Paani, Shekhar Kapoor’s first proposed full-length feature film since Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007, is again delayed. After Aditya Chopra and Yashraj Films stepped in to produce this purported magnum opus that would hopefully one day adapt the Romeo & Juliet rich-poor love story in a futuristic Mumbai, there has been no real progress.
Shekhar has been planning Paani for 12 years. In the period, he has made only two short films, a segment of New York, I Love You and Passage, another short film for the Sarovksy company in 2009.
That’s it. Nothing else! I remember the first time I heard about Shekhar’s plans to make Paani in 1994, when Dev Benegal (the Director of Split Wide Open) alleged that the idea for Paani was ripped off from their film and even threatened to sue Shekhar.
Once upon a time, Kapur got into the casting of a young teen-flick Tara Rum Pum, which would have been Preity Zinta’s launch film, if only it had gone beyond an idea. But then Shekhar is a dreamer. His ideas more often remain in the realm of the possible than in the zone of the achieved.
If we were to zero-in on the biggest dichotomy of showbiz, it would have to be Shekhar Kapur. Undoubtedly, one of the most-gifted filmmakers from this part of the world, it would seem as though no creative person in the world can equal Kapur’s record for backtracking.
Let’s revert to his beginnings as a filmmaker in Bollywood. Apart from a helluva hyped-up hiccupy stint as an actor when he did films like Basu Chatterjee’s Jeena Yahan and Ketan Anand’s Toote Khilone, Kapur finally turned filmmaker in 1985, with the fabulously feted Masoom in 1981.
Then, Kapur plunged into two new Hindi projects, Joshilay, a takeoff on Sholay with Anil Kapoor and Sunny Deol, and Dushmani, a Godfather-styled drama, featuring Manisha Koirala. In both cases, Kapur abandoned the projects mid-way.
The Four Feathers was a miserable failure, putting a big question mark against Shekhar Kapur’s career as an international filmmaker
Finally, in 1987, Kapur did the much talked-about Mr India for Boney Kapoor. The film was a happy experience for all. To no one’s surprise, Boney asked Shekhar to direct Boney’s youngest brother Sanjay’s launch pad. After hemming and hawing for years over Prem, Kapur opted out.
With a reputation that preceded him, Kapur could only head one way. Westwards. In collaboration with Britain’s Channel 4, he made Bandit Queen, one of the most hard-hitting and unforgettable Indian films ever created.
What next? That was the question. Kapur took on what he always wanted to, a big Hollywood-styled biopic which surprised many. Elizabeth, with its brooding biographical landscape, was a historical movie that got Kapur there, but couldn’t quite get there.
For the next four years, Kapur made nothing. He finally did a version of the A. E.W Mason, a story about cowardice and valour at war. The Four Feathers was a miserable failure, putting a big question mark against Shekhar Kapur’s career as an international filmmaker.
Let’s take a look at the number of projects that have been mentioned in the same breath as Shekhar Kapur: The Last Full Measure, The Long Walk to Freedom, on the life of Nelson Mandela, a biopic on Mother Teresa, and The Golden Age, a sequel to Kapur’s critically successful Elizabeth, which did get made.
I sincerely hope Paani finally gets made. In an interview to me in 2008, Shekhar had spoken passionately about Paani, “Paani is not just about water shortage. It’s about the callousness of a world, where about three per cent of the populace are haves; the rest are have-nots. And, what a wonderful way to speak of that disparity through the one resource that we’re most squandering away. My first story was about this runaway kid, who sees this big van of water and is asked to pay for it. It struck me then that the first thing about city life is you’ve to pay for the water. Then one day, I went to a producer-friend’s place on the 13th floor and I was told he was bathing. Go down to the ground floor and you pass through the Dharavi slums and you see hordes of women and children queuing up for a bucket of water. To me, water is the basic resource, the next thing to air. Water is already being bottled and sold. Nobody has the right to pollute our water resources. I refuse to drink bottled water. I know it’s the beginning of the process to privatise water. A story developed in my mind. I had to make a film. My film deals with a city of 20 million people polarised by water scarcity. I’ll shoot it in Mumbai. I’m setting it in 2025. That isn’t so far away.”
This was Shekhar five years ago. His enthusiasm hasn’t waned. Will Kapur please concretise at least one of the pending projects? Or does he intend to be known as just a passionate proposal maker, who promised a universe of cinematic experience but finally delivered just a trickle of the promised goodies?