Rishi Kapoor, forever the romantic hero

Published : April 30, 2020 15:41 IST

Rishi Kapoor, a 2016 photograph Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

Ever since he was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, he had been out of the limelight: the films he had signed stalled, social appearances disappeared, and he maintained an uncharacteristically low-profile on Twitter too. And when his health seemed to have turned the corner following treatment in New York, came the first photographs of the once chubby face, a white beard now masking his tired eyes. Back home, Rishi Kapoor signed a couple of films, including one with Juhi Chawla. But that was not to be.

Rishi Kapoor breathed his last in Mumbai on April 30. He was 67.

In many ways, his last couple of years were a mirror image of his career where for a long time he was the good guy playing second fiddle to the hero, and in a hero-driven industry, remarkably even to his heroines. His was the sideshow to Padmini Kolhapure’s saga in Prem Rog. He was a mere accompanist to Jayaprada showing her dancing skills in Sargam. He was the man behind Sridevi in Harmesh Malhotra’s Nagina. And the man the audiences forgot in Damini, a film that is remembered for its Meenakshi Seshadiri signature and one in which Sunny Deol’s and Amrish Puri’s lung power overwhelmed Rishi Kapoor’s good boy looks and finesse.

It all started with his first film, Bobby, where viewers showed far more enthusiasm for the swimsuit-clad Dimple Kapadia. That screen image did not change for many years.

Rishi Kapoor was always a competent actor who never fluffed his lines, yet was seldom a scene-stealer. He was the quintessential chocolate boy good girls could take home to meet their mothers without fear of rejection. One of those co-stars, Neetu Singh, who acted opposite him in films like Khel Khel Mein and Doosra Aadmi, went on to be his life partner.

Rishi Kapoor was always doomed to be a romantic hero, the one who could get the camera clicking on him on the dance floor, the one who could hold a guitar, sing a song, and the urban yuppy who had girls swooning over him. But he could never hold a gun, race a bike, or herd a flock of sheep. He was the good guy meant for the good things of life. And truth to tell, he did give some good cinema for posterity. Films like the blockbuster Karz, the mellow as autumn Kabhi Kabhie, and the soaked in the colours of nature Henna. Add to that Laila Majnu, Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, Prem Granth and Chandni, and you have films that will take you down memory lane. Nostalgia, with Rishi Kapoor a part of it, can be nice.

If in the prime of his youth he was a victim of his romantic image, later in his life he sought to colour his canvas with all possible shades. His experimentation with looks and characters resulted in Do Dooni Char, Chintuji, 102 Not Out and Jhootha Kahin Ka. He was scheduled to complete Sharmaji Namkeen with Juhi Chawla when the bell rang one last time, effectively denying him one last song.

For a man who had acting in his genes, being the thespian Prithviraj Kapoor’s grandson and Raj Kapoor’s son, Rishi Kapoor will go down in the annals as a man who made bold to act opposite Amitabh Bachchan at the prime of his career, as a hero who ceded space to heroines without compunction, and as the man who featured in some of the best songs in Hindi cinema. Yet, he will perhaps be remembered most as the man who was denied his own signing off moment.

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