The energetic actor reminisces about his 40 years in cinema and learning from the ‘original Kapoor & Sons’
Anupama Chopra (AC): What’s the key to staying relevant for more than 40 years?
Rishi Kapoor (RK): Passion! You must be passionate about what you want to do and what you are doing, irrespective of whether it is good or bad. You can’t expect all of your work to be good—the environment is different and co-stars are different. So we’ll make turkeys also and good films also, but never the less, that burning desire to do something and to be recognized [should be there]. You know I used to say even if I was a son of a shoe maker, I wouldn’t make the best shoe, even if I wanted to.
AC: So it’s just the drive and the love that keeps you going?
RK: Love for films, love for acting, and love for making faces. My mother, sisters and brothers tell me when I was a kid I always spoiled their photographs. I was always the odd one making faces.
AC: You couldn’t help yourself ?
RK: I was always doing something odd in a photograph. I could never be correct or straight. I remember my childhood photographs when we had gone to see The Taj Mahal in Agra. There too I had taken out a sword and was making these kind of faces.
AC: So you’ve been acting all your life?
RK: I guess I always wanted attention. People like me are attention seekers. That’s what keeps me going.
AC: On Twitter, you put this picture up.
RK: Yes. The original Kapoor and Sons
AC: It’s an amazing photograph. I felt like it’s the history of Indian cinema in one photograph. I mean, honestly, it sounds dramatic but I felt like getting up and saluting to this!
RK: There is so much of history in the sense that each one of us has a tale to say. Look at the work each of them have done—there’s so much to say about it.
AK: And a different phase of cinema. Everyone has done different kinds of work.
RK: I guess we are trying to follow suit. We can’t be all that good but we are trying our best to keep it going.
AK: When you work with people who are 30-40 years younger than you, what do you feel? What do they do that is so much better, that you almost envy?
RK: See, actors of today are very confident. When we were at that age, we were not so well informed. Obviously today with the access to internet, television, and world cinema, you learn so much, you imbibe so much. You are not one actor depending on your experiences which you bank in your mind and then bring to screen. You are actually saying, ‘Ah, I saw that actor and he did it like that. Okay, I’m going to do that. I’m going to rehearse it in front of the mirror.’ They are learning all their craft from seeing other people whereas older actors learnt the craft by their own experiences.
I have some reservations also. I feel today’s actors are very conscious about being fit and having six-pack abs. I think they shouldn’t do it. Somewhere down the line when you are aware of the fact that you’ve got a very good body you want that to reflect on screen.
AC: You become invested in it?
RK: You are not working as an actor. Somewhere down the line your vanity is showing. You should work on your body according to the role like how Aamir (Khan) is doing for Dangal. This actor who is working on Sarbjit… Who is he ?
AC: Randeep Hooda
RK: Yes! It’s admirable in those cases. But once you start feeling like you want to show [your body] by putting up photographs, I don’t think you should do it. It’s not advisable as far as I am concerned.
AC: You also put this photo out. Almost 50 years ago, being directed by the great man himself. What the most important lesson Raj Kapoor taught you as an actor?
RK: Honestly, I just copied what Raj Kapoor said and what Raj Kapoor did. I was a copy cat! I didn’t do anything myself.
AK: What’s the one thing you learnt from him?
RK: Raj Kapoor himself had a certain image of his character and you had to work within those parameters. For certain scenes he actually used to tell me, “Chintu muhje Yusuf (Dilip Kumar) chahiye.” He was very familiar with his actors. He used to always treat them like kids because he himself was an actor and he knew that they are the instruments who are actually going to say what a director wants them to. So whenever he took a shot and it wasn’t correct, he would ask for one more but he didn’t want to make the artist conscious. I’m not taking names but I’m talking about very senior actors whom I’ve worked with. But I knew his game. I’d caught him. So when he was not 100% satisfied, he would say, ‘cut’ and then put the whole blame on me! He’d say, “Aapko kaha tha wo karne ke liye? Aap kyu kar rahe ho galat?” So I would get the blame for nothing. I was doing nothing in that shot! And then he’d tell the actor, “I’m damn sorry. Chintu screwed it up. But you were damn good.”
AC: You never got mad?
RK: No, certainly not. There was a code he had with his sound recorder Mr. Allauddin Khan Qureshi and his cameraman Radhu Karmakar. He never asked the sound recordist if the sound was good. He would say, ‘Cut! Khan saab, kaisa hai?’ And Khan saab would say, ‘Mujhe ek aur chahiye’. And then Raj Kapoor would tell his actor, “Sorry, but we’ll take one more.” So you know these were his ploys! He would not make his actor conscious.
AC: That’s fabulous!
RK: I don’t know how I’ve suddenly remembered this. Why have I not said this earlier? This used to happen a lot during ‘Prem Rog’ where Padmani (Kolhapure) was new and during Bobby sometimes Dimple (Kapadia) used to be the one. So like I said, he treated his actors with kid’s gloves and pampered them so much. He wanted to take the best from the actor.
AC: What a great school to go to.
RK: Well, it was a university. Sometimes people keep asking me, “Did you go to a film school?” I say, “How do I tell you what film school I went to. These are the film schools I’ve been to (pointing to the photographs).”
AC: This explains being relevant for 40 years.
RK: Well, yes—one of the reasons. Thank you!