Rishi Kapoor: An Honest Man

Once again, sad news to wake up to! There was a similar year in 2013, death after death after death. I found that kind of touching because it was the 100th anniversary of Indian film and all of these greats went on their way out with the anniversary. But 2020? I don’t see any meaning to that.

In Rishi’s memoir, he wrote that he is not a good father, he wants to be better, but he knows he is better than his father was. And he wrote that he made mistakes as a husband, mistakes as a friend. Mistakes as an actor as well, he was too spoiled when he started, too confident. But he wants to be better. That is a remarkable thing. How many men, born into enormous privilege as he was, wealth and fame and career success, even love, all handed to him, would acknowledge that they are flawed and need to be better? Would struggle with their flaws? Would honestly see their flaws and state them to the world?

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Rishi started acting as a child, as is the Kapoor tradition, and he had an immediate charisma onscreen. He became a major star with one film, his first film, and he was spoiled by that, he casually bought awards because he thought he deserved them, he was rude to directors because he thought he was a star. When he had his first major failure, he went into a deep depression, lashing out at those closest to him and skipping work while films were left waiting for over a year. And then he came back. He was an alcoholic, his marriage was a sea of fights and police calls, his wife left him. And then he got healthier and better and she came back to him. He was a remarkably arrogant man, but also a man able and willing to say when he was wrong and try to change. Such a strange combination, such a rare combination.

As an artist, it lead to an amazing career. In the 1970s, he did anything and everything, put on a charming smile and twinkling feet and played the young hero over and over again. In the 1980s, after his depression and failure, he came back with a little more depth. He became the king of romance, charming smile was still there but now combined with the tortured sorrow of love unreturned, or the bravery of the lover remaining faithful. Rishi was proud of this, that all of Hindi film had turned to action and he was keeping the romance genre alive. How refreshing! Outside opinion did not matter, he was proud of his work, and thought the work he was doing was important, and so loudly said that fact without any fumbling or apology.

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By the late 90s, when he was clearly too old to play the lead, he switched to father roles. He was only in his late 40s, younger than the Khans are now as they continue to play romantic leads. Once again, this is not the expected thing, this is not what he “should” be doing. But he did it, because it felt right. 10 years of charming funny friendly fathers, and then Agneepath. Charming friendly funny Rishi Kapoor becomes a terrifying vicious killer and human trafficker. His youthful smile and charm becomes the charisma that lets him lead a gang. It’s a brilliant performance, and completely unexpected. Charming young lover actor to charming father has happened before (although usually not that young). Charming young lover actor to vicious gang lord is far less expected.

Rishi seems to have decided in the past ten years that he was not going to waste time on uninteresting roles any more. He played the lonely lead in 102 Not Out, he played the villain over and over again, he played the grandfather and patriarch in Kapoor & Sons. Each role was a challenge in a different way, never something he had done before.

He was a difficult man, with strong opinions, and no worry about offending someone or hurting feelings. But he was equally willing to turn that backwards on himself. To call himself a bad husband, a bad father, a bad friend, a bad actor. Even someone who was just plain wrong.

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There’s a small incident that, for me, illustrates what was special about how Rishi approached his work, and his life. After filming Kapoor & Sons, Rishi gave an interview where he was asked about working on the film and gave his honest opinion that he hated it. Rishi was trained to be a one take actor, back when he started film stock was limited and expensive. So he gets in character, pulls together all his emotions, and lets loose one perfect take. For Kapoor & Sons, the director wanted multiple takes, all identical, so he could stitch them together. Rishi in his interview said that he thought this was ridiculous, he’s not a robot who can do the same thing over and over, that’s not how acting works, and a good director would just do it in one take. And the director knows perfectly well how he feels because they fought about it all the time. Classic Rishi, anyone else would make nice and lie in the interview and say “oh, filming was delightful”. Or some people would complain in the interview but never tell the director. Rishi, always honest. He finished the movie too, he fought every day on set but he didn’t walk away.

Here’s the thing that makes Rishi just a little bit more than an honest grumpy man. After that interview, the movie came out, and Rishi saw it in full edited together. And then he went on twitter to say he was wrong, he understands what the director was doing, and the director was right. That’s what makes me sad he is dead. Someone who is capable of reversing themselves, immediately and publicly, on something as small as a nasty interview about directing methods, that is an unusual person. That is someone I want to keep watching and see what he does next, what personal growth he will make a goal in future, what honesty he will give about himself.

We need Rishi’s in the world, we need people to show it is okay to say “I made a mistake and I will be better”. We need people who don’t care what others think, who will be proud of making romances when everyone else was making action films, or will happily say they are beef eating Hindus as their family have always been, or that their father was a brilliant artist and a terrible father. And we need artists who are unafraid to try anything, risk everything, just to be better.

