By the time I was thirteen years old, I knew more about Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Pran and even Dara Singh and Haji Mastan than I knew about the Pope, Nehru, Kennedy, Khruschev and Hitler. – Ali Peter John
I was born in an atmosphere where the first few names mattered and the next four or five or more could go and do what they wanted to the world. The one actor who fascinated me the most for reasons I still can’t explain is Raj Kapoor. There was something about him that marked him out from the other stars. I could believe that I would touch him and talk to him one day. Those were days when I dreamt of being a priest, a bus conductor or a manager in a third grade Udipi Hotel and I could never imagine that my life would take a complete turn after a miraculous meeting with the well- known writer and filmmaker Khwaja Ahmad Abbas who was also known as the writer of some of the best films of Raj Kapoor…
One post card of appreciation to Mr. Abbas for an article he had written in his column, “The Last Page” in “Blitz” landed me a job as an assistant of Mr. Abbas on a salary of Rupees 100 a month and a cup of tea and a banana in the morning. It was while I was working with Mr. Abbas that I had to believe that dreams come true.
One afternoon, the great Raj Kapoor himself climbed up the five floors of a building in North Bombay Housing Society. There was excitement in the entire compound, but the excitement was at its peak in the office of Mr. Abbas as his men, Abdul Rahman, Atthar Siraj and Jafar were running all over the office, but the only man who sat calmly in his steel chair and kept writing was Mr. Abbas. I had completed only a month of working in the office and hid myself in the grand (the only grand thing in the office of Mr. Abbas) library in a way that I could see what would happen when Raj Kapoor entered the office.
Raj Kapoor was facing the most troublesome time of his life after his magnum opus, “Mera Naam Joker” had shaken up the industry with the way it had flopped. Raj Kapoor, the showman was in nowhere land, his old R.K Studio was mortgaged and he did not know what to do next, some of the best people who believed he was “God” gave up his friendship because according to the unwritten law of the industry, a man who had made a flop was of no use. The tension in the office of Mr. Abbas grew and the excitement in the heart of a boy from a village (me) also kept growing. Raj Kapoor entered and went to the table of Mr. Abbas, fell at his feet and began crying. Mr. Abbas knew the reason why Raj Kapoor was behaving like an injured child because he was the writer of “Mera Naam Joker”. Raj kept on telling Mr. Abbas that it was only he who could save him and R.K Studios. He asked Mr. Abbas to write a new script for him with a young boy and a young girl from two different communities who were madly in love and the consequences that follow. Mr. Abbas asked Raj Kapoor to go home in peace and he would write a script in fifteen days. Raj Kapoor left the office only after touching the feet of Mr. Abbas several times. Mr. Abbas was disturbed but there was also a look of determination on his face…
Exactly fifteen days later, Mr. Abbas was ready with the script of “Bobby” and Raj Kapoor came back to his office in Juhu. He went through the script once and fell at the feet of Mr. Abbas again. He decided there and then that he would introduce his young son Rishi Kapoor as the romantic hero and the beautiful sixteen year old daughter of his friend Chunibhai Kapadia, Dimple as Bobby. The other roles he told Mr. Abbas would be played by Pran, Premnath and Prem Chopra. He also decided to work with a new team of music directors, Laxmikant – Pyarelal and with Anand Bakshi as the lyricist. The film was shot on locations in Goa, Kashmir and Bombay. “Bobby” was completed in the shortest time Raj Kapoor took to make a film and when “Bobby” was released, it created a sensation at the box –office and Rishi and Dimple were super stars…
A few days after the release, Raj Kapoor and his close staff came back to the office of Mr. Abbas. He was drunk during day time and Mr. Abbas screamed at him and said , “Nikal jaao mere office se abhi, mere office mein peene walo ko na jagah hai , na izzat” Raj Kapoor kept folding his hands and saying sorry , but Mr. Abbas would have nothing to say or do. Raj Kapoor finally asked Mr. Abbas to come down with him and Mr. Abbas reluctantly agreed. There was a brand new Ambassador car standing below the building where Mr. Abbas had his office which was actually a gift given to him by Inder Raj Anand, one of the highest paid writers in the industry and had fifteen apartments in Bombay at the same time. Raj Kapoor again touched the feet of Mr. Abbas and handed over a bunch of keys to him and said that he was now the owner of the car and the salary of the driver also brought by him called Ashfaq would be paid by R.K Productions and so would be the petrol bills. Mr. Abbas refused to take the keys from his hand, but finally took them and gave them to his secretary Abdul Rehman, but before Raj Kapoor could leave, he asked Mr. Abbas to give him a promise that he would not sell the car under any circumstances. Raj Kapoor knew very well that the moment Mr. Abbas made any money through his books or in writing the dialogue or screenplay for any other filmmaker, he immediately put all that money into the making of one of his own films , most of which flopped. When “Bobby” was declared a huge success, Mr. Abbas said, “if I had directed the same film, it would certainly have been a flop, it is the magic of a showman like Raj Kapoor that has made ‘Bobby’ what it is”. It was a well- known fact that Raj Kapoor presented all the key members of his team with Ambassador cars and all his workers down to the spot boys with Hercules cycles…
I had joined “Screen” on the recommendation of Mr. Abbas and was all set to face the realities of the dream world. One of my major ambitions was to attend a Raj Kapoor party about which I had heard and read about everywhere. My chance was almost at hand when I came to know that he was hosting a party for all the delegates to the International Film Festival of India being held in Bombay. I thought this was my best chance. On the afternoon of the party, I entered R.K Studios at 2 pm with the excuse of covering the shooting of a film called “Phaansi” starring Shashi Kapoor and Sulakshana Pandit and directed by Harmesh Malhotra. At 5:30, I started walking around the studios and waiting to see what my luck had in store for me. I had heard stories about how Raj Kapoor hated gate crashers and even physically threw them out of the compound. I was prepared for the worst. At 6:30 sharp Raj Kapoor entered the gate in an Ambassador car, dressed in a black suit which made him look more handsome. He had one look all around and then his eyes fell on me dressed in just ordinary jeans, a t-shirt and chappals. He lifted his little finger and called me to himself. I felt it was like the end of the world for me, but my sixth sense worked at the last minute and I just blabbered, “Kumtakar’s assistant , he will be coming in a few minutes.” I knew he was a very good friend of Kumtakar and before I could say anything more , he said , “go , young man and enjoy yourself” and did I enjoy myself? I came home drunk the next morning..
