Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar
It’s a delight and an insightful experience talking to Rishi Kapoor! Because, not only does the star have great stories to tell, he always calls a spade-a-spade and his sense of humour cannot be missed. At the same time, Kapoor is childlike which is endearing. For example, in the middle of the interview, he would ask for a sandwich exclaiming, ‘ek sandwich khilao yaar! Aaj bohot kaam karaya!’So, we catch up with the legendary actor to talk about his latest release ‘102 Not Out’ as we also get nostalgic about his other films over the years…
Just like ‘102 Not Out’ depicts, do you also believe that age is just a number?
I’m very happy to say that I’ll turn 66 in September and I have no qualms about it. I don’t think I’ve had a better period in my life than this. I’m enjoying every bit, with great work I’m getting. And when we say, age is just a number, you see the way Mr. Bachchan has performed, being 102 years of age in the film, and that’s what he wants to tell his son also. But there’s a message in the film.
We were talking to Umesh Shukla and he told us how passionate you continue to be. What does it take to be so dedicated?
It just happens naturally. I am very fond of acting. People ask me why don’t I direct again and I’m like there’s no time. There’s so much acting work to do. I want to do a lot and I’m enjoying all of that. For example, in ‘Kapoor & Sons’, it used to take six hours daily for prosthetics and make-up and I worked for 24-25 days in the film. So, I would sit on the make-up chair at 6 in the morning, we would start shooting at 12 and we would shoot till evening. This is possible only if you have that passion in you otherwise the kind of person I am, I can’t stick to one place for more than five minutes. I am so impatient. A creative mind is always impatient, he is always thinking about things to do. But here, because I am developing myself to be the character, it’s a process of excitement. It was a high for me to be that character. So, I guess, it only comes from doing what you love doing.
Also, this is the second time you’re working with Umesh Shukla…
He is a good director, he is very patient. He is from theatre so he understands the nuances. I didn’t see him being bullied by Mr. Bachchan or me. He takes his stance, if he wants something, he wants it. It takes a lot of guts for a director to tell something to Amitabh Bachchan, that you can do it this way or that way. I give him credit for that. Mr. Bachchan being such a disciplined actor, he would listen to him. And I not a disciplined actor, so I wouldn’t listen to him anyway. I have a lot of fights with my directors. That way, he is a controlled director. So, he should get all the credit for the film.
At this stage, with your kind of legendary status, what are the kind of roles you see yourself doing?
I’ll tell you what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to do those father type roles, hero’s father and the heroine’s father. I am too expensive for that and I don’t want to do that. I want to do characters. And I try my best that I should look different in every film. I myself wonder how RaufLala has been different from the character in ‘D-Day’ or that been different from ‘Do Dooni Chaar’ and ‘Kapoor & Sons’. I don’t want a pat on my back for that but I hope people do realise that there is no Rishi Kapoor in any of those characters. This song ‘Badumba’ which came from ‘102 Not Out’, I’ve not danced in it like Rishi Kapoor. He is awkward. But I’m a student of cinema so I’m always learning, be it from my juniors or seniors. For instance, this is my 6th film with Mr. Bachchan and our last film together was ‘Ajooba’ which was 27 years back. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge, it’s been a while since we worked together and now both of us are a lot more experienced. Yet, what I still learnt from him is how he flirts with his characters and gets into it. It’s such a delight to work with him. You give your best because you have got the best from him. Acting is just reacting. He reacts so brilliantly that your own work gets so good. When you have an actor like Bachchan, your own work gets better.
The two of you continue to bring in so much variety despite so much work done already….
I believe that’s the reason why the audience is still liking us. We are not stagnated. We are variating. Amitjee is also looking different in every film and same goes with me. We keep ourselves fresh in the minds of the audience.
So, is it more creatively satisfying and liberating as an actor at this point? To be able to do an ‘Agneepath’ or a ‘D-day’ or ‘Kapoor & Sons’ as opposed to the earlier days?
I didn’t get work of this kind earlier. In those days, the audience also didn’t have such high expectations nor did we see such different kinds of movies being made. Now the time is different, situation is different. For instance, the audience was forgiving in the 70s and 80s and to some extent, even in the 90s. Every actor had 3-4 films only based on lost and found. The audience was forgiving and they didn’t have a choice. Or else, there were love stories on rich boy poor girl or poor boy rich girl. That’s what I have done all my career. Only once in a while, we saw great films which came from Gulzar or Hrishikesh Mukherjee and we never got a chance to work in them. But now, the horizon is so big with social media, television and the youth has so much exposure that their expectations are high. You have to live up to what they want. We have multiple theatres now so different kinds of movies are being made. People who can afford to buy that ticket worth Rs. 300-400, their sensibility is different from that of a rickshaw-wala who still want those masala films. But otherwise now we have a much more educated audience who wants better theatres, better cinema, terrific sound, technology as good as American films. So technology wise and content wise, we are now improving. Ranbir’s film like ‘Barfi!’ which worked so well now, would have never worked in our times. Those maar-dhaad films will always work in India but now those multiplex films are expected. Because of this change in the audiences and because of actors like Mr. Bachchan, even other actors of my age are getting work. Otherwise, once you were past 40 or 45, you were supposed to retire. Because Hindi cinema predominantly used to be youth cinema with romance, song and dance. Now different cinema is being made and we’re enjoying it. But only a good actor can survive in these times because the audience is that demanding! You cannot cater mediocrity to them. Today, some new actors go to the gym first rather than an acting institute. And I’m like, ‘first work on your face muscles! What has acting got to do with gymnasium or horse riding?’ Amitabh Bachchan was such a huge star. Did he show his body? Did he ever remove his shirt? He removed his shirt and looked lanky in Amar Akbar Anthony. But look how he played his characters! But one actor does something and then that becomes a trend!
