“Ah, there you are. Sit, sit…what would you like to have?” Rishi Kapoor walked into the room with the energy of a 20-year-old at the JW Marriott, Chandigarh, and in an instant put me at ease. He wasted no time in ordering some refreshments, and I still remember, a delectable cheese platter. There goes my hundredth attempt at dieting, I sighed. “Oh c’mon, one bite won’t harm. You need to eat,” he ordered around, affectionately, like an old friend who just wouldn’t let you leave without some ‘mehmaan nawaazi’.
The year was 2014, early March if I recollect, and I had managed to convince him to come over to our office, The Indian Express, in Panchkula for an Idea Exchange. Curious at first, he immediately agreed to it. “I have lots to say,” he said, as we made our way to the hotel lobby. “I’ll just call for the chauffeur, Rishi ji,” I told him. But before I could summon the designated driver and a luxury car to ferry him to our office, he quickly cut in. “You’ve driven here? Do you have a car,” he asked. Err, yes, I sheepishly replied, not at all ready for what came next. “Done, then we shall go in your car,” he said. As the valet parked my red little Volkswagen in the hotel driveway, I prayed for skies to clear along with the mad evening traffic and for an ‘uneventful’ drive. This was going to be a long one, from Chandigarh to Panchkula, with Rishi Kapoor on the passenger seat, right next to me. “I am not going to sit at the back! Tum kya koi driver ho!” he buckled up.
Over the next 30 minutes, as I crossed my fingers and kept my eyes on the road, I had Rishi Kapoor, full of questions and ideas and conversation. “Why is it called Rajiv Gandhi Technology Park? Don’t you have iconic figures of Punjab, like Bhagat Singh, hockey legends, etc to name buildings and roads after?” Made sense. En route, he checked on his family, and son Ranbir Kapoor, via phone, chatted about his book and that he was looking for rare photos our archives at office might have.
“Ranbir has passion, he takes after his grandfather, Raj Kapoor…he will go far,” shared the proud father, making sure he kept the disciplined distance with his son. He was shooting in Chandigarh for Aayi Bala Ko Taal Tu, a political satire on building toilets for women in rural areas, a subject that Rishi ji was vocal and concerned about. Meanwhile, fellow commuters checked in twice through the window – is it really Rishi Kapoor?
Yes, it was unbelievable, that day, when I drove the legendary and absolutely magnificent Rishi Kapoor to our office. The following day presented yet another opportunity to meet him in person at the sets of the same film. He was delivering a shot, and wouldn’t okay it till he was convinced with it. One could sense his work ethics – strong, impactful and respectful, and he commanded the same in return. I shall never forget the subtle reprimand he gave to a young assistant who couldn’t care less to get up from his chair to wish him! As we walked over to his vanity van, he asked me, “Can you type? I’ve just got this new age Mac book, and I am not able to find my way around it yet.”
That was Rishi Kapoor. Unfiltered, honest, down to earth, and never too proud to ask for help or to help.
It was a privilege, honour and blessing, and as the world mourns the passing of yet another shining star, I mourn the loss of someone I knew from close quarters, even if it was for some precious moments, and whose name I had so fondly saved as ‘Duggal sahab’ on my phone.
Silver screen’s leading man, dancing effortlessly in his enviable range of jerseys, and that iconic ‘dafli’, the actor who braved the ‘toofan’ he called Amitabh Bachchan, the star who romanced heroines for 25 years straight before calling it quits at the age of 46, Rishi Kapoor was a force to be reckoned with. Here was an actor par excellence humble enough to say, ‘I am not the star, my son is’. The fact that he knew his strengths and weaknesses, that he was driven by sheer passion, that he knew when to change tracks and the trajectory of his acting-producing career is what set Rishi Kapoor apart. Politics, he shared, was never his cup of tea. “Who will listen to me? They will say he is just an actor, a joker! But someone has to raise a voice.” And boy did he with his witty remarks and twitter lashes. On that day, I had asked him how he managed to reinvent himself, especially in an industry where roles are limited for older actors. “Change is inevitable, and I knew I had to play my age. I was done with romantic roles, and I was very happy playing the dad, the everyday man, and my favourite has been Duggal, from Do Dooni Chaar.” Be it the affable teacher on his old scooter, the lawyer with conviction, the antagonist with a heart, the ruthless mobster, the endearing father or the ‘Mandakini’ loving grandfather, Rishi Kapoor had the talent of bringing that X factor to each and every role he was presented with. Mulk, Love Aaj Kal, Agneepath, Kapoor & Sons, D-Day, Namastey London, Delhi 6 ….each and every film has left an indelible mark on the audience.
Also Read | Rishi Kapoor was born to the movies but his gift was entirely his own | Rishi Kapoor: The khullam khulla boy everyone loved | Why Rishi Kapoor was perfect for Nasir Hussain’s films | Nine quintessential Rishi Kapoor songs
“In the 100 years of Indian cinema, the Kapoors have contributed in 84 years, and I am proud of this legacy, proud to be an Indian, proud to be a Kapoor,” said this powerhouse of talent. Rest in peace, ‘irreplaceable’ Rishi ji. You will be missed.
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