Walking down a busy street in Tel Aviv, I stopped short as a familiar tune wafted out from a restaurant – the song ‘Dard E Dil, Dard E Jigar’ from the movie ‘Karz’. It was a song I had grown up on, the image clear of Rishi Kapoor in a white suit and green shirt, playing the violin in the blockbuster reincarnation drama. It was not an Indian eatery, nor is it a song which is part of the so called ‘global beats’. They could have well been playing the national anthem, I was that chuffed! Whipping out my phone, I recorded a bit of the ambience and the song and sent the same to Rishi Kapoor, who responded immediately saying, “Wow! This is awesome.”
The man whose smooth footwork was there for all to see. Be it Jaano Mohabbat Kya Hai from Hum Kissi Se Kam Nahi – clad in white bell-bottoms, shirt, and bow tie – he jumped, bounced and jogged with such rhythm, you couldn’t help but try matching steps with him. And who can forget Om Shanti Om from Karz? Dressed in a silver jumpsuit, he moved smoothly on the vinyl record-like dance floor, a song and moves which inspired a generation of singers and dancers. When he wasn’t burning the dance floor, he was serenading his lady love with an Ek Main Aur Ek Tu. He even made drag look cool! Remember Rafu Chakkar, the ‘Bombay Se Baroda Tak’ number? We all have a Rishi Kapoor playlist!
Born into the first family of Indian cinema, the Kapoors, he was no stranger to films. He made his debut as a toddler in his father Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420, in the timeless Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua. Looking back, he says, “Do you know my starry tantrums started young? Nargisji had to tempt me with chocolates for that one shot, otherwise I would refuse to give a take.”
A treasure trove of stories, Rishi Kapoor once told me, “My father wanted me to play the younger him in Mera Naam Joker. As he discussed with my mother whether he should cast me or not, I had already gone up to my room and started practicing my autographs.”
The film won him the national award for Best Child Star. A few years later, he made his debut as hero in the love story Bobby in 1973. But being Raj Kapoor’s son came with it’s own baggage. Rishi Kapoor said, “Bobby was by default. It was a Raj Kapoor film and not a film being made for Rishi Kapoor. I just happened to be there, the real hero of the film was Dimple. So my father didn’t want to go through the headache of finding another newcomer, he thought ‘let me make do with this aspiring hero at home’. But, being a Kapoor has its own baggage – you have a legacy, my father, my uncles, those were big shoes to fill. I was lucky, more so than the others, having got the right films. Maybe I had the temperament to go with the flow and I sailed through fortunately, but it’s not that easy for my son Ranbir, he has more of a burden.”
His boyish charm was the perfect fit for love stories and romantic dramas which came garnished with chart busting tracks. His appeal was infectious, magnetic – so, no surprises, 23 leading ladies made their debut opposite him, from Dimple Kapadia in Bobby to Zeba Bhaktiyar in Heena. “I was fortunate that they chose to act with me and made it memorable and do realise my best films as romantic hero were in heroine-oriented projects like Bobby, Prem Rog, Chandini, Damini, where I needed to downplay my performances to match them,” says Rishi Kapoor.
From playing romantic leads to being part of ensemble films like Amar Akbar Anthony and Naseeb, Rishi Kapoor says, “There was an innocence in making films in our time. The audience was forgiving. It’s not so now. Look at the music. Those days you sat with the composers, worked on the melody, these days there is no shelf life.”
The actor who even romanced actresses like Juhi Chawla and Divya Bharti never went out of style. “They gave me just those kind of scripts and I went along,” he says. But the phase he seemed to have enjoyed the most is his second innings, as he describes it. From playing Santosh Duggal, the Maths teacher in Do Dooni Chaar in 2010 to Rauf Lala in Agneepath in 2012, or the fun-loving grandfather of Kapoor and Sons to Murad Ali Mohammad of Mulk, he enjoyed the meaty character roles, which he himself admits he would have never been approached for earlier. “I am glad they are coming to me with such narratives, I am truly enjoying this phase. Content was always king and somewhere it got lost but I’m so happy it’s being welcomed, and I’m glad people like me find work because there are different kind of films being made now,” says Rishi Kapoor
Known to have a trigger temper, his wife Neetu Singh Kapoor, with whom he had the best cinematic pairing on screen, said he could be very difficult. Rishi Kapoor says with a laugh, “I was obnoxious, not difficult!” However, there is no denying the fact that it’s Neetu Kapoor who is the glue which binds the Kapoor family.
Son Ranbir, who has confessed to being scared of his father says, “Dad loves three things – his wife, his whiskey and his dogs. Everything else is secondary.”
His young co-stars like Taapsee Pannu say, “He is a hard core hot blooded Punjabi and he likes to be a bully the first few days. Then the ice break happens and once you catch his rhythm, he is the best buddy to have on sets.” His Mulk director Anubhav Sinha says, “He is the sweetest actor to work with, but if he figures out that you are scared of him, he will use that to scare you! But there is no one like him.”