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Rishi Kapoor belongs to the generation of actors whose lives were well documented by the film magazines that were very popular in the Seventies and Eighties before the tabloid and then internet boom. So his life was a lot in the public eye, not as much as stars today, but still with a certain lack of privacy. That’s why it would probably come as a surprise to the reader that a star as successful and universally admired as Rishi Kapoor went through a period of depression when a few films failed, and even Karz, did not do as well as expected.
His autobiography, Khullam Khulla Rishi Kapoor Uncensored (co-written by Meena Iyer) has a lot of anecdotes about his life and work, and is as candid as can be—which means it reveals as much as the reader needs to know, without letting it all hang out. It is not so much uncensored as self-censored—which is not necessarily a bad thing; hardly any Indian celebrity would lay his or her life totally bare. And the fact also is, that the Indian reader does not really want to be a voyeur, or of some the scandal-mongering books about stars would have been bestsellers.
Rishi Kapoor is known to be outspoken (he often sets Twitter on fire), witty and articulate—all these traits are displayed in the book. He is also proud of his lineage, good looks and talent, so there is no false modesty. It is also a gentle book in many ways, in that his frankness is not hurtful to anyone. And almost everything is wrapped in a sense of warmth and humour—like a fireside chat with friends over a drink; there is no reason for even the closest friends to know everything.
He gives a glimpse of his relationship with his father, Raj Kapoor, so wrapped up in his work, that he became a figure to be respected and admired from a distance. He writes quite honestly about the heavy drinking—a Kapoor trait—and his father’s stable but rocky marriage to his mother; rocky because of the affairs everyone knew about.
Because of his father’s brilliance and power, Rishi got his break easily in Mera Naam Joker at 16 (for which he won a National Award and didn’t think it was a big deal then) and then Bobby at 21, which made him a major star.
He quite rightly says that he did his romantic hits (many with then girlfriend, now wife Neetu Singh) at the height of Amitabh Bachchan’s angry man action roles. He also takes a small swipe at Bachchan for never acknowledging the part of his co-stars in his success. Interestingly, he confesses that he paid to get the Filmfare Award for Bobby, the year Bachchan’s milestone film Zanjeer was released and undoubtedly was more deserving of the trophy. It caused a chill between them, which thawed only with Amar Akbar Anthony.
Amusing too is his encounter with Dawood Ibrahim, and his spats with his friends Jeetendra and Rakesh Roshan. What Rishi does remarkably well, is describe how films used to be made back then, and how the industry was a tightly knit fraternity, where filmmakers cared about their actors and vice versa. Show business has always been an uncertain and competitive business, but is a star was indisposed, the filmmakers and co-stars would wait for him and adjust their dates to accommodate him. Today, a star is surrounded by a phalanx of managers and this air of camaraderie has faded.
Rishi Kapoor is understandably proud of the second phase of his career, when he is getting really challenging roles, after a long innings as romantic star opposite a record-breaking number of new leading ladies. (Perhaps this time, a well-deserved National Award would be a big deal.)
In an afterword Neetu Singh paints an affectionate word picture of the man she lived with for over three decades, in spite of his moods, possessiveness (not just towards his wife but also his daughter Riddhima; he would not be able to bear it if she chose a career in films) and, amusingly, his miserliness. The problems behind them, they are now Bollywood’s most-loved couple and parents to chip-of-the-old-block Ranbir.
There is still a lot of the Rishi Kapoor story still untold—maybe there will be a sequel a few years down the line.
Khullam Khulla Rishi Kapoor
By Rishi Kapoor with Meena Iyer
Publisher: Harper Collins
Excerpt of Khullam Khulla
To go back to Amitabh, I must confess there is still a lingering issue I have with Amitabh Bachchan. A big disadvantage of working in an all-star movie in those days was that everybody only wanted to make action films, which automatically meant that the star who could carry off action with the most flair would get the meatiest part. That's how, with the exception of Kabhi Kabhie, which was a romantic film, none of the multi-starrers I featured in had an author-backed role for me. Directors and writers unfailingly reserved their strongest, pivotal roles for Amitabh Bachchan. And it wasn't just me. Shashi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna faced it too.
