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BANNER

15 September 2017

No Holds Barred

HarperCollins Publishers India
Rs599/-
Pages: 270
Rishi Kapoor was an indispensable part of my childhood. His debut as ‘hero’ coincided with the early part of my initiation to movies. I was far too young to understand teenage love/rebellion, and Rishi really didn’t come into my ken as an idol. He was just one more actor among many, and he looked like a kid himself. Besides, a couple of years later, I would lose my heart to a saturnine man with sad eyes. My childhood idol was always Amitabh Bachchan.

Yet, Rishi Kapoor has had an interesting innings in the industry he chose to call home – he debuted at a time when the Rajesh Khanna craze was nearly over; the latter's place as a romantic hero overtaken by the juggernaut that was Amitabh Bachchan. It was the era of the Angry Young Man. However, Rishi – who today describes himself as the ‘Son of a famous father, the father of a famous son; I’m the hyphen in between’ – not only withstood that onslaught that saw several others ruefully step back, but held his own.

As an actor, the Rishi of those days didn’t really impinge on my consciousness. His films were entertaining, they generally had good music, and I willingly watched him romance one pretty heroine after another, a guitar slung around his neck. As I grew older, I saw in him a competent actor, one who was not given to demanding the lion’s share of the footage or importance. Right from his debut film (as a hero), Bobby, Rishi had acted in several films where the heroine had a stronger role.
It was his second coming that made me sit up and take notice. Firstly, he seemed to have shrugged off the need to play the heroic protagonist. If Aurangazeb, Agneepath and D-Day had him play negative characters, Do Dooni Char and Kapoor and Sons had him play characters that were definitely not run-of-the- mill. On the personal front, he seemed to be making as many headlines with his forthright tweets and candid interviews, where he did not shy away from calling a spade a shovel.

The fact that he was writing his autobiography made me wonder if he would be circumspect in print – after all, he had shown no signs of it in his interviews, either in print or on television. Somewhere, I felt that, like Naseeruddin Shah, I would get to see a real person behind the star persona. He did not disappoint.
Rishi Kapoor writes about growing up in the shadow of his famous father; of being aware that when he was born, his father was in love with another woman – Nargis, his heroine, who is immortalised as the logo of RK Studio. He writes of how Nargis attended his wedding, feeling slightly awkward, only to be put at ease by his mother, Krishna Kapoor, the matriarch of the Kapoor clan. He’s brutally honest about Vyjayanthimala’s involvement with his father, and dismisses her claim (in her memoirs) that their affair was a result of Raj Kapoor’s PR. 

He writes equally frankly about his romances – about his first girlfriend, Yasmin, and how their budding romance was cut short by rumours of his supposed affair with Dimple Kapadia, the eponymous heroine of his debut film. Of making Neetu Singh call another of his girlfriends so her mother wouldn’t be suspicious. Of later dating Neetu and putting her under curfew. Of being chauvinistic enough to be glad that Neetu chose not to work after marriage. 

There are several confessions (Which, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you would already know about: when will mainstream newspapers learn not to publish the choicest bits as excerpts?): 
  • How he ‘bought’ a Filmfare award for Bobby, thus creating an awkward moment with Amitabh when they shot for Kabhi Kabhie. (Amitabh had been in the running for Zanjeer that year.)        
  •  How he stopped Rajesh Khanna from working for the RK banner. 
  • How he suffered from depression when his films flopped one after the other, and he blamed Neetu Singh for his career flagging. 
  • How Neetu Singh had to talk Sanjay Dutt out of wanting to beat him up.
Rishi is nothing if not candid when he talks about his privilege (as a scion of the famous Kapoor Khandaan), as well as about his arrogance when he felt he had ‘arrived’ as an actor. He is equally forthright about his relationship with his contemporaries – Amitabh Bachchan, Jeetendra, Rakesh Roshan, et all. He writes about the working of the industry in his heyday, as well as about the music of his films, and how he didn’t often like some of the songs that eventually became hits. 
He talks of how he was bribed with chocolates for his first screen appearance (Pyar hua iqraar hua) and how he was slapped black and blue by Achala Sachdev while shooting Mera Naam Joker.
The book also gives you a handful of trivia: what Kapoor learnt from Naseeruddin Shah; why veteran actor Pran refused to act in his directorial venture; why he rejected Shahrukh Khan's role in Darr; why his relationship with Rajesh Khanna was always fraught; how Sridevi and he moved on from 'Namasteji' and 'Goodnight ji' to improvising the whole 'Cognac sharaab nahin hoti' sequence in Chandni. 

The memoir is bookended by chapters from his son, Ranbir Kapoor, and wife, Neetu, who have been equally candid in their estimation of him as a father and husband. Perhaps even more so. 

Positives? Frank and forthright, the book's a light read, and an interesting insight into the journey of an actor called Rishi Kapoor. His narratives about his directors, co-stars, leading ladies, music directors and singers he worked with is filled with little tidbits. His ‘don’t care’ attitude comes through the entire book, making it clear that this is first and foremost his own voice; and while his estimation of himself may seem self-congratulatory, I saw honest arrogance. So much more refreshing than the fake modesty that many don. 

If Kapoor complains about his co-stars, he's equally frank while taking responsibility for his own actions. For ex: the deterioration of his relationship with Nasir Hussain. If you are the sort who places your idol on a pedestal, well, your idol just brought his pedestal crashing down. He’s human, and he’s not ashamed of being so. You can like him or hate him, take  him or leave him, and he will be what he is, not what you think he should be. With Kapoor, what you see is what you get. 

Cons? The book seems like an extended interview, instead of a personal narrative. It certainly didn’t give us enough of Rishi Kapoor. Titled Khullam Khulla – Rishi Kapoor Uncensored, I discovered that the book was not nearly so. If he seemed extremely candid in what he did choose to discuss, there were still some incidents that a good journalist could have persuaded him to expand upon.

What does it say when the most interesting chapters in a man's autobiography are those where he talks about his father and grandfather? (Those chapters were fascinating, by the way.) It also definitely needed a ruthless editor (a seemingly ubiquitous problem these days) who would have caught the many repetitions. Meena Iyer, the scribe, seems to have been rather overwhelmed by her subject to do any guiding; all she seems to have done is to transcribe what Kapoor said. There’s no push to collating that information into a more coherent narrative. Also? I could have done with more photographs.

It's an engaging book for all that, and Rishi Kapoor's honesty comes through in his admission that he had been born lucky, and he stayed luckyhis successes were incidental, he claims, and he just went with the flow. Despite conceding that, one comes away with the feeling that there is more to Rishi Kapoor than just the hyphen between a famous father and a famous son.

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