Rishi Kapoor 2.0

On Rishi Kapoor's first death anniversary today, we take a look back at how the veteran actor took a U-turn in career to embrace character roles in films like Mulk, Agneepath, 102 Not Out and Do Dooni Chaar. Rishi Kapoor passed away on April 30, 2020.

Rishi Kapoor 2.0: When he shed his lover-boy image and turned into a character actor

Rishi Kapoor 2.0: When he got to ‘act’ in character roles

What Rishi Kapoor delivered in films like Mulk, Agneepath, D-Day and Kapoor And Sons, can undoubtedly be placed above dozens of movies he did back in 1970s and 1980s. Agreed that Bollywood is yet to find a replacement for Rishi’s charm, his chocolate-boy looks and the way he romanced at the prime of his career. But the transition he made towards character roles in his second inning, was something the Indian cinema was waiting for all these years.

Rishi, who made his acting debut at the age of 15 in Mera Naam Joker (1970), became an overnight sensation with Bobby (1973). What followed was a filmography comprising of hits across genres like Khel Khel Mein, Kabhi Kabhie, Amar Akbar Anthony, Hum Kisise Kum Naheen, Kabhi Kabhi, Doosra Aadmi, Prem Rog, Heena, Damini, Bol Radha Bol, Deewana and several others.

But a closer look and one can find most of his characters either being cardboard cut or part of the herd.

“For the first 25 years of my career, I did nothing but sing and dance. In my second innings, I have got the chance to act,” Rishi Kapoor said at Vadodara Literature Festival in 2017.

Early 2000s, he began maturing towards father roles in films like Yeh Hai Jalwa, Hum Tum, Fanaa and Namastey London. But then, they remained either extended cameos, or supporting roles with no spine, to say the least.

What turned the tables for Rishi Kapoor? Was it Love Aaj Kal or Do Dooni Chaar? Probably both, and some more films he signed risking the image he had created all this while. In Habib Faisal’s Natioanl Award winning Do Dooni Chaar, Rishi donned a character he had never picked before – a middle-class school teacher struggling to keep his family happy and dreaming of buying a car. Rishi made us laugh and cry at the same time in this delightful slice-of-life comedy. It got him his first Critics Award for Best Actor.

“In my former avatar as the romantic hero, I never had to do any homework… But what I didn’t do as a lead actor, I have had to do as a character artiste and I have to confess I thoroughly enjoyed it,” an excerpt from Rishi Kapoor’s autobiography – Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored read.

In the tell-all book, he confessed that the first role he prepared for, was that of Rauf Lala in Agneepath (2012). The character was the darkest he had ever played –  an underworld don, a drug peddler who also ran a ruthless prostitution business. Full marks to producer Karan Johar and director Karan Malhotra for seeing beyond the quintessential romantic hero in Rishi and turning him into a cunning uncouth villain with kohl-rimmed eyes. Despite being pitted against Sanjay Dutt’s Kancha Cheena, the central villain, Rishi Kapoor’s evil act impressed the audience.

I believe his performance of a baddie in Aurangzeb remained too underrated for memory. Those who’ve seen his corrupt cop avatar, will swear by his performance there. But Aurangzeb got overshadowed due to another film the same year – D-Day (2013). His fixation with grey shades continued when he played a don inspired by Dawood Ibrahim in this one. He even added a different tone to his voice here.

And just when we thought Rishi Kapoor was slipping into the darker territory, came Kapoor & Sons in 2016, and we all fell in love with his Dadu, the 90-year-old grandpa who reminded us of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Ofcourse Rishi had the same makeup artist Greg Cannom, who worked with Brad Pitt. Rishi’s dedication for his part got tested when he sat for five hours everyday to get his prosthetics done. He once revealed that his makeup alone cost rupees 2 crore!

Rishi however confessed in his book Khullam Khulla, that Kapoor & Sons wasn’t an easy walk as he did not like director Shakun Batra’s way of working. “Shakun wanted to cover every shot from many different angles. But I am an old-school actor. My strength is spontaneity. I couldn’t recreate the same expression for all the shots. I could not shake off the feeling that it turned actors into robots. However, once the film was released and the accolades poured in, had to concede that my anger was misplaced,” he wrote.

Scanning things closely, when Rishi played the main hero, most of his roles were of a rich brat, romancing in some scenic location or on the dance floor of a lavish club. They were all wealthy lover boys cast opposite equally beautiful female leads. He was the face of the glitzy world of mainstream Bollywood, and hence, for ‘art-house’ filmmakers who wrote screenplays around the real India, or a poverty stricken family in distress, Rishi was far from consideration.

But this time, Rishi wasn’t competing with anyone. Baring few, most of his contemporaries had retired from acting, and the current lot of actors had competition in Rishi’s son, Ranbir Kapoor.

“As I got older, the offers kept getting better. Many of the films didn’t fare well but I began to enjoy an unexpected benefit of being a character actor – I no longer had to shoulder the responsibility for making a film work at the box-office. That was the leading man’s burden. Instead, I could simply enjoy working in the film and the appreciation that came my way for the performance,” Rishi confessed.

Even if he played a lead role in a film like 102 Not Out, it came with a difference. Here, he reunited with his co-star Amitabh Bachchan after two decades. As a heartbroken son, suffering in his own pain, he had less dialogues than Big B, but his body language and expressions were scene stealers. This was a perfect act, so to say.

One film which can be called the highest point of his career, something that was destined to come his way, was Mulk. Murad Ali Mohammed can be categorised as a dream role, and Rishi dived into his part with dedication. Murad did not scream innocent. He was gentle, yet forceful. Fighting a personal yet relevant battle, he gave a sensitive and nuanced performance, totally award-worthy.

“I have a hefty price tag as a character actor too, but filmmakers have been more than willing to pay it. In return, they get a very sincere actor who is professional and gives them what they want before the camera,” he candidly added in his autobiography.

Baring films like Housefull 2, Student of the Year, Chashme Baddoor, Shuddh Desi Romance, All Is Well and Bewakoofiyaan, where he played playful supporting characters, Rishi Kapoor 2.0 was a force to reckon in Bollywood. He came, he saw and he conquered with much more gusto, and we all continue to dwell into the magic he rolled out onscreen in his later phase. His characters will remain a benchmark and forever etched in our minds.

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