A void that can never ever be filled up
Today morning, Rishi Kapoor, my dear grumpy old friend for the past five decades, passed away though he had emerged victorious after battling with cancer for almost a year in US. Though I was quite friendly with the Kapoors especially Raj Kapoor with whom I used to drink occasionally in the evenings as well as his Loni Farm House, it was Rishi Kapoor who I used to call Chintu affectionately, who was my dear friend as we belonged to the same age group.
Chintu and I share the same birth year -1952, though he was both eight months later and we used to have a great camaraderie. The last time I had WhatsApped Chintu was when he celebrated his 67th birthday in New York. Within minutes of my having wished him, Chintu WhatsApped me back, “Thank you Jyothi. 11 months 6 days here today in NY hopefully will be back soon.”
Once at PVR Juhu, I had gone to see a Bengali film as the director had invited me for it and I bumped into Chintu who had come to see a Hollywood film there. He called the F&B guy in front of me and while paying him cash for whatever he had purchased at the counter, he winked at me. “Like you journalists who are fed at press shows and pampered, I do not get freebies but I insist on paying for what I buy and do not try to use my clout as a star.”
I remember I had written to him on WhatsApp that there were rumors that his father, the late Raj Kapoor, had lifted a foreign tune and rehashed it as his own in the film Awara and he quickly had retorted, “You should brush your knowledge about foreign films. This song was in a film after dad had produced Awara. How could he have rehashed that song? It is high time that you retired from journalism Jyothi”.
I should concede that as it was Chintu who had preceded me as a child actor in Mera Naam Joker in 1970 even before I could as a journalist in 1972, he used to bully me often, but I had met him at the race course at Mahalakshmi where I used to work as a steward at the Talk of Town when he used to come to gamble in the races. To pin down Rishi Kapoor for an interview was like asking for the moon because at that time in the 80’s he was evading the media.
When I asked Rishi whether he had any qualms about losing his evergreen bachelor image as he was all set to marry his sweet heart Neetu, even before I could finish asking the question, he interrupted me halfway with, “I care a damn for image”. He continued, “Did my father Raj Kapoor or for that matter Dilip Kumar or Ashok Kumar lose their bachelor image just because they got married? On the contrary their fans knew that they were all happily married and yet fell for them”. Rishi winked at me and quipped, “Why, my father was the biggest lover boy among all the leading men of the 50’s and 60’s in spite of the fact that he was the father of all four of us- Dabboo, Chimpu, Reema and I.”
When his marriage with Neetu Singh was drawing near, I remember asking him what he thought of life after marriage and the trail of responsibilities that marriage would bring along with it. “Zyada farak to nahi padega in my case”, he said and went on to elaborate, “I agree I have to care more for home and cannot have late nights like these days. But then even nowadays, whenever I keep late nights, I inevitably spend them with Neetu besides me. After marriage too, I may spend late nights but the only difference will be that I will be spending them with Neetu inside our home.”
Rishi had confessed to me that actually he wasn’t at all prepared for an early marriage with Neetu and was more eager to consolidate his career of the moment. “People ask me if I had to encounter problems in convincing my parents about Neetu. On the contrary, it was my parents, who sprang a pleasant surprise on me at Delhi where I had gone to attend the engagement of Rajendra Kumar’s daughter Dimple. They asked me to ask Neetu to rush up to Delhi and forced me to get engaged to her. I tell you, Neetu has worked her way to the hearts of my parents.”
After marriage, Rishi wanted to settle down at the cottage at Chembur where Raj Kapoor had spent the best years of his life and Rishi had grown up as a toddler, because “I want Neetu to get accustomed to the Kapoorian traditions and ways of life and become a part and parcel of my family by living with my parents, at least for a year after marriage before we shift to a new bungalow which we intend buying, just like Dabboo shifted with Babita bhabhi to his flat at Napean Sea Road.”
Rishi is a staunch male chauvinist. “Call me a MCP, I do not mind, but then I wouldn’t like my wife to work in films after our marriage. Tell me why I should make Neetu work in films? Basically, she is least interested in working in films. She isn’t career conscious like some of the other actress wives. I was adamant about Neetu being completely free from any film commitment, including dubbing work once we got married as I did not want her to have any tension after marriage.”
When I met him sometime back, Rishi did admit that he had become awfully choosy. “I have decided not to take up each and every role that I am offered, however, irresistible the temptation may be, because I do not want to screw my career up. I was fed up of the same kind of dancing roles I did in film after film which did not leave me any scope to get my teeth into the role, leave alone do justice to the role. It is up to the audience to accept me or reject me outright, but I think it is a risk worth doing character roles, including the villain like I did in Agneepath.”
I will now miss the days when Chintu and I used to sit at his bungalow and drink Black Label and he used to narrate interesting anecdote after anecdote to me till he was totally drunk and insist on me too finish drinking the whole bottle and yell at home when I used to refuse. Where will I get an actor friend like Chintu today when every other actor is selfish and will not talk to me if I do not have an appointment with him through his PR guy or secretary?
(Jyothi Venkatesh is a senior film journalist from Bollywood)