I would have to say that Rishi Kapoor is one of the most underrated cinematic youth icons of the latter 20th century. His onscreen exuberant charm, which was a melting pot of all the great qualities of his father, Raj Kapoor, and his two uncles, Shashi and Shammi combined, often came together in films that really made full use of those very qualities. His boyish brash attitude, his sardonic smile, his childish cheekiness, all added to his onscreen success. And for a short while, his energy seemed to permeate the very dullness of 1970s Hindi films, which is the only reason those films are watchable even today.
Let me take you down a selection of some of those films and the music that made Rishi Kapoor the indispensable contribution to Hindi films today.
My first experience of Rishi Kapoor was the ’76 film Kabhie Kabhie and the song Tere Phoolon Jaisa Rang. In an otherwise brooding relationship melodrama, this song was one of the energy filled spots that made me sit up and notice this curly-haired young man. And sitting there in my seat in that darkened cinema hall, I felt this young man’s excitement for this gorgeous young girl, actress Naseem Banu, he was singing to.
Then came Bobby (1973), which I saw one Sunday evening on Doordarshan. As we know, it was Rishi Kapoor’s first film as a leading man, and it still stands today as one of the legendary teen-romances ever made, and the most successful too. Here he lets loose in the Bollywood-ised Goan folk song, Na Maangoon Sona Chandi.
One of my great cinematic childhood memories is Amar Akbar Anthony (1977); those were the days when if I really liked the film I would go back to the theatre to see it repeatedly. And this was one film that brought me back a few times. Although Mr Bachchan had become quite the superstar by then, Rishi Kapoor held his own along with Vinod Khanna. But it was Rishi Kapoor’s portrayal as the qawwal, Akbar, pining for Tayyab Ali’s daughter Neetu Singh that had the audiences dancing in the aisles. Pardah hai Pardah..indeed.
Now although Rishi Kapoor turned in many memorable performances in films like Sargam, Laila Majnu, Aap ke Deewane, Naseeb, Duniya Meri Jeb Mein, Hathyar, Damini, Chandni, Luck By Chance etc, for me the quintessential youthful and romantic Rishi Kapoor will be five films. And the music of those five films.
Those five films are, Raffoo Chakkar (one of the first films that dealt with same-sex love), Khel Khel Mein (both 1975), Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (1977), Karz (1980) and Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981). These five films are the pride and joy of the cinematic Rishi Kapoor. His subsequent body of work, which is equally successful, pales in comparison to the vibrancy and youthfulness of these five films.
We are all intrinsically familiar with the music of all these films and the songs are now part of Indian pop culture. And I can say with full conviction that none of the above five films could have ever been made without Rishi Kapoor in them.
Mr Rishi Kapoor turns 52 this Friday, but cinematically he will eternally be the fresh-faced, naughty-natured, tousled-haired, sweet bird of youth.. if I may say so.