Rishi Kapoor Opens Up About His Rivalry With Amitabh Bachchan

Rishi Kapoor on why he still has an issue with his big screen rival Amitabh Bachchan.

4 min read
Rishi Kapoor admits that he has a lingering issue with Amitabh Bachchan. (Photo courtesy: Twitter)

When the candid and frightfully honest Rishi Kapoor pens an autobiography, you can bet that the book will soon become a collector’s item. The actor’s tell-all titled Khullam Khulla will soon hit the stands and a peek into the book reveals that the veteran Kapoor has opened his heart out in over 200 pages in this engaging memoir.

Rishi Kapoor’s tell-all titled <i>Khullam Khulla.</i>
Rishi Kapoor’s tell-all titled Khullam Khulla.

In this exclusive excerpt to The Quint, we have the outspoken actor opening up about his rivalry with Amitabh Bachchan.

Excerpts from Khullam Khulla:

I must admit that in those days there was an unspoken undercurrent of tension between Amitabh Bachchan and me. We never sat down to sort it out and luckily the strain evaporated on its own. It was only after we did Amar Akbar Anthony that the two of us got friendly with each other.
…I must confess there is still a lingering issue I have with Amitabh Bachchan. A big disadvantage of working in an all-star movie in those days was that everybody only wanted to make action films, which automatically meant that the star who could carry off action with the most flair would get the meatiest part. That’s how, with the exception of Kabhi Kabhie, which was a romantic film, none of the multi-starrers I featured in had an author-backed role for me. Directors and writers unfailingly reserved their strongest, pivotal roles for Amitabh Bachchan. And it wasn’t just me. Shashi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna faced it too.
Amitabh is undeniably a superb actor, immensely talented and, at the time, the number one star who ruled the box-office. He was an action hero, the angry young man. So roles were written for him. Although we may have been smaller stars, we were not lesser actors. Yet, the rest of us had to constantly measure up to him. We had to work hard, really exert ourselves to match up. In my time, the musical/romantic hero had no place. Amitabh was an action hero in an era of action films. As such, writers gave him the lion’s share and he had the author- backed roles in almost all his films. This gave him an advantage over the rest of us who had to make our presence felt with whatever we got.
But this is something that Amitabh has never ever admitted to, in any interview or book. He has never given due credit to the actors who have worked with him. He has always credited his writers and directors, Salim–Javed, Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Yash Chopra and Ramesh Sippy. But it is also true that his co-stars had an undeniable role in his success.
Unlike with Jeetendra, Amitabh and I didn’t start off on the best of terms. Initially we had a rather uncomfortable, blow hot, blow cold relationship. I was immature and defiant back in the 1970s. He was ten years older than me but like an idiot I used to call him Amitabh, never Amit-ji. Thankfully, I was able to overcome my differences and replace them with a warm camaraderie, which later turned into a family relationship (his daughter Shweta is married to my nephew Nikhil, Ritu’s son).During the making of Kabhi Kabhie, there was every indication of a cold war between us. He never spoke to me and I didn’t speak to him.
I think that Amitabh was sulking because I had won the best actor award for Bobby, given by the leading film magazine of the era. I am sure he felt the award was rightfully his for Zanjeer, which released the same year. I am ashamed to say it, but I actually ‘bought’ that award. I was so naïve. There was this PRO, Taraknath Gandhi, who said to me, ‘Sir, tees hazaar de do,toh aap ko main award dila doonga.’ I am not the manipulative sort but I admit that I gave him the money without thinking. My secretary, Ghanshyam, also said, ‘Sir, dete hain, mil jayega award, isme kya hai.’ Amitabh probably learnt from someone that I had paid for the award. I can only say it was 1974, I was twenty-two years old, and incredibly naïve and bratty. I was flush with money and was not wise or mature enough to understand what I was doing. Only later did I realize my folly.I have another theory about why Amitabh didn’t warm up to me during Kabhi Kabhie. He was playing the role of a rather serious, unsmiling man in the film and his character was not supposed to like mine. Perhaps he just wanted to stay in character and that was one of the reasons why he was aloof throughout the filming. Or perhaps the truth is that my guilt over having bought that award made me read too much into everything.

Title: Khullam Khulla
Author: Rishi Kapoor with Meena Iyer
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: 599/-

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