TWO days, two men. Both gone. Both walking away into the sunset, leaving behind an incredible cast of characters, a treasure trove of memories, and cornucopia of mythologies. Yesterday, it was Irrfan Khan, a master of the passions, today it is Rishi Kapoor, a master of the moment. Rishi Kapoor, or as he was fondly called ‘Chintu’ by his intimates, called it a day today after a two-year-long battle with cancer. He was 67.
Kapoor breathed his last this morning at the Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai where he was rushed last night following respiratory complaints.
A statement “Our dear Rishi Kapoor passed away peacefully at 8:45 am IST in hospital today after a two-year battle with leukaemia. The doctors and medical staff at the hospital said he kept them entertained to the last. He remained jovial and determined to live to the fullest right through two years of treatment across two continents. Family, friends, food and films remained his focus and everyone who met him during this time was amazed at how he did not let his illness get the better of him.”
Amitabh Bachchan, Kapoor’s co-star in many films, tweeted to the world at large: “He’s gone… Rishi Kapoor… Gone… Just passed away… I am destroyed.”
Rajinikanth wrote: “Heartbroken … Rest In Peace … my dearest friend.”
Many other celebrities, including Priyanka Chopra, Aamir Khan, Lata Mangeshkar, Anushka Sharma, Sachin Tendulkar, John Abraham, Kriti Sanon, Farhan Akhtar, Ajay Devgn, and Shahid Kapoor, amongst a host of others, paid tribute to the great thespian.
Rishi Kapoor (4 September 1952 — 30 April 2020), from the illustrious family of the Kapoors, the first family of Indian cinema, lived and breathed cinema. In a career of over 50 years, Kapoor did over 90 films. He is survived by his wife Neetu Singh Kapoor, herself a co-star of Kapoor’s in the early part of her husband’s career, and children actor Ranbir Kapoor and fashion designer Riddhima Kapoor.
Kapoor was born Rishi Raj Kapoor, in Chembur, in then Bombay, in a Punjabi family. The second son of actor-director Raj Kapoor, the “greatest showman of Indian cinema”, and his wife Krishna Raj Kapoor (née Malhotra), was also the grandson of actor Prithviraj Kapoor, one of the pioneers of Indian cinema.
His brothers, Randhir Kapoor and Rajiv Kapoor, maternal uncles, Prem Nath, Rajendra Nath, Narendra Nath and Prem Chopra, and paternal uncles, the illustrious Shashi Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor, were all accomplished actors. Kapoor schooled with his brothers at Campion School, Mumbai, and Mayo College, Ajmer.
Kapoor was destined for the big screen. His maiden appearance in cinema was in his father Raj Kapoor’s 1955 hit movie Shree 420 when he was barely all of three and was seen with two other children in the iconic Manna Dey-Lata Mangeshkar duet Pyar Hua, Iqraar Hua filmed on Raj Kapoor himself and his muse Nargis.
Kapoor made his official debut, again in another of Raj Kapoor’s classic, Mera Naam Joker,in 1970, where he played a young Raj Kapoor, a performance for which he received the National Film Award for Best Child Artist. His first work as a leading man was in the super hit cult classic Bobby opposite Dimple Kapadia, which released in 1973, winning the Filmfare Best Actor Award in 1974.
In an interview in 2012, Kapoor said: “There was a misconception that the film (Bobby) was made to launch me as an actor. The film was actually made to pay the debts of Mera Naam Joker. Dad wanted to make a teenage love story and he did not have money to cast Rajesh Khanna in the film.” Bobby, which broke several canons, went on to become one of the decade’s biggest hits in Indian cinema. Kapoor designed his own costumes for his role as Raj to whom Dimple Kapadia’s Bobby, attired in a bikini, proffers the famous line: “Mujhse dosti karoge?”
Kapoor, an exceptionally versatile, adaptable, and energetic performer bearing the dramatic DNA of the Kapoors, played the romantic lead in 92 films between 1973 and 2000.
Kapoor also appeared opposite Neetu Singh, who he later married in 1980, in 12 films between 1973 and 1981.
Kapoor appeared in 51 films as the solo lead from 1973 to 2000, but a staggering 40 of them crashed at the box office. The charismatic young hero, however, besides Bobby, shone in Laila Majnu, Rafoo Chakkar, Sargam, Karz, Prem Rog, Nagina, Honeymoon, Chandni, Heena and Bol Radha Bol, and Yeh Vaada Raha. Nagina and Chandni, where he starred opposite Sridevi, were super hits.
He held his own in multi-starrers in as many 13 films — in Khel Khel Mein (1975) with Neetu Singh and Rakesh Roshan); Kabhi Kabhi (1976) with Amitabh Bachchan, Rakhee, Shashi Kapoor, and Neetu Singh; Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977) alongside Amjad Khan, Zeenat Aman and Kajal Kiran; Badalte Rishtey (1978) with Jeetendra, Reena Roy, and Asrani; Aap Ke Deewane (1980) with Rakesh Roshan, Tina Munim, Pran, and Ashok Kumar); Saagar(1985) with Kamal Haasan and Dimple Kapadia); Chandni (1989) alongside Sridevi, Vinod Khanna, Waheeda Rehman, and Sushma Seth); Ajooba (1991) along with Amitabh Bachchan, Dimple Kapadia, and Amrish Puri); Deewana (1992) with Shahrukh Khan, Divya Bharti, Mohnish Behl, and Sushma Seth); Damini (1993) with Meenakshi Seshadri, Sunny Deol, Amrish Puri, and Rohini Hattangadi); Gurudev (1994) with Anil Kapoor, Sridevi, Kader Khan, and Danny Denzongpa); Daraar (1996) alongside Arbaaz Khan, Juhi Chawla, and Sushma Seth); and Karobaar (2000) with Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, and Tisca Chopra. Karobaar — The Business of Love was the last film where he appeared as a romantic lead.
