Legendary actor Kamal Haasan had said in an interview many years ago that Rishi Kapoor was one of the most underrated stars despite being a fine actor, and he really couldn’t understand why it was so. On the day when Kapoor bid adieu to the world, there can’t be a better tribute to the actor than recalling Haasan’s observation.
While few have looked at Rishi Kapoor as an actor of innate talent that remained vastly untapped, there are no two opinions about him being one of the most popular stars ever. That he came across to most as a “chocolate hero” with a charm that could instantly floor any girl is an injustice. He rather proved to be an antithesis of that image in many roles that he essayed in films like Prem Rog (1982), Sargam (1979) and Ek Chadar Maili Si (1986). In a sense, his looks had blocked his forays into good performance-oriented films. In that he stood quite in sharp contrast to his legendary father Raj Kapoor, who often played a poor man to everyone’s delight.
A bundle of youthful energy, Rishi Kapoor symbolised a new smart and starry-eyed generation of Indians, whose body language exuded confidence coupled with style in an era that had witnessed a transition in Bollywood from romance to action. Wearing distinctively urban looks, he smiled his way to professional success beginning with blockbuster musical Bobby (1973) till his last big film Heena (1991) hit the screens. He could be seen as the hero, who paved the way for an ebullient post-liberalisation generation of actors that more or less resembled him in their energetic style of acting.
At his very core, Rishi Kapoor remained a romantic hero. He had actually turned the tide of the sixties and seventies, when romance unmistakably ruled storylines of Hindi films but with female beauties playing the charmer and the hero singing paeans to them. With Bobby (1973), Rishi proved that the honours of charm lay equally on both sides. He went on to tilt the charm-scale highly in favour of the male like never before. It was Rishi, who had made the female charm play second fiddle in most of the films he did. Chandni epitomised that like never before. Rarely was the ultimate charm of Sridevi eclipsed by her hero like Rishi did in Chandni.
There was one man who started it all before Rishi did – superstar Rajesh Khanna. But Khanna’s charm lasted only for about four years while Rishi’s innings lasted for about two decades. What makes Rishi’s tryst with romance more appealing is the fact that it panned out wide in an era where romance was replaced by action. As Rishi had himself recalled, his success lay in the fact that it was achieved in an era so completely dominated by action-packed Amitabh Bachchan.
Rishi’s romance also sought to push the limits with songs like “Khullam khulla pyar karenge” from Khel Khel Mein (1975) which proved to be a chartbuster. His pairing with an equally boisterous Neetu Singh uninhibitedly exhibiting love in the open was later to blossom into a companionship that brought curtains down on the career of a fine actress in the typically conservative family tradition of the Kapoors. Despite that, however, the two never ceased to be a made-for-each-other pair.
That Rishi titled his autobiography as “Khullam Khulla” was an ode, among other things, to his flamboyant love story with Neetu. And make no mistake, Rishi remained equally khullam khulla with his views off screen.
What also made Rishi Kapoor special was his dancing skills. Heroes, including Rajesh Khanna, could rarely dance as good as Rishi did. Of course, being a Kapoor, he had it in his blood, but he beat other Kapoors to it. Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1975) was the crowning glory of his excellence in dancing. Subhash Ghai did cast him in his action thriller Karz (1980), but not without making him punctuate it liberally with dance and romance.
True that he had a rich family legacy and a godfather like legendary Raj Kapoor, but attributing his success solely to it would not only be unjust but uncharitable too for Rishi. Watch him closely even in the most mundane of roles. He had all the trappings of a very expressive actor, who could change facial expressions in a flash, much like Raj Kapoor. But unfortunately, his career coincided with an era that was marked by mediocrity. It was just that he got trapped in there till his career ran out of steam. But as soon as Hindi films witnessed a new wave, Rishi was back as an elder. Having put on weight — being an uncompromising foodie that he is like a true Kapoor, Rishi was back in the reckoning with films like Do Dooni Chaar, 102 Not Out and Mulk that gave the actor in him the chance that he richly deserved. And he proved that he had it in him. Haasan, who had acted alongside him in Saagar (1985), couldn’t have got it wrong after all.
Also Read | Rishi Kapoor passes away | Rishi Kapoor: The singing-dancing-romancing hero we all loved to love | Celebrities mourn the demise of Rishi Kapoor | 102 Not Out director Umesh Shukla on Rishi Kapoor: He truly was magic | ‘Rishi Kapoor wanted to fly a chopper, but Nasir Hussain didn’t let him’: Air Force officer remembers | Everything Rishi Kapoor said about his cancer treatment | The best films of Rishi Kapoor’s second innings | Alia Bhatt pays tribute to Rishi Kapoor | Shah Rukh Khan fondly remembers his first co-star Rishi Kapoor | 15 movies of Rishi Kapoor you can watch online | 10 best songs of Rishi Kapoor | Everything you should know about Rishi Kapoor | From the archives – Rishi Kapoor: I got the best break in Bobby, but it all went downhill from there
Unsurprising that he had himself, of late, said he had finally got the real chance to put his acting skills to test. And how well he proved it. He could have possibly displayed much more of his untapped potential, but cancer cut short his new innings abruptly. Nonetheless, Rishi Kapoor was truly reborn as an actor before he died.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines