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Neetu Singh's Emotional Heartspeak on Rishi Kapoor's 69th Birth Anniversary

Neetu Kapoor speaks about how Rishi Kapoor would have liked to celebrate his 69th birthday.

Updated
Celebrities
8 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Neetu Singh fondly remembers Rishi Kapoor on his birth anniversary.</p></div>
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It’s his 69th birth anniversary tomorrow (4 September, 2021). Rishi Kapoor never did hide his age, and if some of his acquaintances claimed to be younger than they were within his earshot, he’d chortle out loud, “Sure, go tell it to the Marines!”, one of his oft-used pet phrases.

Occasionally, he’d balk if you called him by his moniker Chintu, reprimanding you, “Hey, I’m not a kid anymore. Just call me Rishi. You got a problem with that?” Yet Chintu suited the actor, a classic bon vivant, who detested any sort of fibbing and doublespeak.

Incidentally, Neetu Singh Kapoor and he would affectionately call each other ‘Bob.’

When he passed away following a relapse of leukemia on 30 April, last year at the age of 67, the loss has left a void forever.

Romance, love, a lust for life – on and off screen - were the raisons d’etre for the indefatigable star actor of Bollywood’s first family. Solitude wasn’t his scene at any phase of his life. An ever-loyal companionability with his vast circle of friends and showbiz colleagues, made him a class apart. By any name Chintu bhai, as I would persist in calling him, or the more formal Rishi Kapoor, when he went it was as if he’d taken a piece of our hearts away from us.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Neetu Singh with Rishi Kapoor.</p></div>

Neetu Singh with Rishi Kapoor.

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram)

Quite inevitably, I couldn’t help wondering how he would have celebrated, if that’s the right word, his 69th tomorrow. Initially I was wary of discussing this with Neetu Singh Kapoor – their marriage spanned four decades since January 22, 1980 – and hence, procrastinated in ‘phoning her up'. Wouldn’t it have been intrusive? Fortuitously, Neetu who had just wrapped up a day’s shoot for Jug Jugg Jeeyo with Anil Kapoor, Varun Dhawan and Kiara Advani at a far-flung location in Vasai, was as receptive and congenial as she has always been.

Here then are excerpts from our conversation:

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Neetu, would Chintu bhai have celebrated his 69th birthday?

Of course, it would have been a watershed year in his life, he would be entering his 70s. Although he had gone through a prolonged medical treatment in the US, he would have made sure that all those whom he loved and cared for were around him on the day in Mumbai. Bob loved birthdays. I remember for his 50th birthday, we had hosted a party at the Karma, a lounge close to the Opera House theatre, a very happening place those days. He had invited everyone he knew, from the A to Z of the film industry, Shashi Kiran who had played a small role in Bobby, Paintal, his make-up artistes, spot boys and technicians. And his buddies Rakesh Roshan, Prem Chopra, Sujit Kumar, Farouq Rattonsey, Rahul Rawail, and Bittu Anand.

On his 60th, he was tremendously excited too and made it a special event in Dubai. This year, he would have chewed my brain up. Because of the pandemic, we would have had to restrict the party to a few guests. I guess, it would probably have been at Wit’s End in Bandra, the place where we have been staying, till the redevelopment of our house, Krishna Raj on Pali Hill. In any case, birthday or no birthday, even after we had returned from New York, there would always be guests over every evening stretching often to way beyond midnight. He was a pucca people’s person.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Rishi Kapoor with Neetu Singh.</p></div>

Rishi Kapoor with Neetu Singh.

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram)

Wouldn’t this be a strain on you?

To see him happy was my happiness. If I was tired some evening or if I felt the guests would be boring, I’d just excuse myself and watch a movie on TV or read a book in our room. When he did his autobiography (Khullam Khulla), he was so thrilled that he’d call over quite a few people who were helping him to promote the book. Truly, there was never a dull moment.

Did he ever care about the globs of money spent?

Ha! That’s some question. He was a big miser, the biggest kanjoos in the world. But when it came to food and drinks, there were no limits. This quality was inherited from my father-in-law (Raj Kapoor). Whenever Krishnaji and he went abroad, Raj saab would make a big fuss about her going out shopping. It was the same with Bob and me. Then he would relent on the last day of our stay in whichever city we were, and say, “Okay stop asking me for permission, go shopping, go.” And I would say, “There’s hardly any time. What’s the point now?”

When we were younger, we would exchange cute cards and small gifts on each other’s birthday. But then comes a time when you’re all grown up and mature. And so you know what I’d do? I’d buy myself a bag or a piece of jewellery I’d always longed for on his birthday. And on my birthdays, he’d always take me out for dinner to a quiet restaurant. I used to find that so so adorable.

Come to think of it, when I turned 60 in 2018, he sprang a surprise on me. He planned a trip to Paris with Krishnaji, her two attendants, Ranbir, Riddhima, her husband Bharat and daughter Samara, all of us together. It was the most enjoyable holiday of my life. Because it was so wonderful to be with Krishnaji whom I loved more than my own mother. We stayed in a pretty fancy hotel, took her out to the fun fair, it was like a dream being together.

See birthdays are big among the Kapoor family, we all get together to bond. No agenda, except to have a relaxed time over great food and wine. By the way, when our kids were small, there’d be parties for them at home naturally. But now that Riddhima and Ranbir have grown up, they do their own thing. If they would invite us, we’d go, and leave soon, so that they wouldn’t feel inhibited.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh with Ranbir, Riddhima, Bharat and KrishnaRaj in Paris.&nbsp;</p></div>

Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh with Ranbir, Riddhima, Bharat and KrishnaRaj in Paris. 

(Photo Courtesy: Neetu Singh Kapoor)

What were two of Chintu bhai’s most cherished desires?

One was to see Ranbir wearing a turban with an emerald and a broach in the Peshawari tradition - astride a ghodi, on his wedding day. He was totally sentimental about this, he’d keep saying, “Kisi din, mujhe hamare bete ko ghodi pe sawaar dekhna hai.”

And the second one was to see our KrishnaRaj house redeveloped and complete, with three separate apartments for Riddhima, Ranbir and us. He would visit the site every day, supervise minute details, till COVID-19 happened.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Neetu Singh Kapoor with Rishi and Ranbir Kapoor.</p></div>

Neetu Singh Kapoor with Rishi and Ranbir Kapoor.

(Photo Courtesy: Instagram)

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Rishi Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor photographed by Neetu Singh Kapoor.</p></div>

Rishi Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor photographed by Neetu Singh Kapoor.

(Photo Courtesy: Neetu Singh Kapoor)

To return to this year’s birthday, how would the day have gone?

Oh, I’m sure he’d get himself a new suit like he always did. And he’d take two hours to get ready, while I just took an hour at most. He was very fond of clothes of all colours – even yellow, purple, green and gold because he could carry them off. I don’t know how many suits and jackets are still there in his wardrobe, unworn, with the price tags on. And he was crazy about shoes, too, of all colours again!

I’d call him a C-man, with his complexion, everything suited him whether it was at a formal or at a promotional event. But he’d always go for the most-moderately-priced brands. I was after him for years to buy an Armani suit. He never did, saying he didn’t want to blow up money just on a brand name. If he was ever at a loss for a suit, he’d get Akbar of Gabbana’s to make him one.

Quite unusually, for Riddhima’s wedding he’d agreed to a top designer coming over to create a suit for him. He went through the measurements, an entire detailed session, but when the designer quoted the price, he said, “Throw the man out. I’m Rishi Kapoor, people see my face, not my clothes.”

Bob could be majorly generous with food. Once he took me to the Peter Lugers Steakhouse in New York and must have spent at least $500 to $600 on the dinner. While we were returning to our hotel, I told him we needed to pick up some milk cartons for the morning. And you know what? He wanted to walk to a shop, two or three blocks away, because they sold milk cheaper by five cents! I said no way, are you okay?...let’s pay the extra 10 cents.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Neetu Singh Kapoor takes a selfie with Rishi Kapoor.</p></div>

Neetu Singh Kapoor takes a selfie with Rishi Kapoor.

(Photo Courtesy: Neetu Singh Kapoor)

Has it been tough without him for more than a year now?

(Pause, tearing up) Very, very tough, especially the first six months. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think, I’d lost confidence in myself. Luckily around then, Karan (Johar) offered me Jug Jugg Jeeyo. I was extremely nervous, could I possibly re-adapt to movie time?

Then the TV reality shows, Indian Idol and Dance India Dance, happened. They gave me confidence, self-esteem and have been tremendously therapeutic. The thing is I like to be independent, smile and laugh instead of brooding. I couldn’t share my problems with anyone, not even my children. If I cry, they start crying too. Riddhima and Ranbir were aware of what was going on inside me, they encouraged me to work again.

I needed to divert myself, I didn’t want to be alone. So, there I was going through look tests, costume trials, rehearsals, the works again and keeping my mind occupied. I have certainly not returned to work for fame or money. Those, thank the lord, I would like to believe, I already have.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh on their wedding day.</p></div>

Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh on their wedding day.

(Photo Courtesy: Neetu Singh Kapoor)

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Is it true that the famed RK bungalow at Deonar has been sold now? Randhir Kapoor has moved to a house in Bandra.

Honestly, I don’t know about the bungalow at all. I don’t know what the plans are because I’ve never interfered. But yes, Dabboo has moved to Bandra. And it’s been just like him to take it as a part of life, joking what would he do in a huge house all alone? – carry a candle around in the night and sing, “Kahin Deep Jale, Kahin Dil”?

If I may ask, it must have been excruciatingly painful for Chintu bhai not to be here when Krishnaji passed away.

We were devastated. We had just landed in New York in the morning for Bob’s medical treatment when we got the news at night. It was far too late to rush back. We were the closest to her. She was the unshakeable pillar of the Kapoor family. I can’t describe to you how Bob and all of us were shattered.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Neetu Singh Kapoor with daughter Riddhima and mother-in-law Krishna Raj.</p></div>

Neetu Singh Kapoor with daughter Riddhima and mother-in-law Krishna Raj.

(Photo Courtesy: Neetu Singh Kapoor)

Lastly, what would you have said to Chintu bhai on his 69th?

What I always did, “Happy, happy birthday. Now behave yourself today, shut up, don’t yell, don’t do this, don’t do that!” To that he would have retorted, “Why shouldn’t I?” And I would have answered, “Because I love you.”

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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