Rishi Kapoor made every person feel important

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Rishi Kapoor. Photo: Getty Images
Rishi Kapoor. Photo: Getty Images

A little bit of a gut, the cherubic physique, an impish smile and a face like a polished apple. That’s how I discovered Rishi Kapoor. A slight impatience used to underline his performances.

Those were more innocent days, the kind of days when an oversized sweater draped over the shoulders, became a fashion statement. Innocent days. 

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He survived the brawn of the late eighties and nineties, and remained a ‘romantic hero’, the one with the chocolate boy good looks. 

He played the son in the 80s family dramas: yet again that impatience and restlessness. He survived them all and returned in the noughts in older roles. He was just around, always had been, from a kid in Mera Naam Joker to a senior citizen.

The 2000s saw him debut as a hero’s father, he never watched his son’s films – including the one I wrote – Anjaana Anjaani, which is just as well, as an admirer I would have been crushed by a negative comment. 

The Rishi we, the public, came to know in the last decade was one who spoke his mind. Perhaps, he always did, but he was unique in the sense that he had no problem letting his views be known to the public. 

No fear of  loss of ‘popularity’, that elixir of celebrity living.

One time, I appeared on a TV debate with him over some of his comments. I assumed he would do the star turn and speak to the anchor and bid us adieu, but he stayed on defending his argument. He got this! 

In another life, he would have enjoyed being a TV debate panellist if not a top TV anchor: he could have been both. He had an opinion and was willing to air it. There were no coy silences from him. 

Multiple TV anchors have shared interactions with him. He was an avid TV news watcher and got back to them with his views. 

He was a celebrity of now, a bad boy at sixty, breaking the rules of elderly celebrity-hood. His Twitter profile is up front, you dare comment on his lifestyle and he will block you. He gave as good as he got.

I bumped into him once as a teenager heading into a five-star hotel. I recognised him instantly, a younger Ranbir Kapoor trailed his father, and we reached the door at the same time. 

The older Kapoor paused and stepped aside, opening the door for me. It was my first brush with celebrity and being treated like a lady. Years later when I worked with his son, I never mentioned it. It was too trivial. But maybe it was not, because the memory still lingers. 

Isn’t it in the end all about how you treat people, even those you meet for a few moments?

My friend, Ashraf, who works at the Pierre in New York City, shared a moving post on Facebook about his interactions with Rishi Kapoor during his year long stay in the city for his treatment. 

One line in the heartfelt post stood out, “he made every person in the room feel important, especially the least important one, which was usually me”. 

Ashraf is being modest he is a celebrated chef and Rishi Kapoor was a celebrated gourmand, I daresay he was very important!

His long career in the movies gave him consistent success, and decade after decade he delivered. The audience never tired of him. 

His four-decade old marriage to his one time co-star Neetu Kapoor nee Singh, withstood the storm of a diagnosis that would have brought a lesser man to his knees. But not Rishi Kapoor, he was going to take it on with the sportsmanship that marked his many film choices where he made way for the other hero and even sometimes the heroine! 

He was just that generous as a performer, at a time when it wasn’t expected of him. He was Bollywood royalty, a third-generation Kapoor, introduced into the profession by his illustrious father. 

He could have spent his entire existence in hubris and there would have been an explanation. But not Rishi.

Is it any wonder that he emerged an original amidst the factory of big screen heartthrobs his family produced in every decade of Indian cinema? Maybe he never aspired to it, but he ended up managing to do that anyway.

Goodbye Rishi. Your family says you went out entertaining the hospital staff and keeping their spirits high. Who would know better than you what the heroes in this pantomime being played out on earth right now need. 

Yet again, you ensured every encounter with you, however brief, be it with a doctor or a nurse or a chef or a teen-aged girl, is special. 

Your encounters with the audience will last a lifetime and longer.   

Advaita Kala is an author, screenwriter and a columnist. The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

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