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Rishi Kapoor, the prince of romance

March 20, 2003 16:16 IST

Dinesh Raheja

He was born in 1952 to the first family of Hindi cinema, the Kapoor clan. But if there is one actor who has truly vindicated his claim to fame, it is Rishi Kapoor.Rishi Kapoor

Rishi won a National Award when he was barely 18 for his sensitive portrayal of a teenager's first crush in father Raj Kapoor's semi-autobiographical opus, Mera Naam Joker.

The young actor became catnip to college girls at 21, when his dad next helmed him in that perennially popular l'amour tale, Bobby.

Rishi then provided a launch pad to a legion of fledgling heroines: Dimple (Bobby), Kajal Kiron (Hum Kisise Kum Nahin), Shoma Anand (Barood), Bhavna (Naya Daur), Jaya Prada (Sargam), Naseem (Kabhi Kabhie), Sonam (Vijay) and Divya Bharti (Deewana).

He has a huge cache of hit songs to his credit and thrived as a top star for 25 years. But Rishi's biggest claim to fame is that unmistakable, inherent talent: his ability to fuse seamlessly with his character.

Even if he unapologetically worked in commercial films, believability was his calling card and he worked hard to achieve it. In Amar Akbar Anthony, Rishi wore a double-knit fabric trouser, a netted see-through shirt and chewed paan to get a feel of his character. To lend throb to the dafliwala in Sargam, Rishi shrugged his shoulders before playing the dafli, a trait he picked up from a father-son duo of dafli players. It led to an impressed Amitabh Bachchan complimenting Rishi on his ability to dance, sing and play the dafli simultaneously.

Chintu, as Rishi is fondly addressed, was always passionate about acting. His bedroom mirror was his earliest confidante and he would try out various expressions in front of it.

Rishi Kapoor's landmark films
 Year  Film Costars
 1973  Bobby  Dimple Kapadia
 1975  Khel Khel Mein   Neetu Singh
 1975  Rafoo Chakkar  Neetu Singh
 1977  Amar Akbar Anthony  Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Shabana Azmi, Parveen Babi, Neetu Singh
 1977  Hum Kisise Kum Nahin  Kaajal Kiron, Taariq
 1979  Sargam  Jayaprada
 1980  Karz  Tina Munim, Simi Garewal
 1982  Prem Rog

 Padmini Kolhapure

 1983  Coolie  Amitabh Bachchan, Rati Agnihotri, Shoma Anand
 1985  Tawaif  Rati Agnihotri
 1985  Sagar  Kamal Haasan, Dimple Kapadia
 1986  Nagin  Sridevi, Amrish Puri
 1989  Chandni  Sridevi, Vinod Khanna
 1991  Henna  Zeba, Ashwini Bhave
 1992  Bol Radha Bol  Juhi Chawla

When elder brother Randhir grew too old to play the role, a chubby Chintu stepped into the hallowed portals of RK Studios to play the young joker in his dad's mega movie, Mera Naam Joker. Chintu's performance as a plump adolescent Raju, whose senses are stirred by his attractive teacher Mary (Simi Garewal), and who struggles to come to terms with his ensuing guilt, was so mature, it belied his age.

Thrilled by the adulation, a barely-out-of-his-teens Chintu hankered for the lead role in his father's next production, Bobby. But he knew he stood a slim chance to bag it if he did not shed the extra kilos. A determined Chintu stayed away from steak (his favourite dish) and cut himself down to half his size.

Rishi eventually landed the role and won heady stardom playing Raja, a disenchanted, affection-deprived teenager who falls headlong for the beauteous and well-endowed Bobby (Dimple Kapadia), the daughter of a fun-loving fisherman (Premnath). If Dimple in the title role of Bobby sent hearts spiralling out of control, Chintu with his freshly sprouted moustache and lovelorn eyes did not lag far behind. He may have lost Dimple to reigning superstar Rajesh Khanna, but Khanna lost a sizeable chunk of his young fans to Rishi.

When Dimple quit the industry, Rishi found new heroines. In frolicsome entertainers like Rafoo Chakkar, Khel Khel Mein and Amar Akbar Anthony, the nattily dressed Neetu Singh complemented him beautifully. Soon after they played a couple whose marriage is coming apart at the seams in the underrated Doosra Aadmi, they married in real life too. 

Rishi's success coincided with Amitabh's ascent and the prince of romance had a difficult time stepping out of the tall shadow cast by the angry young man.

Sporadically, Rishi made valiant attempts to conform to the trend and star in vitriolic dramas like Zehreela Insaan and Gunehgar, but the audience shunned them, preferring to patronise his romances like Laila Majnu and Hum Kisise Kum Nahin.

Rishi Kapoor's famous songs
 Song  Film Singer
 Main shayar toh nahin  Bobby  Shailendra Singh
 O hansni kahan ud chali  Zehreela Insaan  Kishore Kumar
 Chuk chuk chak chak  Rafoo Chakkar  Asha Bhosle, Kanchan
 Ek main aur ek tu  Khel Khel Mein  Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle
 Tera phoolon jaisa rang  Kabhi Kabhie  Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar
 Main tere dar pe aaya hoon  Laila Majnu  Mohammed Rafi
 Hai agar dushman zamana   Hum Kisise Kum Nahin Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhosle
 Parda hai parda  Amar Akbar Anthony  Mohammad Rafi
 Dafliwale, dafli baja  Sargam  Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar
 Om shanti om  Karz  Kishore Kumar
 Chal mere bhai  Naseeb  Mohammed Rafi, Amitabh Bachchan
 Tu tu hai wohi  Yeh Vada Raha  Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle
 Meri kismet mein  Prem Rog  Suresh Wadkar
 Sagar jaisi aankhonwali  Sagar  Kishore Kumar
 Chandni tu meri chandni  Chandni  Jolly Mukherjee, Sridevi

The deft dafliwala of Sargam (1979), the pop singer who wants to avenge his own murder in Karz (1980), the love-obsessed rebel who proposes to a widow in Prem Rog (1982) reinforced one's belief in Rishi Kapoor as a sensitive actor with golden toes.

His films fuelled his lover boy-for-all-seasons image and Rishi became its prisoner. Besides, his early marriage seemed to disappoint his female fans. In the mid-1980s, Rishi's penchant for his evening quota of drinks manifested in a well-rounded physique. A seen-there-done-that lassitude set in. Élan gave way to ennui.

Still, Rishi acted his way back with Sridevi in Nagin. The hitherto choosy star signed a spate of films.

One of them was Yash Chopra's Chandni. Rishi played a man who shuns his love when he is crippled in an accident. The star delivered a perceptive performance capturing the anger, cynicism, self-loathing and the desire for sacrifice that stems from his helplessness.

The success of his home-production Henna, directed by brother Randhir, and the cacophonous David Dhawan comedy, Bol Radha Bol, delayed Rishi's fade-out but his widening girth resulted in a thinning out of roles.

He then attempted his hand at direction, but Aa Ab Laut Chalen, starring Akshaye Khanna and Aishwarya Rai, made under the RK banner, flopped at the box office.

Today, Rishi occasionally lends sparkle to lacklustre fare like Raju Chacha and Kucch To Hai; but a youth-centric industry can offer few roles that do not waste this fine actor's talents.

Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor. The next in line is Rishi's raring-to-act son, Ranbir. And Rishi has to ensure that the title of his home banner's film, Kal Aaj Aur Kal, stands the test of time.

 

Dinesh Raheja