In Memoriam: Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan

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FILE PHOTO: Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor answers questions during a news conference discussing his new film “Besharam” in New York, September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Two iconic actors of Bollywood, Rishi Kapoor (September 4, 1952 – April 30, 2020) and Irrfan Khan (January 7, 1967 – April 29, 2020), died this week due to their respective health ailments after being diagnosed with cancer – which they had been struggling with for years – even as they continued to give fine performances which received critical acclaim, and won awards.

Leading man Kapoor, who starred in celebrated Bollywood movies such as “Bobby” and “Mera Naam Joker”, and was known as the original ‘Chocolate Boy’ of Indian films, due to the charming and exuberant romantic persona that he played in several hit Hindi films over two decades, died on Thursday after a two-year battle with leukemia, his family said.

Kapoor, 67, the scion of a famed film industry family, is survived by his wife, actor Neetu Kapoor, and two children, son, actor Ranbir Kapoor, and daughter, Riddhima Kapoor Sahani. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2018.

“He remained jovial and determined to live to the fullest right through two years of treatment across two continents,” the family said in a statement.

The actor had moved to New York for treatment soon after the cancer was detected, returning to his hometown of Mumbai last September.

Kapoor’s family after his death urged his fans, who under normal circumstances would have been expected to pour onto the streets to mourn him, to follow novel coronavirus social-distancing rules.

“There are numerous restrictions around movement and gathering in public. We would like to request all his fans and well-wishers and friends of the family to please respect the laws that are in force,” the family said.

Kapoor came from a family of actors.

His grandfather, Prithviraj Kapoor, was a pioneer of Indian films. His father Raj Kapoor is considered as one of the greatest actors and directors of Bollywood. His brothers Randhir and Rajeev, and his son, nieces and nephews have all played roles in films. His maternal uncles Prem, Rajendra, and Narendra Nath, as well as Prem Chopra; and paternal uncles Shashi and Shammi Kapoor, were also actors. His two sisters are the late Ritu Nanda, was an insurance agent, and Rima Jain.

He made his debut at the age of 16, playing a younger version of his father’s character in the 1970 film “Mera Naam Joker”, for which he won the National Film Award for Best Child Artist.

Kapoor’s first on-screen appearance, however, came much earlier. He played a cameo in his father Raj Kapoor’s film Shree 420 (1955), where he would appear in the popular musical sequence of “Pyar Hua, Iqrar Hua Hai”.

As an adult, Rishi’s first lead role was opposite Dimple Kapadia in the teen romance Bobby (1973), which won him the Filmfare Award for Best Actor. Between 1973 and 2000, Kapoor starred as the romantic lead in 92 films.

In a 2012 media interview, he said of the film Bobby:  “There was a misconception that the film was made to launch me as an actor. The film was actually made to pay the debts of Mera Naam Joker. Dad wanted to make a teenage love story and he did not have money to cast Rajesh Khanna in the film”.

Some of his notable films during this period include Khel Khel Mein (1975), Kabhi Kabhie (1976), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Karz (1980), and Chandni (1989). Since the 2000s, he played character roles to critical acclaim in such films as Love Aaj Kal (2009), Agneepath (2012), and Mulk (2018).

In 1991, Kapoor starred along with Pakistani actress Zeba Bakhtiyar in Henna, which was planned and started by Raj Kapoor, though it was directed by Randhir Kapoor, due to the demise of Raj Kapoor before the completion of the film. The film was India’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

He worked with actress Neetu Singh for the first time in Zahreela Insaan (1974). The two would go on to share the screen in multiple projects, including Kabhi Kabhi (1976) and Doosra Aadmi (1976), and would eventually marry in 1980.

Between 1973 and 2000, Kapoor’s other film roles (mainly as the romantic lead) include: Raaja (1975), Laila Majnu (1976), Sargam (1979), Prem Rog (1982), Coolie (1983), Saagar (1985), Chandni (1989), Bol Radha Bol (1992), Damini (1993), and Karobaar (2000). He debuted as a director in Aa Ab Laut Chalen (1999).

Kapoor also successfully transitioned to character acting in the early 2000s, going on to appear in several successful films in diverse supporting roles, such as in Agneepath (2012), as an antagonist; in Student of the Year (2012), as a gay character; and in D–Day (2013), as real-life mobster Dawood Ibrahim. His other character roles from the 2000s include Hum Tum (2004), Fanaa (2006), Namastey London (2007), Love Aaj Kal (2009), and Delhi 6 (2009).

After two decades, he had his on-screen reunion with actor Amitabh Bachchan in 102 Not Out (2017), in which the two play an old-aged father-son duo. In 2018, he appeared in the Netflix drama Rajma Chawal.

For his performance in Do Dooni Chaar (2010), he won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor, and for his role in Kapoor & Sons (2016), he won the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor. He was honored with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. His final film appearance was in The Body (2019).

An alum of Campion School, Mumbai and Mayo College, Ajmer, Kapoor’s autobiography Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored, co-written with Meena Iyer, was released on January 15, 2017.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted he was anguished by Kapoor’s death.

“Multifaceted, endearing and lively … this was Rishi Kapoor Ji. He was a powerhouse of talent,” Modi said on Twitter.

VERSATILE ACTOR IRRFAN KHAN

Irrfan Khan, Best Supporting Male nominee for “The Namesake”, arrives at the 2008 Film Independent’s Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California, February 23, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/File Photo

Irrfan Khan, who brought versatility and style to recent hit films and had roles in Hollywood movies such as “Life of Pi” and “The Namesake”, died on Wednesday, aged 54.

His death, after a prolonged battle with cancer, was confirmed by a spokesman who said Khan was surrounded by family at the time. He is survived by his wife Sutapa Sikdar, and two sons.

