Reading Khullam Khulla, Rishi Kapoor’s autobiography, as his obituaries are being churned out is deeply unsettling. For it is a book in which Kapoor is very much alive and awake to his life there until, and goals thereafter. There is no sense of life having stopped with this book; it was brimming from its very seams.
What endears most about the book, published in 2017 by Harper Collins, is the tone which isn’t sensational on purpose as much as it is by default. Kapoor calls himself a beef eating Hindu, opens up about his love and aversion to certain people, his brief meetings with Dawood Ibrahim (before the ’93 blasts), his own father’s affairs with Nargis and Vyjayanthimala, and his own indiscretions as a husband and a father.
Here are some moments from his book, reflective of his persona- intimate, unwieldy, but never hateful.
His First Shot At The Age Of Two
His Twitter bio at one point read, “Son of a famous father. Father of a famous son. I’m the hyphen in between them.” This book then, can be read as a journey from one end of that hyphen to the other.
For all his mixed feelings towards his father, whom he called sa’ib, Rishi Kapoor always considered Raj Kapoor his mentor; he described him as the man who “loved his cinema, his booze, his leading ladies, and his work.”
Rishi Kapoor was the youngest of Raj Kapoor’s children to face the camera, at the age of 2. He doesn’t remember it, but has heard countless tales of his grumpy tantrums of the day.
“My father cast me in a passing shot in his film Shree 420 (1955) with my two older siblings. The song being filmed was ‘Pyaar hua iqraar hua’. As Nargisji, the leading lady of the film, mouthed ‘Main na rahungi, tum na rahoge, phir bhi rahengi nishaaniyan’, the three of us had to walk through heavy rain. But the water kept getting in my eyes and hurt me, so I would cry and refuse to shoot. Finally, Nargis-ji figured out how to handle my tantrums. Every time I had to do a retake, she dangled a bar of Cadbury milk chocolate before me, promising to give it to me if I did exactly what my father wanted me to. In the end, that was all it took for me to cooperate.”
Bobby And Heartbreak
Bobby (1973) was never meant to launch Rishi Kapoor as a lead actor. The opening shot did not have him riding a motorcycle or a horse, nor were any scenes written to showcase him as an actor. For that matter, even the film’s name, Bobby, belonged to the lead actress. For his father who directed it, it was just about the story.
The success of Bobby coincided with his first major heartbreak. When, during a night of drinking at the Taj, he sighted her with another man, he was devastated, drowning all of that sorrow in alcohol and rowdy behaviour against the manager who threatened to call the cops. He ran a bill of about 18,000 Rupees that night. Years later, when he met the same manager at the Taj in New York, they reminisced about that time, nostalgia painted over the experience, all ill-will kept aside.
Insecurities, Bachchan, And Awards
Showbiz is a deeply insecure business. But it was also a different time when the industry was an insulated family, who fought and made up with equal ease. Kapoor writes endearingly of these moments, like the drunken fistcuffs between Shammi Kapoor and Feroz Khan, when Feroze pointed out Kapoor’s ballooning weight, that ended at Haji Ali where they proceeded to drink some more and cry on each other’s shoulders.
How much ever love there is, there is that much more anxiety. When Kapoor’s Karz (1980) did not do as well as Feroz Khan’s Qurbani (1980), he became demoralized and depressed, blaming the failure on the recent marriage with Neetu leading to his diminishing fan base. He refused to go to the sets of the four films he was shooting then; psychiatrists were consulted. He eventually got over this phase but insecurities always linger.
When he was cast opposite Amitabh Bachchan in Kabhi Kabhie (1976), a lot of people warned him against working with Bachchan because of the lopsided distribution of scenes and whistle-moments. Another reason he rejected the film was because Neetu’s role was bigger. He ended up doing the film anyways after Shashi Kapoor intervened and flew him to Kashmir to shoot. But through the shoot, Bachchan and him never spoke. Kapoor surmises that this might have been because he bought his Filmfare Best Actor for Bobby, something Bachchan thought he deserved for Zanjeer (1973). These tensions would allay when they did Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) together and much later when they would become family, with Bachhan’s daughter marrying into the Kapoor clan.
The Ruffled Feathers Of Salim-Javed
After the success of Bobby, Rishi Kapoor confesses he was on another high altogether, so much so that he even jilted Javed Akhtar, one half of the famous writing duo Salim-Javed.
When he was in Bangalore, and had an evening free he went across to Bangalore International Hotel where he was told a film Sholay was being shot. At the bar, he met Javed Akhtar, whom he did not know. In his defense, they hadn’t become the iconic duo they would in a few years. Akhtar congratulated him on the success of the film.
Akhtar, a bit inebriated, went on to tell him “In 1975 we will release such a film that if it makes a profit of even a rupee less than Bobby, I will break the nib of my pen. I will never again write in my life.”
A few years later when Kapoor rejected Salim-Javed’s Trishul Salim was incensed. They were at their peak, and to be rejected by an actor was not something that happened often. He threatened to destroy Kapoor’s career. Kapoor couldn’t care less but was also relieved nothing came out of it.
Of course like most unpleasant interactions, this too would be swept under the rug. Later when Kapoor’s Amar Akbar Anthony succeeded against the Salim-Javed written Imaan Dharam (1977) Kapoor and a few friends decided to go pull Akhtar’s leg. They went to his apartment somewhere in Bandstand, and over drinks poured, began taunting Akhtar, ‘Sarkar, Imaan Dharam toh flop ho gayi.’
Kapoor was very impressed with how Akhtar handled this, when he turned around and observed, ‘Sarkar, hamari to ek film flop hui hai, tum ne to granth likhi hai flopon ki (We’ve had only one failure while you have a whole saga of setbacks).’
On Irrfan Khan And Stardom
There are some kind words he wrote about Irrfan, who like Kapoor passed away from cancer, a day before him.
“Today, the lines between a star and an actor are also blurring. An actor can also become a star. Irrfan Khan, who spent so many years on television, is a star at the age of forty-seven. Not only is he doing exceptionally well in India, but he’s feted and felicitated in the West too. There were the rare exceptions earlier, such as Amrish Puri, who found stardom when he was almost fifty years old. But it happens more frequently now.
Today, Irrfan shares honours with the glamorous young crop of actors at an awards night. That’s finding stardom. What else does stardom mean? Throwing your weight around like Rajesh Khanna did? Is stardom only defined by popularity, such as Salman Khan or Shah Rukh enjoy? Whatever the definition of stardom, I’ve always believed that if an actor works hard, he will earn it. I know that I am not the right candidate for stardom – I’m not thin and I’m not young – but I want to do good work, and will never stop wanting recognition for it. I am passionate about cinema, I am passionate about acting. Every time I interact with directors and producers, I feel like a child playing with a new toy.”
At one point Kapoor writes about how with every film’s failure he was written off by the film magazines, only to contradict them later on with a film that worked. “I don’t know how many times they wrote my obit.” It was such an odd line to read, as I sadly noted to myself that this time would be the last.