Rishi Kapoor passes away: How the gifted actor outshone his contemporaries to cement a five-decade long career

Although Rishi Kapoor is often rightfully credited with greatness for the work that spanned across nearly five decades, he is not seen as one of the greatest survivors who beat all odds.

Gautam Chintamani May 01, 2020 16:14:43 IST
Rishi Kapoor passes away: How the gifted actor outshone his contemporaries to cement a five-decade long career

Although Rishi Kapoor is often rightfully credited with greatness for the work that spanned across nearly five decades, he is not seen as one of the greatest survivors who beat all odds.

Despite being to the manor born and the possibility of opportunities opening up at the drop of a hat, the deck was always stacked against Rishi Kapoor. For starters, he was Raj Kapoor’s son, which in other words meant, that no matter what he did would be compared to his father’s legacy, and invariably fall short. Add to that the inevitability of being an afterthought in the initial part of his career thanks to the environment of popular Hindi films that were in the midst of the action phase.

Announcing his arrival with a fantastic debut in Bobby (1973) that was nestled between the peak of Rajesh Khanna juggernaut and the arrival of Angry Young Man, Rishi Kapoor not only survived the two but also created a special space for himself that was second to none.

The world first saw Rishi Kapoor, the actor, in Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker (1970) as the younger version of the character that his father played in the film. Playing a school student who develops a crush for his teacher, Simi Garewal, the young Rishi Kapoor displayed a great understanding of the craft, and the fact that his segment is considered to be the best of the film is perhaps the best testimony. The failure of Mera Naam Joker had little bearing on his future but ensured that Raj Kapoor packed all the punches when it came to launching Rishi Kapoor as the leading man in Bobby (1973).

Rishi Kapoor passes away How the gifted actor outshone his contemporaries to cement a fivedecade long career

Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia in Bobby

Although Bobby captured the imagination of the young across India and became a milestone, it did little for Rishi Kapoor as the mood of the industry was changing with the success of another film that released in the same year, Zanjeer. Irrespective of the fact that Kapoor could have never cut as an action star, something that the much established leading men like Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra and even Shatrughan Sinha could have managed, he never remained in either their shadow or the one who lead the charge: Amitabh Bachchan.

In 1975, when the lexicon of popular Hindi films changed with Sholay, Dharmatma, Deewar, and Pratigyaa, as well as Aandhi, Nishant, Chupke Chupke, Kapoor had two of the most popular hits of the year in Khel Khel Mein and Rafoo Chakkar. Kapoor’s ease with the typical Hindi film elements — song, dance, and a little bit drama, action but most importantly, romance — made him a unique star who could always manage to find his place in the sun.

Be it solo films Laila Majnu (1976), Barood (1976), Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977), and Doosra Aadmi (1977), or the multi-starrer such as Kabhie Kabhie (1976) and Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Kapoor was a part of some of the most iconic films of the 1970s.

Rishi Kapoor passes away How the gifted actor outshone his contemporaries to cement a fivedecade long career

Rishi Kapoor in a still from Amar Akbar Anthony

In Kabhi Kabhie, a film that he essentially said yes to be around his then-girlfriend and later wife Neetu Singh, Rishi Kapoor not only had the least author-backed role when compared to Amitabh Bachchan, Rakhee, Shashi Kapoor, Waheeda Rehman and Neetu Singh but also the most difficult character to portray. He had initially thought of walking out of the film after the first schedule but Yash Chopra convinced him to carry on, and in the end, what you got was one of the most understated performances of the decade. The same way, Kapoor’s Akbar Illahabdi matches Bachchan’s Anthony Gonsalves step for step in Amar, Akbar Anthony, and rarely missed a beat.

