Walking down the roomy corridors of the RK Studios office sends you back in time. Rishi Kapoor, sitting behind a desk that carries a unique film legacy, surrounded by film art that resonates cinematic glory of the Kapoor Khandaan, smiles warmly. I am glad to be here, but also a bit anxious to not get my questions wrong, or (heaven forbid) put words in his mouth. He forbids questions on Ranbir Kapoor. But that does not dampen my spirits.
The tea & biscuits that he offers with warmth is so genuine, it makes you wonder how has a member of original film royalty managed to remain real in a plastic, gilt & glitz industry. I am also a huge fan of this most underrated performer, who enhances many films today with his natural born acting prowess. And in interviewing him, you find out how endearing, natural & originally entertaining Rishi Kapoor is!
You were a Bollywood heartthrob in the seventies & eighties; but you seem to get really meaty, quality roles in your current phase as a senior actor. Since you’ve also featured in many films that were ahead of their time, do you think Hindi cinema has changed for the better today?
It’s difficult to answer in the sense that during that time (the seventies), this kind of cinema was never made. And during this time that kind of cinema is not welcome. It’s become redundant. When you say ahead of their time, I did many such films, like ‘Ek Chadar Maili Si’. People didn’t accept it. Thereafter, I also did a film called ‘Luck by Chance’ and was speaking to Zoya (Akhtar, director) the other day; I asked her that despite the film being good, why didn’t it work. She said that perhaps if it had released now, it would have done better.
There is no barometer to measure why a film does well or doesn’t do well. Films are either good or bad. So I didn’t think these films were bad, perhaps they didn’t get the right release. A few films that I did 4-5 years ago- like ‘Do Dooni Char’ did okay business when they released. I feel they would have done even better now. A film like ‘Chintuji’, which no one saw, didn’t do well; but I think it would have been watched now.
Cinema addicts and cinemagoers today like seeing such films. Today we have a niche audience that sees films like ‘NH 10’, ‘Badlapur’, ‘Queen’ etc. But that category wasn’t ready five years back.
After multiplexes emerged, educated audiences began to buy tickets. Only they can afford those. Such audiences perhaps like such films. Maybe the films Shashi Kapoor made- ‘Junoon’, ‘Utsav’, ‘Vijeta’, or ’36, Chowringhee Lane’- would have worked with audiences today. These films were much ahead of their time and were never welcomed then. Shashi Kapoor lost so much money then, he burnt his fingers by producing them but he wanted to make quality, good films. Those films are being made today; what he ventured to do 35 years back!
My father made so many such films like ‘Ab Dilli Door Nahi’, ‘Boot Polish’, ‘Jaagte Raho’; of course those films did well then and are appreciated now as content driven films. So I am talking about the kind of films we Kapoors have always done.
There’s always a luck factor too. Picture bhi aadmi ki jaise kundli lekar aati hain. Sometimes, films for some reason, beyond comprehension do very well when they feature big stars; these are sometimes absolutely bogus material. Such films do so well at the box office; because star power pulls the audiences in the theatre When star power & content come together, that’s a magical combination.
You get the substantial quality parts in many films currently. Are you enjoying yourself?
Todays time I am getting some wonderful roles. I play an eighty-year-old man in ‘Sanam Re’, Divya Kumar’s film; and I play a 90-year-old man in ‘Kapoor & Sons’; which is very challenging for me. I will show you pictures.
(Pulls out his phone & shows stunning images of the mask for face mapping. This is to prepare prosthetic make up for his 90-year-old role in ‘Kapoor & Sons’)
I will be made up by make-up technicians from Hollywood. They are coming down especially to do my make-up. It’s very expensive but my producer (Karan Johar) wants it!
You see how detailed the mask is; this is the profile of my face. I am very happy to play a 90-year-old man. I love the challenge. How many people get the chance to play a 90 year old who is also a protagonist in the film.
(Shows supercute pictures of him as an 80 year old man in ‘Sanam Re’; I can’t help but remark about how cute he looks.)
This is how I look in ‘Sanam Re’, the make-up has been done by our own artists. They have created the look. The role requires me to look cute. Then there is ‘Patel ki Punjabi Shaadi’ with Paresh Rawal. There’s another film called ‘Aayi Bala Ko Taal Re’, which is a topical film. It doesn’t have a star cast thereby it is having problems with the budget. And then there is ‘All is Well’ with Abhishek Bachchan.
My hands are full as an actor and of course; one always looks for fresher pastures as an actor.