Amitabh is undeniably a superb actor, immensely talented and, at the time, the number one star who ruled the box-office. He was an action hero, the angry young man. So roles were written for him. Although we may have been smaller stars, we were not lesser actors. Yet, the rest of us had to constantly measure up to him. We had to work hard, really exert ourselves to match up. In my time, the musical/romantic hero had no place. Amitabh was an action hero in an era of action films. As such, writers gave him the lion's share and he had the authorbacked roles in almost all his films. This gave him an advantage over the rest of us who had to make our presence felt with whatever we got.
But this is something that Amitabh has never ever admitted to, in any interview or book. He has never given due credit to the actors who have worked with him. He has always credited his writers and directors, Salim-Javed, Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Yash Chopra and Ramesh Sippy. But it is also true that his co-stars had an undeniable role in his success. Shashi Kapoor in Deewaar (1975), Rishi Kapoor in Amar Akbar Anthony and Coolie or Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and Dharmendra all contributed to the success of his films where they shared credit with him, even if in secondary roles. This is something no one has realized or acknowledged.
But it was the way things were and we accepted it gracefully. Not because we considered ourselves inferior actors but because tedha sikka chal raha tha (that was the coin of the day). It cannot happen today. No Khan works with another Khan. Nobody is willing to work with any other hero on such unequal terms. Today, if Shah Rukh Khan is ruling the roost, Salman, Aamir or Hrithik will not accept a secondary role. Vinod Khanna was damn good in Khoon Pasina, Shatrughan Sinha shone in Kaala Patthar, Shashi uncle was superb in Kabhi Kabhie. But if they remained unappreciated, it was because they were working at a disadvantage. But still we worked together amicably.
Fantasy fiction is now catching up in India and Vadhan’s Agniputr: When Agni First Spoke is an early entrant into the genre. According to the synopsis, “When ace lawyer, Raghuram Surya, received an order of requisition from the Government of India for his ancestral castle, he was unaware of the Sutram beneath it or his own legacy. He will have to choose between the world’s end or his own. Before long, the lawyer takes on India’s most powerful politician, Kiromal, a man utterly obsessed with power. Kiromal and his sinister Tantric advisor intend to use the evil beneath the castle to play God. Raghuram finds an ally in Sheila, a scientist who is tasked to investigate the Sutram. Using Quantum science to interpret a Vedic verse, they will have to unravel the secrets of Creation to stop the destruction. Through it all, they have to be one step ahead of Kiromal just to stay alive. Now is the time of final reckoning. Will Kiromal harness the evil to rule the world? Or will the Sutram break free to eradicate the planet? Or, are Raghuram and Sheila merely pawns in an even deadlier game?”
Agniputr: When Agni
Not much is known about the character of Ashwatthama from the Mahabharat, Aditya Iyengar’s book fills in the gaps in knowledge. The synopsis states, “Leper. Murderer. Hero. The battle of Kurukshetra has come to its catastrophic end after eighteen long days. As Ashwatthama, the lone survivor of the Kaurava camp, slowly regains consciousness, he realizes, to his horror, that he has been condemned to a life of immortality and leprosy by Krishna, the mastermind behind his opponents’ victory. Burning with hatred for the Pandavas for killing his friend Duryodhana, and stricken with anger at his own fate, he vows to seek revenge.
“When he hears of an infallible gemstone that promises to restore his mortality and cure his leprosy – and allows him to exact vengeance – he is determined to go to any length to acquire it. But he finds himself facing an impossible choice, for his quest could result in the death of the woman he loves. An exhilarating tale of passion and redemption, Palace of Assassins masterfully recasts the events in the aftermath of the great war and presents Ashwatthama, one of the most misunderstood characters of the Mahabharata, in a whole new light.”
Palace of Assassins : The Rise of Ashwatthama
By Aditya Iyengar