Rishi Kapoor passes away How the gifted actor outshone his contemporaries to cement a fivedecade long career

Rishi Kapoor in Hum Kisise Kum Naheen

For nearly a decade between 1975 and 1985, when action and two-hero projects became the mainstay, Kapoor had many solo films that kept him in circulation and nearly every film of his was blessed with phenomenal music that became chartbusters. With films Hum Kisise Kum Naheen, Kapoor delivered one of the biggest hits of the 1970s that did not feature Amitabh Bachchan or the others such as screenwriters Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar. Similarly, in Sargam (1979), Kapoor had a great box-office hit with Laxmikant-Pyarelal songs like 'Dafiwaale' and 'Ram ji Nikli Swari' that dominated the airwaves, and also Doosra Aadmi, a soundtrack that has survived beautifully. Kapoor’s brand of films, his onscreen persona peaked with Subhash Ghai’s Karz (1980) and Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981) and while both failed to live up to the expectations at the box office, they have enjoyed a cult following and are counted amongst the most memorable films of the era.

In the 1980s, when actors like Vinod Khanna, Dharmendra, and Shatrughan Sinha embraced the multi-starrer bandwagon with films like Shaan (1980), Kudrat (1981) and Rajput (1982), Rishi Kapoor tried to experiment with his screen image. He took on roles that were slightly off the beaten track in films like Gunehgaar (1980), Duniya (1984) and Sitamgar (1985) but their failure pushed him to seek the same old safety of the familiar.

The way Kamal Haasan walked away with all the glory in Saagar (1985), and also the commercial failure of the film finally pushed Kapoor towards the multi-starrers. He became a staple in the action and family dramas like Dosti Dushmani (1986), Hawalaat (1987), Vijay (1988), Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani (1988), Bade Ghar Ki Beti (1989), Apna Ghar (1989), and Paraya Ghar (1989). Interestingly enough, the year where Amitabh Bachchan’s stature as a superstar was questioned with the failure of Toofan (1989) and Jaadugar (1989), Rishi Kapoor was at his best with Khoj (1989), Hathyar (1989) and Chandni (1989).

Rishi Kapoor passes away How the gifted actor outshone his contemporaries to cement a fivedecade long career

Rishi Kapoor with Sridevi in Chandni

Chandni marked the return to form of Yash Chopra who reclaimed the ‘pasha of romance’ title. Kapoor was in his element in the film that also Sridevi and Vinod Khanna besides a great soundtrack that had lyrics by Anand Bakshi and was composed by Shiv-Hari. In the Ramsay Brothers’ Khoj, Kapoor played a hapless businessman pretending to search for his wife, who he has killed, and in J.P. Dutta’s Hathyar, Kapoor plays the soft-spoken Samiulla Khan, who prefers to earn an honest living unlike his gangster brother Khushal Khan (Dharmendra).

With Hathyar, and to some extent, Khoj as well, Kapoor appeared to hint at the wonderful possibility his second innings could become but, unfortunately, the industry was not ready as yet. In the 1990s, Kapoor enjoyed a late streak of success both commercially and critically with Deewana (1992), Bol Radha Bol (1992) and Damini (1992).

Today, when you see Damini, where both on and off-screen his co-stars Meenakshi Seshadri and Sunny Deol walked away with the accolades, you realise that there were only a few actors who could pull of what Kapoor managed. Without any pomp and show, Kapoor silently manages to elevate the role of the helpless husband torn between his wife Damini (Meenakshi Seshadri) and his family, who mutely watches a lawyer (Sunny Deol) don the hero’s mantle.

Rishi Kapoor’s second coming as an actor outshines most of the roles that he got while he was a leading man. It was no secret that he was also happy that roles were finally challenging him and the joy of roles being written with him in mind made the actor within happy. Watching him play the oily producer Romy Rolly in Luck By Chance (2009) revealed a side of Kapoor that was never really explored before and later his Veer Singh in Love Aaj Kal (2009), Santosh Duggal in Do Dooni Chaar (2010), the mean Rauf Lala in Agneepath (2012), the corrupt cop Ravikant in Aurangzeb (2013) and Amarjeet Kapoor in Kapoor & Sons (2016) were indications of the brilliance that was finally coming into its own.

Rishi Kapoor had the flamboyance of a star, the effervescence of a naturally gifted actor and the panache that was lacking in many of his contemporaries. If in the 1970s, he survived bigger stars, in his second innings he showed how he was probably better than most of them. He was one of the few remnants of the past that had organically found a space with the changing time and his loss might never be filled.

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