In 1991, Kapoor acted in Henna, directed by his brother Randhir Kapoor and his father, Raj Kapoor, and in 1996 in Prem Granth, a movie produced by the three Kapoor brothers (Rishi, Randhir, and Rajiv Kapoor) and directed by Rajiv Kapoor.
In 2008, Kapoor was honoured with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award for the significant body of work he had behind him.
In 2011, he won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor for his stellar performance in the family comedy Do Dooni Chaar, and in 2017 won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Kapoor & Sons.
Cut back a little to 1999 when he directed the film Aa Ab Laut Chalen, starring the redoubtable Rajesh Khanna, Aishwarya Rai, and Akshaye Khanna in the lead roles.
With the arrival of the 2000s, Kapoor took on supporting character roles and executed a series of notable roles in Yeh Hai Jalwa (2002), Hum Tum (2004), Fanaa (2006), Namastey London (2007), Love Aaj Kal (2009) and Patiala House (2010). He also appeared in two British films Don’t Stop Dreaming (2007) and Sambar Salsa (2008). In 2010, he once again teamed up with Neetu Singh in Do Dooni Chaar (2010).
Kapoor also played himself in the movie Chintu Ji in 2009. In 2012, he turned villain in the mega hit Amitabh-starrer Agneepath and in the multi-starrer Housefull-2 where he appeared alongside brother Randhir Kapoor for the first time after Khazana in the mid-1980s. He also put in a cameo appearance in Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan along with Neetu.
As recently as 2018, Kapoor appeared in 102 Not Out, a comedy-drama film directed by Umesh Shukla, pitting him once again opposite Amitabh Bachchan after 27 long years. The film, an adaptation of a Gujarati play, also titled “102 Not Out”, written by Saumya Joshi, received mixed reviews.
Last year in December, two of his films — Jhootha Kahin Ka, a comedy-drama film directed by Smeep Kang, and The Body with Emraan Hashmi, a mystery thriller written and directed by the Malayalam filmmaker Jeethu Joseph, were released. At the time of his passing, Sharmaji Namkeen, featuring Kapoor alongside Juhi Chawla and directed by Hitesh Bhatia was under production.
Kapoor married Neetu Singh, his co-star in 15 films, on 22 January 1980. The couple have two children — actor Ranbir Kapoor and designer Riddhima Kapoor Sahani. Rishi was the paternal uncle of actors Karisma Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor, and was also the maternal uncle of industrialist Nikhil Nanda.
Staunchly patriarchal, Kapoor was outspoken, often bordering on the blunt, and minced no words when it came to controversies. With a following of over 3.5 million on Twitter, Kapoor was a big hit on the social media platform where he once called himself a “beef-eating Hindu” in the wake of the controversies over lynching and food habits. In fact, his last tweet that appeared on 2 April appealing to the good senses of the public and warning them against violence against doctors and health workers.
Kapoor had his owe take on India-Pak relations as well: “It’s not funny… India and Pakistan should be sitting across the table, under the table, behind the table, wherever… and come up with a solution… Why this hate… move on… It is all in the past…” Kapoor was a trenchant critic of war-mongering.
Kapoor would often be asked about his star son Ranbir Kapoor. “I was never given to being a pal to my son… I just cannot be, you can call me old fashioned. I believe there got to be a certain ‘form’ in the father-son relationship,” he would say. “He must go through all those ups and downs… it’s natural, it’s no big deal, I have been through it a million times. But I don’t interfere in my son’s career, just as my father never interfered in mine. But if I had my way, I wouldn’t let him do films like Wake up Sid, Rockstar, Jagga Jasoos… But I must tell you he did a good job in Sanju… We are very proud of him,” Kapoor told an interviewer.
In 2017, Kapoor released his autobiography Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored. Co-written with Meena Iyer, the book, published by Harper Collins, is an up-close biography. With a foreword by Ranbir Kapoor and a moving afterword by Neetu Singh, it makes for a fairly race and intimate read.
It was in 2018 that Kapoor was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. He spent over a year in New York for treatment and returned to India late last year and had begun filming and shooting when he was taken ill.
The end wasn’t far away. But Kapoor, the man, lived life on his own terms and as the staff at the hospital where he breathed his last said, “he kept us entertained to the last”. That was the man — king-size even in the face of death! Only Rishi Kapoor can replace Rishi Kapoor.
Tributes have been flowing in aplenty at the time of writing.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi wrote: “This is a terrible week for Indian cinema, with the passing of another legend, actor Rishi Kapoor. A wonderful actor, with a huge fan following across generations, he will be greatly missed. My condolences to his family, friends & fans all over the world, at this time of grief.”
Urmila Matondkar, who essayed a number of substantive roles with Kapoor wrote: “With tears in my eyes I bid this adieu to an actor who played my brother, father and also my hero eventually… whose songs I grew up loving and dancing to… my most favourite and versatile actor… what a pity never got to meet him after his return and now never will.”
Madhuri Dixit Nene, in her Twitter note, wrote: “I’ve had the honour of working with Rishi ji. A larger than life person, so outspoken yet so warm. We have lost a brilliant actor today. Still can’t believe it… absolutely heartbroken. My prayers are with the family during this tough time.”
Legendary Bollywood director Subhash Ghai described Kapoor as, “passionate, emotional, but professional, and committed to excellence in his craft”.