Is there any other trend today that you are not fond of?
Like I said, one actor does something and if it is successful, it becomes a trend. One actor started this trend of going to every city or media to promote a film and that has become a trend. But the kind of promotions which happen now, is so expensive. People will go to see a film if it is good, not because you promoted the film. I am reminded of an incident. Mr. Shashi Kapoor was getting a Dadasaheb Phalke award and we were at Prithvi. Amitjee and myself, we were talking and he asked me where is Ranbir? I told him, he has gone to promote his film, he’ll come now. And then walked in Ranbir. He told Mr. Bachchan, he had gone to promote ‘Bombay Velvet’ all day. Amitjee said, “My film ‘Piku’ has just released. We didn’t have a big budget to promote the film, so we didn’t promote it much. First day nobody came but from day 2, the film is on fire. So basically, if a film is good, it will do good.” So, I told Ranbir, I agree to Mr. Bachchan. And what happened to ‘Bombay Velvet’? It was a wash out! The merit of the film will count. Now because there are companies making money out of it, it’s become a compulsion of sort but there should be actors who challenge this. The cost of promotions comes up to about Rs. 15-20 crore and that ultimately adds to the film’s cost so it becomes flop-heavy. It adds more to the shoulders of the film. Recently also, ‘Sonu Ke Titu Ke Sweety’ – who went to see the film on the first day? But then it worked. I worked in a film called ‘Besharam’ with Ranbir. First day Ranbir got in Rs. 22 crore, second day, it was down to Rs. 6 crores. How do you explain that? Basically, just the content has to rule. Promotions have got to do nothing with a film’s success. Hence we shouldn’t burden the cost of the film by going overboard with it.
Do you like to bring influences from your real life when you are acting?
I feel the basic tool of acting is observation. You observe in life, in reality, people, characters, situations whatever you come across, all that gets stored in your head like a bank. And whenever you get a character, you are reminded of certain things. Like I mentioned, it used to take 6 hours for me to do my make-up for ‘Kapoor & Sons’ and it used to be exciting for me to become that senior Kapoor. Likewise, when you do make-up for any film, you automatically become that character and then the bank of your memories opens up and you figure out what should you do, what should be your body language, what should be your way of walking and the most important thing is to shed your inhibitions. I don’t know but I’ve been told that I don’t have a style of acting. Someone like Johnny Lever who is so good at mimicking, he used to say that, ‘we can never copy you, because you have no style’. I was never a stylised actor; I’ve been a spontaneous actor. So, I feel that, the moment you drop that guard of yours, it works. There are actors who are insecure and have a certain guard which they call their style. Everyone does acting, but you become a star because of how you act, the way you present yourself. Handsome is what handsome does. It’s not just good looks that will make you a star. So, dropping that guard is important. I’m a spontaneous actor, I believe in that kind of school and I feel that’s the best way to achieve. I respect all schools of acting and everyone can choose what suits them, but this is how I am.
Which has been your most memorable film with Mr. Bachchan?
Amar Akbar Anthony! That film was something else. Yesterday, I met a journalist who said she has a son who is 7-8years old he enjoys seeing ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’. So that proves my point. This is the third generation enjoying it. It released in 1977 but it’s like a Charlie Chaplin film. You enjoy a Charlie Chaplin film in all ages and same is with ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’. I love seeing that film even today, it has so much entertainment and it’s endearing. It’s illogical but it’s terrific. I feel it is one film which is evergreen. Hindi films are predominantly meant to entertain. And that holds true because now all the parallel cinema actors have also become mainstream actors.
At any point in your career, did you feel unsatisfied or unappreciated as an actor?
Yes, and that’s because the only thing I was doing was romancing the heroine, running around the trees, singing songs in Ooty, Kashmir, Switzerland. That’s all I was doing and only wearing jerseys. They used to call me ‘The Sweater Man’. I never got good characters to play whereas my contemporaries had all kinds of roles to play. I am not complaining as I lasted for 25 years with just romancing on-screen. I wasn’t the biggest star of this country but I was always among the top five stars of this country. And I’m not complaining because I lasted for 25 years. I know a gentleman who had done a thesis that from those times, no actor had survived for non-stop 25 years, not even actors like Dev Anand, Jeetendra, Kakaji. Not even Amitjee. Amitjee also had a bad gap of three or five years. I survived non-stop for 25 years and that’s to my credit but I didn’t get credit as an actor and it’s my fault. I never gave them any reason to appreciate me. I was only singing songs barring some roles here and there like ‘Damini’, ‘Prem Rog’ where I had something to do. And films like ‘Shesh Naag’, ‘Sher Dil’ are all my classics (laughs). When I am gone, these will remain my classics. I make fun of them even on Twitter.
What are you working on next?
The beard that I’ve grown is for a film, this film will start rolling on the 12th or 15th of May, so by that time I would have a bigger beard. So, don’t think I’ve done it for my personal likings. I do what my director wants me to do, and as usual, I like to have a different look in every film. It’s just one of my endeavours to look different in every film, otherwise acting is the same.