When you were one of India’s most popular leading men, did you imagine that this phase would happen too? That you would be so busy as an actor now?
No I didn’t. Luckily, as cinema gets better, roles are being written for our age, even beyond it, like 80 or 90 year old parts. Cinema has evolved over the years. I never imagined that in my adult age, I would get so many opportunities to work. I don’t play the redundant father parts, for there is nothing for me to do in those. There’s nothing for me to do in them. This was very rarely done earlier.
Shashi Kapoor has been honored with the Dadasaheb Phalke this year. Do you think it’s timely?
Recognition can be given anytime in your lifetime; and his contribution to better cinema, or his contribution to theatre with Prithvi; has been honored. One cannot also ignore his contribution as an actor.
Actors today have to deal with so much attention, with social media & camera everywhere; including Ranbir Kapoor, your son. Do you think the sixties & seventies were better that way? One didn’t know or see stars everyday so an aura of exclusivity surrounded their lives.
In the sixties, seventies or eighties, they used to pay to see themselves projected. People used to buy awards. Now everything is quite automated because of platforms like social media that one is advised to be a little careful; as you shouldn’t get over exposed. That’s one of the reasons that Ranbir hasn’t come on to social media. He wants his privacy to be protected.
Not that I am doing much on social media. I am just making comments that I feel. I don’t think anybody intruding in my private space.
As for Twitter, I had realized I shouldn’t be opening my mouth too much. I get a lot of compliments, but I also get tons of brickbats. Some use abusive language, I think these are called Internet trolls, and I block them. That way I don’t have to deal with them in future. This way I have lost about 400-500 fans. I don’t care. I have made it very clear that vulgarity, abusive language & anti national comments are not welcome. I will not tolerate it. If anybody uses this sort of language, I simply block them. Young people read these tweets. In my rage, I might have occasionally abused too, but I have limits & I won’t accept such behavior on my set up. They are the losers not me.
This mobile phone is just an evil thing. Life used to go on before too, when there were no mobile phones. So you know when you have some free time, what to do, lets see what is happening. So then I go on to Twitter. Like, something is bothering me currently, that some actors notify the press when they arrive at the airport. Why do they have to do that? PR teams inform the media but I want to tweet about that! I had also tweeted about how some actors wear dark glasses at the airport at night!
So I want this generation to be bloody ridiculed. They are doing stupid things and they should be corrected! The media doesn’t do that.
I guess things change & evolve with time. Every generation has to adjust to a gearshift on how cinema accepts you and audiences accept you.
But in this current phase, would you agree that sometimes stardom comes a little too quickly for actors? Two hits suddenly lead to an increase in fees, in endorsement deals or in overall exposure. Does that really work in favor of the film industry? Contrast that with say, you & Neetu Singh, your wife, stepping out. The fan following that you have here or abroad, is organic. Therefore, do pumped up star images really work?
Nahi Aisa nahi hota hain. You people in the media seem to think that way. Certain people, including producers or film trade, are very grounded in finding out what pull or how much draw does an actor actually command in the theatres. If you make yourself a star like that, it doesn’t mean you become a box office star too.
We find a fan following because there are two generations that recognize us. People from our generations & people from Ranbir’s generation recognize us because of our work. I am still working, as is Neetu. Ranbir’s age group also knows me as his father. That’s a big advantage we have.
Sir I have to ask- there were reports that you have watched ‘Bombay Velvet’. Is that true?
Where have I seen it? Its just nonsense!
Amongst the recent releases, are there any films that you’ve liked?
I liked Varun Dhawan & Nawazuddin Siddiqui in ‘Badlapur’. I liked Anushka in ‘NH 10’. I really liked Radhika Apte’s performance in ‘Badlapur’. She was brilliant and I have mentioned her too. The ensemble cast of ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ was simply wonderful- Ayushmann Khurana & Pednekar girl. The film has the plot from ‘Naseeb Apna Apna’, my film, but this could be coincidental. This film is very well done. The basic points are similar. I like these kinds of films these days.
About Kapoor & Sons, could you tell us a bit about the film?
I can’t say much, but I am excited to work with the young director Shakun Batra. He looks like a schoolboy to me. If he were to wear shorts, I would say he has bunked from school & come to the sets. ‘All is Well’ is complete. Umesh Shukla is a very good director as he has proved earlier. Going forward, I will sign films that will challenge me. I won’t do redundant roles; I need something to chew on.