Ranbir Kapoor might be setting hearts aflutter back home in India, but Russia still has just one rockstar Kapoor — and that’s his grandfather. More than 29 years after his death, Showman Raj Kapoor continues to rule Russia as the king of the Indian film industry.
Generations of Russians — even the young — are aware of Raj Kapoor and his cinema and regard him as Bollywood’s numero uno hero despite the new crops of Indian actors who have made a global mark, with their films being released worldwide. “Raj Kapoor for sure still holds the title of the Indian film industry’s king here in Russia. He is the number one association we have when we talk about Indian cinema,” said 25-year old Annie Vo.
Moscow-born Vo, of Vietnamese origin, stressed he was her “favourite” because of the true to life characters he played. “His characters are very down to earth, true to life and genuine. Anybody can connect to his films, cutting across age, race, education and social status,” she told PTI.
The creative director at Bardelhi restaurant, which serves Indian food and frequently screens Hindi films at its special movie nights, said she had heard of Ranbir and seen Barfi!, but it is Raj Kapoor’s legacy that lingers.
“Call me conservative, but I relate more to Raj’s era of actors and their level of class,” she said. Raj Kapoor, who passed away aged 63 in June 1988, acted in a series of classics such as Shree 420 and Awara and is still widely known as “the greatest showman of Indian cinema”.
Many in Moscow stressed it was his cinema that introduced Russians to Indian films, which was why he continued to wield such magic. Nozima Karimova, a PR firm employee, recalled the reception the actor was accorded at the Tashkent film festival. “People spoke of his visit like he was higher than any head of state or any celebrity in the world,” she said.
“Karimova said she knew the Kapoor family was a part of the Indian film world, but was “not certain” about his grandchildren. “For, even today, I watch retro movies of Indian cinema,” she said. Karimova said she often watched Indian films on Russian Zee TV, aired on many cable networks here dubbed in Russian or with subtitles.
Vo added that apart from Kapoor, people liked Mithun Chakraborty, Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Priyanka Chopra. Dilmurad, a Taxi driver in his 50s, said Barood, a 1976 film featuring Rishi Kapoor, and the 1969 Rajesh Khanna-starrer Aradhana were among his favourites. “I went to see Aradhana one morning. I liked it so much that I watched it three times the same day,” he said.
Some of the newer releases have their share of viewers, too. Ivan Parfenov, a sports media executive, said he was not a fan of Indian cinema, but was “greatly impressed” by the Rajinikanth-starrer, Robot. “One evening after a few drinks, a few friends and I were at home watching funny videos on YouTube, when a friend put on a clip from Robot. After watching it for 30 seconds I exclaimed that we had to download and watch it,” he said.
Leonid Parfenov, creator of a TV and book series called “Namedni”, year-by-year accounts of important developments in culture and everyday lives in Russia, mentions the role of Raj Kapoor in an article on the popularity of Indian cinema. “It all began with Raj Kapoor, the lead actor in ‘Awara’ and his songs…The rules of the genre never change: immense love, sweet-sounding songs cause charm and tears,” he wrote in a 1976 chapter titled ‘Seeta and Geeta’.
Talking about the reason Indian films were popular in Russia, Parfenov said, “I often saw women on their way from a film in tears and smiling and saying things like ‘Now this is a film about life’.”