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Rishi Kapoor: The Prince of Romance in the Bollywood

Coastweek -- He was born in 1952 to the first family of Hindi cinema, the Kapoor clan. But if there is one actor who has truly vindicated his claim to fame, it is Rishi Kapoor, writes DINESH RAHEJA.

Rishi won a National Award when he was barely 18 for his sensitive portrayal of a teenager’s first crush in father Raj Kapoor’s semi-autobiographical opus, Mera Naam Joker.

The young actor became catnip to college girls at 21, when his dad next helmed him in that perennially popular l’amour tale, Bobby.

In an interview in 2012, he stated: “There was a misconception that the film was made to launch me as an actor. The film was actually made to pay the debts of Mera Naam Joker. Dad wanted to make a teenage love story and he did not have money to cast Rajesh Khanna in the film”.

Bobby was one of the decade’s biggest hits in India.

Kapoor had an exuberant charm, bewildering eyes and the chocolate boy kind of looks which made his Bollywood eve smoother.

Rishi then provided a launch pad to a legion of fledgling heroines: Dimple (Bobby), Kajal Kiron (Hum Kisise Kum Nahin), Shoma Anand (Barood), Bhavna (Naya Daur), Jaya Prada (Sargam), Naseem (Kabhi Kabhie), Sonam (Vijay) and Divya Bharti (Deewana).

He has a huge cache of hit songs to his credit and thrived as a top star for 25 years.

But the actor, who has given us memorable songs like Khullam khulla pyar karenge, Dafli wale and others confessed that he never liked his songs!

 
Coastweek -- Rishi Kapoor with debutant Dimple Kapadia in popular l’amour tale, Bobby.

“I must admit that I was often hopelessly wrong in my initial reactions to some of these chartbusters. I remember Boney Kapoor coming to meet me, brimming with excitement, with a recording of Om shanti om in Karz.

“I gave Boney an earful, saying what a lousy number it was and wondering how Laxmikant–Pyarelal could come up with such a number for me.”

But Rishi’s biggest claim to fame is that unmistakable, inherent talent: his ability to fuse seamlessly with his character.

Even if he unapologetically worked in commercial films, believability was his calling card and he worked hard to achieve it.

In Amar Akbar Anthony, Rishi wore a double-knit fabric trouser, a netted see-through shirt and chewed paan to get a feel of his character.

To lend throb to the dafliwala in Sargam, Rishi shrugged his shoulders before playing the dafli, a trait he picked up from a father-son duo of dafli players.

It led to an impressed Amitabh Bachchan complimenting Rishi on his ability to dance, sing and play the dafli simultaneously.

Chintu, as Rishi is fondly addressed, was always passionate about acting. His bedroom mirror was his earliest confidante and he would try out various expressions in front of it.

When elder brother Randhir grew too old to play the role, a chubby Chintu stepped into the hallowed portals of RK Studios to play the young joker in his dad’s mega movie, Mera Naam Joker.

 
Coastweek -- Amitabh, Shashi and Rishi Kapoor during the shoot for Yash Chopra’s Kabhi Kabhie.

Chintu’s performance as a plump adolescent Raju, whose senses are stirred by his attractive teacher Mary (Simi Garewal), and who struggles to come to terms with his ensuing guilt, was so mature, it belied his age.

Thrilled by the adulation, a barely-out-of-his-teens Chintu hankered for the lead role in his father’s next production, Bobby.

But he knew he stood a slim chance to bag it if he did not shed the extra kilos.

A determined Chintu stayed away from steak (his favourite dish) and cut himself down to half his size.

Rishi eventually landed the role and won heady stardom playing Raja, a disenchanted, affection-deprived teenager who falls headlong for the beauteous and well-endowed Bobby (Dimple Kapadia), the daughter of a fun-loving fisherman (Premnath).

If Dimple in the title role of Bobby sent hearts spiralling out of control, Chintu with his freshly sprouted moustache and lovelorn eyes did not lag far behind.

He may have lost Dimple to reigning superstar Rajesh Khanna, but Khanna lost a sizeable chunk of his young fans to Rishi.

