who had produced films. Theatre was a big part of the family’s leisure time. It was no surprise thus that Kapur’s younger brothers―Kunaal and Aditya―would also walk into acting careers.
Kapur’s obsession with films has led to some of India’s biggest and best productions―both in his earlier capacity as managing director of The Walt Disney Company, India; and now as founder and MD of Roy Kapur Films. In his former role, he oversaw Barfi! (2012) which was chosen as India’s official entry to the Oscars. More recently, the Roy Kapur Films production Last Film Show (Chhello Show) became the country’s entry to the Oscars.
The 11 years that Kapur spent at the start of his career at UTV Motion Pictures and then Disney taught him the value of creating an all-encompassing entertainment universe. “The beauty of [Walter] Disney’s genius lay in creating multiple formats [from merchandise to theme parks to cruise ships] of the characters the audience had watched and fallen in love with,” he said. It was also a stint that introduced Kapur to the wide spectrum of talent that the company housed―from animation geniuses to studio executives. And, then, there were the rigour, discipline, precision and accuracy that went into the nuts and bolts of how to build a company that was successful. The idea to turn producer, though, grew subconsciously. Had he stayed on in the job, he might have had to move to a different geography. But he had realised that producing content was a greater love than being a senior media executive.
The entrepreneurial journey was not without creative and commercial risks. But at UTV, Kapur had learnt from its founder, Ronnie Screwvala, the importance of taking ownership, even if one was just an employee.
The year 2017 was perhaps not the best to form a production house for Covid-19 would come soon after. Yet, as Kapur said, “We were fortunate to have so many great stories come our way. Some came straight through the door, some we built from scratch. It is a great team we have now created across genres, platforms [and languages].”
One of the company’s most ambitious projects, The Sky is Pink (2019), did not work at the box office. Kapur ruminates that it was, perhaps, a difficult story for people to watch. “It could have worked better if we did not scale it up and had told it more intimately,” he said.
There are gems within the Roy Kapur library that remain largely undiscovered. One is Yeh Ballet (2020)―a film about two underprivileged Mumbai teens learning the art from an Israeli-American teacher. “You have to work within the constructs and parameters of the story. One tried to make it as colloquial and fun as possible, but there were elements that cannot be changed else you end up negatively impacting the story,” he said.
The latest Roy Kapur offering Pippa (Amazon Prime) has invited mixed reviews. The range of evaluations go from ‘must watch’ to a film that takes you close to ‘the sights and smells of battle’ to ‘tired’. Kapur chose to make it because he had often heard his father say that the Battle of Garibpur, which preceded the 1971 Indo-Pak war, was the only ‘just’ war in history. “It is the only war in which a country went into another [Bangladesh], liberated it, and was not an occupying force,” Kapur said. There was another personal connect―Brigadier Balram Singh Mehta, the author of The Burning Chaffees (on which the movie is based), was a friend of Kapur’s father.
The movie production business in India is changing, and one of the most positive changes is that the funding is transparent. Corporates have brought in better sales and distribution practices. The stereotypical image of the paan chewing, uncouth producer, dressed in a safari suit, with a faux leather bag tucked under his armpit, is long gone. Kapur says those producers of yore, though caricaturised, had a passion in which ‘fortunes were lost and houses were mortgaged’ to make films.
As six time president of the Producers Guild of India, Kapur is aware of challenges―the most pressing of which is piracy, which the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2023, seeks to tackle with more legal teeth. “New writing talent has to emerge in a structured, organised, professional way. We have to up the quality of our content to make great Asian crossovers like Parasite [2019, South Korea]. The economics of the industry―where big films are getting bigger―needs to be fixed. We need to be more efficient with our budgets to better realise our revenue potential and increase profit margins,” he said.
Of all the projects in the Roy Kapur production pipeline, he is, especially, excited about the Shahid Kapoor headlined Deva, an action thriller slated for a Dussehra 2024 release. There are other big projects―among them an adaptation of The Anarchy by William Dalrymple, which will be mounted as a global TV production. It figures that Kapur is a voracious reader, and on his list are In Other Words (Jhumpa Lahiri) and Sabbath’s Theater (Philip Roth); and a re-read of Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari). Then there is that looming question of consciously not casting the enormous talent within the family. While he does say ‘never say never’, he admits that separation might have lost him great casting opportunities. It is a risk he is willing to take to keep family matters uncomplicated.
When not subsumed in all things films, Kapur spends time with friends from schools and lingers over long family meals. Beneath it all, that child remains.
Kapur remains a self-confessed ‘easy crier’. And thus, the line-up of productions from his company invariably squeezes tear ducts other than his. For what is a movie or a series without a good cry?