Happy Birthday Raj Kapoor!

You’re dead, but that’s no reason to stop celebrating.  Your legacy lives on in many ways.  So I am going to count down 63 reasons I love you, one for every year you lived (until you died).

1.1.  I love you because your father Prithviraj Kapoor was a dedicated stage actor who brought you up backstage.

2. I love you because you were the oldest son of your family, the only one to remember the years living in Peshawar with your grandparents, and the years to struggle before success in Bombay.

3. I love you because you survived a level of tragedy at age 7 that most people would never be able to recover from (both your younger brothers dying within a week of each other).

4. I love you because, while your father was on set and on stage, you essentially raised your two much younger siblings.

5. I love you because at the same time, you also put in more than a full days work every day at your father’s theater company, going from stage hand to stage manager by the time you were a teenager.

6. I love you because you rebelled and joined films, rather than stage theater as your father wished.

7. I love you because you were already acting by 19, and you were a star by 23.

8. I love you because you turned producer and director at only 24, and your first film was a hit.

9. I love you because your lifetime of training in theater stood you in good stead, letting you design everything from costumes to sets in a way no other director could.

10.  I love you because despite your obvious brilliance, your father never quite understood or appreciated what you were doing.

11. I love you because your first movie, Aag, was a lovely and lonely cry for love.

12. I love you because in your next film as a producer, Barsaat, you became one half of the greatest Jodi Indian film would see until SRKajol.

(Yes, Nargis was in Aag too, but that was more of a glorified cameo, here she was one half of the lead pair)

13. I love you because in your 3rd movie, you revolutionized film forever.  Creating the kind of transgressive natural passion that India had never seen, and which Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe and Asia fell in love with.


14.  Giving us the modern dream sequence, with elaborate sets and visual metaphors.


15.  And at the same time, a sweet and natural (and sexy!) love song.


16.  Also a lengthy opening childhood flashback to explain motivation and insecurities in the adult characters.

(Baby Shashi!)

17. And a modern young woman with a traditional faithful Indian heart.


18.  Not to mention the social message, the tragedy of the patriarchy doubting and punishing innocent women.


20.  And of course the ultimate Indian hero, charming, wandering, homeless and loveless but with great heart.


21.  I love you because while you produced hit after hit after Awara, you get working as an actor as well, funding your own films.

22.  I love you because eventually you were able to build a grand studio space, the rental of which is still keeping your family supported today.

23.  I love you because you refused to rest on your laurels, constantly driving Indian film into new directions, not just making socially relevant urban romances, but a children’s movie (Boot Polish) and a peasant film (Jagte Raho).

24. I love you because you did right by your long time collaborator Nargis, at least professionally, always giving her great characters with screen time equal to your own.

25. I love you because you did the same for your co-stars like Pran and Premnath, making sure they each had a chance to shine, which also meant the films were stronger as a whole with the performances balanced.

26. I love you because you discovered and encouraged other talents like Lata Mangashkar and Shankar-Jaikishen.

27.  I love you because you worked day and night to build your career, so much so that you barely saw your own 5 children during their childhood, but brought joy to generations of other children not your own through the industry you helped build up.

28. I love you because at the same time you took the time to mentor your two younger brothers, making sure they received a higher pay than you did while working for your father, coordinating their film launches, and easing their way in a hundred little ways they never even knew about.

29.  I love you because unlike most producer/directors you didn’t just produce your own movies, you supported other talent as well.

30.  I love you because you were still stylish and dashing and well able to play the hero all the way into your 40s.

31.  I love you because, after inventing Indian film with Awara, you came back and perfected it (at least, your brand of it) in Shree 420.


32.  I love you because you also had time to give us a children’s song!


33.  Speaking of kids, you were also one of the first to insert an animated sequence!


34.  I already talked about how brilliant Sangam was.  But let’s take a moment to watch it again!  And appreciate not just his directing, but his acting.


35. Speaking of his acting, check out how amazing he is in this song in someone else’s movie, Teesri Kasam with a luminous Waheeda Rahman.


