Rishi Kapoor's book offers ringside view of Bollywood: On Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna

Rohini Nair

January 15, 2017 08:37:50 IST

This week marks the release of not one, but two big Bollywood autobiographies. The first is Rishi Kapoor’s Khullam Khulla: Uncensored, co-written with Meena Iyer (published by HarperCollins India), and the second, Karan Johar’s An Unsuitable Boy. The latter has been co-authored by Poonam Saxena.

Having read Khullam Khulla in its entirety, and just the prologue to Unsuitable Boy, one can safely say that perhaps it is Johar’s book that is probably more deserving of the ‘uncensored’ tag.

Rishi Kapoor in his debut film, Mera Naam Joker, at the age of 16

Rishi Kapoor in his debut film, Mera Naam Joker, at the age of 16

It isn't that Rishi Kapoor’s book lacks in frankness; he's held forth in detail about his famous family, his equations with his contemporaries, the highs and lows of his film career, the moviemaking business, and a couple of scandals. But being forthright or frank isn't quite the same as baring your soul. And Khullam Khulla, except in some instances, doesn't seem like a baring of Rishi Kapoor’s soul.

Kapoor admits right off the bat that he's led a charmed life — he begins with the moment of his birth, ‘under a lucky star’. The family members are all clustered around Krishna Raj Kapoor, as she's about to go into labour. There’s anxiety and concern, but also excitement and joy — all the emotions attendant to the coming of an infant. This is a scene made poignant however, by the fact that— as Rishi Kapoor points out — his father, Raj Kapoor, wasn't in love with his mother, at the time. Instead, he was enamoured with the leading lady who was also part of his film production company’s logo: Nargis.

It's the first of many revelations that Rishi Kapoor makes about his legendary father. He swiftly sketches a portrait of a man consumed by the making of movies (so much so that all his money was tunnelled into his cinematic projects), not the most expressive of fathers (but nonetheless a proud one), and a lover of the finer things in life. It is in talking of his father that Rishi Kapoor shares a revealing facet of himself. He recalls lying next to his mother as a small child, at their home in Deonar, and feeling desperately afraid when his father would sometimes return home drunk well after midnight. These inebriated homecomings never boded well as they would invariably lead to loud remonstrations between his parents, and Kapoor writes of being unable to let go entirely of the unpleasant memory.

Rishi and Neetu Kapoor. File Photo

Rishi and Neetu Kapoor. File Photo

Khullam Khulla is named after the hit song that Kapoor had with Neetu Singh, his co-star of many films who later became his wife. It starts off with Kapoor’s early years and family life, then his initiation into films with Mera Naam Joker and Bobby, three decades as a hero (with varying degrees of success), and then what he calls his ‘second innings’ (his critically lauded work in projects like Do Dooni Chaar and Kapoor & Sons). However, the narrative doesn't always follow a linear route: Kapoor goes back and forth in time as he talks about his contemporaries such as Amitabh Bachchan, Jeetendra, his leading ladies and the music of his films.

Kapoor has expressed his anger at Vyjayanthimala's denial of her relationship with Raj Kapoor. Here the actors are seen in 'Sangam'.

Kapoor has expressed his anger at Vyjayanthimala's denial of her relationship with Raj Kapoor. Here the actors are seen in 'Sangam'.

There are some sections of Khullam Khulla that feel like they were put in just to add to the page count and get it up to a respectable number. This is especially true in the places where Kapoor talks about how much things have changed in the film industry: there are paragraphs devoted to the better theatres and vanity vans (among other things) that we now have, which seem obvious, to say the least.

However, Kapoor does offer nuggets that are bound to grab attention:

On Vyjayanthimala

Kapoor alludes to the time when his mother moved out of the home she shared with Raj Kapoor, on finding out about his affair with Vyjayanthimala. While he doesn't dwell on it much, you can sense how much that disruption of their family life must have hurt, in the anger he expresses towards the legendary actress for denying her relationship with Raj Kapoor, in later years (Vyjayanthimala had said that there was no romantic relationship between herself and Kapoor senior; that it had been made up for publicity). Kapoor contends that she would never have said something of the sort during his father's lifetime, and that for her to reject a relationship that caused upheavals in so many lives, is wrong.

On Amitabh Bachchan

Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan are now family — Shweta Bachchan Nanda is married to Kapoor’s nephew Nikhil. He says that Bachchan is most punctilious in maintaining the relationship between the two families. However, Kapoor and Bachchan go a long way back, and have known each other as colleagues for decades before they were related by marriage. It must not have been an easy time, being an A-list actor at the same time the reign of the Angry Young Man was at its zenith. Kapoor admits his position was perhaps made more difficult by the fact that he was a quintessential romantic hero in an age that exalted the angry avenger. Kapoor’s forte lay in charming the ladies with song and dance, not in wreaking vengeance on the villainous.

With Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in 'Amar Akbar Anthony'

With Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in 'Amar Akbar Anthony'

However, Kapoor says all of the other leading actors of the time (including himself) were philosophical about Bachchan’s unequivocal numero uno status.

What he does flag as an issue is (what he sees as) Bachchan’s failure to acknowledge the role played by his co-stars in making his films a success/memorable. Kapoor acted in several films with Bachchan, so did his uncle Shashi Kapoor, as did several other actors. But Kapoor contends that while Bachchan made it a point to thank everyone — from the scriptwriters Salim-Javed to the other members of the crew for his films — he didn't have anything to say about his co-actors and it was hurtful to those peers who had willingly given up the better share of screen space to the superstar.

Kapoor also shows that he isn't afraid to turn a less than flattering light on his own self. He describes how he thoughtlessly paid Rs 30,000 at the suggestion of an acquaintance to win a Best Actor Award for Bobby; Bachchan was in the reckoning for Zanjeer that same year. Kapoor says the incident created a restraint between the two, and made the shoot of Kabhi Kabhie slightly strained. But by the time the duo worked together in Amar Akbar Anthony, the breach had healed and they became friends.

On Rajesh Khanna

Khanna is the other superstar of whom Kapoor speaks at considerable length. Rajesh Khanna was an admirer of Raj Kapoor and wanted to work with him. Kaka was the first choice for Satyam Shivam Sundaram — and how the role finally went to Shashi Kapoor may have had something to do with Rishi Kapoor (and some other members of the RK camp) being vehemently opposed to the former. Kapoor says he had no reason to be antagonistic towards Khanna — except that he had ‘taken away’ his first leading lady, Dimple Kapadia.

With Dimple Kapadia in 'Bobby'

With Dimple Kapadia in 'Bobby'

Kapoor writes of how he always felt protective and also a little possessive of Dimple, who made her debut in Bobby and became a lifelong family friend. Dimple had married Rajesh Khanna by the time Bobby released, and she opted out of films altogether until 10 years later, when she returned with Sagar (the marriage with Khanna had disintegrated, although the couple did have two daughters — Twinkle and Rinke). Kapoor says he spoke to Rajesh Khanna before signing on for Sagar opposite Dimple. By this time, he had gotten over his boyish resentments, and had also apologised for whatever part his actions may have played in ousting Kaka from Satyam Shivam Sundaram.

There's a treasure trove of anecdotes pertaining to others in the film industry, and this is where Khullam Khulla’s strength lies. For instance, Kapoor narrates how his successful onscreen pairing (and offscreen friendship) with Tina Munim led Sanjay Dutt (her then boyfriend) to come looking for him in a violent temper once; there's a drunken run-in of sorts with Javed Akhtar; a brief period of acrimony in his friendship with Jeetendra; and the unfortunate souring of his creative collaboration with Nasir Hussain.

With Neetu Singh in 'Khel Khel Main'

With Neetu Singh in 'Khel Khel Main'

More personal is an account that deals with Kapoor's slide into depression post-Karz, around the time when several of his films had flopped, and others had received a mixed  response. Not only did his depression make him lose confidence in front of the camera, Kapoor states that it did affect his relationship since he blamed his recent marriage to Neetu Singh for having diluted his draw as a screen heartthrob.

As for Neetu Singh herself, she comes across as a rock steady presence in Kapoor’s life — first as his girlfriend of several years, then as his wife of nearly four decades and the mother of Riddhima and Ranbir Kapoor.

In fact, it is an epilogue of sorts, written by Neetu Kapoor that says much about her husband. While she doesn't say it in those words, Rishi Kapoor comes across as a demanding man, one who doesn't like to be in second place in his wife's life — even if that number one spot is occupied by their children. Apparently, Kapoor would impose an 8.30 pm ‘deadline’ on Singh while they were dating so they could spend their evenings together. Neetu recounts being frantic on the rare occasion that she would miss her ‘curfew’. She also adds that while her husband does drive her up the wall at times, his endearing traits — his passion, his overwhelming love and loyalty towards the family — have kept her by his side.

In one part of Khullam Khulla, Kapoor admits that he is “an insular man”. Maybe that's one reason why this autobiography doesn't offer as much insight as a reader might hope for, beyond illuminating a life in the movies. But when the life is Rishi Kapoor’s, that ‘illumination’ is welcome.

Updated Date: Jan 16, 2017 09:52 AM