I am trying to keep each of these posts to around 2,000 words, just seems like anything more would be too over-whelming! Which means I had to break Ranbir off from his Dad. But, as a bonus, I am tossing in his youngest uncle (not much to say about Rajiv). And I will be back on Thursday to deal with the “other” Kapoors, Anil and Sonam and their clan. (part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here)
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: These are not “facts”, or “true”, or maybe they are, I have no way of knowing! I don’t know the Kapoor family personally or anything like that. But if you are just beginning to get into the films, I want to give you a sense of the background that most people have for the Kapoors, what is behind all the allusions in film articles and odd comments in interviews.
In my last section, I dealt with the somewhat toxic and dangerous situation in which Ranbir grew up, what with his father’s drinking and abuse of his mother. Of course, that isn’t true now, Rishi seems to have straightened up and gotten better and he and Neetu are more in love and happier than ever. But when Ranbir was little, it was really not great. And maybe that is why he ran off to New York as soon as he was old enough.
In New York, Ranbir studied at the School of Visual Arts, a for-profit film school. And the Lee Strasberg institute. And while there, he made a couple of short films.
This is me being pedantic for a second and translating these credentials from how they are perceived in India versus America and what they mean in the real world. In India, Ranbir is occasional referred to as “studying film in New York” in hushed tones, like this is an amazing credential. I think there may be some lack of clarity between “studying film in New York” and “studying film at NYU”. New York University has one of the best film programs in America, highly competitive, being accepted and completing it really means something. Both of the schools Ranbir studied at are open to pretty much anyone who applies. But what matters (especially in terms of the Strasberg institute) is what you do with it.
(Talia Balsam, for instance, took her Strasberg training and married George Clooney and then John Slattery. If only all their graduates could be so lucky!)
Both schools (especially the Strasberg’s, of course) have rolls and rolls of distinguished alumni. Who worked hard and learned all they could, and then went out into the real world and proved their abilities. Proved them in the way a “real” NYU graduate might not need to, they might be able to get by on the diploma and the connections, whereas a School of Visual Arts student really has to scramble and get there on their on merit.
And so here is Ranbir, who has the kind of technical training you get in an American film program, and the method acting training you get at the Strasberg institute. And the Kapoor credentials. And a seriously messed up childhood (which is also kind of a Kapoor credential).
(Messed up! Lots of servants, but messed up. See little Ranbir on the floor in the background?)
One thing I really respect about Ranbir is that he has been upfront about rejecting his New York training in favor of the desi style training he got in India. He says that he realized the filmwork in New York was useless after a few years, and came back to work as a utility apprentice for Sanjay Leela Bhansali and “really” learn the business.
This is the training his father and uncles and grandfather, even his great-grandfather Prithviraj, all got. Prithviraj worked at Bombay Talkies studio, where it was expected that everyone would know a little of everything. Acting, editing, directing, sweeping the canteen, whatever job was needed, you had to be able to leap in and do it.
Raj of course grew up with this attitude, and was treated like an employee backstage at Prithviraj Theaters, and so did Shammi and Shashi. Raj may have been the only big deal successful producer/director as well as star out of all of them, but Shammi and Shashi both tried their hands at directing in later years and did a decent job of it. Neither of their films were huge popular successes, but the critics liked them and Shammi’s Manoranjan is a bit of a cult fave (if you can find a copy, watch it! Super fun).
(Manoranjan is a remake of Irma La Douce, but with a Desi touch)
Rishi had his own directing attempts, helping his brother Randhir finish their father’s incomplete last film (Henna, generally accepted as India’s first cross-religion romance), and later making his own movie Aa Ab Laut Chalen in 1999, with the assistance of his 16-17 year old son Ranbir (and staring 26 year old Aishwarya Rai. Now think of their sex scenes in ADHM and cringe).
I’m not saying they were great directors, but all the Kapoor movie stars who came before Ranbir had the training and ability to direct. Not because they “studied in New York”, but because it was just something you were expected to know if you were going to be a major star. How can you pick scripts and films and keep your “brand” alive, if you don’t know every part of the filmmaking process?
And so Ranbir worked for Sanjay Leela Bhansali for a year, and then received the kind of grand launch that no one in his family had ever really received before. Randhir was expected to direct his own first movie, Rishi was shoved out to earn money for the family, and Raj and his brothers just sort of stumbled into a film and finally found their feet several films later.
Unfortunately, Ranbir stumbled too. His first movie Saawariya had him playing a kind of strange imitation of his grandfather’s young innocent role, in this weird Blue world, in a plot borrowed from Russia without nearly enough alternations to fit India. It didn’t have the “Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani” that Ranbir’s grandfather taught us was needed to make an Indian film work.
