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June 2, 1998


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'He was very comfortable with the common man'

Raj Kapoor Click for bigger pic!

He gave a lot of himself to his people and I am not talking of money here. He would often visit their houses. Even when he had a fight with one of them and they walked off in a huff, he would go the next day and almost fall at their feet and get them back. He invested a lot of himself in these personal relationships.

He was a very temperamental person too, particularly while making a film. By the time of Ram Teri Ganga Maili his health had deteriorated. He used to lose his temper quite often on the sets. He was a hard taskmaster that way. But he knew exactly what he wanted.

Technically he was perfect. One more thing, and that is again a important thing about him, is that he, along with a few others like Vijay Anand and Raj Khosla, was a master at song picturisation.

Rajsaab would visualise the film in a very operatic style, along with the songs. I will tell you a story regarding this: Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai was being finalised -- it was his first film after he and Nargis parted. It was set in the ravines of Jabalpur and had a Gandhian message of love for humanity.

I was there when he finished the script. He was more or less satisfied with it. So he called Shanker and Jaikishen and told them that he was sending the writer over to narrate the script to them. That night both music directors rang up Rajsaab separately and asked him why he was making a film, which has no scope for any music or dance. There was no beauty, no Kashmir, no romance, nothing.

They were both very indignant about it. Rajsaab called them over for dinner the next day. The next day, after two pegs (he loved drinking), he was on the top of the world and he started the narration in that state.

He enacted the roles, the scenes and the songs for them too. He brought in each song sequence into his narration. He brought the whole thing alive for them. They could see what he had already had seen. And they knew what music they could give. Incidentally, the music in that film, were big hits. And this was very typical of all his films.

He was a great admirer of Charlie Chaplin. On the way back from a film festival in Russia, he and Nargis went to Switzerland and met Chaplin who used to live in a villa there. He was a good friend of Danny Kaye. Whenever he went to America, he would be with Kaye.

Whenever Zubin Mehta came to Bombay, he used stay with the Kapoors for a weekend secretly. Nobody would know where Mehta was. There was something about the little man (Chaplin) in him. He had a premonition about his death, and he talked about it to me often. Because of his health, he was on a strict diet, but sometimes he would overeat; sometimes he would not eat at all.

Every evening, he would go to the Chembur railway station. People would be returning from work and the area would be really crowded with people entering and leaving the station. And there was this pani puri stall and tea shop there. He would like to sit on the footpath before these shops and there would be people coming and sitting around him eating those pani puris.

And they would talk with him. He was very comfortable with the common man. He hated to wear suits, ties and shoes. Surprisingly, he was never violently mobbed. People took him as one of them and never harassed him. This was a regular thing on evenings when he had nothing much to do...

His fascination with the lady in white started in childhood and remained with him till the end. All his heroines wore white once they began their association with him. His wife favoured white sarees too. When Nargis was the heroine of his films, she was popularly known in the film press and in film circles as the woman in white.

Lata Mangeshkar too was another and to this day she dresses up mostly in white. Padmini and Vyjayanthimala, so long as they were in the RK camp, also wore white. Raj Kapoor's favourite flowers were tuberoses and white mogras. He himself preferred a white kurta and trousers.

Bunny Reuben with Raj Kapoor. Click for bigger pic!
He was popular all over the world. In 1964, after the shooting of Sangam, he went to London for the technicolour prints. He, his wife and his chief technicians were all there.

Going to the theatre was considered a major cultural activity then. Fiddler On The Roof performed by Topol was playing at one of the theatres.

It was Rajsaab's first introduction to opera and he had booked front seats though they were very expensive. Topol saw Raj Kapoor sitting there and when the play was over, he came to take his bow.

After some time, he motioned for silence and then he said, "Ladies and gentlemen, there is a misconception that I am Israel's most popular actor. That's wrong. I am the second most popular man, the first being Raj Kapoor of India, who is present here with us today."

Saying this he called Rajsaab to the stage to a standing ovation. This is a fact. He really was a most popular actor and everybody knew who he was. The bigger a star becomes, the more he becomes inaccessible to people. But with Raj Kapoor it was different -- he became one with them.

He did face a lot of flak for Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram partly because he had glamourised the Adivasi girl. But we are also big hypocrites there. He was just trying to say what he had already said in Aag -- that beauty of the soul and heart is more important than the beauty of the body. This is what he wanted to say here and somehow the sex angle got more magnified.

I remember shortly after the film was released, I had been invited to a function where I had to talk about films and public relations. There was this gentleman who kept saying that we were the ones who had given out the naked photos of Zeenat Aman to the press.

I got a little angry and told him that if he minded the photos, why did he print them in his paper. He should have thrown them out. The fact was that they lapped it up. The flak was more media-generated than anything else.

Rajsaab's intentions were clear. He always told me that every Indian who saw the film has nothing good to say about the film, but every foreigner had appreciated the film. So there is a difference in the attitude of Indian people towards life and sex. But the film was not a flop by any standards. It made a lot of money too.

This is a profession where people work very closely with each other day after day. One can't help the intimacy that is formed. When it happens, it happens in a big way.

Raj Kapoor was not the only man to have gone through this. There have been love affairs which, for some reason or the other, have not culminated in marriage. But the profession demanded that you work closely and get so involved in the character that this attraction cannot be helped.

In all creative fields, it is the personal element that makes the art more than mechanical. When you are personally involved, the vibes are different and that is apparent on the screen.

One thing about Raj Kapoor is that when he wanted somebody for a film, he would go to any lengths to have his way. The same happened with Lata. There was this argument between them about the royalty Lata had demanded and Rajsaab didn't want to pay.

They parted but he brought her back for Bobby and Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram because he knew that only she could do justice to the songs. He was a great visualiser and he knew what he wanted from whom. So he agreed to her terms and they came back together. Raj Kapoor would have long musical sessions with Lata Mangeshkar.

At those times he used to have random thoughts about a plain girl whose soul cried for recognition in an unheeding and indifferent world soon began to take shape. He narrated the story to her and then made a daring proposal that she not only sing for the film but act in it too. This was three decades ago; it was made with Zeenat Aman finally.

Rajsaab's first priority was work. Always work. Raj Kapoor had the ability to grab you inside and make you his for life. I have had so many letters from total strangers saying that when he went to Ahmedabad or some other place and when they met him, how he was and how they had like him for it. They had very fond memories about hi

He had the capacity to win a person over. But it is very difficult to live with a genius. And the people who are closest to him had to make a lot of sacrifices. Bhabhiji (Krishna Kapoor) has been a great lady. She has gone through a lot, and she is a cultured lady. There is nobody like her in the industry. They have a tradition in their family that on Rajsaab's birthday, they would feed all the children of the orphanage nearby. She continues this even today.


Pics taken with permission from Bunny Reuben's Raj Kapoor -- an intimate biography

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