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In memory of Raj Kapoor to mark his 97th birth anniversary

Had he been alive, today he would have turned 97 and every road in Mumbai would have led to Chembur where he lived .



Raj Kapoor


By Jyothi Venkatesh

Had he been alive, today he would have turned 97 and every road in Mumbai would have led to Chembur where he lived . To commemorate Raj Kapoor’s birthday which falls on December 14, 1924, we reproduce this article by JYOTHI VENKATESH, which appeared in The Hindu dated June 12, 1988, 33 years ago, by way of a tribute. Raj Kapoor, one of the last surviving film mughals in India, died in the Intensive Care Unit of The All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, after a four week battle for life. The eternal romantic nomad of Awara and the clown with a bleeding heart who serenaded grandiloquent lines about life and death under the dome of a circus in Mera Naam Joker vacillated between life and death in the capital from May 2, 1988, before the end came exactly a month later.

The youth of today may remember Raj Kapoor only as the man who had made films like Ram Teri Ganga Maili or Prem Rog or for that matter Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Middle aged people remember his performances in films like Sangam, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai and Mera Naam Joker, which were masterpieces of their time- films that changed the face of contemporary Indian Cinema. His Bobby, even today, is a big draw at the box office.

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Not many are aware of the fact that Raj Kapoor who had a chequered career with forty years behind him had actually made his bow as an actor in a film called Balmiki in which he had enacted the role of Narad. It was Kidar Sharma’s Neel Kamal which presented Raj Kapoor as the romantic leading man on the Hindi screen for the first time way back in 1947, the year India attained her Independence. Raj Kapoor was teamed in the film with the then rage of the nation – Madhubala. Before he was elevated to the status of the leading man of the film, believe it or not, Raj Kapoor served as an apprentice to the versatile director Kidar Sharma. On several occasions Kidar Sharma had even given stinging slaps to his bumbling assistant as Raj himself had confessed to this correspondent some time back.

Ranbir Raj Kapoor was the eldest among the three sons of the late doyen of the Hindi stage and Cinema – Prithiviraj Kapoor. Raj, Shammi and Shashi Kapoor grew up in a modest middle class household at Matunga in Mumbai. Right from his early childhood, Raj Kapoor evinced a lot of interest in the stage. In fact, the Kapoors nurtured the growth of the Prithvi Theatre under the tutelage of Prithviraj Kapoor.

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Raj Kapoor’s tryst with art began with the Prithvi Theatre. This was way back in the early 40’s. Raj had a keen sense of music even then and in tandem with Shankar and Jaikishen, he used to sing on the stage too to keep the audience engaged before the plays began. Before he landed the role of Narad in Balmiki, Raj did a stint as the production manager in Bombay Talkies and learnt the ropes of filmmaking at a very tender age. At 24, he managed to save enough money to even launch his first film Aag as producer, director and leading man of course.

Aag starred Nargis, Kamini Kaushal and Nigar Sultana. However, it was Barsaat with Nargis and Nimmi which proved to be the turning point in the career of Raj Kapoor. It was a runaway hit which grossed tons of money for Raj and established R.K. Films as a reliable banner.Raj made the loveable character of the roadside tramp in Awara a  memorable one in the hearts of millions of cinema goers not only in India but also in the Soviet Union where even today the popular song Main Awara Hoon Ya Gardish Mein Asmaan Ka Tara Hoon is being hummed in several languages.

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Raj knew how to penetrate the minds of his audiences. He had the pulse of the audience in his outstretched palms. He dealt with the chemistry of love in his films and seldom did he face failure. With different heroines in different films at different times, Raj Kapoor created history. Raj believed in exploiting his personal relationships with his heroines to extract memorable performances out of them. Whether it was Padmini or Vyjayanthimala or Nargis, Zeenat Aman or Dimple, Raj succeeded in saddling his heroines with a larger than life image. There were hundreds and thousands of girls ready to give their right arms to bag an offer to work in Raj Kapoor’s films.

In fact, for the last three years of his life before his untimely demise, Raj had been seriously looking for a new girl to play the title role in his ambitious project Henna, a love story between a Pakistani girl and an Indian boy from a traditional family. Even though Raj was afflicted with an incurable bout of asthma, he never lost hopes. At several filmland functions, I have spotted Raj Kapoor climbing the stage and gasping for breath. He breathed Cinema till the day he received the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award from the President for India for his contribution to the Indian Cinema – the day he fell seriously ill.