(They tried to call back to Raj Kapoors umbrella, but even that couldn’t save it. Also, it’s really really boring)
As damaging, possibly, Ranbir was shoved out into the world of the Indian press already tagged with the “Kapoor womanizer” label. “Everyone” knew that he and Sonam had started a romance when they were first assisting together on the Black set, that it had continued through filming Saawariya, and that she had left him because he cheated on her. These rumors are so strong that I am inclined to believe them, but it is also a bit unfair that Ranbir barely had time to find his legs as a public figure and we all had already decided he was another serial womanizer like his father, his grandfather, and all his uncles (except Shashi).
Ranbir leaned into this “womanizer” image, and the family heritage, with his second film and his first successful film, Bachna Ae Haseeno, the title (and title song) coming from his father’s famous song in Hum Kissese Kum Nahin.
But he followed it up with something completely different, which finally let him make his mark as something a little different than the Kapoors who had come before, Wake Up Sid. This is also his first collaboration with Ayan Mukherjee. If you haven’t heard of Ayan and Ranbir before, just think of it as Ayan-Ranbir=Karan-Shahrukh. They are best friends, they go everywhere together, and Ayan is also a brilliant scriptwriter/director who can perfectly capture Ranbir’s talents onscreen. Oh, and Ayan is Kajol’s cousin on her father’s side (the Mukherjee family is a whole other Hindi 101 lesson). Woman may come and go, but take it as a given that Ayan will always always be in Ranbir’s life, and is his “life partner” in a way no woman ever has been.
(Also, they are really cute together. I honestly don’t think it is a romantic partnership, but I would be soooooooooooo happy for them if I found out it was. Seems like the healthiest relationship Ranbir has ever had in his life)
His brilliant performance in Wake Up Sid, unfortunately was over-shadowed by more “womanizer” stories, as we all learned that his co-star from Bachna Ae Haseeno, young previously unsuccessful starlet Deepika, was now his serious girlfriend and had even had his initials tattooed on her neck. And then shortly afterwards learned that she had broken up with him for, once again, cheating on her.
(most scandalous and exciting version of this story: Ranbir and Kat start fooling around on the sets of Ajab Prem Ki Kahani. He flies her over to New York so they can continue their affair while he is filming Anjaana Anjaani with Priyanka. Priyanka calls up Deepika and tells on him. Deepika breaks up with him. And is either grateful to Priyanka, or a little mad at her along with everyone else for using the situation to her advantage, depending on which source you read. Or, a couple of rare sources say, he was cheating on Dips with both Kat and Priyanka, and Priyanka only spilled the beans on Kat out of sour grapes when she found out she wasn’t the only one)
Maybe if Ranbir’s films had been more consistently successful, the press would have focused on them instead of his affairs. Or maybe because his films were such flops, Ranbir used the publicity around his personal life to stay relevant. Either way, it got to be a bit of a toxic cycle. 2010 through 2013 he had flop after flop (with a brief intermission for sort-of flop Barfi!) and all of India was captivated by watching him bounce from Sonam to Dips to Kat. Including one of the all time great Koffee with Karan episodes in which Sonam and Deepika were on together and just about ripped him to shreds.
(This is them laughing at their ex-boyfriend together on international TV. Fun for Ranbir, I’m sure!)
And then he finally had a hit in 2013 with his second Ayan Mukherjee collaboration, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Which is also the first time he has co-stared with Deepika post-messy break-up. And suddenly people were talking about his acting and his star power instead of his personal life, for once. Okay, they are still talking about his personal life, but not in a way that makes him look particularly bad.
In 2013, a photo surfaced of Kat and he on a beach together on vacation, her in a tiny bikini. I am still not entirely clear on what the problem was with this photo (the bikini? The vacation together?) but the Indian press went mad for it. There were all these stories about how Rishi and Neetu disapproved, the scandal, this that and the other thing. Ranbir rode it out without really saying anything, poor Kat got caught in the center of the storm while on the Dhoom 3 press tour, but luckily Aamir was there to be the consummate gentlemen and take the heat off the questions. And Salman her ex also stepped in to make some comments in support (one of my favorite things Salman has ever done).
(These are the photos. I’m still not seeing the scandal. If anyone in the comments can explain it, please do!)
The “photo” stories finally died down, and instead we started getting stories about how Kat and Ranbir had moved in together, how an engagement was in the works, etc. etc. These stories started ramping up as his career took another nosedive. Again, I don’t think his PR machine was using his personal life to keep him relevant, but I do think the Indian press knew that the Kapoor name sells newspapers, and if he didn’t have a good movie to write about, they would write about his personal life. And so, as Besharam, Roy, Bombay Velvet, and Tamasha all slowly cranked out and died sad deaths, we learned about Kat and him throwing a housewarming party, Neetu shopping for wedding cards, the hunt for venues, what Rishi thought about all of this, and everything else the press could invent.
