I’m No Longer a Stand-Alone Actor, But I’m Damn Good: Rishi Kapoor

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Rishi Kapoor opens up about his future projects and past regrets in this candid interview

Asserts he, “I don’t suffer from delusions of grandeur. I’m aware that I’m no longer a stand-alone actor. My name by itself cannot sell a film. But I’m also aware that I’m a damn good character actor, who brings a lot to the table.”

That’s Rishi Kapoor, at the age of 64, serving a frank self-appraisal on a location shoot in Mumbai’s 19th century basalt and limestone Afghan Church, on a sun-roasted afternoon. The shoot is on for director Umesh Shukla’s 120 Not Out, adapted from a Gujarati play, which has packed in house-full shows for years. Kapoor plays the curmudgeonly 75 year old son to Amitabh Bachchan, who turns an irrepressible 102 years old for the part, determined somehow to break the life-span world record. Jimit Trivedi, a Gujarati stage and film actor, has been pencilled in to represent the ‘now’ generation.

The news is that Rishi Kapoor, after a break of 11 months, has signed on this film, which raises the question of mortality, and five other projects as well. This was after scores of script sessions, polite rejections to a half-a-dozen of them, and then zeroing down on films which “deal with meaningful themes” to which he adds, “I’m no longer here to make pots of money.”

For starters Rishi Kapoor has already completed a cameo for Nandita Das’ in-the-works Manto biopic.

Mine is just a brief appeance. I agreed because I wanted to be in such a prestigious film. When Nandita approached me, I said, ‘Sure, just tell me when.’ We shot in the old Fort area of the city.

Rishi Kapoor, Actor

The other new projects are Jhuta Kahin Ka, a comedy directed by Punjab’s Smeep Kang in Mauritius next month, and Mulqa film based on the subject of communal strife by Anubhav Sinha. In addition, on the slate is also a film by Leena Yadav, who made international waves with Parched, plus a Renzil Disilva-helmed thriller co-featuring Emraan Hashmi.

In the course of the lunch break, tucking into crab soup and flat-wheat noodles, Rishi Kapoor speaks from his vanity van, where the temperature is a freezing 18 deg. C.

The Kapoors eat heartily and work heartily. The AC is a God-sent in summers, isn’t it? If I’ve taken on so many assignments, it’s not because I’m a workaholic. It’s because acting’s my core competence, though as a kid I dreamt of becoming a chartered accountant. Just imagine me as a CA if you can! Since I flunked at Senior Cambridge, simply because I filled in pages and pages to answer just one question in the English exams, here I am.

Rishi Kapoor

The last 11 film-free months, Rishi Kapoor spent in launching his autobiography Khullam Khullawhich he informs, “I’ve been told it has sold 45,000 copies and is still going strong.” Plus there were the countless trophies to be collected for the Best Supporting Actor of 2016 for Kapoor & Sons.

I think I got every award in that category, except at the National Awards. And why am I not surprised? When J P Dutta was chairman of the National Awards jury, he said he fought for an award for me for Do Dooni Char. The rest of the jury however, gave it to another actor, the argument being that they hadn’t awarded an actor from the south in many years. What can I say? That’s fine by me. There are great actors from every part of the country. During another year, my performance in Agneepath was in the running at the National Awards, but poof, no go again.

Rishi Kapoor

Ask him if the bugaboo vis-à-vis awards and honours are a sore point and he answers,

Naah, I’ve given up. Shammi Kapoor was never honoured with a Padma title, so who am I? Neither has my friend Jeetendra. I may have done over 150 films in 45 years. Still actors, who are way my juniors, have been given the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan. Fantastic!

Rishi Kapoor

I wonder if he ever feels short-changed about the roles offered to him through the decades? “Yeah sure!” he ripostes.

I never worked with Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Hrishi da did ask me whether I would do a remake of Anari. I didn’t, I couldn’t have bettered my dad’s performance. Never! Perhaps Hrishi da didn’t like hearing ‘no’, he never approached me again. Gulzar saab and I had a close friend in Pancham da (RD Burman). Moreover, Gulzar’s been my neighbour on Pali Hill. Curiously, I’ve never acted in one of his films, or even participated in one with his lyrics and dialogue. Maybe I just wasn’t his type of actor. Ask him!

Rishi Kapoor

In a loquacious mood now, the actor whose prime calibre has been acknowledged belatedly, admits that he may have made some errors of judgement:

Dibakar Bannerjee offered me any of the three roles which were eventually done by Anupam Kher, Boman Irani and Navin Nischal. That’s been my loss entirely. Instead, I chose Namastey London, which was a hit and fetched me recognition. So, it evened out. And I didn’t do Yash Chopra’s Darr because I didn’t want to play a negative character then. I’d played negative in a little-remembered film called Khoj, which had bombed. Anyway you win some, lose some.

Rishi Kapoor

I’m curious to know if Ranbir Kapoor will eventually turn producer and director, to which the categorical response is,

Definitely. I don’t know if he will make and direct films for the RK banner or for his own production company. Either way, the RK banner is always there for him. For right now, I’ve told him he must act, act and act. Nothing else. There’s a right time and place for multi-tasking. I didn’t make it as a successful director but you can bet, Ranbir will.

Rishi Kapoor

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