Why Rishi Kapoor was called the 'debut king': Multiple actresses started their film careers opposite the evergreen star
Given the number of actresses who made their debut opposite Rishi Kapoor, including Dimple Kapadia and Padmini Kolahpure, he was considered a lucky charm.
While the epithet 'debut king' might not come to mind as readily as the others bestowed upon Rishi Kapoor in the course of his five-decade career, it is the one that has no parallels.
The first film to feature Kapoor as the leading man, Bobby (1973), also marked the debut of Dimple Kapadia, and the success of the film made them one of the most sought-after pairs in popular Hindi films. If on one hand, Kapoor appeared too young to be paired opposite the much-established actresses such as Hema Malini, Mumtaz, Jaya Bhaduri, Rekha, and Zeenat Aman to name a few, on the other hand, things got complicated when Kapadia quit films soon after the release of Bobby.
Most of the films Kapadia had been zeroed in to feature in opposite Kapoor went to a certain Neetu Singh, who formed an unforgettable partnership with Kapoor both on- and off-screen. For the rest of the films, there was usually someone new who was cast opposite Kapoor. This started the legacy of Kapoor becoming the leading man opposite whom a record number of actresses, such as Kaajal Kiran, Shoma Anand, and Ranjeeta Kaur debuted from the 1970s up until the likes of Tabu in the mid-1990s.
Kapoor’s association with Neetu started with his second film, Zahreela Insaan (1974), which also featured the then-newcomer Moushumi Chatterji. His initial films Zinda Dil (1975), Rafoo Chakkar (1975), and Khel Khel Mein (1975) mostly featured Neetu or other newcomers such as Sulakshana Pandit in Raaja (1975). In a way, the first established female lead cast opposite him was Parveen Babi in Rangila Ratan (1976). A few of the biggest box-office hits of the 1970s, such as Kabhi Kabhie (1975), Laila Majnu (1976), Barood (1976), Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977), and Sargam (1979) that featured Kapoor, marked the debuts of actresses in roles opposite him.
In Kabhi Kabhie, Naseem, who was Mumtaz’s cousin, played the second female lead opposite Kapoor. Ranjeeta featured as Laila in HS Rawail’s Laila Majnu, and Jaya Prada made her Hindi film debut in the smash hit Sargam. While Naseem quit movies after Kabhi Kabhie, Ranjeeta never acted with her first leading man again but Jaya went on to work with Kapoor in many films. They also had one of the most popular songs of the 1980s, ‘Pathjhad Saawan Basant Bahar' from Sindoor (1987) picturised on them.
Despite being a part of blockbuster hits of the 1970s, both Shoma and Kaajal, who debuted opposite Kapoor in Barood and Hum Kisise Kum Naheen respectively, could not crack the A-list. Anand was cast opposite Kapoor in Coolie (1983) but later got relegated to playing the villainous supporting roles as the hero’s evil sister or the heroine’s bhabhi thorough the 1980s, while Kajal most famously featured in Wardaat (1981), one of Mithun Chakraborty’s Gunmaster G-9 films, and Hum Se Badkar Kaun (1981) before fading away.
In the 1980s, Rishi Kapoor continued to the star opposite a few of the most popular actresses of the decade, such as Padmini Kolhapure and Sonam in their earliest films. Although Kolhapure debuted in Ahista Ahista (1981), a few months later, she featured in Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981) opposite Kapoor. He was the male lead in Kapadia’s comeback film Saagar (1985), and Sonam made her debut in Yash Chopra’s Vijay (1988) opposite Kapoor.
A few of the other actresses whose first film also featured Kapoor were Vineeta in Janam Jannam (1988), and Mita Vashist in Chandni (1989). Following the footsteps of Jaya Prada, Telugu star Radhika also made her Hindi debut in Rishi Kapoor-starrer Naseeb Apna Apna (1986), and another popular South Indian actress, Gautami, made her Hindi film debut opposite Kapoor in Naqab (1989), which was also the last film directed by Raj Khosla.
Even in the 1990s, when a slew of younger stars had arrived on the scene, Kapoor continued to be the leading man, opposite whom actresses such as Tabu and a few others made their debut. Raj Kapoor’s unfinished Henna (1991) marked the debut of Pakistani actress Zeba Bhaktiar and Ashwini Bhave, once again with Rishi Kapoor as the male lead. Many people often consider Vijaypath (1994) to be Tabu’s debut but it was Pehla Pehla Pyar (1994), where she made her debut. Written by Honey Irani, the film featured Kapoor in the lead, and was directed by cinematographer Manmohan Singh. The last actress to debut in a film that featured Rishi Kapoor was Alia Bhatt in Student of the Year (2102).
It is not like Kapoor was a part of films where actresses made their debuts. Kapoor was also a part of one of the biggest debuts of the 1990s, Shah Rukh Khan in Deewana (1992). A much popular TV star, SRK’s debut featured him as the 'second-lead' opposite Kapoor.
Similarly, Kapoor was also the 'star' oppose whom Malayalam superstar Mammootty made his Hindi debut in Dhartiputra (1993), and Arbaaz Khan started his career in Daraar (1996). Kapoor also featured in the feature film debuts of the progeny of a few of his colleagues, Shatrughan Singh’s son Luv Sinha in Sadiyaan: Boundaries Divide... Love Unites (2010), David Dhawan’s son Varun Dhawan in Student of the Year, and producer Vashu Bhagnani’s son Jackky Bhagnani in Kal Kissne Dekha (2009).
Looking at the number of people who started their careers opposite Rishi Kapoor, it would be incorrect to say that he was indeed a 'good luck charm' for newcomers.
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