20 thoughts on “Rishi Kapoor: An Honest Man

    • It kills me that Riddhima couldn’t attend her own father’s funeral. People were saying Alia had her phone out because she was video-calling Riddhima.

      Farewell, Rishi. I’ll remember you as a dedicated artist and a flawed human being who tried genuinely to be better- and that in itself was admirable. The candour and self-awareness he had as a person was remarkable- and was perhaps what made him bloom as actor so late in life.

      I found Taapsee’s tribute on Instagram especially touching.

      Like

      • Rishi is going to leave such a gap in his family and in the industry, it’s going to be hard to process that without the public gathering and signs of grief. Kapoor deaths are usually such a production in a public/private way.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Rishi and Neetu’s marriage was so troubled, and yet when you saw them together onscreen you always felt such love. Off screen too.

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  1. Everybody’s talking about Neetu, Ranbir and Riddhima, but I can’t stop thinking about Randhir. To lose a younger sister and younger brother in in the span of three months…. ouch. I feel for the whole family. There are a lot of people who keep bringing up Rishi’s history of abuse and bad behaviour on Twitter, saying that his follies shouldn’t be forgotten. They might have a point, but I still think it’s a bit tasteless to do it so soon after his death.

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    • Everyone has bad and good points, I think it is always better to acknowledge both sides of a person, especially when people are trying process grief. Focusing on bad points makes people feel they don’t have the right to be sad, you know? And that is cruel.

      Like

  2. This is just unreal, back to back loss of two industry stalwarts in the midst of a pandemic!
    I feel not many liked him here at DCIB, especially his younger self, but growing up with 70s movies, I’ve always loved those twinkly eyes, cheeky smile and dancing charisma! Especially, he’s part of some immortal songs I love humming and those are what I’m remembering right now.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I do enjoy him as a young actor, not as much as other 70s stars, but I enjoy him. However, I respect him a lot more in his older character roles.

      Definitely the king of songs! I will need to do a post just for them.

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  3. Really well written, Margaret. I will truly miss him, in all his flaws, brutal honesty, willingness to change, and dedication to his craft. I agree with Molly that besides your tribute, I really loved Taapsee’s post about him. Thanks for writing this post.

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    • He was unique. I don’t think I would have liked him as a person I knew, but I respected and appreciated his place as part of the film world.

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  4. I started out not liking Rishi because I saw films where he wasn’t at his best but then I saw him in supporting roles in films like Fanaa and Luck by Chance and also opposite Dimple in Bobby and Pyaar Mein Twist and I started to really enjoy him. I think you were probably more generous to him about his personal life than he deserved but he’s part of a film dynasty and gave us so many wonderful roles so I’ll close by saying thank you Rishi and peace to his family.

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    • Rishi was this odd combination of arrogance and humility. His lead roles seem to be all arrogance, that was his calling card, this charming goofy superconfident character. But in his character parts, he did something different. Like, I assumed that arrogance was all he could do, but turns out it was just something he did for some roles.

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  5. It saddens me that two actors I genuinely enjoy did not only die but had to go through the dying of a close family member shortly before. It saddens me that Irrfan couldn’t attend his mother’s funeral and it equally saddens me that those two important figures of the Hindi filmindustry could not be given the farewell they deserved.
    The first time I saw Rishi was in Deewana and I found him a sweet and lovable guy (the character and how he played it). I did not search for movies with him but I always enjoyed his play when he was in a movie.

    Thanks a lot, Margaret and you nice people here for what you wrote – about Irrfan and Rishi. Both I will keep in mind as actors acting in movies and the pleasure they gave me…and will continue to give me.

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    • That’s the wonderful thing about film actors, as an audience we never really lose them. We always have their films, they live on forever for us.

      On Thu, Apr 30, 2020 at 12:10 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. I’ll miss Rishi. I’d have claimed him as „my Kapoor“ if he hadn’t already been taken in our little group of Hindi film fans. Since I don’t really follow the behind the scenes news, to me he was always just the kind of cuddly guy with some really fun films/songs in his early career and the fun dad roles later on. I think one of the first times I saw him was in Hum Tum. At least that’s kind of my main mental image of Rishi. My wife agreed to watch that movie in his memory this weekend, so that’s at least something nice to come out of this major loss.

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    • Hum Tum was one of the first times for me too, and I think that is kind of a good image for him. Weary, aware of his mistakes, but still charming and confident.

      On Thu, Apr 30, 2020 at 2:07 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Thank you for reading! It does seem very hard for his family, if nothing else they have such a large family and large group of friends-who-are-like-family, and only 16 people were able to be at the funeral because of the quarantine restrictions. When his similarly beloved uncle died a few years back, I think there were 3 separate events, each with hundreds upon hundreds of people.

      Like

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