/ All in the Family

All in the Family

Jan 27, 2014

An in-depth conversation with the legendary Kapoor family — the past, present and future of Bollywood.

It was a family dynasty in full force. Ranbir Kapoor and his parents Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor attended an event in New York to promote Besharam, their first film together.

Anyone who knows anything about Indian cinema agrees that the Kapoors are Bollywood royalty. It all started with Prithviraj Kapoor, who moved from Peshawar to Bombay with his family in 1927. After featuring in nine silent films, he played a supporting role in the very first Indian talkie, Alam Ara, in 1931. Since then his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have dominated Hindi cinema.

The most famous Kapoor is Prithviraj’s son Raj Kapoor, whose persona and iconic films like Awaara, Boot Polish, Barsaat, Jagte Raho and Mera Naam Joker have enchanted generations of filmgoers. Raj Kapoor once said, “‘My films and I,’ To me it’s the same as saying, ‘my beloved and I’ or, ‘my purpose and I.’ To me my films are all these rolled into one — perhaps more.”

Indian cinema’s love affair with the Kapoors has continued with the brothers Raj, Shammi and Shashi, Raj’s children Randhir, Rishi and Rajiv, Randhir’s daughters Karishma and Kareena, and now Rishi’s son Ranbir, who’s been called “the most bankable star of his generation.” Cinema is in their DNA. So naturally it was quite an event to see Raj Kapoor’s son Rishi and grandson Ranbir working together on a film. As Consul General of India Dnyaneshwar Mulay observed at the press reception which took place at the ballroom of the Indian Consulate, the Kapoors are the unofficial kings and queens of the Indian film industry and have a magnetic effect on audiences from Russia to Japan. Mulay even admitted to skipping school to watch Bobby at the theatre.

Rishi proved that he too still has immense stage presence. “Without sounding too pompous,” he said, “I have to say the Kapoors have made a contribution to the 100 years of the film industry by making films for the last 84 years.”

When asked about working with his parents in Besharam, Ranbir said, “I’ve always been a fan of my father, not just because he’s my father but because he’s a damn good actor. And the opportunity to hang with him, and on top of that my mother being there too, was a great learning experience.”

Contrary to what might be expected, Rishi and Neetu don’t play Ranbir’s parents in the film, but rather a pair of corrupt cops that are after him. At one point in the film, Ranbir even manhandles his father, ties him up and calls him mote (fatso). “He was very amazing and took it well,” Ranbir said. “But we all made sure we travelled home separately.”

When asked how the three of them ended up on the film, Ranbir noted that they are individual actors and when something comes up they have to like it individually. But the actor, who has a very close relationship with his parents, is glad it worked out this way. “Please make this movie a hit so I can work with my parents again,” he said.

But, we’re not sure that will happen. As the New York Times wrote, “Besharam means ‘shameless’, and this film, directed by Abhinav Singh Kashyap, mostly is. In scenes with his parents, Ranbir often delivers some variation on this idea: If I’m bad, it’s because I had no mom and dad to guide me.”

Neetu was asked about her long absence from the big screen. “I got married and had two children and I had to concentrate on what’s my responsibility,” she said. “I couldn’t even think of leaving my children and going to work. I only took on movies after my daughter got married.”

“It was a conscious decision that one would stay at home,” Rishi added. “For 29 years Neetu declined films until she heard the script and was hooked. I don’t think she wants to make a career of it — but she’s welcome to it.”

When asked how she felt about her son’s superstar status, Neetu replied with a radiant smile. “How does any mother feel?” she said. “My heart is full of pride. I feel so, so proud.”

For Rishi, filmmaking was also very much a family affair earlier in his career. “I was very fortunate to have actually worked in three films with my father — Mera Naam Joker, then Bobby of course, and Prem Rog,” the veteran actor recalled. “He was always there for me in every way, and today, whatever I am, all that I am, is because of him. Not because he was my biological father but because he was my guru. My craft today is only because of him.”

And then he went on to share an anecdote. “Raj Kapoor was a colleague of Dilip Kumar, known to us as Yusuf Uncle. When I was working on Prem Rog, a film about the emancipation of widows, my father always wanted to see depth in my eyes when I looked at my beloved. When he was taking the shot he would get angry and tell me, “Chintu mujhe Yusuf chaiye ankhen mein! Yusuf! (I want Yusuf in your eyes!)” When my father passed away, I told this to Dilip Kumar and he was so touched. In those great stars, there was no rivalry at all, there was so much love.”

Ranbir’s favourite anecdote about his father also has to do with eyes. “In my real life I don’t think I’ve ever looked into my father’s eyes, so in the first scene we did together in Besharam, I actually discovered his eye colour,” Ranbir said. “There was so much conviction to what he was doing in the scene and it was so effortless and natural. And it helps actors so much because you just have to react to him and your performance will be good. So my first scene when I looked into his eyes was really memorable for me.”

When a reporter asked if he was jealous of his son’s big success, Rishi Kapoor exploded: “A father cannot be! He’s the fourth generation male heir legacy of the Kapoors. So what’s this question of being jealous? He’s my son!”

This is reminiscent of the time when Rishi Kapoor got the National Award for his role as the young joker in Mera Naam Joker. “What could make a father happier than to see in his lifetime his son’s progress and success?” Raj Kapoor said at the time.

After years of relative hibernation, Rishi is once again going strong and recently has taken on several films. He says, “Dil to ab tak jawan hai (the heart is still young). I’m enjoying myself. This is the only job I know — making faces — and thankfully I’m paid for it!”

For his part, Ranbir is eager to carry on the family tradition. A character he would like to portray is Raj Kapoor’s role in Shree 420. “I’m a big fan of my grandfather,” he said. “I was only six years old when he passed away so I know him mainly through his films.”

There is great affection and rapport between father and son, and Ranbir says that his father is his favourite actor.

When asked who his favourite female co-star is — Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif or Priyanka Chopra? — his answer took a little more thought. “When I go to India it will just get me into trouble,” he said with a smile. “So I’ll say — and say it with utmost honesty — that my favourite female co-star is Mrs. Neetu Kapoor!”




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