Some people are destined to be stars. Rishi Kapoor, who passed away Thursday morning at 67, was one such. He was a Kapoor, grandson of Prithviraj, son of Ranbir Raj, and part of the First Family of Hindi cinema. Prithviraj was a true pioneer, who forged a solid foundation for Kapoor & Sons. Raj was a young man in a young nation, and both in his acting and directorial choices cemented the idea of India. Mera joota hai Japani, he sang, yeh patloon Inglistani, sar par laal topi Roosi, phir bhi dil hai Hindustani.
All through his busy acting career, from a “child star” to a veteran, Rishi Kapoor bore that legacy well, while creating an indelible niche of his own, which he kept expanding. It all began with the stupendous success of Bobby, a youthful love story made in 1973, by Raj Kapoor. It gave Hindi cinema a brand new lover, and a brand new way of romancing. The audience, used to the staid ways of the older triumvirate of Raj Kapoor-Dev Anand-Rajendra Kumar had already been shaken by the boisterousness of Shammi Kapoor, and taken in by the boy-next-door appeal of Rajesh Khanna. Rishi Kapoor was old Bollywood, sure, but he was also cracklingly fresh, and spoke to an India trembling on the cusp of a new era.
All the world loves a lover, and Rishi Kapoor was a great one. He smiled at his lady-love, danced around fountains, and sang soulful songs. That he was capable of much more was evident in the roles he essayed in light-weight capers, heavy-handed social dramas, romantic comedies, soppy love stories. He was also capable of restraint, as evident in his much-ahead-of-their-times serious romances. One of his last films was Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk, in which his character, a middle-aged Muslim lawyer, sounded the gong for an India that belongs to us all, and the importance of love and compassion. A credo to live, and die, by.