The life and times of Bollywood’s greatest showman
He was considered to be Bollywood’s greatest showman. Raj Kapoor lived up to this sobriquet very well. There was a determined cinema as it approached social issues, demolished taboos by flourishing its storytelling, and seemed well ahead of time. In a film industry decorated with a few iconic names, Kapoor was a colossus.
Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, and Dev Anand gave the nation much to celebrate with their talent – there was romance and joy on screen. As Dilip Kumar won the title of King of Tragedy and Dev Anand was dubbed the Eternal Romantic, Kapoor was the detail-oriented artist, music connoisseur, and a connoisseur of the pulse of society.
When Rahul Rawail, who had worked as Kapoor’s assistant director, came up with the idea of writing a tribute to the master filmmaker through a book, he compelled true film lovers. A report in this form was essential to bring out the crazy, strange, affable, unique genius that was Kapoor.
In Raj Kapoor, the master at work , Rawail succeeds in presenting some little-known aspects of the non-conformist filmmaker, actor-producer-director who has explored cinema as few have done. Written with the help of Pranika Sharma, it is a delightful reading experience for all Kapoor fans.
Rawail draws on her incredible memory and close association with Kapoor to reveal some hilarious anecdotes from her life. Kapoor the actor and Kapoor the director are two extremely attractive compartments that Rawail presents with immense clarity.
It would not be wrong to regard Kapoor as one of the greatest contributors to the popularization of cinema in free India. He tackles subjects that few have the courage to tackle. Mera Naam Joker, the story of a clown who makes others laugh while hiding his own sorrows, is a perfect example. It was a story close to his heart. It also became a heartbreaking story when the film failed. Today it has achieved cult film status and in the opinion of his eldest son, Randhir, it is a film that defines Kapoor the most.
“Raj Kapoor had his own brand of filmmaking. His ideas were always ahead of his time and his films reflected that. Mera Naam Joker was one of those examples. It was a major flop when it was released, but with time and people understanding what the film is about, it is now one of Raj Kapoor’s most beloved films… ”, writes Randhir in his foreword.
Kapoor made his directorial debut with Aag in 1948 and never looked back. His rise has been phenomenal, and as the book documents, music has remained an integral part of his cinema with impressive contributions from singer Mukesh and composers Shanker-Jaikishan. And Rawail doesn’t forget the pillars that have stood like stones behind Kapoor’s success – cinematographer Radhu Karmakar and sound recordist Allaudin Khan. We also learn in the book about the creators of the iconic RK Studio logo – a man playing the violin with a woman in his arms was designed by MR Achrekar and painted by Balasaheb Thackeray.
There was nothing Kapoor couldn’t do. He would become a most demanding makeup artist, lyricist, director, a breathtaking array of actor, someone who could instruct Lata Mangeshkar on the final notes of a song, and a great talent scout.
When Dimple Kapadia made an informal visit with her parents, Kapoor discovered in her the girl who could play Bobby. He chose Dimple over the objections of most of those present at the hearing, including Randhir Kapoor. “What I see in her is what you don’t have the capacity to see. That’s the difference between all of you and me, ”he said, ending all arguments. Dimple got the role opposite Rishi Kapoor and two stars were born as Bobby set screens on fire.
The most exciting chapter deals with Kapoor’s obsessions and eccentricities. Here, Rawail is at his best with first-hand experiences that bring out the showman’s obsession with drink, food, and movies. Rawail tells us about Kapoor’s love for Johnnie Walker Black Label which he collected during his overseas tours because he was not convinced of the authenticity of the brand available in India. “In fact, when he passed away and they opened his personal cabinet, there were only bottles of Black Label to be found and nothing else,” writes Rawail.
The most hilarious incident involved Kapoor sending his driver and insisting on walking home, at 3 a.m. from Bandra to Chembur. Rawail spotted Kapoor at a bus stop, without even the bus ticket in his pocket. When Rawail invited him to get in his car, Kapoor shouted at him, “I will only go by bus.” Rawail let him do it, but returned a bit later to check that he was okay and found him missing. He followed the route and was delighted to see Kapoor sitting in the front seat of a taxi, flanked by the driver and another passenger, his arms slung and a gamchha strapped around his head, humming.sun sahiba sun, pyaar ku dhun. “Eleven years later the song was featured in Ram Teri Ganga Maili.
Kapoor liked the food in small restaurants. It was common to see him eating pani-puri on the streets near Chembur station, dosa and medu-vada at a nearby South Indian restaurant, driving to Ghatkopar and Thane for the dal and the sheep, biryani at Coronation next to the Novelty cinema near Grant’s Road. “Arrangements were made to assign cars that would drive to various locations at different times to pick up food so that we all had ‘hot dishes’ to eat,” Rawail writes.
One of the incidents that emerges from the book is the narration of how Kapoor, while searching for a location, visited the Kashmir border area. He was escorted by a senior army officer and very quickly had visitors across the border – Pakistani soldiers were his fans too. Rawail also writes in detail about Kapoor’s handling of the Dimple-Rajesh Khanna marriage while filming Bobby and she revealed her pregnancy while filming a song.
Rawail ends with a touching chapter on Kapoor’s death and the funeral. “The flames engulfed the mortal remains of the Master and, as the fire rose, it heralded the birth of the immortal Raj Kapoor.”
(Vijay Lokapally is a journalist and freelance author)
About the book
Raj Kapoor: the master at work
Rahul Rawail & Pranika Sharma
Rs 699/245 pages (Hardcover)
Discover this book on Amazon