HTLS 2019| Douglas & Jones Christmas carol: ‘Om Shanti Om’

Actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones confessed that their family is obsessed with the 2007 Hindi musical Om Shanti Om, and that songs from the film are played like Christmas carols at their house. Zeta-Jones also joined moderator and actor Anil Kapoor in dancing to the film’s title track at the 17th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi on Saturday.

“My friends Shah Rukh and Farah are going to be very happy,” Kapoor said, tipping his hat to the film’s lead actor, Shah Rukh Khan, and director Farah Khan. The film also served as the film debut of actor Deepika Padukone and featured several prominent Hindi film stars in cameos.

“My kids have been brought up singing Om Shanti Om,” Zeta-Jones said, while Douglas nodded in agreement. “It’s true,” he said, and added, “On Christmas, everybody in our country sings Christmas carols; our house sings all the songs from Om Shanti Om.”

A self-confessed “Bollywood fan”, Zeta-Jones continued, “I don’t think people understand my obsession with Om Shanti Om.” She suggested that it would have made for a “fantastic” Broadway musical. “But I can’t play it because I’m not Indian,” she said regretfully. “You look Indian; my niece looks like you,” Kapoor said, which Zeta-Jones took as a compliment. “I’m very honoured,” she said, “Some of the most beautiful women are from India.”

As a father of three children in the film industry, Kapoor asked the Hollywood actors about how their industry views the idea of nepotism. Children of actors “need to work twice as hard” as others because they are prone to more scrutiny, Douglas said.

Son of Hollywood icon Kirk Douglas, the Wall Street star said that he struggled to live up to the legacy of his father in his youth. Winning the Academy Award for his performance in director Oliver Stone’s drama about 80s excess, Douglas said, was especially important for him, “because I felt like I‘d stepped out of the shadow of my father and created my own identity”.

“Be very appreciative and very humble,” Douglas offered as advice to children of celebrities. “There are a lot of ways you could grow up in this world.”

He said that his father, who will turn 103 on Monday, was instrumental in shaping him as a person. “Ethics, tenacity and hard work,” Douglas said, is the key to success.

This is the advice that the actors have given their kids as well, because they “want to be actors.”

Her husband’s “desire to make the world a better place, a more peaceful place”, Zeta-Jones said, is what they have tried to instil in their children, Dylan, 19, and Carys, 16.

Unlike Douglas, Zeta-Jones said she didn’t have any “family connections to the film industry”. She had to make it on her own, first in London and then in Hollywood. “I had a fearlessness,” she said.

Kapoor, who has been married to his wife Sunita since 1984, asked Douglas and Zeta-Jones about the secret to their long relationship. The couple tied the knot in 2000. “Happy wife, happy life,” Douglas shot back, and Zeta-Jones joked that people said their marriage “wouldn’t last”.

“I was lucky enough to marry my best friend,” Zeta-Jones said. “The secret to our relationship is being kind to each other and having a sense of humour.”

She said that although they came close to appearing in a film together once — a part of it was supposed to be set in India — the project never materialised. If they ever agree to working together in the future, she said, she wouldn’t want them to appear as a married couple, calling the idea “voyeuristic”. “There’s something unsettling about watching a married couple on screen,” she said.

The couple could get a chance to work together in the future, because Douglas, 75, has no intention of retiring anytime soon. Having being exposed to a younger generation of fans through the Marvel superhero films in which he appears as Dr Hank Pym, the actor said, “I’m planning on working till they take me out.”

Douglas’s connection to both the Marvel movies and Netflix – he stars in the streaming giant’s half-hour comedy The Kominsky Method – affords him a unique perspective on the debate around theatrical distribution, initiated by filmmaker Martin Scorsese recently. Scorsese had compared Marvel’s brand of filmmaking to “theme parks”, and suggested that superhero movies were taking away the audience’s right to choose what film they want to watch in theatres, therefore relegating smaller films to streaming.

“There has never been a better time in the history of films and television,” Douglas said, praising the arrival of streaming, and giving a shout-out to Scorsese’s The Irishman and director Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, two Netflix films considered front-runners at the upcoming Oscars. “A TV actor you can watch for free; you have to pay to watch a movie actor,” he said, describing age-old industry hierarchy. “Streaming is breaking these barriers.”

He did, however, admit that movies these days need to be events. “This makes it more difficult for personalised pictures.”

Douglas and Zeta-Jones also briefly addressed US politics. “He just takes the air out of the room,” Douglas said about US president Donald Trump, and added that he thought he’d make it out of India without having to talk about him. “It’s a crazy time,” he continued. “I try to look outside our own country and there’s a strange populist movement that seems to be going on around the world, certainly in our country and you’re seeing it in a lot of countries in Europe.”

He added, looking at Kapoor, “I know you’re dealing with volatile issues here in your own country,” but that he wasn’t sure “where this polarisation is coming from”

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