Sunday Herald Entertainment: The titanic thespian

Rishi Kapoor

It is the understatement of the century, perhaps, that Rishi Kapoor is the most underrated natural actor in the annals of Hindi cinema. It is another understatement that Rishi never minces words. Put these two qualities together, and we have an actor who is a supreme delight, both on screen and when you meet him. Almost 48 years after he started out with Mera Naam Joker as Raj Kapoor’s adolescent avatar, or 45 years after his lead debut in Bobby, Rishi, at heart, is still a picture of youth in every sense.

In that context, he agrees that age is just a number. “I am running 66, and life could not be better. I am enjoying every moment, there is great work happening. After 25 years of non-stop romancing and singing lovely songs and doing nothing else, but for a few films like Prem Rog, Tawaif and Damini, I am finally getting to do distinctive characters.”

Spontaneity thy name

Rishi, of late, has been ensuring that every character he plays is different in every way. Explaining that he is a switch-on, switch-off, spontaneous actor, he expects that the media recognise how different he is in every film from a Kapoor & Sons to a Do Dooni ChaarD-DayStudent Of The Year and now, 102 Not Out. “You will never find Rishi Kapoor in any of those films, but the character I play. When I am singing the song ‘Badumbaa’ in 102 Not Out, I dance like the character would, awkwardly, not like Rishi Kapoor would.”

102 Not Out, directed by Umesh Shukla, and based on a Marathi play that Umesh remade in Gujarati, is his latest film. Rishi plays a 76-year-old grouchy man who is the only negative and boring part of Amitabh Bachchan’s 102-year-old character’s life. Amitabh wants to beat the world record held by a Chinese man who has lived for 118 years, and he has Googled and found out why that man lived so long — by keeping completely away from negativity. With that intention in mind, he wants to send his son to an old-age home.

“When I am doing make-up for a character, I also sit and think of how such a man would walk, look and how his body language would be,” confides the actor. “It was decided that my character had to be cute as well as funny, and the best way to make him look was like an old (age-wise) doll. I hope I have succeeded.”

At 65, how does his passion remain in full fettle? “Oh, I guess I am made that way. Such junoon (passion) is either there or not there. I am very fond of acting, and now there is so much good work, and there are so many good characters to play. People ask me why I am not directing again, but I have so many things to do. And life is short, so how can I involve myself in a job like direction that takes so much time?”

In the past, Rishi has always stated that acting is something that is “not easy and not difficult” and is about bringing out stored observations of people and happenings in life. This time, he adds, “Acting is about reacting, and if you have a great sparring partner like Amitabh Bachchan, you become better yourself. He’s such a pleasure to work with and so disciplined. I am a student of cinema, of juniors and seniors, of small and big actors.”

He has connected with Amitabh after 27 years, after working with him in Ajooba in 1991. “There’s been a lot of water under the bridge after that. We both have grown in experiences, and it is amazing how he flirts with his characters, romances them, and gets into their core even now. At his level, you too give your best!” he declares.

Their historic oeuvre also includes Kabhi Kabhie and the trilogy of Manmohan Desai blockbusters — Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb and Coolie. “Our most memorable work together was Amar Akbar Anthony. People of all ages love watching it at all times, just like they would a Charlie Chaplin film. Even when I watch it now, I get nostalgic.”

Rishi also clarifies that he has no complaints about being a standard lover-boy for 25 long years. “The audiences then were very forgiving. We would do a few lost-and-found dramas and the rest would be the rich-boy-poor-girl and poor-boy-rich-girl stories. There were a few different films, like those of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, but I was not called for them. What I was happy about was always being in the bracket of top five stars at any time.”

Towards better cinema

Today, with exposure to the best of everything, be it through social media, TV, internet, Netflix or Amazon, Rishi declares that the viewer’s standards have gone very high, and therefore different films are being made. “Sensibilities are not the same, the audience has changed, is more educated and wants better cinema, better theatres, better acting and better technology. Films like my son Ranbir’s Barfi! and The Dirty Picture would have stood no chance in my time.”

Another advantage of this is that people like Amitabh and him get good roles today. “In those times, at ages 40 or 45, we had to retire, just when we were becoming good at our work,” says Rishi. “But I am too expensive to do routine father’s roles,” he grins. The secret of their longevity, he says, is that they are not stagnating but keeping themselves fresh.

Asked why he is no longer doing villainous roles after Khoj way back in 1989, Kuchh To HaiAgneepath and D-Day, he says that no one is offering him any right now. But Rishi has a serious issue with two current fads. One is that instead of joining an acting institute, today’s actors join gyms and take to sword-fencing and riding rather than training their facial musculature. “Amitabh Bachchan removed his shirt in one scene in Amar Akbar Anthony and looked lanky, but look at his talent. Today, they all want to be muscle-men. But audiences have become so smart that in this era, a mediocre actor will be just washed away.”

The second peeve he has is about the wasteful expenditure of promotion, often around the country. “Do they think that the audience is stupid?” he wants to know. “They only want a good film. One superstar started this fad, but that film was good and so it worked. But now, such marketing has become a trend. Look at Besharam in which my son and I acted. Thanks to my son, it opened at 21 crores, but it was so bad that it collected only six crores the very next day. So, why do they burden the poor producer? But they never understand.”

However, while desiring good cinema, Rishi points out the vital rider that every film must entertain. “A boring film is a torture, you might as well sit and watch paint dry up. And we, as an industry in India, are primarily entertainers, not educators or givers of information. That is why we collect entertainment tax, not education tax or information tax on movie tickets.”

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Sunday Herald Entertainment: The titanic thespian

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