“Have you read the book?”
“Yes, of course.”
As Rishi “Chintu” Kapoor verified the veracity of his interviewer, ahead of the launch of his memoir Khullam Khulla- Rishi Kapoor Uncensored, a checklist Neetu Kapoor made in the book, part of the Afterword, came to mind. The third point of the checklist went: Is he suspicious of people, stiflingly possessive, difficult to live with? You seem to know my husband well.
In what’s pegged to be a tell-all book about the general arc of Rishi Kapoor’s life, Neetu Kapoor’s short afterword might come across as equally revealing and definitely a more incisive assessment of her filmstar husband’s psyche.
Rishi Kapoor starts the book modestly enough with the admission: I was born lucky. What becomes clearer as the book progresses though, is how he enjoyed and built upon that extraordinary luck in life and his career.
His relationship with Bollywood legend and his father, Raj Kapoor, losing weight for Bobby under pressure from his then Parsi girlfriend, becoming possessive about one of the leading ladies of the time, strained relationships with some of Bollywood’s biggest names (and his own son) to his own insecurities – Rishi Kapoor’s memoir is one broad brushstroke of a book. You can see the outlines of the mercurial superstar but the canvas doesn’t really give you the entire picture.
Excerpts from the interview.
The title’s Khullam Khulla but it doesn’t feel like we’re getting to know a lot about you.
It’s not possible to encapsulate one’s life in just one book. The basic point one should appreciate is that it’s candid, honest. There are things which I don’t need to say but I’ve said it.
How did the idea for the memoir come to you?
There was a lot of pressure on me by a lot of publishing houses, and as a celebrity I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs. So I thought I should document my life for future history. Personally, when I read it myself I thought it was very inspirational for the youth.
But you were growing up with sheer legacy…
There’s nothing called legacy and nepotism like that. You may have legacy but you still have to fight to keep that intact and work with sincerity.
There’s a nice anecdote of Nargis Dutt luring you for a shot with a chocolate in Shree 420 when you were a kid because you were being difficult.. if you could revisit yourself then, what advice would you give about tantrum throwing?
Yeah, I was throwing starry tantrums at the age of two! But that’s too young an age and the scene actually was causing my eyes to water or something. I think such tantrums are common with most kids anyway at that point.
You’ve talked about how Amitabh Bachchan never acknowledged his co-stars for their role in his success?
I meant to say in a certain humble way that in times of past legends like Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor or Dev Anand, they all made themselves on their own steam. When it was a film with Amitabh, it was like a 100m race where other actors were handicapped by 50m right at the start! I merely said we were all the small rungs of the ladder to success that he climbed. Like Deewar wouldn’t be possible without Shashi Kapoor. Without Dharmendra, Sholay wouldn’t be possible. All actors have been with him in the journey. So if you can credit your directors and writers you can surely credit your colleagues who’ve been equally helpful.
Have you personally ever discussed this with Amitabh?
No, no it was just a reflection.
You’ve drawn a parallel saying no Khan would work with another Khan or for that matter no big star would share screen space with someone else.
Yes, no one will work like that. To reach the top these days, why would you give screen space to someone else?
Is that a healthy trend necessarily?
I’m no one to comment on that but films do run like that. Where do you see multi-starrers these days?
Every time a young actor came on to the scene, people would say ‘move over Rishi Kapoor.’ Why do you think you were singled out like this?
Because I was the youngest actor of the time. That always happened. But I survived na? They’d always say Rishi Kapoor toh gaya. Par kidhar gaya? By god’s grace I’m still working in 2017, where are the others now?
You’ve said you were not insecure after Bobby with flops, and yet post Karz in 1980, you wrote that you blamed your marriage for a reduced fan base…
I didn’t blame my marriage. I thought, was it that I lost my fan following because I got married or was it something else. I did go through that kind of an insecurity period – I’ve been honest about it.
A lot of celebrities now talk about depression and how they cope, or not, with it. Deepika too came out talking about her mental health. How do you think that has changed for celebrities over time?
I don’t know about that. I’m only talking about my experience. You should talk about my autobiography and I am not concerned about Deepika or anyone else.
One reason you didn’t want to do Kabhie Kabhie was because your wife Neetu Kapoor had a more prominent role. Would you now be in a film if she had more screen space?
See you’re not getting the essence right. All I had said was that I didn’t want to do the film because I didn’t quite like my role. Today in fact, I’m thankful to god that I have that film on my resume as an actor.
There’s a lot of mention made of good food and alcohol in the book.
I enjoy my drink and food, and why not? I work for it. I satisfy my fans and am a committed actor. It’s my democratic right to do what I want to, there’s nothing wrong in it.
You’ve spoken about Bismillah Khan and how we need to value our heritage instruments. Seems ironical with news of his shehnaiis being stolen.
Yes, by his own family too. They sold it for bloody some eighteen thousand or something. They’ll never understand the value.
It’s the age of electronics. Every sound is synthesised. Eventually we are losing touch because we’re getting bound by Western sounds. I think that’s wrong, we must keep our traditions alive.
There’s a run-in with Rakesh Roshan mentioned where he offered you a small role in Koi Mil Gaya and reacted badly when you declined.
See, we are all friends. I did feel offended but I made a career out of myself in the second innings.
Do you feel you’ve proved yourself with the work you’ve done in recent times?
Most certainly. The very fact that I’m still working today in prominent roles and getting awards for every film speaks for itself.
You’ve been transparent about buying the filmfare award for Bobby. Do you feel that awards have a lot of credibility today to begin with?
Awards have no credibility in this country. It’s just a money making racket.
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Did you consciously maintain the kind of relationship you had with your father, with Ranbir?
That’s something I regret. It was probably my fault, the way the equation was. I’m certainly not the kind to have a backslapping relationship with my son. But I should’ve been more friendly with him, still. That’s where I think I went wrong.
You met Dawood Ibrahim twice in Dubai. Weren’t you apprehensive at any level?
No, because this was in 1988 and he was just absconding then. Mumbai had still not happened. We spoke about films and talked for close to four hours.
Your wife Neetu Kapoor in an otherwise glowing afterword says you’re deeply suspicious and jealous.
There’s nothing of the sort. Those are just sayings on the basis of small tales.
So do you feel you’ve been a good partner?
I should think so.
You wrote about how, as a kid, you would listen to your father come home drunk. You promised yourself that ”when I grew up, I would never drink and frighten my kids like that.” How much of that memory or promise has stayed with you in your adult life…
No, that just happened a long time ago.
This interview first appeared in The Indian Express in January, 2017.