And in the middle of this desert of film failures, bam! Biggest Ranbir personal scandal of them all hit the news! Months before the wedding was rumored to happen, after the engagement had been officially announced, it was over. Ranbir moved out of their shared apartment and back into his grandmother’s house, Kat started looking for a new place to live and (supposedly) spending time with her ex-Salman.
All this while Ranbir’s most public former relationship, Deepika, was gloriously triumphantly happy in her personal life and professional life. And his second most famous ex, Sonam, was too. Sure, there were stories that Kat left him because he was tomcatting around again, Alia (of all people!) was mentioned. But based on his recent Koffee With Karan appearance, and his strict focus on work and work relationships (months and months spent working on ADHM, more months spent now on the Sanjay Dutt biopic), Ranbir is breaking off from that loverboy image once and for all. Or at least trying to. He wants to go back to being known as the serious actor of the Kapoor family, and he is trying to go back to being the “filmmaker trained in New York” Kapoor, with his co-production on Jagga Jasoos possibly showing the way towards making RK Studios the premiere house in Bombay again, instead of just a large physical plant rented by other studios to shoot their own films.
Ranbir is the future of RK Studios and the end of the Rishi Kapoor line, but there is another Kapoor who is sadly trapped in the past.
I talked about how Randhir and Rishi both suffered from alcohol in different ways (at least, so it appears from the outside). And then there is their brother Rajiv, who drowned in it. Or drowned in something, poor Rajiv just never really made it. He was the youngest brother, by 10 years. And the last Kapoor to get a “launch”. Well, kind of a launch. More along the lines of his brother Rishi, they needed a cheap young actor to do a role no one else would touch, so they looked to family. He had even acted in a few films already, but none of them had made much of an impression on the audience, so his first RK Studios film is generally thought of as his “first” film.
Rajiv’s only movie with his father, and only big hit, was Ram Tera Ganga Mali. Which is mostly memorable for being, well, something akin to softporn. Mandakini, his 22 year old co-star, wore a see-through sari with no blouse, “breastfed” onscreen, and had a surprisingly sexual childbirth scene as well.
(Notice Rajiv is not visible anywhere on the DVD case. Also, interesting, it is Mandakini in this movie that is referenced in Kapoor and Sons, a movie starring Rajiv’s older brother)
It was a massive hit, and Raj Kapoor’s last film as a director (as mentioned in Rishi’s post, Raj’s final film was unfinished, Henna, completed by his sons after his death).
Rajiv went on to act in a casual way, doing one or two films a year for the next few years. And then he started producing, helping on the production of his father’s last film. Trying directing in a movie with his brother and Madhuri Dixit (hanging out on this set as a recently pubescent boy was the beginning or Ranbir’s crush on her which eventually lead to her cameo in Yeh Jawaani). That failed, and then a few years later he helped out on his brother Rishi’s film, which also failed.
(The film was Prem Granth. And look at her! What 12 year old boy wouldn’t get a bit of a crush on her, even if she was filming love scenes with his Dad directed by his uncle?)
In 2001, at age 40 and after failing to make his mark as an actor, director, or producer, Rajiv was married to an architect. A few years later that failed as well. And so he is the youngest Kapoor brother, no children, no success, spending his days hanging around the RK Studios sorting through rental receipts for the space his father built, and keeping track of copyrights and DVD releases for the films of his more famous relatives.
(Randhir, Rishi, and Rajiv last year)
He is so harmless, that he is the one Twinkle Khanna picked on her most recent Koffee appearance, “Chimpu” Kapoor. Which reminds me, I can’t leave off the “real” Kapoors without a nickname rundown. These are private family names, but when you are a Kapoor, nothing is private. And so the media has adopted them as well.
Shammi=Shammi (his real name was “Shamsher”, but no one remembers that)
Shashi=Shashi (real name is Balbir Raj)
Rishi=Chintu (thus his twitter handle “@chintskap”)
Ranbir=Ganglu (but it isn’t as publicized. Supposedly it is what his grandfather Raj called him when he was little. Awwww!)
And that’s it for the “real” Kapoors! At least until Navya Naveli has her launch, or unless either of the Jain boys finally make it big. However, there are the “other” Kapoors, the distant relations who were about 50 years behind the “real” Kapoors, but are rapidly making up for lost time. Come back on Thursday for Anil, Boney, Sonam, Arjun, Sanjay, and Sridevi!