& occasionally about other things, too...

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Remembering Rishi Kapoor


To write about Rishi Kapoor in the past tense is incredibly sad.

As an actor, Rishi Kapoor was an institution. His legacy will last as long as there is cinema. 

But he was more than just an actor. In the last decade or so he had become a social media influencer, a twitter aficionado.

This blog post, however, is only about Rishi Kapoor the film star who although he came from a privileged background, thrived in a highly competitive environment for four decades because of his immense talent.


There are already a number of excellent obituaries about Rishi Kapoor; many written by people who knew him personally and met him frequently; mine is probably not going to match those either in erudition or depth. 

This blog post is just my tribute to an actor who will always remain an integral part of my adolescence and youth. I didn't know him personally. I didn't meet him, ever. 

I’ve interspersed the blog with some of my favourite Rishi Kapoor songs.


To the generation that became interested and aware of the tremendous appeal of popular Hindi cinema in the 1970s – he was and will always remain a lodestar. Rishi Kapoor was that young, reckless romantic, willing to risk everything for love, and who almost always nearly lost everything but got the girl.


By the 1970s, the dreams of a post-independence India were in tatters. There was a rising anger at the system, captured brilliantly by Amitabh Bachchan’s smouldering rage. Rishi Kapoor gave the audience welcome relief from that overwrought and essentially futile fury.


Right from his debut as a lead actor in Bobby (1973), where he was the personification of young love with its all its doe eyed innocence, Rishi Kapoor captured our hearts by his competent skills as an actor. 

He was a despondent, hopeless lover in Laila Majnu (1976), as a crossdresser in Rafoo Chakkar (1975), as a carefree quawaal in Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), and a dafli-player in love with a mute dancer in Sargam (1979) – my favourite Rishi Kapoor film.


All his films from that era are equally well-remembered for their songs.



Rishi Kapoor redefined the song and dance routine that is a staple of Hindi cinema, and although never acknowledged as a great dancer, he knew how to set fire to the dancefloor with his moves.


Although he showed his versatility in every role he played, he was not offered challenging roles, till rather late in his career. The one notable exception was Doosra Admi (1977), where Rishi Kapoor played a young, ambitious man focused on his career and falling in love with an older colleague. His portrayal was bold, mature, but deliberately underplayed. He didn’t let Rakhee, a consummate, top-of-the-line actor of that era, overshadow him.  



In the 1980s, Rishi Kapoor signed up for a whole bunch of utterly unforgettable films. But he did give his fans Karz (1980), a reincarnated revenge saga based on the Reincarnation of Peter Proud; remembered today for its unmatched energy.


Prem Rog (1982), his second film as the male lead after Bobby that his father directed, saw Rishi Kapoor again give a subdued performance. Just as Bobby was centered around Dimple Kapadia, Prem Rog was focused on Padmini Kolhapure. 

Then, came Sagar (1985), the film that relaunched Dimple Kapadia. Rishi Kapoor could have easily been eclipsed by the much-acclaimed Kamal Hasan, but he held his own effortlessly.


I'm sure, he knew his worth as an actor, and would have been full of remorse that he didn't get good roles in his prime. But he didn’t believe in wasting his time waiting for good roles. He made good with whatever came his way, and never flinched from accepting roles that would probably have been rejected by other actors. 

He eagerly accepted roles that played second fiddle to the woman lead in films. Nagin (1986) with Sridevi was a monstrously bad film but was undeniably a monstrous hit. He was equally at ease being the second male lead. All his films with Amitabh Bachchan – Kabhie Kabhie (1976), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Naseeb (1981), Coolie (1983), were hugely successful and remain endearing even today. Some, such as Ajooba (1991), were colossal flops, but that had little to do with Rishi Kapoor.

Another trend that marks his career is that despite a string of flops (inevitable, considering he did on an average three to four films a year) every few years, he would turn in a mega success. So, after a protracted lean phase in the late 1980s, he delivered a huge hit in Chandni (1989). 

He will forever hold the record of having launched the careers of pretty young things into movies, and he did that with aplomb, wearing multicoloured cardigans.


The 1990s were not too different from the previous decade. He continued to work in utterly forgettable films but also gave us Bol Radha Bol (1992), which succeeded as much because of him as for Juhi Chawla; Deewana (1992) which succeeded because of Shah Rukh Khan; and Damini (1993), which Sunny Deol’s biceps propelled to eternal fame.

Then, after a lean phase, he turned to character roles, and entered what was perhaps the most interesting phase of his career. He was liberated from ensuring a film's success. He could now focus on his performance.

He brought an indescribable insouciance to his role as a father who preferred to pursue his dreams as a photographer rather than be a responsible dad in Hum Tum (2004), you couldn't obviously like him for the way he treated his wife, but you still weren't willing to dislike him. 


He was wasted as Kajol's dad in Fanaa (2006).


He was nominated for the best supporting actor award for his portrayal of a film producer in Luck by Chance (2009). Delhi 6 (2009) and Love Aaj Kal (2009) again saw him at his subdued best; in both the films he played an aging lover, who having lived it up in his younger days, is unable to comprehend the restrained ardour of the younger generation.



And then, came Do Dooni Char (2010), a story set in lower middle-class Delhi, for which he won the Filmfare best actor; his second after Bobby. He took everyone by surprise with his portrayal of an amiable and yet vicious Bombay bhai in the remake of Agneepath (2012). It was a performance that got under the skin of the audience – it was hair raising, and riveting. 




He followed it up with another incredible performance in D-Day (2013), portraying a character that was based on Dawood Ibrahim. As the lubricious granddad in Kapoor & Sons (2016), he was unrecognizable with layers of makeup, but again won the Filmfare best supporting award. His role in Mulk (2018) won wide acclaim because he brought to life the uneasiness of India’s Muslims in a country that rapidly transformed into a Hindutva citadel.



Rishi Kapoor's departure is a national loss. There won't be anyone like him. There can't be. 

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