Book Review: Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored, Film Companion

Written in his own voice, this biography of actor Rishi Kapoor begins with the trademark candour people have come to associate with the man. As written by journalist Meena Iyer, the book opens with a description of the fortunes of Kapoor’s father – the legendary Raj Kapoor – at the time of Rishi’s birth, including the woman he was in love with back then: fellow actor Nargis. 

Although it’s hard to see how Rishi Kapoor could have sidestepped this widely known fact, it makes for a suitable opening to a book that promises to dish out its subject’s life khullam khulla. And it’s clear that familial ties and his illustrious lineage define Rishi’s identity, right from this birth story. 

First things first, though; here’s the film trivia. The blue eyes in the family come from Prithvi Raj Kapoor’s wife, Ramsarni. Raj Kapoor kept a stack of his favourite Amar Chitra Katha, Tintin and Archie comics by his bedside. Dev Anand snagged “Ruk Jaana O Jaana” for Warrant because he dropped by the studio during Kapoor’s sitting with RD Burman. 

Fellow Pathan Amjad Khan was a polyglot who drank 40 cups of tea a day. The flared black trousers Kapoor picked up in Beirut and wore for “Oh Hansini” (a song I love) were actually meant for women. Son Ranbir was probably conceived during the shoot of “Meri Kismat Mein Tu Nahi Shayad.” Phew.

Book Review: Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored, Film Companion

A young Rishi Kapoor. 'Everyone used to call me an Iranian kid – I was so plump,' he says. 

Throughout the book, there’s Kapoor’s in-your-face authorial voice, but also a certain interiority and self-reflection that comes across as a pleasant surprise.  While charting out his illustrious career, Kapoor points out that most of his successes were incidental, since he went with the flow depending on his best instincts, something he continues till date. 

Never interested in the movies, it was the Bobby experience that drew Kapoor in – and almost ended his career. Post the movie’s runaway success, Kapoor struggled with the subsequent failure of Zehreela Insaan and Karz, by his own admission unfairly blaming his marriage to co-star Neetu Singh for his loss of popularity. 

Book Review: Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored, Film Companion

With his kids Ranbir and Riddhima Kapoor

It took the steadfast support of family and friends to bring him out of the ensuing depression. Maybe this experience is to credit, in part, for the sensitivity with which Kapoor recounts the struggles that his own family and other members of the film industry have endured. Such stories – whether it is the experience of Raj Kapoor after Mera Naam Joker or Yash Chopra before Chandni – serve to humanise the film world for its audience. 

One criticism of this otherwise engaging book would be that it often ends up reading like an extended interview. Some of the disjointed anecdotes are essentially stray reminisces that don’t lead anywhere. We never really do get to know what accident Rajendra Nath met with the day his sister (and Rishi’s maternal aunt) Uma married Prem Chopra. 

Much like his online persona, Kapoor is not afraid of ruffling any feathers here: he addresses everything from the Dawood rumour to fallouts with best friends Guddu (Rakesh Roshan) and Shambu (Jeetendra). Those looking for dirt on Sonam Kapoor (post the infamous Koffee with Karan episode) will be disappointed, apart from some subtle shade about how father Anil Kapoor must be routinely ‘bullied’ by the three women at home. 

Book Review: Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored, Film Companion

On his wedding day, 22nd January, 1980. Kapoor admits that there was a time when he blamed his marriage for his waning popularity and unsuccessful films

Kapoor casually brings up Sanjay Dutt’s drug years while addressing a skirmish with him at then-girlfriend Neetu’s residence. It will be interesting to see how this detail will play out now that it has been confirmed that Ranbir will play Dutt in Raju Hirani’s biopic. 

While some sections read like unending complaints, Kapoor is never uncharitable or unfair – just unerringly blunt. He takes great pains to clarify that he has always been faithful to Neetu, a claim she backs. Theirs is an interesting love story – from helping him drunk dial his ex, Neetu eventually became a friend, confidant and lover. Sure, there are enough disagreements described here to warrant a standalone film, but this reads like a relationship between equals. 

Bookended by an indulgent afterword by Neetu and a warm foreword by son Ranbir (quite a coup for HarperCollins), Kapoor’s biography stays true to its premise, ending with a quip by Neetu saying she is Kapoor’s best partner – both on and off screen. I think readers will be inclined to agree.


Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers India


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