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Elizabeth's secret

By Ray Pride

NOVEMBER 23, 1998:  There are probably few who imagined the director of the dashing "Bandit Queen" as the man to make a fecklessly post-modern melodrama of British history with "Elizabeth."

But faith in Shekhar Kapur was well-placed, as he marshals the showy particulars of architecture and camera motion, of light and dark and more dark, in a free-for-all of floating spectacle.

Kapur's castles are dressed for intrigue in images of cloacal swaddle, blacks on browns and sepia on sable. "I didn't mean that," Kapur says in his rapid Bombay cadence, his dark skin and darker beard set off by a lime suit, "I wanted obstacles to the camera, as if it were a conspirator moving about the story."

Kapur is amenable to a comparison to the wildly overstuffed Bollywood spectacles from India. "I came up in that industry, which is a musical-based cinema. In India, we have a very sophisticated audience, but we also have a total suspension of logic, where the film is ruled by the realm of emotion and the senses. The Indian audiences are quite used to and quite happy to suspend logic. You can learn so much from a good audience."

This irreverent mingling of cultures could be taken as provocative. "I relish provoking myself and then I relish provoking other people. It's arrogant to say it's really so important, but I enjoy questioning, I enjoy being irreverent and I like to get viewers to ask what happens on the other side. In Britain, there are tabloids saying, front page, what is this guy doing from India, destroying our icons? [There's a] huge reaction from people about the fact that Elizabeth was described in my film as not physically a virgin."

Was their concern racially based? "I think I probably got away with it because I was Indian!" Kapur laughs. "I think they were upset it was an outsider who came and did that. But of course that's the problem, the most interesting thing. Everyone kept saying that she declared herself a virgin and I had to see why. How many women do you know now who go around saying, 'I'm a virgin, I'm a virgin.'"

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