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Whether it was Shree 420Bobby, Mera Naam Joker or for that matter Sangam, Raj Kapoor’s films were defiantly autobiographical in their treatment and jazzy and rumbustious in their presentation. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration if we were to state that Raj Kapoor’s films are a genre by themselves. To Raj Kapoor, his father Prithviraj served as a great inspiration. To him, Raj owed a great deal for his rise to fame. When Raj told his father that he would rather take up a career in films than do his graduation, Priviraj Kapoor readily agreed. Even Raj never compelled his sons Randhir, Rishi and Rajeev to pursue their studies after their matriculation.Raj was known for the explicit sexual candor in every film of his. He had always bared the female anatomy in his films, like for example Padmini in Mera Naam Joker, Vyjayanthimala in Sangam, Dimple Kapadia in Bobby  and  Mandakini in Ram Teri Ganga Maili and before that Zeenat Aman in Satyam Shivam Sundaram.

Once Raj Kapoor had candidly admitted in an interview to me that the sexual candor in his films was a takeoff on his own adolescent experiences. “My father Prithviraj Kapoor was a great actor with deep insight into human characters and greatly enjoyed his role of a friendly father. When I was very young, he showed me Man To Man, Andy Hardy’s film series produced by MGM in which Mickey Rooney and Lewis Stone played father and son treating each other as equals. Even when he went to Sumatra and Bali, he presented me with a nude painting with a note that read, “Sorry Sonny, I couldn’t bring you a live one.”

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Raj had always given a break to his assistants. He made Aan with his chief assistant Raja Nawathe as the director. His film Jaagte Raho was directed by Shambu Mitra while Amar Kumar directed his film Ab Dilli Door Nahin. Prakash Arora directed his film Boot Polish while his cameraman Radhu Karmarkar directed Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai. Raj Kapoor believed in quality rather than quantity. He never used to work on more than one project at a time. Even as a sought after actor, Raj restricted his assignments and was very choosy.The total number of films in which he had acted will not be more than one hundred. In fact, Raj had even mocked his brother Shashi Kapoor and Zeenat Aman in front of me at Loni Farmhouse in Pune when they were working in his film Satyam Shivam Sundaram for signing too many films and working like taxis round the clock.

Raj was short tempered but his fury did not last long. As a matter of policy Raj never sold any of his films to Doordarshan for telecast as he was unhappy with the meager payments offered by way of royalty to producers. “If Doordarshan can dare to charge us producers Rs 35,000 for just telecasting a song and dance number in Chitrahaar, why should we let the powers that be telecast our films for just peanuts?”, he used to rightly argue.When I brought his attention to the fact that Madras Doordarshan had clandestinely telecast his film Bobby on a Saturday afternoon, he was furious and ordered at once that his advocate sue Doordarshan and claim Rs 40 lakhs as compensation from the government. The case went on for nearly a year though Raj accepted the apology tendered by Doordarshan and later withdrew the case.

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Raj always made it a point to appreciate talent. I remember the day he hugged Kamal Haasan at the premiere of his maiden Hindi venture Ek Duuje Ke Liye in Bombay and predicted that he would conquer films as an actor. Today Kamal Haasan is a renowned actor after his sterling performance in several films including Nayakan. In fact, Raj Kapoor was keen in making the Hindi version of the Telugu hit Swathi Muthyam with Kamal Haasan but unfortunately he was put off by the price quoted by the makers of the Telugu film for the Hindi rights and abandoned the idea.

I fondly still remember the times his then PR person and my senior friend the late Bunny Reuben used to call me on my landline and tell me that Rajsaab wanted to meet me too along with my mentor and his favorite journalist Devyani Chaubal at R.K Studios for a chat once in every six months. With Devyani fondly known as Devi, I used to attend every birthday party of his at R.K. Studios and joined the revelry though I was only 22 then when I was working as an Accounts Supervisor at Hotel Oberoi Sheraton in Nariman Point. Every road then in Mumbai led to Chembur to R.K Studios where the great Rajji celebrated his birthday every year without fail.

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We used to go and meet him by evening 5 pm but he used to keep us engaged by talking to us about the good old days when he used to be with his favorite leading ladies like Nargis Padmini, Vyjayanthimala, showing us reels from his earlier B&W films at the preview theatre upstairs and allowing us to go back home only after he used to ply us with the choicest of scotch at the bar at his special cottage inside the studios followed by dinner and what’s more ask his chauffeur to drop us both home all the way from Chembur to Worli where I used to stay in those days. Devyani Chaubal was staying at the NSCI also at Worli.

Raj Kapoor is indeed a legend. A romance specialist like him was a rarity in Cinema. Today in show business there are sadly only show offs not show men like Raj Kapoor. It is sad that today Raj Kapoor is not alive and also his R.K Studio is no longer there in Chembur. All that I can do now is to sing in his memory Jaane Kahan Gaye Woh Din.