Larger Than Life
With mesmerising performances, meaningful characters, unforgettable charm and a penchant for speaking his mind, Rishi Kapoor was one of the icons of Hindi cinema. Aarti Kapur Singh looks back at the man and his illustrious career
Rishi Kapoor had once described himself as a “hyphen between a famous father, and a famous son”. Debuting on the silver screen at the age of two in one of his grandfather, Prithviraj Kapoor’s plays, all baby Chintu (Kapoor’s pet name) had to do was sleep on a cot. Later, as a toddler, Kapoor made an appearance in the song “Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua” from his fatherbRaj Kapoor’s 1955 film Shree 420. But even then, the young Kapoor was not interested in joining the film industry. “Despite the family legacy, and very much like my father in his early years, I didn’t grow up yearning to join the family business.” he wrote in his biography Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored. When Kapoor was 16 years old, his father cast him in the movie Mera Naam Joker and he started enjoying the process of film-making. No wonder, he got the National Award (for best child artist) for his role. He became a youth icon overnight with his debut film, Bobby (1970). Before the movie came out, heroes in their mid-thirties would play romantic leads. Bobby told the story of teenage love. And Kapoor, with his boyish charm, fitted the role perfectly.
Interestingly, though he was the director’s son and a National Award-winning actor, the movie was anchored around its female lead, Bobby! “For my father, the story came first. Then, family,” Kapoor often said. Within a couple of years, he was the poster boy for romance. In a tribute to the actor in the Time magazine, actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas, says: “From his first leading role in 1973’s Bobby, he was the keeper of our hearts, ushering in a new era of romance in Hindi movies. He was a hero who could feel without being maudlin. He was mischievous, rebellious, passionate—and he made falling in love seem so easy.” Kapoor’s romance, as Priyanka says, “had all the passion of a Shakespearean hero with a generous dollop of innocence added in.”
Rishi Kapoor had one of the longest careers in Bollywood as a romantic lead from the 1970s to the late 1990s. “There is an image of me from the 1970s or ‘80s as romantic star, a jersey-clad, tune-humming, careless casanova, with a guitar in one hand and a girl in another,” Kapoor wrote in his book. Indian cinemas of the ‘70s and ‘80s, when Kapoor reigned, was all about youthful love, peppy music and dance, flamboyant style and zest for life. And the actor represented all that and more. Film journalist Dinesh Raheja described him as a “male kitsch fashion plate of the ‘70s”.
THE SECOND INNINGS
As the times changed, people’s choices altered, and Kapoor faded from the screen; his last success being Chandni, (1989), when he was already in his late-30s. And just when audiences had forgotten him, he returned with Luck by Chance (2009) as boastful film producer Rommy Rolly and wooed the nation with his witty deliveries. The next year he was back again in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Delhi 6 with Abhishek Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor. The audience couldn’t get enough of this new Rishi Kapoor: mature, powerful and varied in his choices of roles. “I am having more fun now than in the first 25 years of my career. I used to be the leading man, singing songs and wooing leading ladies, dancing and running around trees. Now I am enjoying myself. I am experimenting with roles and discovering the actor within me,” he had said in an interview in 2012. Films like Do Dooni Chaar, Housefull 2, Shuddh Desi Romance, 102 Not Out (reuniting with his old mate Amitabh Bachchan), Kapoor and Sons and Mulk followed, winning him fans and accolades. During this time, he debuted on social media, a space he ruled with his mix of funny, charming, controversial and honest posts – a lot like himself – entertaining his followers.
He was an entertainer till his last leg, as even the doctors treating him would say. Kapoor was an actor who reinvented the wheel several times in his career, experimenting and winning, proving that good actors just become better as they age!