Rishi Kapoor: The successful yet underrated star of Hindi cinema

How can a star be successful yet underrated, you may ask. Well, the answer to that question is Rishi Kapoor. Kapoor starred in over 150 films spread over four decades in the Indian film industry, but was not felicitated as much as he ought to have been. Rishi Kapoor’s passing away on Thursday saw an outpouring of grief from across the country and also all over the world. However, in an aspect not seen too often when a yesteryear star passes, his demise also saw the young generation mourn the news as much as their parents and grandparents. This was solely due to Rishi Kapoor leaving an indelible imprint on today’s youth through his performances in the last two decades — a period which was regarded as his second innings in Bollywood. From a villainous performance in Agneepath to making people smile with his role as a grandfather in Kapoor & Sons, he showed his versatility completely revamping his image of the 1970s and ’80s of being a chocolate-faced romantic star. In fact, this was Rishi Kapoor’s strongest asset — the ability to constantly re-invent himself and carve a niche through the decades he worked in the film industry. When Rishi Kapoor made his debut in 1973 with Bobby, it was the era of the Angry Young Man.

But Rishi Kapoor changed that, not blindly aping the trend of action — but staying unique and making a name for himself with contemporary romantic films for that time containing catchy songs beautifully picturised on him wearing his famous sweaters. From playing a dafli, as if he had grown up playing the instrument, in Sargam to gyrating on a revolving dance floor in Karz, the music of Rishi Kapoor’s films remain a must-play at weddings and music channels till today. He became the go-to hero for heroines like Jaya Prada, Ranjeeta and Kaajol Kiron to make their debut opposite and his pairings especially with Dimple Kapadia, Tina Munim Ambani, Poonam Dhillon, Padmini Kolhapure and Sridevi were some of the most feted. His most iconic pairing though was with Neetu Kapoor Singh who he later went on to marry. It’s very rare for hit onscreen pairs to reunite in a film as a lead pair decades later, but that’s exactly what Rishi Kapoor did — pairing up with Dimple Kapadia in Pyaar Mein Twist and Patiala House after a 20-year hiatus and reuniting with Neetu Kapoor Singh in Do Dooni Chaar and Besharam after a 30-year gap. Rishi Kapoor’s acting prowess and talent could be gauged by his winning an award considered the most prestigious — the National Film Award — for his very first film role in Mera Naam Joker. He won the award for Best Child Artist for his role as a younger Raj Kapoor. He followed that up with a Filmfare Award for Best Actor for his debut film as a lead in Bobby.

Interestingly, he later shared that Bobby was not written or conceptualised keeping him in mind. His father Raj Kapoor had wanted a big hit after the Mera Naam Joker box office disaster but could not afford to cast a big star and so, Rishi was roped in as the lead in a teen love story. And the rest is history. Despite winning two back-toback awards for his first two films, it may surprise some to hear that his next award only came 34 years later in 2008 which was a Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award. But far from retiring, he went on to give some of his most loved performances which earned him many more awards. Interestingly, Rishi Kapoor won more awards in his second innings than he did in his first when he was a lead star. Surely, this should not have been the case; a star with such versatility and flair for acting should have been feted with film awards at every stage of his career — from his runaway hits in the 1970s and ’80s to his reinvented avatar in the 1990s and 2000s.

This was an actor who was as much at ease in a multi-starrer as he was in a film which had him as a solo lead, this showed his comfort as an actor and co-star apart from the kind of human being he was. Some of his films may have had Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Aamir Khan in the lead, but his presence would shine out and leave an impression in the audience›s minds when they left the theatre. Such was his passion for the craft that all he could think of and was missing during his treatment for cancer in New York was the arc-lights and being on a film set, hoping he had not forgotten how to act. Rishi Kapoor definitely lived life ‘Khullam Khulla’ and we will always remember you, Rishi ji with a smile and not a tear as you would have wanted. In his words from Yash Chopra’s swansong film Jab Tak Hai Jaan: “Har ishq ka ek waqt hota hai, woh hamara waqt nahi tha, par iska yeh matlab nahi ki woh ishq nahi tha.” Rishi Kapoor, it was your time yesterday, it’s your time today and it will be your time tomorrow.

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