In one of the first scenes in Mr India, we’re introduced to Amrish Puri’s Mogambo, one of the most iconic comic villains of Bollywood. Dressed in a garish black and silver coat, Mogambo lives in a lair of sorts, surrounded by henchmen who fearfully ‘hail’ him every time they see him. He’s the classic bad man of that era and ticks all the boxes of 80’s villainy. Does he have his own catchphrase? Check. Has minions that can be murdered quickly? Double check. Has some poor fellow are thrown into a raging boiler that liquidates their very existence? You have Mogambo down to the T.
While it’s well-known that Amrish Puri was not the first choice for Mogambo, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in that role, whose voice was so arresting and could reek of condescension. There have been many Bollywood baddies in the 80’s and 90s, essayed by Puri himself, alongside Gulshan Grover and Anupam Kher. Yet, it was as if Mogambo was tailor-made for Amrish Puri. He didn’t exude the violent evil of Gabbar Singh from Sholay; he was the villain who spelt danger, and yet looked rather foolish.
With this opening sequence itself, Mr India has our attention.
Apart from Mogambo, Shekhar Kapur’s Mr India brought forth a plethora of distinct, vibrant characters, ranging from Anil Kapoor’s rugged do-gooder Arun, Sridevi’s investigative journalist Seema, and Satish Kaushik’s Calendar. It’s a curious motley crew, packed with several kids into the mix, and all of them together made the film as memorable as it is today. Mr India is one of those few films where you happily suspend disbelief because the end project is so enjoyable. The film’s entertainment value is not down to its leads but the entire cast, down to the over-the-top henchmen. Shekhar Kapur and Javed Akhtar mixed in all the possible elements from every genre to concoct this film — it ends up being a comforting khichdi. Mr India is essentially a superhero romantic sci-fi music dramay, and it just works, miraculously, but it does.
In an exclusive interview to Indian Express, Satish Kaushik, who was associate director, proudly referring to Mr India as a ‘comic-book’ film, that can be opened at anytime. He says, “There are some films that make you proud, with some characters that are imprinted in people’s minds. Mr India is one of those films. It is like a comic book that you can open anytime. It will engross you, entertain you and make you happy. People loved all the characters — they’re all remembered, including the kids. Ahmed Khan is a well-known director, Aftab Shivadasani is now a leading man.” He also mentions the pool of talent that the film had — from director Shekhar Kapur, producer Boney Kapoor, Javed Akhtar and the whole technical crew. He gives much credit to Boney Kapoor, saying that the producer was ‘young and brash’, and he could be the only one to helm such a film. “He was young, brash and a dreamer; he could gather resources and talent,” says Kaushik.
Talking about his memorable experiences while working on the film, Kaushik laughs, “I could write an entire book. I was in charge of handling the kids. Boney had ample space behind the sets for their classrooms, teachers, camping and volleyball. Everything was there, but the fun was in collecting all the children and I had to do that. I had to train the children for the performances, I nearly took a whip to them to collect them. Now they say, ‘Satish uncle, you were so strict.’ I used to shout at them during the shooting also.”
Anil Kapoor played the titular character, a poor man with a heart of gold who is heir to a watch that can make the one wearing it invisible. While he uses it to bring down Mogambo, he also falls in love with Seema, a journalist who has the same goals as he does. In an interview, Anil Kapoor was quite clear on why he was keen on his role. He was not the first choice; it was written with Amitabh Bachchan in mind. However, things did not work out and Anil Kapoor was signed on.
Anil Kapoor told SpotBoyE in 2015, “At that time for all of us, the film has to be important, and then comes all the characters. At that stage of my career, Javed Akhtar was writing the film, Boney Kapoor was producer and Sridevi was the best actress of our country. Acting opposite her was a dream for me. I knew unke saath kaam karke mera fayda hoga and main bhi A list hero ban jaaunga.”
Satish Kaushik seems to echo this sentiment and tells us, “From there only we knew, this actor knows what he wants to do. I’ve seen his journey, and I really appreciate and respect him for the kind of craft he has. He has matured in the industry. Mr India will be remembered for Anil Kapoor, forever.”
Anil Kapoor’s naïve, innocent comic timing in Mr India matched with Sridevi, who, by this time in her career, had ensured that she wouldn’t be just another female lead. Sridevi’s comic timing was on point, down to her fluid expressions in the song Hawa Hawaii, where she pretends to be a cabaret dancer. The childish innocence gives way to one of the most sensuous scenes of Hindi cinema, the song Kaate Nahin Katate. Kaushik calls Sridevi a ‘chameleon’, and says, “If you look at her personally, she’s a different person. She was a different person—when she put on costume and makeup. She comes in front of the camera, she’s a different person. She spoke her Hindi dialogues so well and Mr India was the first film she dubbed herself. I was there sitting with her during the dubbing. A great actress, great performer, she could bring the nuances of the character so beautifully. What an expressive face she had.”
Mr India doesn’t need a sequel, it stands on its down. Kaushik says that it shouldn’t be touched. “People shouldn’t touch it. It will not have the same feel, it was magical because a lot of talent came together for this film, Boney Kapoor, Javed Akhtar to special effects and action directors. So many people put such effort into this film. It was made with such passion and great teamwork. It is such an iconic film that no one else should touch it. Mr India belongs to Anil Kapoor, Boney Kapoor—it belongs to everyone. If it ever comes out, the legacy can only be carried on by Anil Kapoor, not anyone else. Someone else playing Mr India will not be a good thing.”
True, the sequel would never possess that rambunctious 80’s touch with its style of comedy and ensuing hilarity.