Rishi’s Bobby & Irrfan’s Paan Singh, Both Breathed Bollywood

Their journeys in real & reel life differed but Rishi & Irrfan gave their craft their all, leaving us wanting more.

Updated05 May 2020, 02:07 PM IST
News Videos
5 min read

Video Editor: Vivek Gupta, Ashutosh Bhardwaj
Video Producer: Debayan Dutta

Ek baar to khud maut bhi ghabra gayi hogi…
Yoon maut ko seene se lagata nahi koyi…
(Even death must have been scared for once... For no soul embraces death with such ease...)

Naseeruddin Shah found these words from a nazm by Kaifi Aami, to say goodbye to Irrfan Khan. And just hours later, we needed them for Rishi Kapoor as well.

Yeh Jo India Hai Na… It will miss both Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor.

Click on the player below for the podcast.

Rishi Kapoor: From Indian Cinema’s First Family To Stardom

Rishi Kapoor is from Indian Cinema’s first family, the Kapoor khaandaan (Kapoor clan). Prithviraj Kapoor’s grandson, Raj Kapoor’s son, Shammi and Shashi Kapoor’s bhatija (nephew), Ranbir ka Papa, Neetu Singh ka husband, Karishma aur Kareena ka chacha (Karishma and Kareena’s uncle).

Bachpan se (since childhood) breathing Bollywood! His first full-fledged film Bobby was a blockbuster and brought him instant stardom. The romantic, dancing star, the mufflers, the sweaters, a fairytale romance with co-star Neetu Singh – the audience loved it all and it was pure stardust…

Irrfan Khan: The Talent Ka Bhandaar Who Waited 15 Years For His Big Break

Contrast this with Irrfan Khan – the hungry, passionately optimistic storehouse of talent from Tonk, Rajasthan, who lied to leave home to pursue acting, who lied to get into drama school, who with no filmi mentor, waited 15 years in Mumbai for his big break. His wife, writer Sutapa Sikdar, also his classmate in NSD, describes Irrfan in these words:

‘Uss mein bhookh dikhti thi (You could see the hunger in him). Whether it was books, film scripts, or work… ke main jo karoon, uss mein se sab nichod loon... kyonki waqt bahut kam hai... (Whatever I do, I want to give it my all, because time is short).’

Jo Rishi Kapoor ko viraasat mein mili, Irrfan ne lad-ladkar haasil ki (What Rishi Kapoor inherited, Irrfan fought for). And both succeeded. That’s Bollywood for you.

Yeh Jo India Hai Na… Yeh country hi kuch aisi hai!

Cut To 2003...

Irrfan in and as ‘Maqbool’, the don, looking at Piyush Mishra’s character Kaka’s dead body, faking grief. Suddenly, the dead body looks back at him… and Irrfan is thrown back, the hardened criminal, screaming, scared, the guilt showing. In his panic, he looks at Tabu for help, he looks at his men – have they found him out? All these nuances, expressed in a matter of seconds by the great actor.

Cut To 2010...

Irrfan as Paan Singh Tomar… he has chased down Bhanwar Singh, who killed his mother brutally. Irrfan isn’t baying for blood but still, keeps the tension building. We know Bhanwar is going to die, as Irrfan simply keeps asking him why he did it.

It’s understated, but chilling, the talent on display hitting you in the gut. Both Irrfan and his director Tigmanshu Dhulia got National Awards for ‘Paan Singh Tomar’

And Now Cut Way Back To 1973...

The film ‘Bobby’: a young Rishi Kapoor, playing Raj, has come to Bobby’s ie Dimple’ Kapadia’s home, saying he’s left his parents. Bobby is happy, but Mrs Braganza, her mum, knows this love is doomed. She scolds Rishi, slaps him, he pleads with her, on his knees, he wants to marry Bobby. The melodrama works. Rishi’s innocence clicks. Dad and director Raj Kapoor’s magic makes him a star.

Cut To 1977...

Rishi as Akbar Allahabadi, in the multi-starrer hit ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony’: the loveable qawwali singer, pursuing the tailor Tayyab Ali’s daughter Neetu Singh, one the 12 films the hit jodi did together. His acting flair is more apparent and he’s also aware of his slot – as the romantic counter to the macho, angry Amitabh and Vinod Khanna.

Now Fast Forward To 2013…

Call it kismat (luck) or a Bollywood style kahani mein twist (twist in the story). Now fast forward to 2013.

Bobby’ ke 40 saal baad (40 years after ‘Bobby’), an overweight Rishi Kapoor playing Dawood Ibrahim. And the talent ki tanki (pool of talent) from Tonk, Irrfan, playing a RAW agent, Wali Khan, who has captured Dawood.

They are in a car, heading for the Indo-Pak border. Rishi looks at Irrfan. Irrfan looks at Rishi. Irrfan’s expression is of total disbelief – he’s spent years playing catch up – in the film and in real life. And now finally he’s rubbing shoulders with Rishi Kapoor – in the film and in real life.

All the years of waiting, planning things, trying, in the film and in real life – you see it all in that expression. Finally the star and the self-made star are in the same frame and it is ironic, that the film is called D-Day!

Rishi’s Wide-Ranging Second Innings

The film was a D-Day situation for Rishi Kapoor also – no muffler, no songs, no Neetu Singh, no glamour – he’s got to match skills with the best of this generation – Irrfan. In the scene that follows – as Rishi tempts Irrfan to hand him a phone, promising to let him speak to his wife, the two actors spar – word for word, line for line, look for look, to give us a crackling scene.

And while Irrfan is Irrfan, we can also see that the old chocolate boy hero Rishi is a natural-born actor. In fact, in Rishi Kapoor’s second innings as an actor – in ‘Do Dooni Char’, ‘Kapoor and Sons’, ‘Mulk’, as Rauf Lala in ‘Agneepath’, in ‘102 Not Out’ (with Amitabh Bachchan again after all those years), as Inspector Chulbul Chautala in ‘Besharam’ – we finally saw the range he was capable of and it’s been great to watch!

The Versatile Irrfan

Equally, Irrfan – from the angry Rannvijay Singh of ‘Haasil’, to Ashoke Ganguli in ‘The Namesake’, Saajan Fernandes in ‘Lunchbox’, Rana Chowudhry in ‘Piku’, the lovable Raj Batra and Champak Bansal in ‘Hindi Medium’ and ‘Angrezi Medium’ (his last film) – was a truly versatile genius. Irrfan’s every performance was effortless, shorn of the ‘actor’s ego’, he just became the character – adding touches, layers, that could never be scripted.

Through life, career and illness, Irrfan never ever sounded angry or bitter. His last audio message too was one of humor and optimism: “If life gives you lemons, make shikanji... not easy, but what option is there but to stay positive...”

And Rishi – while he often let fly on Twitter, often getting trolled right back, here too, was a pretty simple, honest guy. Honest enough to say he didn’t deserve the Filmfare Best Actor award for Bobby 47 years ago.

Two very different journeys in life and in Bollywood… but Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan gave their craft their all, leaving us fans hungry for more.

In the end, these lines by Saaqib Lucknavi come to mind:
“Zamaana bade shauk se sun raha tha..
Hum hi so gaye dastaan kehte kehte…”

Yeh Jo India Hai Na… It will truly miss Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor. God bless them both!

Liked this story? We'll send you more. Subscribe to The Quint's newsletter and get selected stories delivered to your inbox every day. Click to get started.

The Quint is available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, click to join.

Published: 02 May 2020, 03:49 AM IST
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!