36.  But of course your Magnum Opus, greatest performance and greatest film, is Mere Naam Joker.


37. Another one!  This is the song that Asha Bhosle broke down in tears during the time I saw her (which I think was mostly because she was old and tired, but also a little the song).


38.  Mere Naam Joker broke your heart, but it also convinced you to make way for a new generation, and thus your next production was Kal Aaj Aur Kal, featuring all 3 of the Kapoor men with your oldest son Randhir taking the lead.

(Also, hey, check out Kareena and Karisma’s future mother dancing with her future husband!)

39. And you acted your best for your son!


40.  Besides working on our son’s film, and you kept working on films for other people, using your own labor to support the life of the studio.


41.  But what’s really impressive is how you gracefully you stepped aside, launching the next generation, not just of your family but of the whole Indian film style with Bobby.  You were 2 years younger than the Khan’s are now, but you knew your time was over.

42.  I love you because Bobby was brilliant, teaching a new kind of love story with teenage rebels who didn’t need society.

43.  I love you because the social issues you address, and your attitude towards them, was not just advanced for your era but even for India today.

44.  I love you because you managed to give a career to both your brothers, and launched all 3 of your sons before you were done.

45.  I love you because you also mentored and launched a series of young actress, from your future daughter-in-law Babita to Zeenat Aman to Meenakshi.

46.  I love you because you kept up the international profile you had gained from Awara, judging a Moscow film festival and making a cameo appearance in a BBC production of Kim.

47.  I love you because Google commemorated your 90th birthday in 2014!

Image result for raj kapoor google doodle

48. I love you because your widow, and grandson Ranbir, still live in the house you built for your wife and parents with your film earnings.

49.  I love you because your name is still so powerful that your grandsons can only get a launch by invoking it.

50.  I love you because you used to take your daughter’s son with you on location during his school vacations, an experience which gave him the confidence and comfort in the film industry to make him the only man not afraid of Amitabh Bachchan, and therefore the only man capable of marrying his daughter.

Image result for shweta bachchan and wedding

(Look how cute Navya Nanda was when she was tiny!)

51. I love you because you nailed young innocent love when you yourself were pushing 50.


52.  And you did it while acknowledging their sexuality and hormones.  And with a tiger!


53.  And creating songs so timeless that they were just referenced in your grandson’s film earlier this year.


54. Speaking of sexuality, you also gave the world Satyam Shivam Sundaram.  Which gave us some lovely songs, and also of course Zeenat Aman without a blouse.


55.  And also the groundbreaking first white sari-water fall scene.


56.  Groundbreaking in a different way was your film with Rishi in which you let him romance and bring back to happiness an abused widow and rape victim.


57.  And it wasn’t just that he romanced her, he was willing to confront all of society and argue for her freedom and happiness.


58. Of course, all that social statement won’t pay the bills.  He still had to launch his last son, in a film that was scandalous enough to catch society’s attention (the breast-feeding scene!)


59. I love you because by the time you had seen both younger brothers and all 3 sons launched, and both daughters and sisters married, you had worked yourself to sickness.  Well, hard work plus the congenital Kapoor issues with food and drink.

60.  I love you because you were offered one last honor, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest film honor, right before your death.

61.  I love you because your death was as magnificent as everything else in your life, you collapsed live on television as the Prime Minister of India was about to give you your award.

62.  I love you because your legacy lives on in your family, not just in film, but in the parties and the responsibility to the rest of the film community, and everything else about how they live their lives.

63.  And finally, I love you forever and ever for creating the ultimate film sequence of Indian film, the one that tells you everything you need to know about why these films are special, and like and unlike every other industry at the same time.


10 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Raj Kapoor!

    • Oh yeah, he called himself out on it. It was a conscious homage, and Chaplin was super popular in India, so everyone knew that it was a conscious homage. It would be like saying, I don’t know, “Did anyone ever point out that ‘Starry Starry Night’ is about Van Gogh?” Or, “Did you know the BBC ‘Sherlock’ TV show is a reimagining of Sherlock Holmes’ stories?”

      And his Chaplin-like character is really just the starting point, he has his innocent tramp introduction, but then he quickly changes into a character that is uniquely Raj Kapoor.


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