“He fought the many battles that came with it,” the spokesman said in a statement, referring to the diagnosis of Khan’s rare cancer in 2018.

Khan was among the first Indian actors to make a consistent mark in Western cinema, following in the footsteps of crossover pioneers such as Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth and Om Puri.

Khan’s career spanned over 30 years and earned him numerous accolades, including a National Film Award, an Asian Film Award, and four Filmfare Awards. In 2011, he was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honor.

“An incredible talent,” said Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, among the tributes on Twitter that followed Khan’s death. “A gracious colleague. A prolific contributor to the world of cinema … left us too soon creating a huge vacuum.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed his condolences.

“Irrfan Khan’s demise is a loss to the world of cinema and theatre. He will be remembered for his versatile performances across different mediums,” Modi said in a tweet.

Born Sahabzade Irfan Ali Khan in Rajasthan, in a family with no ties to the cinema, the actor recalled in interviews that as children, he and his siblings were not allowed to watch movies.

The only exception was when a visiting uncle took them to the theatre. Inspired by India’s arthouse cinema of the 1980s Khan decided to make a career in the field and moved to New Delhi to study theatre.

He then moved to Mumbai in search of acting jobs, but the Bollywood films of the 1990s did not present opportunities for the understated acting that Khan favored.

Khan worked in serials for Indian television for close to a decade and sought bit parts in films. Khan made his film debut with a small role in Salaam Bombay! (1988), which was followed by years of struggle.

In 2001, as he was close to giving up, British filmmaker Asif Kapadia offered him the lead role in “The Warrior”. The film won a BAFTA for Best British Film and was Britain’s entry to the Oscars. It also opened the doors to Hollywood, which appreciated Khan long before Bollywood claimed him.

He went on to act in indie hits such as Mira Nair’s “The Namesake” based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s book as well as more popular fare, including “Jurassic World”.

In “The Namesake”, he won praise for his sensitive portrayal of a man who moves to the United States and grapples with the crises of identity that first-generation immigrants can face.

Khan acted in filmmaker Ritesh Batra’s debut, “The Lunchbox”. An intimate story about a cantankerous man and the woman who mistakenly sends him her husband’s lunch box one day, the film won worldwide acclaim, including in India.

After starring in The Warrior, he had other breakthroughs with starring roles in the Hindi dramas Haasil (2003) and Maqbool (2004). He went on to also gain critical acclaim for his roles Life in a… Metro (2007), and Paan Singh Tomar (2011). For portraying the title character in the latter, he won the National Film Award for Best Actor.

Further success came for his starring roles in Piku (2015), and Talvar (2015) and he had supporting roles in the Hollywood films The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Life of Pi (2012), Jurassic World (2015), and Inferno (2016).

His other notable roles were in Slumdog Millionaire (2008), New York (2009), Haider (2014), and Gunday (2014), and the television series In Treatment (2010). His highest-grossing Hindi film release came with the comedy-drama Hindi Medium (2017), which won him the Filmfare Award for Best Actor, and his final film appearance was in its sequel Angrezi Medium (2020), which released recently in India.

Khan also featured opposite Roopa Ganguly in Basu Chatterjee’s critically acclaimed drama film Kamla Ki Maut (1989). In the 1990s, he appeared in the critically acclaimed films Ek Doctor Ki Maut (1990), and Such a Long Journey (1998), as well as various other films, which went unnoticed. In 1998, he played Valmiki in Sanjay Khan’s serial Jai Hanuman.

In March 2018, Khan announced that he had been diagnosed with a neuroendrocrine tumor. He subsequently returned from London, where he was being treated.

In his younger days, Khan excelled in playing cricket too. He was selected to play in the CK Nayudu Trophy for emerging players in the under-23 category, a tournament seen as a stepping-stone to first-class cricket in India. However, he did not attend as he could not afford travel expenses.

In his early days in Mumbai, he took up a job as an air conditioner repairman and visited the home of his acting inspiration, Rajesh Khanna, in 1984. Later in an interview Khan said, according to Wikipedia, “The kind of craze witnessed by Rajesh Khanna has not been duplicated by anyone. He was the biggest and the most real star Bollywood has produced. I’d say stardom is that feeling of being possessed by your idol; you are so overwhelmed with euphoria you lose touch with reality.”

In September 2015, he was appointed the brand ambassador for “Resurgent Rajasthan”, a campaign by the state government of Rajasthan. He lent his voice to the light and sound show at the war memorial for the Indian army at Vidhan Sabha Road, Jaipur. The show portrayed the valor and courage of Rajasthani soldiers, and their historic and modern triumphs in battle.

Actor Akshay Kumar paid tribute to both the actors.

“This week has been a tough one for Bollywood. With the industry still currently at a standstill due to the Coronavirus outbreak, it has also seen the passing of two eminent actors, Irrfan Khan and veteran Rishi Kapoor at just 53 and 67 respectively,” he said.

Kumar co-starred with Khan in the 2011 Bollywood hit Thank You, a romantic comedy drama revolving around three married men and best friends at work.

Kumar tweeted: “Such terrible news…saddened to hear about the demise of #IrrfanKhan, one of the finest actors of our time. May God give strength to his family in this difficult time.”

Kumar had also appeared alongside Kapoor in a number of successful films over the years including Housefull 2, Namastey London and Patiala House.

In his post to the actor, Kumar wrote: “It seems like we’re in the midst of a nightmare…just heard the depressing news of #RishiKapoor ji passing away, it’s heartbreaking. He was a legend, a great co-star and a good friend of the family. My thoughts and prayers with his family”.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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