Rishi Kapoor's films Do Dooni Chaar, Kapoor & Sons, 102 Not Out gave crucial advice on sustainability, family and death
While Rishi Kapoor gave an important lockdown lesson in Do Dooni Chaar, his films Kapoor & Sons and 102 Not Out showed how to live to the fullest on the cusp of death.
The 2010 film Do Dooni Chaar represented the peak of Rishi Kapoor’s much-acclaimed second coming in Bollywood, this time as a shape-shifting character actor.
The film followed the misadventures of the Duggals, a quintessential Delhi middle-class family, led by schoolteacher Santosh (Rishi), his wife Kusum (Neetu Kapoor), and their two teenagers Payal (Aditi Vasudev) and Deepu (Archit Krishna). A pivotal scene in the first half encapsulates the chief concern of the plot: Santosh (perfectly content lugging around his ancient scooter everywhere) has to arrive at his sister Urmi’s (Supriya Shukla) in-laws’ place for a wedding — in a car; otherwise he will become the laughing stock of the party. This is class-conscious Delhi after all (even if the actual wedding party is in Meerut). When Urmi is beseeching Santosh to buy a car in time for the wedding, he grows exasperated, and delivers one of the best lines in the film.
“Keh dena Mercedes gaadi mein aa rahe thay, takkar ho gayi truck se, Mercedes khatam, family bhi full and final!” (Tell them we were all coming in a Mercedes when a truck ran us over mid-way. The Mercedes was destroyed, the family died too”)
Note how the hypothetical human deaths are described only after that of the Mercedes and that too in dry, unemotional terms, using contractual language (“full and final”). Delivered with Kapoor’s trademark Punjabi gusto, this line neatly sums up the film’s central dilemma: how to live with dignity during tough times, financial or otherwise. Throughout the film, Santosh, a math teacher, is forced to confront one tyrannical number after another: his stagnant salary (20,000 rupees), the exorbitant cost of even a small, basic car (338,000 rupees), the number of days he has to procure said car before his sister’s in-laws make fun of his family (15).
The Mercedes dialogue also unwittingly foreshadowed a recurring concern that marked the late actor’s final decade in cinema (2010-20): mortality, and how we make our peace with the concept. The two films that kept this concern front and centre were Kapoor & Sons (2016) and 102 Not Out (2018).
Kapoor & Sons was a very different kind of family drama from Do Dooni Chaar — and so Rishi Kapoor’s character was poles apart from Santosh Duggal too. Here, the veteran played Amarjeet Kapoor, the ailing 90-year-old grandfather of the protagonists, Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra) and Rahul (Fawad Khan). Amarjeet is everything Duggal was not — loud, inappropriate, flamboyant, and hell-bent on extracting every little sliver of joy from the world before it is his time to go. In a memorable scene, he smokes a joint with the laid-back Arjun, and the two try (very incompetently) to hide the fact from the more uptight, straight-A's Rahul. Again and again, Amarjeet advises those around him to stop and smell the roses — and also communicates, in his roundabout way, that death does not scare him, not nearly as much as the splintering of his beloved family.
The final scene of the film shows Amarjeet’s long-delayed wish coming true — the Kapoors united for that perfect family photo, with a cardboard cut-out standing in for his recently deceased son Harsh (Rajat Kapoor). The cut-out was both a reference from the TV show The Sopranos, one of the great mortality stories of the 21st century (a scene in the last season sees Tony Soprano employing a cutout to honour his deceased friend Silvio Dante) – and a final reminder to the audience that some things do manage to transcend even death.
The mortality theme was even more prominent in 102 Not Out (2018), in which Kapoor starred alongside Amitabh Bachchan. Here, the shoe was on the other foot — Kapoor played a grumpy, irritable 76-year-old, Babulal Vakharia, whose father Dattatreya (Bachchan) is the titular garrulous 102-year-old man. Dattatreya is generally up to some high-energy mischief, and cannot fathom how his relatively ‘young’ son does not share his zest for life. On his part, Babulal is fed up that even at 102 years of age, his father refuses to conform to society’s expectations of ‘age-appropriate’ behavior.
Throughout the movie, Dattatreya keeps reminding Babulal that although the latter is just 76, he is more ‘dead’ than his 102-year-old father because he has, consciously or not, shut off the pleasure centres of his brain in the name of conformism. 102 Not Out is nowhere near as good as Do Dooni Chaar or even Kapoor & Sons, but it is a pleasure to see the two greats riff off each other. Bachchan, Kapoor, and the late Vinod Khanna, of course, gave us Amar Akbar Anthony all those years ago — it remains one of the films you simply have to watch if you seek to understand Bollywood’s beating heart. Of the three, only Anthony (Bachchan) remains now.
Rishi Kapoor, like Irrfan Khan, died in the middle of a pandemic. So, he’ll probably be robbed of the large-scale farewells he deserved. But Do Dooni Chaar, Kapoor & Sons, and 102 Not Out remind us of some life lessons that feel very timely indeed — living frugally during a time of scarcity, maintaining your dignity in the face of some of the uglier kinds of peer pressure. And, of course, treating Death not as the arch-enemy but as on old friend so that we may focus on the things that can and will outlive every last one of us — love, respect, kindness, and family.
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