My earliest memory of Rishi Kapoor is seeing him on the sets of Prem Rog in 1981. My mother Kamna Chandra had written the film and occasionally, we visited the sets at R. K. Studio in Chembur. It was a long drive. I was a South Bombay snob. I got to watch Raj Kapoor direct but I barely paid attention (I kick myself now for not making more of the opportunity). I remember little of our interactions except that he, like his father, was unfailingly polite. My mother was a newbie – Prem Rog was her first film. But everyone addressed her as Kamna ji and as soon as we arrived on set, chairs and cold drinks instantly materialized.
I remember meeting him again at the mahurat of her second film, Chandni. At the Centaur Hotel in Juhu, he stood on a makeshift stage with Vinod Khanna and Sridevi, looking every inch, the handsome Bollywood star. He was movie royalty and he didn’t suffer fools easily. Later, when I became a film journalist, I interviewed him often. He was, in equal parts, warm and intimidating, always ready to call out the bullshit. One year, I moderated a panel for NDTV about the movie business. At some point in the conversation, Priyanka Chopra, who was among the panelists, referred to herself as a brand. Rishi Sir immediately reprimanded her with, ‘You are an actor my dear. You are not a brand.’
In 2015, Rajeev Masand and I conducted a conversation with him at the Jio MAMI Movie Mela. Neetu Kapoor was among the audience, in the front row. So was my husband Vidhu Vinod Chopra. At one point, I asked her, if her life like mine, was all about nudging and shushing her partner to stop him from putting his foot in his mouth. He laughed and said that we should look at the bruises on his shins from her kicks. Later in the conversation, he took off on actors who wear sunglasses in the middle of the night. Until when, he asked with mock exasperation, will you hide your wrinkles?
Rishi Kapoor was not one to hide his wrinkles. His body of work – 162 films as an actor over 50 years according to IMDB – is a master class in versatility and endurance. The actor, who spent decades playing a romantic hero and who famously launched dozens of new female leads, could be, with equal conviction, a dreaded mafia don in Nikkhil Advani’s D-Day, a pimp in Karan Malhotra’s Agneepath and an effusively effeminate school principal in Karan Johar’s Student of the Year. Dean Yoginder Vashisht flirting with the P.E. teacher Coach Shah is one of my favorite parts of the film.
His Twitter bio read: Son of a famous father. Father of a famous son. I’m the hyphen in between them. Rishi Kapoor was one hell of a hyphen. Rest in peace.