My Dear Kapoors—Part 1: Rishi Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor

Rishi Kapoor with wife Neetu Kapoor. Photo: Instagram / Neetu Kapoor

 The First Family of Hindi cinema—the Kapoors—deserve that title not just for the fact that they have been now around for four generations, or five, if we consider the fleeting cameo by Prithviraj Kapoor’s father—Dewan Basheshwarnath Kapoor—in the 1951 Awara, which featured four Kapoors from three generations: Raj Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor as a child actor included!

They have all been darlings to the core, as I can honestly and frankly say so based on my interactions with all the three sons of Raj Kapoor (Randhir, Rishi and Rajiv Kapoor), Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor and finally Ranbir Kapoor. I never interviewed Aditya Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor’s son (who turned actor at 54!) but had a pleasant exchange with him at an event held at Raj’s RK Studios for the launch of their only foray into TV (which did not materialize).

Rishi Kapoor

Rishi Kapoor passed away three years ago on April 30. Often termed moody and eccentric, he was, simply, one of the loveliest souls in Hindi cinema. As a journalist, an interview with him never happened for just one of those reasons until 2009. Yes, I had a flying interaction with him in the late ‘90s. I had gone to meet Laxmikant-Pyarelal at Mehboob Studios and there was some confusion about whether Laxmikant would be coming that day, while Pyarelal was supervising the film’s background score.

As I also wanted to meet Laxmikant, someone suggested I call his house. This would have meant searching for the nearest public phone. But as Rishi Kapoor overheard the conversation, he came and offered me—a stranger then to him!—his mobilephone. “Here! Take this and call him!” he said shortly. And so, the first call I ever made from a mobile was from Rishi’s phone!

In 2009, I got his direct phone number from a colleague, and Rishi brusquely told me to call after a few days when I said that I had wanted to meet and interview him. When I did, I told him that I had just watched Wake Up Sid!, had found the film passable but had loved his son Ranbir Kapoor in it. He was so pleased he gave me an appointment the next day!

The next day, in his hall, he shook hands and said, “Meet my wife. Her name is Neetu!” I doubt whether any other famous actress who was a star-wife has ever been introduced like that!

A great interview followed. Along with the tea came a jumbo-sized chocolate slice, too large for a normal person’s consumption, and clearly a part of a larger cake. So I asked him, “What is the occasion?” (for the cake). And he grandiloquently replied with waving arms, “You…you are the occasion!”

This was but the first of many meetings, all memorable ones.  He even told a fellow mediaperson later that he had been impressed by only two other journalists (besides her) in recent years, one being me!

Remarkably forthright on all matters, he would occasionally fume when he felt I had asked something improper! When I rephrased the same question in a clearer way, he would immediately thaw, smile and say, “Then say that, na!” and answer away!

Rishi was always brutally frank about his life and times. This became more pronounced as he entered the most rewarding phase of his acting career from 2010. “In our times, no one got roles worthy of their talents, because all of us were imprisoned in images!” he had thundered. “But now cinema is changing, and our audiences are less forgiving!”

In an earlier meet, he had also been a shade critical of son Ranbir Kapoor’s choice of movies then. “But we Kapoors have always had a policy. We never interfere in each other’s choices!” he had said wryly.

One day, I called him to ask whether I could meet him, as 102—Not Out was releasing soon and he was playing a 70 year-old in it. He barked, “What questions you guys ask! I am just back from meeting about 30 to 40 journalists! I have decided now never to do group interviews again, and I don’t want to meet anyone for this film anymore!” He disconnected the line.

Exactly 10 minutes later, he called me, “Can you come tomorrow morning at 11?” he said, his voice softer. I had some other commitment at that time and told him so, and he grumbled, “Well, you said you wanted to meet me! Okay, call up tomorrow evening and we will see!”

When his biography, Khullam Khulla – Rishi Kapoor Uncensored came out, his number flashed on my mobile again. “This is Rishi Kapoor. I would like to send you a copy of my book. Can you text me your address?” In all my interviews, I had somehow overlooked taking a picture of us—who could have told that he would go so soon?—but I now treasure that wonderful personalized note he wrote for me inside his book.

Shortly after that, we had our last proper interaction—I wanted him to speak on Dharmendra for my book on the latter, Dharmendra—Not Just A He-Man. They had done six films together. “I don’t think I can say much on him!” he told me. “But come if you want!” And he actually gave superb copy!

And then he went abroad with a cheerful tweet about his treatment. I was diligently following his tweets all through. When he came back, we met only once, fleetingly, at writer Amit Khanna’s book launch, where he was in a hurry to leave and we only greeted each other. And look at the coincidence—our last meeting was also where we had first met—at the Mehboob Studios now-defunct recording studio, just a venue for occasional film events in today’s times.

Shammi Kapoor was internet-savvy from the early 1990s. Photo: Publicity Photo

Shammi Kapoor

The family pedigree is indeed formidable. All the Kapoors I have met have been phenomenal human beings. Large-heartedness is ingrained within them. I first met Shammi Kapoor in the early 1990s when I was rookie scribe. After a very interesting interview, I had asked him, “What is this Internet and email I have been reading about?”

He escorted me to an inner room that was air-conditioned (“It’s necessary in Mumbai’s climate!”) wherein a large wooden box encompassed a computer of those times. He explained email as simply as he could, though I confess most of it went above my head!  He also told me that he was designing a “website” on the Kapoor family and showed me some images and text. That too, was beyond my comprehension then! But at that time, this man, who had used the term “Yahoo!” in his cult 1961 song from Junglee, was already the President of the Internet Users’ Association of India that had very limited members then!

We had multiple other meetings even after the millennium, including special ones where he expounded on on his favorite composers Shankar-Jaikishan and another on favorite singer Mohammed Rafi. In his drawing room, he had partitioned off a chamber and would sit with three computers, two of them Macs. He already had kidney issues and would have to undergo dialysis thrice a week. If complications like fever developed after any session, he would have to stay there overnight.

But he always picked up his mobilephone and on such occasions would boom, “Hi, Rajiv! I am in hospital today! Call me tomorrow!” And, many times, on days when he was free at home, he would call me over.

Positive to the core, he would be, in his last few years, on a wheelchair, as his toes were amputated because of diabetes. I later came to know that with this major handicap, Shammi would often drive his Mercedes—all the way to Pune, 120 kilometers away!

In one interview, he said, “Do you know how bad I was in my first film? The producer wanted me to look and act just like my brother Raj (Kapoor)!” I just smiled, and he said, “No! Come here!” and he pulled me towards the third computer (a Mac) and showed me a scene! He added, “Then there was my second producer, who wanted me to act like Premnath, who too, was a big star then!” Another movie segment was duly shown!

As he put it, “I can never understand why my brother Shashi (Kapoor) has lost all the will to live life after his wife, Jennifer, passed away! We barely meet now!”


…To be continued






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