Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor may have been a consistently charming boyfriend with an impish smile in majority of his iconic romances, but he wasn’t so charming when it came to media interactions.
Kapoor, 67, who died of leukaemia on April 30 leaving Bollywood fans shattered, was often moody and unpredictable.
An interview with him always felt like those uncomfortable first dates where you had no clue whether two strangers were going to truly hit it off or not.
During our face-to-face interaction during the 2012 International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) in Singapore, he was a portrait of gentlemanly candour, grace and wit as he discussed dancing with his actor-son Ranbir Kapoor on stage for the first time in his career.
The IIFA PR kept warning me to tread carefully around him saying something on the lines of Rishi sir’s intolerance towards intrusive and inane line of questioning. But we had nothing to worry because Kapoor was on top of his game that afternoon and spoke about how he was looking forward to dancing on stage with his son Ranbir that night.
He spoke about how he never gave career advice to his son as Ranbir was more than equipped to take care of himself. I walked out of that interview feeling mighty pleased that Kapoor wore his fame, fortune and pedigree lightly.
But five years later in March 2017, a phone interview conducted to promote his upcoming show ‘Khullam Khulla! Rishi Uncensored’ at the Dubai World Trade Centre, revealed a different facet to Kapoor’s personality. Perhaps he woke up on the wrong side of the bed or his morning bed tea wasn’t made to his liking, but Kapoor was impatient and borderline curt over the phone. He went ballistic when the word ‘Bollywood’, a popular term for Hindi film industry, was used.
“Why do you call it Bollywood? Why don’t you call it the Indian film industry? I hate our film industry being called Bollywood … I don’t like it. Period. It’s my personal choice,” said Kapoor impatiently.
Even Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan have expressed their intense distaste for the term ‘Bollywood’, as they felt it was reductive. Kapoor was equally disdainful of how the West, particularly Hollywood, perceive Bollywood as their “poor imitation”.
“Let’s come up with something original, shall we?”, he said.
Coming from an actor who was born into an acting dynasty that shaped Indian cinema and derived his immortal fame from Bollywood teen romances and glitzy song-dance musicals during the first half of his career, Kapoor’s disowning of that glamorous genre was intriguing and slightly unsettling.
I never found out more on that front. But what I loved and discovered about him was that he never faked kindness like other Bollywood stars. Many are saccharinely sweet and cloyingly kind towards you during film promotions. But actor Raj Kapoor’s son, who was born into a world of privilege, wealth and acting dynasty, never faked it.
“Faking it has never been my style. I am not a stylised actor and I have been spontaneous all my life. I like to keep things natural. I know acting is about faking it, but I fake it only to make you believe in something,” said Kapoor. During that interview, he was in parts abrasive and in parts charming.
His autobiographical book was wonderfully frank and he even spoke his father’s affair with his leading lady. Kapoor didn’t believe in sanitising his own existence and wanted to reveal the warts and moles in his precious life too. But when I asked him about his unnatural and bitingly frank strain of his in that book, he laughed it off.
“You are talking as if nobody knows about it … I don’t go by any rule book. I set my own rules and not what somebody else does.”
The last line of his encapsulates Kapoor’s rise and his long-enduring fame in Bollywood. While Kapoor was known for his suave rich-boy lover or that dishy relationship rebel roles, he reinvented himself in his fifties. His role in the highly relevant legal drama ‘Mulk’, in which he played a conservative Muslim patriarch battling allegations of being anti-India, was a revelation and was a nod to his versatility as an actor. He may have got his first break in Bollywood because of ‘accident of birth’, but he sustained his fame and success in films through his bold choices.
Interestingly, there was another word that he hated more than the term ‘Bollywood’. The N-word: ‘nepotism’. For those in the dark, mainstream actors from Hindi cinema have been accused of riding on the fame of their family members and elders rather than their own merit.
Kapoor blew a lid when I broached that burning topic. Actress Kangana Ranaut had just appeared on ‘Koffee With Karan’ and had triggered a massive debate about how filmmakers like Karan Johar gave an easy pass to actor’s children and relatives rather than bolstering talents based on merit alone. But Kapoor had a different take on the whole subject and almost bit my head off over the phone with his sharp tone.
“I will start my show with that and talk openly about it … I am the oldest star kid working in cinema right now. But tell me, am I still getting work because of my father? Why do you blame star kids? Certain star kids make it and certain star kids didn’t. You need to have something in you to make it. It’s the public that makes you a star … I will clear the basic perception that people have about star kids in my show in Dubai.”
He lived up to his promise and his show was a resounding success for its acerbic and irreverent tone. But what really struck me about our conversation was that he never minced words. His confidence and arrogance in his talent and trade stood. Who else would say these lines with such gumption?
“I am not an outdated actor. I try to keep pace with today’s times so that audiences today can relate and identify with me.”
While I wasn’t able to identify with his acidic tone during that mercurial interview, he was always on-point. I would take that any day than fake niceness of some other stars.