Growing up, one of my favourite Bollywood films was Mr India. The 1987 film stars Anil Kapoor as Arun Verma, a generous man whose limited means do not stop him from opening up the doors of his home to orphans in need. In comes Seema Sohni (Sridevi), who is neither fond of Arun nor the motley crew of orphans under his roof, but whose job as a reporter for a city paper requires her to accept Arun’s spare room as a place to stay. Arun transforms into an unlikely superhero when he discovers his dead father’s last invention: an invisibility device that helps him save the country from the evil Mogambo (played by Amrish Puri as one of his best villain portrayals to date).
The catchphrase “Mogambo khush hua” (Mogambo is pleased) became an inside joke with a 6-year-old me and my equally young friends: words often repeated in low tones and with sniggers when one of us accomplished something especially sneaky and mischievous.
The film is H G Wells’ The Invisible Man meets Spider-Man meets Bollywood. To a 6-year-old’s mind, it was everything a film should be. And therefore, it etched itself forever in my mind as the best Bollywood film ever: a notion I still stick to.
Mr India being my favourite makes Anil Kapoor by default an especially beloved hero of mine. Though I struggle when asked to name any other films of his that I loved as much, this one is more than enough for me. He was the perfect Mr India.
To think the role had been offered to Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bhachchan, both of whom turned it down. Khanna rejected the film because – despite the role having been written with him in mind – he felt that the invisibility factor was the star of the film, to which he would have to play second fiddle. Big B turned down the role because of his increased involvement in politics at the time.
Both actors are brilliant in their own right, but none of them would have made a better Mr India than Kapoor did. And no matter what else Kapoor does, to me he will forever remain Mr India. (Forget the fact that he appeared in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. )
So when I got word that he was going to be in Dubai for the promotional tour of his forthcoming release Race 2 (an Abbas-Mustan film out in cinemas on Thursday), my heart skipped a beat. And when Dream Advertising (the agency handling the visit) told me they had hooked me up with a one-on-one interview with Anil Kapoor, I practically had a heart attack.
So there I was sitting next to my childhood idol. He was as cool as a cucumber and what’s the first thing I say – nay – shriek?
He burst out laughing. He has not been hysterically shrieked at in reference to that film for many, many years, he tells me. I tell him that I have been in love with his portrayal of Mr India since I was 6, and swiftly realise that might not be the most flattering of compliments for someone hovering close to 60. My attempt to appease him was dismal: “You look so good for someone your age!”
And that’s when I decided to quit while I was ahead. I just turned on the Dictaphone and got on with business, all the while fighting the urge to poke him in the cheek because his skin looked as smooth as a baby’s and I was curious to see if it felt like one, too.
Ujala Ali Khan is an honest-to-goodness desi girl living in Dubai