There was this other big party to celebrate the wedding of Shammi Kapoor’s daughter Kanchan and Manmohan Desai’s son Ketan at the Army ground at Colaba. Trucks of imported liquor and all ther leading stars came in together and the celebrations were on full swing when I suddenly heard my name on the sound system. The voice said , “Ali Peter John jaha bhi ho , Raj sahab ke paas aayen”. The announcement kept being made till three men led me to Raj Kapoor who was sitting like an emperor. He saw me and said , “Suna hai tum kal ye shaadi ki khabar Indian Express mein chhapne wale ho aur ye bhi chhapnewale ho ki Army ground par sharab beh rahi thi”. Before I could say anything, he said , “Screen to bandh karwa hi dunga, Indian Express bhi bandh kar dunga”, I tried to pacify him but he kept threatening me till I gave up and he went back to his drinking and I went back to my own.
There was some kind of a jinx between Mr. Kapoor and me. Anand Bakshi had a birthday party in his house where Raj Kapoor had come for the first time, Bakshi Sahab took me to Mr. Kapoor and introduced me and he said , “ Hum logo ka saamna kahi baar ho chukka hai”. He then looked as where I had placed my right hand and got angry and said , “ ae ladke , tumhare haath kaha hai?” . I made an excuse and said I was having some pain in the left side of my chest and he was cruel enough to tell me, “ tum zyaada din rahoge nahi” I left him alone and decided not to have a face to face meeting with him again. But when I met him on the sets of “Prem Rog” he was sugar and spice and all things nice…
He had his own team of men working with him for years. He had given the first breaks to Shankar Raghuvanshi and Jaikishan Panchal who later became famous as Shankar – Jaikishan. He had picked a Central Railway worker who was also a poet called Shailendra and a bus conductor called Hasrat Jaipuri who all worked on the music of his films till Jaikishan died at the age of 42 and Shankar couldn’t make the same impact without him and Raj Kapoor had to first go for Laxmikant – Pyarelal and then Ravindra Jain.
He also had his own personal team. Harish Bibra was his general manager, V.V.S Raman was his accountant and his most favourite man was his cook John.
He had a very intense soft corner for all his heroines and had life –sized black and white photographs of Nargis , Vyjayanthimala, Padmini (of the south) and down to Zeenat Aman lined up on all the floors of R.K studios. He was very open in his dealings with his actresses and said , “ I can’t direct them if I don’t fall in love with them”. His “affair” with Vyjayanthimala created a rift in the family which stayed at the Natraj Hotel in Bombay for a long time. Talking about Zeenat Aman in “Satyam Shivam Sundaram” , he said , “people will come to see her boobs and go back loving the soul of my film”.
He was however very firm about any of the Kapoor girls or women joining films in any capacity, especially as actresses. However, he lived to see his sons Randhir Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor breaking his rule when Randhir married Babita and Rishi married Neetu Singh, their heroines. I wonder what he would have to say about his granddaughters Karisma and Kareena.
He fell seriously sick during the making of “Ram Teri Ganga Maili” but made sure that he completed it. He was all set to start “Henna”, one more film based on a script by Mr. Abbas. He had even recorded the first song in the voice of Suresh Wadkar at the recording of which he was present.
He was declared the winner of the Dadasaheb Phalke award and was seriously sick when he reached New Delhi and when it was time for him to receive his award from President R. Venkatraman, he collapsed in his seat and for the first time, the president came down the dais to present the greatest showman with his ultimate award and he was rushed to the Escorts Hospital from where he couldn’t return and died on June 2, 1989.
At his funeral which was attended by lakhs of people from all walks of life, his sons, Randhir, Rishi and Rajiv had taken a vow that they would direct a film one after the other. Randhir completed “Henna”, Rishi directed “Aa Ab Laut Chale” which was a flop and he decided never to direct a film again and Rajiv directed “Prem Granth” with his brother Rishi and Madhuri Dixit which was also a flop. The brothers seem to have forgotten the vow they had taken.
He had one big ambition to make a film called “Ajanta”. He had even worked out a rough version of the script with K.A Abbas, but the dream remained unfulfilled. Rajiv tried to make “Ajanta” with Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit, but his ambition did not go beyond doing a grand photo session with Sanjay and Madhuri in Khandala.
In Russia, he is still a bigger star than Amitabh Bachchan and Mithun Chakraborty. In China, they have musical groups which specialised in playing all the popular songs of RK and most of the singers and musicians are under the age of thirty which shows how popular the Indian showman is even after sixty years.
P.S: His lovable ghost seemed to haunt me even after his death. The day he died, I reached Rk Studios as soon as his body was placed on a flower-decked truck. I had a couple of drinks before the funeral procession left and then joined the crowd. I was nearing the crematorium when two constables came up to me and pulled me out and one of them asked, “Saala faltu, terko yaha aaneko kisne diya, chal nikal yaha se”. I was in no mood to argue with him and fortunately halted an auto and asked the driver to drive like hell before I could face any more problems because of Raj Kapoor who I admired and loved, but there was something I cannot understand that always brought me into some problem with him.