Commercial Hindi has often been criticised for repeating its stories, situations and characters. Over the years these elements have undergone some degree of transformation but the concept of hero largely remains unchanged in Hindi cinema.
Since Independence popular Hindi cinema has seen only two versions of the hero — the serious Dilip Kumar variety and the charming ones that oscillated between the Dev Anand type and the Raj Kapoor version. And yet it’s not these three names that could be credited with the creation of the character that eventually became the typical Bollywood hero. Many wouldn’t consider Randhir Kapoor to be anything more than Raj Kapoor’s first born or an effortless artiste in the limited scope he possessed but scratch a little deeper and you’d find the actor who unknowingly invented the modern Bollywood hero.
Born into the Kapoor clan, Randhir Kapoor had everything going for him and yet, somewhere ended up being a bundle of wasted opportunities. Randhir has many unique firsts attached to him that popular perception might not care to recall but he remains the first star-son to be launched and one of the very few actors who directed their own debuts. Unlike most star-sons Randhir didn’t model his acting style on his father’s and chose to fashion himself as a 1970s version of his uncle, Shammi Kapoor. One of the most popular stars of the 1960s Shammi’s style was a hybrid of Dev Anand’s but he went on to create a signature that was distinctively his own.
The second generation of stars like Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, Manoj Kumar and even Joy Mukherjee or Biswajeet couldn’t escape the burden of the Dev-Dilip-Raj troika at the level that Shammi managed with the string of hits like Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Dil Deke Dekho, Kashmir Ki Kali. Albeit a different shade, Shammi, like his brothers Raj or Shashi, displayed a certain degree of perhaps that very Kapoor family trait of effortlessness while acting. Randhir not only took Shammi Kapoor’s buoyant and effervescent charm to guide his acting but also imbibed it into his approach for directing Kal Aaj Aur Kal. The role of Rajesh, a poor rich boy who returns from abroad and aimlessly wanders about life, sings songs and dances as he falls in love with a girl (Babita), has ideological clashes with his antiquarian grandfather (Prithviraj Kapoor) and father (Raj Kapoor), rebels to his heart’s content before finally giving in to the demands of his elders only to realize that they are accepting of his beliefs is the same die from which heroes are still cast in Bollywood. The template that Randhir Kapoor came up with in Kal Aaj Aur Kal was perfected in Jawani Deewani where he played Vijay a far more energetic version of Kal Aaj Aur Kal’s Rajesh and this carefree young lover didn’t mind revolting against just about anyone who came in the way.
With these two roles that came along in the first couple of years of his career Randhir created a style that would have no equivalent amongst his peer group. He would play the happy-go-lucky fella as a rich kid (Kasme Vade), as a man on the streets (Haath Ki Safai), as an imposter (Lafange), a ruffian (Dhongee), a villager (Ponga Pandit), a revolutionary (Pukar), or a prankster (Harjaee) which on the one hand made him look spontaneous while on the other came across a limited and even lazy approach to acting. He tried doing something different with films like Rampur Ka Lakshman, Dhram-Karam and Rickshawala but couldn’t shake-off the burden of his more popular avatar. Throughout his acting career Randhir would eventually end up being cast in the same roles over and over again irrespective of the fact whether he played the protagonist or the second lead. In spite of being associated with almost two- dozen hits Randhir couldn’t make much of his success. The typical Randhir Kapoor character can be seen as the source that spawned some of the most popular Hindi film characters — Raj from Dilwale Dhulanhiya Le Jayenge, Amar and Prem from Andaaz Apna Apna, Rajesh from Hero No. 1, Raja from Dhule Raja, Arun from Mr. India and Khel, Rahul from Janam Samjha Karo, Sooraj from Jab Pyar Kissi Se Hota Hai and Gopal from the Golmaal series. There’s a little inspiration from Shammi Kapoor but unlike his uncle’s, Randhir Kapoor’s characters were often aimless, a trait that unites all interpretations of the present day Bollywood hero.
For an actor who started the genre of star children launches, Randhir is a rarity when it comes to Hindi cinema. He could be the only actor who directed his own acting debut at the same age as his father’s directorial debut, 24, and he also managed to hold his own in front of Prithviraj and Raj Kapoor. Kapoor has some of the best Hindi songs from the 1970s like the soundtrack of Jawani Diwani attached to him and yet like most star-sons wasn’t destined to enjoy the same success as the fathers. He blazed the trail for an entire generation of star children — Rishi Kapoor, Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt, Kumar Gaurav, Kunal Goswami, Kunal Kapoor, Rohan Kapoor, Karan Kapoor, Armaan Kohli and his own younger brother Rajiv ‘Chimpoo’ Kapoor.
Today, Randhir Kapoor might be better known as Karisma and Kareena Kapoor’s father or Raj Kapoor’s eldest child. His unsuspecting contribution in the creation of the archetypal Bollywood hero is overshadowed by the industry joke about his two other greatest contributions — taking Babita away from films and giving Karisma- Kareena to films. There’s great truth in the fact that Randhir Kapoor could have been much more but his clear influence on the quintessential commercial Hindi film hero makes him something more than just a star-son or a star-dad or even the guy on whom Hindi cinema wasted some of its best songs.
Radhir Kapoor turned 66 on Feb 15, 2013.