Many people don’t know what to do when life changes around them. They worry and flounder. Not Rishi Kapoor. Even as his son Ranbir climbs up the stardom ladder, Rishi, the one-time romantic hero, is creating an acting career for himself all over again — and in a completely new way.
“I was happily oriented to change, but at my own pace and time,” says the actor who has refused to compromise on the quality of his work over the last few years.
In the ’70s, when action ruled Hindi movies and Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna were the stars, Rishi arrived on the scene with a romantic movie, Bobby (1973). “It wasn’t easy to be pitted against Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna. But I did it and enjoyed that phase, especially the first 25 years of my stay at the top,” says the actor who was the romantic lead in almost 100 films.
Between 2000 and 2011, he played some forgettable character roles in a few films. But with his more recent performances in Do Dooni Chaar (2010) and Agneepath (2012), it became clear that Rishi was back with a vengeance. Filmmakers are even writing roles for him. Now, with a spate of big movies under production (Mehrunnisa, two Yash Raj Films projects and another with Paresh Rawal) and about six releases coming up this year (including Kanchi, D-Day, Aurangzeb and Besharam), there is no doubt at all about Rishi Kapoor’s place in the film industry.
We meet him at the famous Kapoor bungalow, Krishna Raj, for a lengthy personal interview.
You’ve reinvented yourself as an actor.
I guess so. In the first 25 years of my career I sang songs, wore jerseys and romanced heroines in the valleys. And as was predictable in Hindi films, I got slotted into the quintessential chocolate boy image. But I am the same actor with the same expertise. I was always capable of doing it; it’s only that the opportunities to explore myself fully are coming to me now. So yes, there’s a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment.
How does it feel to be Ranbir Kapoor’s father?
Neetu complains that I’ve no good words for Ranbir and he tells his producers and directors that his dad never says anything about his work. But let me confess today that my chest swells when someone comes up to me and praises Ranbir. I don’t praise him to his face because he’s too young for such compliments. Once I tell him he has arrived, that’ll be the end of his career.
What were you like in your heyday as compared to Ranbir?
Success hit my head and I went crazy. And till I hit bad times, I didn’t realise what was happening. But when I look at Ranbir, I am amazed at the way he has handled his success. His discipline, modesty and down-to-earth designs are very impressive. He has got these values from his mother. I had once told him to not let success go to his head and not let failure go to his heart. He has kept that in mind.
Why did it take you so long to return?
Cinema is celebrating character actors like never before. Films are being written for them. Look at Do Dooni Chaar. Neetu and I were playing the leads! Filmmakers’ sensibilities are getting real and the booming multiplex culture an indication that the intelligentsia wants better stuff. It’s a healthy and welcome sign for actors of my age. Earlier, character roles were usually limited to playing a father and I did a few of those, but with a lot of discomfort. But I realised that I was wasting my time. I am not a flash in the pan. I am too expensive to be wasted like this. So I put my foot down and told everyone not to waste my time.
I also know that at my age I cannot bring audiences to the theatres. That’s for the young actors to do. But I am confident of hooking them once they are in. The point is, if I take up something, I need to add value to it.
How much say do you have in Ranbir’s career?
All his creative decisions, success and failures are his own. I have no say. He chooses his films. The only film that I know he is
working on currently is Besharam and that’s because I am also in the film with him.
Have you and Neetu met Ranbir’s girlfriends?
We actually don’t meet in that way. I read about his relationships the same way that you read about them. He never discusses his love life with me. He talks to his mother. Ranbir and I don’t share a buddy-buddy relationship.
Our cinema has never gone beyond the typical boy-meets-girl kind of stories. What do you say to that?
Absolutely! I never understood why Indian films from my father (Raj Kapoor)’s time have always been youth-oriented and love story-centric. Okay, it works, but why don’t we step beyond the obvious?
Why aren’t you exploring other avenues of visibility to connect with your fans, such as theatre, television and social media?
I am too boring and a lazy guy to be online. I was on Facebook and my account got hacked twice, so I gave up. As for TV, nothing substantial has come my way and I refuse to be one of three judges on a show. That’s not worth my time. I also cannot do theatre, because I cannot keep repeating myself. I am a spontaneous actor. Sorry, I don’t intend to demean or offend anyone.
So what will interest you on TV?
Television offers have been coming since the last 12 years. Dance, songs, and romance made up the genre that I was known for, so obviously the reality shows that are on TV today have wanted to get me on their shows. But I am very clear that I cannot be judgmental of people because I don’t have much patience. I don’t want to hurt or jeopardise anyone’s confidence. But I feel I am a good conversationalist and anything based on that will be nice. And it also has to be at my pace and on my terms.
