Long before Shah Rukh Khan became the king of Bollywood romance, there was Rishi Kapoor who taught a generation how to love and court women with style.
Kapoor, who died in Mumbai on April 30 after his prolonged battle with cancer, was 67 and is survived by his actress wife Neetu Singh and actor son Ranbir Kapoor and daughter Riddhima Kapoor Sahani.
While he began his career with syrupy romantic roles that made your heart skip a beat, he was also a master at re-invention on the big screen. His turn as the dark gangster in D-Day and his role as a pimp in the modern version of Agneepath, starring Hrithik Roshan, was a testament to his versatility.
In Do Dooni Char in 2011, Kapoor played a middle-class family man, proving that his craft knew no boundaries. He also played a 90-year-old grandfather in the family drama Kapoor & Sons.
While he openly proclaimed that prosthetic make-up didn’t rock his boat, his performance was seamless on the big screen.
Kapoor had an acting pedigree that is unrivalled. He was born into Bollywood’s first acting family — The Kapoors — and was surrounded by a family of acting icons. He made his acting debut as a child actor in the seminal movie Meraa Naam Joker (1970), directed by and starring his father Raj Kapoor in the lead role. He’s what you call someone who’s born to be an actor because it’s the most natural progression if you are born into the illustrious Kapoor clan.
His films such as Bobby (1973) with Dimple Kapadia, Chandni (1989) with Sridevi and Kabhi Kabhie (1976) with his wife Neetu Singh remain some of Bollywood’s most adored romances. His romantic songs with his various leading ladies are timeless in their appeal.
Kapoor was one of the few actors in Bollywood who tried not to be stereotyped as the ‘young, romantic lad’. His rich career is a proof that he tried his best to push the boundaries of commercial cinema. Unlike Irrfan Khan, who embraced independent features, Kapoor found success in Bollywood potboilers and musicals.
While he was a consummate actor, he didn’t find much success in directing films. His directorial venture Aa Ab Laut Chalen with Aishwarya Rai and Akshaye Khanna didn’t have many takers.
While Kapoor painted a wholesome image as a desirable male in movies in his youth, he wasn’t the most charming off-screen. Notoriously moody, this journalist has borne the brunt of his curt and abrasive temperament in the course of our conversations.
But what made Kapoor shine was his ability to reinvent his on-screen persona. There are many actors in Bollywood who are pigeonholed into playing romantic roles all their lives, but Kapoor wasn’t one of them. He even took a brief sabbatical to re-discover his acting mojo and came back with a bang in movies including Agneepath and D-Day.
Kapoor, perhaps due to his privileged background, always had an aura of confidence and impatience. While walking the red-carpet, his son Ranbir would be the portrait of amiability and charm, but his father made it clear that he didn’t enjoy talking to the press after a point. What he loved though was posting his unfiltered opinions on social media.
His Twitter account is ablaze with funny and politically-incorrect anecdotes. It was clear that he handled his own social media tweets and did not rely on managers to ghost-tweet for him. He enjoyed that platform so much that he was the kind of social media user who used to call out airlines and hotels if they weren’t up to the mark.
His autobiography Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored, released in 2015, was aptly titled. He openly spoke about his heroines and scandals during his acting career. The memoir was a no-holds barred account of his rich life.
While cancer ate away his body as he sought treatment in New York, he didn’t let his spirit wane. He was the kind of actor who compelled others to take on projects. He famously told us that he didn’t believe in method acting and that he was a spontaneous actor. Actress Lillete Dubey revealed to Gulf News that she had agreed to act in a film because Kapoor was in it.
While Kapoor was a bankable actor in his young days, he also proved his acting prowess in the sunset years of his life. He didn’t hang up his proverbial designer boots after 40. All he did was take on roles that challenged the existing stereotype of him being the go-to hero for romantic roles.
There’s no denying that Kapoor’s absence will leave another gaping hole in the Hindi entertainment industry, but as his father said ‘the show must go on’ — with or without him.