This Sunday, in Delhi, I will face the camera again, after almost a decade, for Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar, with my grandnephew Ranbir (Kapoor) who’s playing the lead in the movie. I have been confined to the wheelchair for years now, but it was the enthusiasm of these two young men that convinced me to return.
Indian cinema has evolved; it’s more focused and professional now. Finance, once approved, is not a problem, and films are wrapped up in less than two months, unlike in the past, when they would drag on for years, because the producer wouldn’t sign cheques. Our cinema is doing great and it is wonderful to be a part of it.
From the current lot of filmmakers, I think Imtiaz Ali did a superb job with Love Aaj Kal (2009). I adored Saif’s (Ali Khan) performance in that film and in Parineeta (2005). It was controlled and mature, like his mother, Sharmila’s (Tagore), used to be. But I can’t imagine a film like Love Aaj Kal being made in the ’60s.
Back then, Sharmila’s bikini scene and song in An Evening In Paris (1967) created a furore. Women were draped in saris and salwar kameezes only. Her bold appearance shocked many.
The 1960’s were known as the ‘Swinging ’60s’ because there was a lot more dance and music in the films in that era, compared to the previous decade. Films like Teesri Manzil (1966), Prince (1969) and Junglee (1961) had some amazing songs that were sung and conceptualised well. The compositions had begun to acquire a new flavour and the music had a tinge of the West too.
My style of dancing was often compared to Elvis Presley’s. I wonder how I could have copied him because at that time, we didn’t have videos readily available. And who knows, he could have copied from me too! I didn’t believe it then, nor do I agree today, that I did anything similar to Elvis, but I really like his style of dance and music.
I have a few special words for the two Kapoors who are currently ruling the marquee. Bebo (Kareena Kapoor) was excellent in Jab We Met, (2007) that traced her transformation from a naïve girl to a sensible lady following an emotional crisis. It was a tough character to play, she could have easily gone overboard.
Ranbir is blessed with the best of both his parents, Rishi and Neetu Kapoor. I am yet to see Raajneeti, but his performance in Wake Up Sid (2009) with Konkona (Sen Sharma) was first rate. He is not afraid to experiment, something few actors have done across generations. Both these kids have acting in their genes, like all the other Kapoors.
‘My first two hits, were like a cool breeze in a hot summer’
Until the age of 25, I was a flop actor. There was no concept of a godfather then. My brother Rajji (Raj Kapoor) and my bauji (father Prithviraj Kapoor) were immensely successful, but that didn’t land me a role in any RK Productions film.
I acted in my first film for the banner, Prem Rog (1982), when I was 50. If I didn’t have a popular father, brother and wife (Geeta Bali), I wouldn’t have pushed hard to earn a name for myself. I always wanted to be my own brand, and not someone’s brother, husband or son alone.
My first job was for Rs 50 a month at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu. A producer signed me on for his film after seeing my performance in a play at Prithvi. My father or brother never recommended me to anyone.
After an initial string of flops, Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957) and Dil Deke Dekho (1958), my first two hits, seemed like a cool breeze in a hot summer. I realised what it meant to be a star when I attended a show of Tumsa Nahin Dekha with my wife Geeta in Lucknow.
Once the film ended, the audience didn’t want to let me go. They were ready to take me home in pieces, if that were possible. That’s when I realised that having cars and money weren’t the signs of a star.
I loved dancing because it was an expression of freedom and a way to vent your pent-up energy. Few people know that Yahoo was used in Tumsa Nahin Dekha and Dil Deke Dekho, before it was used in Junglee, to express a young man’s sense of emotional independence.
It’s impossible to talk dance without mentioning Helen. She and I had a great rapport and shared a liking for dance and music. We understood each other’s cues really well.
Apart from Teesri Manzil (1966), we had enjoyed working together in films like China Town (1962) and Junglee. Our Suku suku number was quite popular. She knew where I would stop and I knew where she would ideally like to begin. I’ve worked in a lot of films with Asha Parekh, Rajshree, Saira Banu and Sharmila Tagore. When I started working with them, they were all pretty and young; each had brought her own kind of freshness and charm to the film.
Kashmir Ki Kali
Sharmila was my Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), whom I dated in An Evening In Paris. But the next thing I knew, Pataudiwooed and married her. She was equally graceful in a sari and a western outfit. Back in the ’60s, Helen and she were two actresses who carried off both kinds of costumes with the same panache.
During the course of my film career, I also directed Zeenat Aman in Manoranjan (1974). Today, a survey claims that she’s among the most beautiful Bollywood actresses ever, though the organisers haven’t even seen Manoranjan. I think she looked a million dollars in it.
Used and abused
Today, if I’m restricted to a wheelchair, it’s because I took my body for granted and abused it, like Pran saab and many of my co-actors.
I was shooting for a song in Rajkumar (1964) with 200 elephants, horses and junior artistes. I was sitting on an elephant’s back and held on to it by putting my legs around a chain in its neck. Now, the elephant was notorious. It kept turning its head to see who was sitting on its back. I could have asked them to cut the scene, but didn’t. By the time we were finished, I had broken my knees. After that, there were many such incidents where I rolled, fell, slipped and broke several bones in my body.
No matter what I say, in my heart, I wish I had been more careful about my health and not abused my body the way I did. Maybe then, I would have spent many more years acting!