It must have been a couple of decades ago. He was tickled pink. "Imagine, one of your arty types offered me the role of an impoverished farmer." A chuckle and then, the question, "Tell me honestly, can I ever look like one?"
Rishi Kapoor, down the three decades and some more that I've known him, has been aware of his limitations but has never articulated his abundant strengths.
Hundred-films-old, today, he is one actor who hasn't altered. His larger-than-life bonhomie, truth-telling, on and off screen, stem from the heart.
He does not read books but makes up for that by being updated on world events, sports, music and global cinema. He respects a journalist's metier and the complexities that come with it. He takes criticism positively and in fact, insists upon truthspeak. Unbelievable but true.
Around 1999, after a preview of Aa Ab Laut Chalen, the first movie he directed (and so far, his last alas), he insisted, "Give it to me straight. If you hated it, just slay me." No one has ever said that. Chances are that no one ever will.
<b1>In a business built on inflated egos and arrogance, Rishi Kapoor aka Chintu, is an exception to the rule.
Rishi Kapoor, the second of Raj Kapoor's three sons, has not diminished in self-pride but surprisingly enough, there has been no display of narcissism either. His performances have that ideal combination of spontaneity and intelligence.
He does not read books but makes up for that by being updated on world events, sports, music and global cinema. Intuitively, he enjoys life and effortlessly transmits that quality to film entertainment.
I had the privilege of directing him in a brief but absolutely key role in Tehzeeb. That he gives himself to the director, no questions asked, was apparent. Even if he wanted to take three steps back from the camera than the two asked for, like a schoolboy he would ask, "Is it okay if I do that.. with your permission?"
The film featured him with Shabana Azmi, belonging to two entirely different schools of acting. Rishi Kapoor would go for each line of dialogue and execute each scene of drama instinctively, naturally. Azmi would mind-scan for motivation and correctness.
Both schools have their infinite value. At the end of the five-day shoot with Rishi Kapoor, I came away more informed about the art of acting.
And that is, like all human beings, an artiste has his or her own rhythm and reason. Chintu's artistry has been unpractised, uncalculated and yet dot-on, achieving psychological acuity without striving to.
Perhaps that's why his subtler, gallant performances have not been justly appreciated. For instance, Kamal Haasan had the script-backed part in Saagar, the loser who strives to win the girl, and goes ballistic with gimmicks. Rishi Kapoor did not have to do that. After all, when it comes to romance, there hasn't been an equal among his peers.
He was the privileged suitor in Saagar, he didn't exactly have the upper hand, but he did every scene assigned to him with love in his eyes, and needless to add, conviction in the heart.
Similarly, in Damini, he had a thankless part, what with the most dramatic scenes allocated to the eponymous heroine and a drunken lawyer looking for redemption. Sunny Deol became the film's talking point.
But check the Damini DVD out, Rishi Kapoor's performance is a jewel. He avoids smarts and doesn't ever hog extra camera space. He listens, he reacts as he would in real life.
Perhaps two directors have understood Rishi Kapoor's artistry far more than the others. The two are led, of course, by Raj Kapoor who moulded his son's technique and emotional contact with the camera, initially with Mera Naam Joker (in which Chintu was a preteenager infatuated by his schoolteacher) and then Bobby (the teenage love classic).
Then Prem Rog imbued the actor with a progressive spirit, while dealing with the subject of widow remarriage. It is tempting to think of Chintu in Ram Teri Ganga Maili, but the leading man's role was sub-let to brother Rajiv Kapoor.
Like father like son
Quite naturally, like his father before him, Chintu has been at home acting for the RK home banner, as evidenced again in Henna directed by big brother Randhir Kapoor.
Prem Granth, directed by Rajiv, was well-intentioned and not without its merits, but since a box-office downer is hardly ever discussed, it has been relagated to the archives.
Manomohan Desai, was the other director who celebrated the young fun-filled candour of Rishi Kapoor, even convincing the viewer that the actor could be the brother of the lanky, absolutely physically disparate Amitabh Bachchan.
<b4>Through Amar Akbar Anthony and Naseeb, Bachchan and Kapoor became a pair of brothers who still have to be equalled in movie lore. Desai didn't employ Rishi Kapoor to his fullest capacity in Coolie, but well, by then, it was the Bachchan reign, all the choicest moments being assigned to the monopolist.
Nasir Hussain, the master of holiday romances in hilltowns, also presented the actor with a joie de vivre in Hum Kisise Kum Nahin. Ditto one-off entertainers with other directors, or smile fests like Raffoo Chakkar and Khel Khel Mein.
Yash Chopra would pack him in a star-packed carton; yet there's no doubt that the actor's individuality couldn't be repressed, be it in
Kabhi Kabhie, Chandni
Rishi Kapoor has been through the gamut: a medium-budget triangular frisson (
), a period love story (
), unexpectedly even a rustic
), and that genre peculiar to our cinema, the snake movie (
Today, he is saluted for his
dancing skills in
Om Shanti Om
. And you wonder, can the kids of the new millennium ever move like him? Only no one credits him as the guy who flagged off the disco musicals.
At the onset of the 2000s, there was a lull, a switchover had to be negotiated from leading roles (as in Kaarobar and Daraar) to supporting parts (Raju Chacha).
Wonderfully, after the inevitable hiccups the switch has been achieved (Fanaa, Namastey London). He's back zipping from one studio to the other, from one continent to the other.
I smile when I think Rishi. But wait I frown too, dammit why doesn't he direct again?
Aa ab launch karein
Rishi Kapoor holds the record of having worked with the maximum number of debutantes-16 at last count. A pick of 10 actresses, who were introduced opposite Rishi Kapoor.. Dimple Kapadia – Bobby, Shoma Anand - Barood, Jaya Prada-Sargam (her first major Hindi film), Padmini Kolhapure- Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai (her first big film as an adult), Gautami - Naqab (her first Hindi film), Zeba Bakhtiar – Henna, Ashwini Bhave – Henna (her first Hindi film), Sonam – Vijay, Divya Bharati-Deewana (her first major Hindi film), Tabu-Pehla Pehla Pyar.
And the ones time forgot:
Kaajal Kiron - Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, Ranjeeta-Laila Majnu, Radhika - Naseeb Apna Apna (her first Hindi film), Bhavana Bhatt- Naya Daur, Naseem- Kabhi Kabhie, Vineeta - Janam