When Dimple quit the industry, Rishi found new heroines.

In frolicsome entertainers like Rafoo Chakkar, Khel Khel Mein and Amar Akbar Anthony, the nattily dressed Neetu Singh complemented him beautifully.

Soon after they played a couple whose marriage is coming apart at the seams in the underrated Doosra Aadmi.

Rishi’s success coincided with Amitabh’s ascent and the prince of romance had a difficult time stepping out of the tall shadow cast by the angry young man.

 
Coastweek -- Seen [from left] director Yash Chopra, Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, Shashi Kapoor, Rakhee, Waheeda Rehman during the premiere of a multi-starrer Kabhi Kabhie.

Talking about the cold war between Amitabh Bachchan and him during the filming of their movie Kabhi Kabhie, Rishi says that maybe it was because he had won an award which Amitabh wanted.

Elaborating it, Rishi writes, “I think that Amitabh was sulking because I had won the best actor award for Bobby. I am sure he felt the award was rightfully his for Zanjeer, which released the same year.

“I am ashamed to say it, but I actually ‘bought’ that award. I was so naïve. There was this PRO, Taraknath Gandhi, who said to me, ‘Sir, tees hazaar de do, toh aap ko main award dila doonga.’ (Sir, I’ll ensure you get the award if you give me thirty thousand.) I am not the manipulative sort but I admit that I gave him the money without thinking.”

Sporadically, Rishi made valiant attempts to conform to the trend and star in vitriolic dramas like Zehreela Insaan and Gunehgar, but the audience shunned them, preferring to patronise his romances like Laila Majnu and Hum Kisise Kum Nahin.

In the 80s and 90s the stars worked upon their character on their own- be it deciding the costume, the make-up or figuring out an iconic dance step.

During one such shoot, Rishi Kapoor confesses that he once ended up wearing women’s trouser for the shoot!

“Today, I admit that my second film Zehreela Insaan was a mistake. After the bubbly Bobby, I should have stuck to something similar and not gone for a film so drastically different... The one enduring memory of the Zehreela Insaan shoot was the black trouser I had bought from Beirut.

“I was in the habit of shopping for my costumes and this tight-fitting beauty with flares caught my fancy. It was only later, when I wore it in the song O hansini that the dress man pointed out that its zip was to the side and not in front. I had made a fashion boo-boo, picking up a ladies’ trouser,” he writes.

Generally in the multi-hero films Rishi did in the late 70s and throughout the 80s and early 90s, his other co-star’s character and performance over-shadowed his, and was more appreciated, such as in the case of the films like Naseeb, Katilon Ke Kaatil, Coolie, Duniya, Sitamgar, Zamana, Ghar Parivar and Amar Akbar Anthony.

 
Coastweek -- Rishi Kapoor with wife and actress Neetu Singh.

In his memoir Rishi Kapoor says that during his era, roles were specifically written for Amitabh Bachchan and he was credited for the success of all his films, despite the fact that the secondary characters were also superb actors in their own rights.

Putting across his point, Rishi writes, “To go back to Amitabh, I must confess here is still a lingering issue I have with Amitabh Bachchan.

“A big disadvantage of working in an all-star movie in those days was that everybody only wanted to make action films, which automatically meant that the star who could carry off action with the most flair would get the meatiest part.

“That’s how, with the exception of Kabhi Kabhie, which was a romantic film, none of the multi-starrers I featured in had an author-backed role for me. Shashi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna faced it too”.

He further added saying, “Although we may have been smaller stars, we were not lesser actors. But this is something that Amitabh has never ever admitted to, in any interview or book. He has never given due credit to the actors who have worked with him.”

The deft dafliwala of Sargam (1979), the pop singer who wants to avenge his own murder in Karz (1980), the love-obsessed rebel who proposes to a widow in Prem Rog (1982) reinforced one’s belief in Rishi Kapoor as a sensitive actor with golden toes.

His films fuelled his lover boy-for-all-seasons image and Rishi became its prisoner.

Besides, his early marriage seemed to disappoint his female fans.

Kapoor married actress Neetu Singh his 15 time co-star on 22 January 1980.

