Rishi Kapoor (1952-2020): The Kapoor who got better with age
In the last decade of his career, the actor threw caution to the winds. These films highlight his range, marking him out as one of the most versatile actors in Hindi cinema
Rishi Kapoor may always be considered Kapoor the Younger. Born to a family of outsized legends, his early years of unforgettable boyishness (Bobby, Rafoo Chakkar, Khel Khel Mein, Sargam) were followed by years of playing the littlest brother (Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb, Coolie). By the time he got to the swooning romances (Saagar, Chandni, Henna) he already seemed like a fresh-faced senior.
Yet it is in the remarkable final chapter of his career — as Kapoor left boyishness behind — that he threw convention and caution to the winds. The films below highlight his range and willingness, marking him out as one of the finest actors in Hindi cinema. The tragic passing of Rishi Kapoor feels all the more heartbreaking because, in a way, he was just getting started.
Luck By Chance (2009)
In this insider view of the Hindi film industry, Kapoor played Romi Rolly, a wheeling-dealing producer modelled unsubtly on Subhash Ghai (with whom Kapoor unforgettably made Karz, back in 1980). Kapoor is fabulously flustered as an old-school filmmaker grappling with the kind of modern actors who have life-coaches. In one scene, a superstar (Hrithik Roshan) points to the mirror and speaks about ‘him’ in the third person, and Rolly’s jaw drops. Kapoor gapes — we can see him think ‘these young Romans are crazy’ — but, a seasoned hand, he turns swiftly to the mirror and pitches an idea to the reflection. Both the star and the man in the mirror are speechless.
Chintu Ji (2009)
The most fearless performance of Kapoor’s career came in this underrated adaptation of The Man Who Came To Dinner. In the kind of meta experiment rarely seen in India, Kapoor plays an egotistical, spoilt actor called Rishi Kapoor, a onetime superstar who happens to be the son of Raj and Krishna Kapoor. Playing a bad-tempered brat with his eyes on a political prize, Kapoor is doggedly mean throughout, surly without a smile as he dupes well-meaning villagers, and snarls at children beating him at Snakes & Ladders. He’s a marvel.
Do Dooni Chaar (2010)
Putting Rishi Kapoor in a sweater may be the least revolutionary choice in Hindi cinema, but the ones here were washed out and moth-eaten, with holes the size of fingers. Starring alongside wife Neetu Singh, Kapoor dazzled in a largely unfamiliar middle-class milieu. Playing Duggal Sir, a schoolteacher who wants to buy a car, this touching, stunningly authentic performance, may be Kapoor’s finest. Over a dinner table, he instructs a relative to announce that the Duggals died in a Mercedes accident, and the relative retorts: who would believe that you had a Mercedes? “Toh Ambassador mein marwa de, yaar," Kapoor snaps with his mouth full, the very embodiment of every Delhi uncle.
We had seen Kapoor play evil before — his monstrous Rauf Lala stood out in the 2012 Agneepath remake — but playing Dawood Ibrahim was a remarkably strange choice, not least because Kapoor didn’t resemble the infamous villain. The swerve worked beautifully, because Kapoor played a version of Dawood we had never seen before: not only a cruel, ice-cold mafioso, but a boisterous man with a poetic turn of phrase, ever the smartest man in the room. Be it playing a game and swearing at his iPad, or patiently issuing a threat, a delicious restlessness runs through his performance.
Kapoor And Sons (2016)
In this bittersweet drama about a family dealing with different levels of denial, Kapoor played a doddering but mischievous grandfather who wanted all rules flouted, and revelled in being inappropriate. He may have been playing a 90-year-old mired in overdone prosthetics, but there was no mistaking the salacious twinkle in his eye — especially when discussing the memorably objectified actress Mandakini. This Dadaji was, in many ways, the character truest to Kapoor’s Twitter persona: outspoken, unfiltered, occasionally embarrassing and, in a sea of press-managed actors, a true original.
102 Not Out (2018)
This was a middling film, but the stunt-casting of Kapoor as a 75-year-old man with Amitabh Bachchan as his nonagenarian father provided laughs that only true masters can conjure. It makes this list for one specific reason: poetic justice. After years and years of blockbusters where he played Amitabh Bachchan’s little brother, here is the film where Kapoor — playing a curmudgeonly grump unwilling to have any fun — easily outshone the elder actor.
Murad Ali Mohammad is the man of the mohalla. There is nobody better to have chai with in Anubhav Sinha’s urgent film, yet the former lawyer finds himself going to the mattresses to fight for his family, a conveniently demonised Muslim family in Varanasi. Questioned in court, Kapoor stuns us with the consternation in his eyes as he is bombarded with the most unreasonable accusations. When he explodes at the end — with his own inflammable questions directed to bigots in the audience—Kapoor makes sure he articulates them calmly and mindfully. This is why they deserve answers.