When I read a text that Rishi Kapoor was hospitalized my heart sank. I could not believe the news. No way!! He fought hard, he had recovered, he was ready to jump back into new characters – I closed my hands tightly in prayer. I don’t know if my heart aches more because I lost a colleague who supported me as I took my first steps into Bollywood, or if it ached because I am a huge fan of Chintuji even before he became my co-star. He epitomized a fan’s version of a perfect chocolate hero. I am fortunate to have many memories of acting together with him.
Memories of his screen appearances fill my mind and heart… Lover-boy of Bobby, Parda Hain Parda of Akbar Ilahabadi (Amar Akbar Anthony), Ek Main Aur Ek Tu with Neetu, Karz, Dafliwale (Sargam), Sagar, Kabhi Kabhie. His transition into a character actor in Agnipath, Namastey London, Rajma-Chawal, Mulk and Kapoor & Sons was unparalleled.
I was lucky enough to be his co-star in three movies, but I have never witnessed an actor like him, who was so spontaneous, impatient to others but patient to newcomers like me. I was a prime witness to all these qualities as I learnt new dance steps in the movies I worked with him. He never made me feel intimidated. He was a natural ace dancer.
One of my favourite memories was him teaching me the technique to a difficult rhythm. Aaja Ve Maahi (Henna) had become a huge hit and we were shooting near Mount Mary Hill in a bungalow for Mohabbat ki Arzu, a K C Bokadia film. They had just recorded a song ‘Payal utar dungi’ at Mehboob recording studio. The shooting paused while we listened to the song, which had already created the buzz of a hit song. Chintuji loved the heavy beats in the rhythm of the song so much that it would play loudly on the Nagra.
Chintuji walked up to me and asked me to catch the beat with him. We practiced for 20 mins until I’d mastered it. I was extremely self-conscious to be struggling in front of the entire unit. But it was his surrender to the music, the rhythm, which made the Qawwalis so realistic and Dafli so artistic. There is no doubt in my mind that I nailed the song because Chintu ji was by my side.
As a Rishi Kapoor fan growing up, I waited for his songs to play on Chhayageet. My brother and I acted out ‘Parda Hai Parda’ and ‘Hai Agar Dushman’ qawwalis. We also followed his dance steps from the Hum Kisise Kum Nahi dance competition.
Another iconic Rishi Kapoor image was the t-shirts and sweaters he wore on-screen. But believe me, I never once imagined that I would, in fact, wear his sweater in my reel life! We were in Austria shooting for Henna. After finishing a scene, and as we were returning for the day, Dabbuji fell in love with a location. He asked the caravan of the unit to stop, set up the shot, and summoned me to come back in a fresh set of western clothes for a song sequence. I looked at Neetuji who was the designer of the clothes I wore for the film.
We both knew we had already used everything from the wardrobe, but she was quick with ideas. She took me to their room, pulled sweaters, a black trouser from Chintuji’s suitcase, grabbed a long black scarf from her closet, and had me dressed in 15 minutes!! There I was, in Chintuji’s oversized black and white sweater, wearing his pants tightened with clamps from the lighting department!!! My heart goes out to Neetuji and the entire RK pariwaar as they cope with such a deep personal loss.
This is a time of grieving. But I’ll always remember Chintuji’s sense of humour, his courage to speak his mind, his infectious energy, his one-liners, his chocolate boy face, his iconic style of playing a Dafli, his impeccable sense of catching every drumbeat while dancing! He brought out in me what he brought out in everyone: the romantic, the actor, the learner. His legacy will live on in the many memories he created in person, in his movies, here and around the world.
(This is an excerpt from our special May 2020 issue on Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan. Please click on this link https://
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