Shehkar Kapur: Reeling in the punters.

There are plenty of accountants working in the film industry – as anyone obsessive enough to hang on until the credits have rolled after a film will know. Many have controlled the purse strings on film productions.

Occasionally financial types have even featured as fictional characters on film (you might remember a short film called simply The Accountant that won an Oscar a couple of years ago), but few have made it in front of the camera. And how many can you think of who spend their time directing Hollywood blockbusters?

If the name doesn’t leap to mind, his films should. Celebrated as the first Bollywood director to cross over to Hollywood, Shekhar Kapur is among the best-known film directors working today. His version of Elizabeth was Oscar-nominated, he committed the controversial Bandit Queen to celluloid and his latest, The Four Feathers, was the official selection at the Toronto Film Festival.

He is himself a regular at film festivals too – even when his pictures aren’t showing. He is a key player at the 34th International Film Festival of India, which began in Delhi last week, sitting on the panel that selected Norwegian actress Liv Ullman for a lifetime achievement award.

But Kapur didn’t start out like that. Born in India, he moved to England while he was a young student to study as a chartered accountant. Urged by his parents to get a good professional qualification under his belt he resisted – initially – the temptations of a film career. And those temptations were considerable, after all his uncle was Dev Anand, one of the greatest stars of the Hindi film industry.

In England he stayed with the family of first cousin and Numerica chief executive Tony Sarin, and worked for a time at Burmah Oil as a corporate planner for Dennis Thatcher.

It was then that the film bug bit, so Kapur decided to head back to India in his twenties. His uncle offered him a role in one of his films and he dabbled in modelling – at one point he was one of India’s highest-paid male models.

He also began a relationship with Shabana Azmi, a well-known Indian actress, and she encouraged him to try working behind the camera. A couple of Indian films, including Masoom, followed – as well as a spell hosting a chat show on Channel 4 in the UK – before his international breakthrough with Bandit Queen. Then came Elizabeth and the rest is history.

With that sort of background, it’s no wonder that Kapur sports a more interesting CV than most: ‘A chartered accountant, a model, a chat show host, an actor, a producer’ it once read.

And despite moving away from accountancy and into cinema, Kapur has not abandoned the UK finance business entirely. He remains close to Sarin, and the two even teamed up a couple of years ago to launch a hi-tech venture capital fund Softtechnet, created to spot emerging stars in India’s hi-tech sector.

Kapur remains busy – and outspoken. The projects he is currently working on demonstrate his activist edge. Among them is Long Walk to Freedom, a big-screen version of Nelson Mandela’s life story, though a release date looks some way off. Email

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