Besides, I’ve heard that the TV industry’s working hours are scary. Jesus, 16 hours a day! I cannot start my day before 11 am or work after 8 pm. I am not just an actor, I am also a studio owner, I have to sign cheques and meet people. I look after my son’s business interests. There are some commitments that my wife needs from me. I have to wait for my cook to come in the morning and pack my tiffin as I don’t eat outside food.
But we all have to make adjustments with work, right?
It’s not that I haven’t worked such odd hours, but I can’t keep on doing the same thing all over again. TV and theatre requires a lot of stamina. However, I don’t have to work at this stage of my life. I have done enough. But I love acting and don’t want to retire. It’s a source of my sustenance.
How do you see today’s cinema?
Technically, we have improved. We have great sound systems, perfect theatres, good seats, air-conditioners, great ambience and delicious popcorn! Comfort makes you enjoy cinema. Imagine watching a great film in a theatre with rats trotting around or the sound of a fan distracting you. You won’t enjoy it.
But content-wise, we have weakened a bit. And that’s absolutely fine. The young actors of today are far superior and more confident than the actors of my time.
Why do you say it’s weakened?
During my grandfather, Prithiviraj Kapoor’s time, films were mostly about mythology or were socials. There was no concept of romance or song-dance movies. When my dad became an actor, India had just got its independence and the youth at that time was struggling to find its identity. There were problems and there were stories to tell which were made into movies peppered with romance, songs and dance. When I became a hero, romance had just blossomed. So today’s generation doesn’t have any major problem to be addressed.
They have no problem with their parents, because the parents let them be. So where’s the scope to tell great period-related stories?
We’ve heard you have a bad temper which has led to many personal upheavals in the past…
Being short-tempered has been my weakness. But everyone has different sensibilities, thoughts, opinion and mood swings. So there ought to be fights when two people live under the same roof. Hota hai yaar! (It happens). Both Neetu and I are very strongheaded individuals and we fight every month. We don’t talk to each other for months, it takes a long time to patch up.
Yes. We were not on talking terms while shooting for Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012). We had one scene together and did it without talking to each other. We patched up much later, when we went to London.
There’s a growing feeling that stars are over-paid. What is your take on that?
They don’t charge obscene amounts. Actors are just as responsible for the success of a film as anyone else. Maybe there can be a streamlined and believable structure to determine an actor’s pay. Strategies need to come up.
I think they should start taking shares in the profit. Huge stars have the prerogative to have shares in their films. It works for Ranbir that way. I never dreamt that I would be making the money I am making today. The volume of movie business is growing by 15 per cent every year. Ranbir Kapoor says he’ll revive the RK banner.I am fed up of answering this question, it’s been asked often over the last 10 years. As far as I am concerned, I or my brothers are not making any film under this banner. I am an actor and my prerogative is acting. I can’t talk on behalf of Ranbir. He is most welcome to do it.
Neetu and Ranbir look very health-conscious. Do they make you feel like a misfit in the family?
Why? Can’t fat people have a good life? Neetu takes care of us and herself too. She’s very disciplined and dedicated about her
workouts. Even though I listen to her and control my diet, I cannot live on celery sticks and soup for dinner the way she does. I know I should think about my health, but I am a Kapoor and genetically tilted towards good food. I enjoy gourmet food. Then why should I compromise on my food? I work for it and have full freedom to live my life the way I want to live.
But honestly, I want to lose more weight, but I am unable to get a grip on the right balance. I am not a very disciplined person and I am very fond of my drinks.
Is it true that you’re embarrassed by your pet name Chintu?
It’s ridiculous and embarrassing to be addressed as Chintu which means a little boy. Initially, I used to get very angry, but now I guess I’ve learnt to live with it. Pet names sound like you’re calling out your dog. That’s why I consciously avoided pet names for my kids.
This great idea of addressing me as Chintu started in school and was initiated by Dabboo Sahab (Rishi’s elder brother Randhir) because I would follow him around. Actually it all started from a riddle — chote se chintu miyaan, lambi si poonch, jahan jaaye chintu miyaan wahan jaye poonch. Boloi kya hai? The answer was a needle with a trailing thread.
If you had to choose the most difficult role from your entire repertoire, which would that be?
The three female-oriented films — Prem Rog (1982), Damini (1993) and Chandni (1989). Damini especially was very difficult. If I had over-stepped, the hero would have become negative. To play to the gallery is very easy, but to play an underdog or put on a restrained performance is very difficult.
How do you see Ranbir’s various link-ups?
Ab nahin karega toh kab karega? (If not now, then when?) Like him, I also had many girlfriends and link-ups before I married Neetu. He is a successful, good-looking, disciplined young man and this is the age he should be meeting all kinds of people. Only then will he be able to make up his mind. Someday he’ll get married and we will welcome her as our bahu (daughter-in-law), whoever she is.