Veteran actor Rishi Kapoor Image Credit: GN Archives

Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor is part of our collective consciousness through his sturdy catalogue of romantic films, but did you know that he was also an activist who took on causes without making a big song and dance about it?

Consider this: In his last statement, put out by his family after his death in Mumbai on April 30, Kapoor had urged his fans and well-wishers to respect the laws of the lockdown in India over the coronavirus outbreak. He didn’t want his fans to pour into the streets of Mumbai during his final rites at 5pm (Indian time) in Mumbai on Wednesday.

“Please respect the laws that are in place. He would not have it any other way,” said Kapoor in that statement. Even in the grimmest moment of his life, he wanted everyone to act responsibly. This wasn’t the only instance. His last tweet on his lively social media account was also a request to his native countrymen not to beat up doctors, medical professionals and police officers in the line of coronavirus duty. He wanted peace and order.

Kapoor, who was born into an acting dynasty, was a star with a strong civic responsibility. Kapoor, who is famous for his lover-boy roles, also tried to spread the message of religious tolerance through his films like Mulk, directed by Anubhav Sinha.

Kapoor played an ageing Muslim patriarch who was out to prove that his family had no terrorist links and that they were being singled out for being a religious minority. What was it like being a religious minority in India was aptly encapsulated by this film.

It wasn’t a role that you would expect a popular hero like Kapoor, known for his fashionable sweaters and his ability to make women swoon with his dishy demeanour, take on robustly. But Kapoor had no fears of alienating his fan base in India. He took on roles in the sunset of his career that were politically-charged and were a commentary on the existing intolerances in Indian society.

When a public toilet in India was named after him, he laughed it off and said that he was happy that he was of use to someone else in their time of need. He also took an irreverent swipe at authority.

Kapoor’s social media was an effective tool to express his opinions. When he protested the re-naming of Indian roads after a member of the Gandhi family, claiming it wasn't fair, he garnered a barrage of criticism. But Kapoor remained unfazed. He also questioned the beef ban in India by tweeting: “I am angry. Why do you equate religion with food? I am a beef eating Hindu ... I am a beef eating Hindu. Does that mean I am less God fearing than a non-eater?”. He also called out politicians for their double standards when it came to the beef ban.

He made many enemies on Twitter after this outburst, but that didn’t stop Kapoor from taking a stand on issues that affected him and his country.

He was famously blase towards authority and wore his celebrity like an easy cape on his shoulders.

While his activism wasn’t overt, he made sure that he made his stand on issues clear. We can’t say the same about the current crop of Bollywood stars who shy away from taking any political stand for fear of alienating their fans or the political leaders in power.

Kapoor marched to his own tune and told his tale valiantly.