Making the Business of Life Easier

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Bourgeoisie takes a hilarious beating


October 30, 1987

VANCOUVER - SHASHI KAPOOR sweeps majestically into the bar at The Coast Georgian Court - he's wearing a long, floating shawl of raw Indian silk - and orders a vodka and soda. ''Yes, I drink,'' the Bombay-based actor says with a smile. ''I am Hindu. Hindus do everything. It's a way of life rather than a religion.''

Kapoor's way of life for most of his 49 years has been show business; he comes by the profession genetically in that his father, Prithviraj Kapoor, was also a film star, and the first movie Shashi Kapoor saw, as a child of 6, was a feature in which his Pop played Alexander the Great. Four decades later, the son is at the Vancouver Film Festival with three movies; in addition to Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, he's a reporter in a drama about government corruption entitled New Delhi Times, and he produced Festival, based on a fourth-century Sanskrit play.

His next project, he says well into his second vodka and soda, is a co- production with the U.S.S.R. of a script he intends to direct, a script based on a potpourri of ancient legends. Why the Soviet Union? Kapoor has been a beloved star in Moscow (Russian emigre taxi drivers ask for his autograph in New York) ever since the release in 1954 of a film called Vagabond. (In the West, the films that accorded Kapoor the status of a star were the early James Ivory pictures, Shakespeare Wallah and Bombay Talkie.)

Kapoor accepted the exhausting Sammy and Rosie assignment - ''We made a film in six weeks, 15 hours a day six days a week, that should have had a shooting schedule of 12 weeks'' - because ''I loved the script, and I loved the character. He's like playing Lear, he has a tremendous range of every conceivable emotion. I loved him. He's such a bastard.''

Kapoor realizes that Sammy and Rosie is a political film, but he is mum on the subject. ''I don't understand politics,'' he explains. ''Even in school days, I didn't understand school politics, I just couldn't comprehend the moves. It's like chess, either you understand it or you do not. I think Stephen Frears, the director, has really treated the film in a very human way.'' Kapoor does, however, take issue with those who reject the film's vision of England as teetering on the brink of anarchy. ''I don't think it's exaggerated,'' he says. ''I think it's real. I must also say England is like a second home to me; five years ago, I was even a dinner guest of Denis and Margaret Thatcher. I was so nervous I wanted a gin and tonic, but my wife said no. I had five when she was not looking. I found Mrs. Thatcher to be very nice, not at all frightful. Hanif, the writer of Sammy and Rosie, dismisses the whole thing; he doesn't believe me.''

My Beautiful Laundrette, the film that inspired Sammy and Rosie, has not been shown in India, nor will it be, Kapoor says. ''Homosexuality is not fashionable, it's not a problem and it's not entertaining to Indians,'' he elaborates. ''Mind you, I'm sure homosexuality has been in India longer than the West. Like marijuana. Sammy and Rosie might be of interest to Indians, though. We will see.''

In terms of output, the Indian cinema is the largest and most diverse in the world, but the single image of what constitutes a popular Indian film is frozen in the minds of many by that amazing musical sequence in Bombay Talkie that showcases fat Indian chorus girls wiggling on huge typewriter keys. ''It's still like that,'' laughs Kapoor, ''and why not? The average Indian in the villages, his income is low, his education is low, so he's quite happy to go see something that doesn't tax his mind and has a little fantasy. In an Indian film you have, as they say in America, the works, probably because India is like that, extreme riches and extreme poverty.''

While the extremes certainly exist, Kapoor feels that his country's notorious poverty is improving. ''There's no such thing now as people dying of a lack of food,'' he declares flatly. ''In the smallest villages, there is always grub. I get quite incensed at this idea of starvation and India. Some of the smaller farmers have air-conditioning and TV, you know. You see them in the pubs, drinking bottles of Black Label.'' He pauses and peers at his own Smirnoff. ''India is now 40 years old,'' he continues, draining his glass. ''It is getting better. It's a great place, a terrific place. With this new wealth of the farmers, well, I'm even trying to get them to invest in movies.''

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