The couple has two children - actor Ranbir Kapoor and designer Riddhima Kapoor Sahani.

While Rishi Kapoor’s film Kabhi Kabhi was a huge hit, the veteran actor says that he had almost rejected the film as his wife Neetu had a more prominent role in the movie.

“I was reluctant to do Kabhi Kabhie in the beginning because I had been warned against working with Amitabh Bachchan. “

 
Coastweek -- Rishi Kapoor and Sridevi’s on screen chemistry in Yash Chopra’s Chandni garnered immense adulation during the 80’s.

“The second reason was that I felt Neetu had a more prominent role than I did. That’s why I had said to Yash Chopra, if you want me to do the film, give me Neetu’s role. Naturally, Yashji was confused,” Rishi shares.

But he later agreed to work in the film only after his uncle Shashi Kapoor intervened.

In the mid-1980s, Rishi’s penchant for his evening quota of drinks manifested in a well-rounded physique. A seen-there-done-that lassitude set in. Élan gave way to ennui.

Still, Rishi acted his way back with Sridevi in Nagin. The hitherto choosy star signed a spate of films.

One of them was Yash Chopra’s Chandni. Rishi played a man who shuns his love when he is crippled in an accident. The star delivered a perceptive performance capturing the anger, cynicism, self-loathing and the desire for sacrifice that stems from his helplessness.

The success of his home-production Henna, directed by brother Randhir, and the cacophonous David Dhawan comedy, Bol Radha Bol, delayed Rishi’s fade-out but his widening girth resulted in a thinning out of roles.

He then attempted his hand at direction, but Aa Ab Laut Chalen, starring Akshaye Khanna and Aishwarya Rai, made under the RK banner, flopped at the box office.

His last film as a romantic lead was the delayed Karobaar: The Business of Love (2000).

In the early 2000s Rishi occasionally lend sparkle to lacklustre fare like Raju Chacha and Kucch To Hai; but a youth-centric industry can offer few roles that do not waste this fine actor’s talents.

He moved on to supporting roles in the 2000s. He has since appeared in films such as Yeh Hai Jalwa (2002), Hum Tum (2004), Fanaa (2006), Namastey London (2007), Love Aaj Kal (2009) and Patiala House (2010). He also appeared in the British films Don’t Stop Dreaming (2007) and Sambar Salsa (2008). He reunited onscreen with Neetu Singh in the film Do Dooni Chaar (2010).

He also acted in the movie Chintu Ji in which he played himself.

In 2012 he appeared in a villainous role in Agneepath and in the multi-starrer Housefull 2 where he appeared with brother Randhir Kapoor for the first time after Khazana in the mid-1980s.

He made a cameo appearance in Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan along with his wife.

 
Coastweek -- Rishi Kapoor and Taapsee Pannu in the August 2018 release Mulk. The film tackles Islamophobia by arguing against the common prejudices.

His latest film 102 Not Out is a comedy-drama film directed by Umesh Shukla.

It brought Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor together for the first time after 27 years.

The film is adpated from a Gujarati play also titled ‘102 Not Out’ written by Saumya Joshi. The film received mixed reviews.

Rishi Kapoor has been in controversies for his comments on social media.

Rishi Kapoor’s autobiography Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored, was released on 15 Jan 2017.

Here are some Khullam Khulla facts by Rishi Kapoor, taken from his memoir:

Rishi Kapoor writes in his memoir that his first steady and serious girlfriend was a Parsi girl, Yasmin Mehta, whom he dated much before Bobby was out.

“By the time Bobby was released in 1973, Stardust, which was the most popular magazine of its time, published a story about a budding romance between Dimple and me.

“Dimple, who by this time was already married to Rajesh Khanna, was not greatly affected by it. But it put an end to my relationship with Yasmin, I tried hard to get her back in my life, but she did not agree” says Rishi.

He played leading roles as the romantic lead in 92 films between 1973 and 2000, 41 of which were multi-starrer films. Only 11 of his 51 solo hero films were successful.

For his performance in Do Dooni Chaar, he won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor in 2011, and for his role in Kapoor & Sons, he won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2017.

He was honoured with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

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