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RIP Rishi Kapoor: Romance is dead

Famed for his romantic roles, Rishi Kapoor’s second innings as an actor was even more amazing than his first.

April 30, 2020 / 01:54 PM IST

Once Bollywood’s heartthrob, now a seasoned actor is no more. Morning chai couldn’t be any bitter than with this news on Twitter. And just when my old turntable was playing, ‘Kisi pe dil agar aa jaye toh kya hota hai…’

Rafoo Chakker was a fluff popcorn movie. About a hero and his sidekick who dress up as women and join the girls on a college excursion. Rishi Kapoor first made drag an acceptable way of romancing girls. And the songs, of the songs he sang to seduce them! You’d have to be made of ice to not be touched by ‘Tumko mere dil ne, pukara hai..’

Anyone who grew up with Bollywood knows Raj Kapoor and Nargis singing in the rain pointed us to him saying, ‘Phir bhi rahegi nishaniyan’. Rishi Kapoor then showed up as a lad who discovers love in the shape of a girl who wears shorts and knotted blouse. The polka-dotted dress on a girl who calls Rishi Kapoor, ‘Dibba!’ became all the rage then, but he carried pants with flaps on his front pockets and nylon printed shirts and giant round sunglasses with equal elan. What made Bobby so special was this very young lad running away with Jack Braganza’s daughter. But first, it taught Indian girls and boys to ‘go Dutch’ on a date. As Jack Braganza said, and I paraphrase, there’s so much money in my cupboard as there are fish in the sea. Yes, Raj Kapoor did get young Dimple Kapadia to wear an orange bikini and white shorts while playing badminton while the lad watched her. While Rishi Kapoor does sing, ‘Main shayar toh nahi…’ the song is all about Aruna Irani’s bare back and her cleavage.

A cousin who did emulate Bobby and Raja baba’s elopement explained the influence of Bobby on her life. And I never understood why Khel Khel Mein was such a huge hit at parties we kids were not allowed to attend. Everyone dressed like Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh to dance to ‘Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu!’ and ‘Khullam Khulla Pyaar Karenge Hum Dono’. Those large collars on polka dot shirts were best of fashion. Speaking of fashion, how I yearned to fall in love with a man who could carry off Cable knit sweaters! But if Rishi Kapoor was wearing them while romancing, perhaps a man could wear that sweater with style was the man for me! That’s what a million girls thought. Who’d have thought a baby-faced ageless lad could have girls swoon over him?

My favourite memory of Rishi Kapoor was having rented a movie called Hum Kisise Kam Nahin as a grown-up. That was the first musical that made me wish I had been old enough to have watched it when it released. I suppose no other film until then had had songs back to back in a competition. And each of the fifteen songs was fabulous. RD Burman’s unforgettable music added an extra something to these songs. This was also my first encounter with the magical electric guitar - that plays even when not connected to any power source. This was the first dance off! ‘Mil gaya humko saathi!’ is like ABBA’s ‘Mamma Mia’ and if you listen carefully, ‘Honey Honey’ plays right before ‘Chand Mera Dil’...

The list of his romantic movies is endless. He’s Akbar Ilahabadi, romancing heroines (mostly Neetu Singh) by vowing, ‘Parda nasheen ko be-parda na kardoon toh…’ From Dhan Daulat to Chandni he was king of romance.

Journalists will vouch for great personal encounters with him. All I have is a story of ogling at him eating with his lovely wife at Mahesh Lunch Home in Juhu. This was after he had made a wonderful, wonderful movie Patiala House where he plays the father to Akshay Kumar who is a brilliant football player but has to obey his crotchety dad who will not allow his son to play for ‘the enemy’.

Rishi Kapoor’s second innings as an actor was even more amazing than his first. He may have been the man who sang, ‘Sagar jaisi aankhon wali ye toh bata tera naam hai kya!’ (again playing an acoustic guitar that sounds like an electric one!) or the man stunned, allowing the girl he loves, dance around him,‘Yeh galiyan, yeh chaubara / Yahan aana na dobara / Ke tera yahan koi nahi!).

He had great comic timing too. His teacher in Student Of The Year, the desperate middle-class dad in Do Dooni Chaar, and his Romy Rolli in the brilliant film Luck By Chance encapsulate Bollywood for us when he says, ‘Nikki is a crocodile in a chiffon saree’.

If you watched movies like Ek Chadar Maili Si, you’d know that he possessed acting chops as well. But they showed up as he aged like a good Scotch.

His scary Rauf Lala selling a girl on the steps in Agneepath (the Hrithik Roshan version of the film) still produces a shiver of fear down my back.

As a policeman who thinks up a plan to plant a lookalike inside a baddie’s world in Aurangzeb, Rishi Kapoor wasn’t bad. But this version of Don sort of died for reasons other than Rishi Kapoor. He appears for a moment to give Katrina Kaif gyaan about love needing the right time to blossom in Jab Tak Hai Jaan, but his undying grandpa in Kapoor And Sons (ghastly prosthetics notwithstanding) will always make you smile.

People loved him in 102 Not Out where both Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor acted outrageously over the top, but he’s forgiven because he gave us Mulk. His Murad Ali Mohammed asked a very pertinent question, ‘Why do Muslims have to prove again and again that we’re Indian?’

That Murad Al is gone. That Rohit Gupta who flung rose petals out of a helicopter on to his love is no more. That Monty danced so casually on a giant rotating vinyl to Om Shanti Om, that Monty who was born again to play that ever-familiar riff on the guitar and sing, ‘Ek Haseena Thi, Ek Deewana Tha’ is gone.

One day after Irrfan is lost to Bollywood, this king of romance is no more. I feel Aruna Irani right now as the turntable clicks on to ‘Sapna mera toot gaya, tu na raha kuch na raha, roothi huyi yaadein mili, bas aur mujhe kuch na mila..’

Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.

Manisha Lakhe
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.