Raj Kapoor, if only he had been alive today, would have celebrated with pomp and splendor his 96th birthday today at R.K. Studios which he had nurtured with his sweat and blood. In fact, if he was alive, he would not have sold off his studios to Godrej to make way for a housing project. Raj Kapoor is one actor-producer-director, who always made it a point to appreciate talent. I remember the day he hugged Kamal Haasan at the premiere of his maiden Hindi venture Ek Duuje Ke Liye in Bombay and predicted that he would conquer films as an actor. Today Kamal Haasan is a renowned actor after his sterling performance in several films including Nayakan. In fact, Raj Kapoor was keen in making the Hindi version of the Telugu hit Swathi Muthyam with Kamal Haasan but unfortunately he was put off by the price quoted by the makers of the Telugu film for the Hindi rights and abandoned the very idea.
I fondly still remember the times his then PR person the late Bunny Reuben used to call me on my landline when I was staying at Worli and tell me that Rajsaab wanted to meet me too along with my mentor and his favorite journalist Devyani Chaubal at R.K Studios for a chat once in every six months. With Devyani also fondly known as Devi, I used to attend every birthday party of his at R.K. Studios and joined the revelry though I was only 22 then when I was working as an Accounts Supervisor at Hotel Oberoi Sheraton in Nariman Point.
Devyani and I used to go and meet him by evening 5 pm but he used to keep us engaged by talking to us over endless cups of filter coffee as he was very fond of it, about the good old days when he used to be with his favorite leading ladies like Nargis, Padmini, Vyjayanthimala, showing us reels from his earlier B& W films at the preview theatre upstairs and allowing us to go back home only after he used to ply us with the choicest of scotch at the bar at his special cottage inside the studios followed by sumptuous dinner and what’s more ask his chauffeur to drop us both home all the way from Chembur to Worli . Devyani Chaubal was staying at the NSCI also at Worli.
Raj had always given a break to his assistants. He made Aan with his chief assistant Raja Nawathe as the director. His film Jaagte Raho was directed by Shambu Mitra while Amar Kumar directed his film Ab Dilli Door Nahin. Prakash Arora directed his film Boot Polish while his cameraman Radhu Karmarkar directed Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai. Raj Kapoor believed in quality rather than quantity. He never used to work on more than one project at a time. Even as a sought after actor, Raj restricted his assignments and was very choosy. The total number of films in which he has acted will not be more than one hundred. In fact, Raj had even mocked his brother Shashi Kapoor and Zeenat Aman in front of me at Loni Farmhouse in Pune in the presence of visiting journalists like me, when they were working in his film Satyam Shivam Sundaram for signing too many films and working like taxis round the clock.
Raj Kapoor, not many remember, was also short tempered but his fury did not last long. As a matter of policy Raj never sold any of his films to Doordarshan for telecast as he was unhappy with the meagre payments offered by way of royalty to producers. “If Doordarshan can dare to charge us producers Rs 35,000 for just telecasting a song and dance number in Chitrahaar, why should we let the government telecast our films for just peanuts?”, he used to rightly argue.
I remember I had gone during the summer holidays of 1975 to Madras and one afternoon when I was fiddling with the TV remote, I was shocked to stumble upon Doordarshan showing Raj Kapoor’s latest movie Bobby which had been released only in 1973. When I brought his attention to the fact that Madras Doordarshan had clandestinely telecast his film Bobby on a Saturday afternoon, he was furious and ordered at once that his advocate sue Doordarshan and claim Rs 40 lakhs as compensation from the government. The case went on for nearly a year though Raj ultimately accepted the apology tendered by Doordarshan and later withdrew the case.
Once Raj Kapoor had candidly admitted in an interview to me that the sexual candor in his films was a takeoff on his own adolescent experiences. “My father Prithviraj Kapoor was a great actor with deep insight into human characters and greatly enjoyed his role of a friendly father. When I was very young, he had shown me Man To Man, Andy Hardy’s film series produced by MGM in which Mickey Rooney and Lewis Stone played father and son treating each other as equals. Even when he went to Sumatra and Bali, he had, believe it or not, presented me with a nude painting with a note that read, “Sorry Sonny, I couldn’t bring you a live one.”
Whether it was Shree 420, Bobby, Mera Naam Joker or for that matter Sangam, Raj Kapoor’s films were defiantly autobiographical in their treatment and jazzy and rumbustious in their presentation. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration if we were to state that Raj Kapoor’s films are a genre by themselves. To Raj Kapoor, his father Prithviraj served as a great inspiration. To him, Raj owed a great deal for his rise to fame. When Raj told his father that he would rather take up a career in films than do his graduation, Priviraj Kapoor readily agreed. Even Raj never compelled his sons Randhir, Rishi and Rajeev to pursue their studies after their matriculation.
Raj was known for the explicit sexual candor in every film of his. He had always bared the female anatomy in his films, like for example Padmini in Mera Naam Joker, Vyjayanthimala in Sangam, Dimple Kapadia in Bobby and Mandakini in Ram Teri Ganga Maili and before that Zeenat Aman in Satyam Shivam Sundaram.
Raj Kapoor was one filmmaker who really knew the pulse of the audiences and had them literally in his own hands. He knew how to penetrate the minds of his audiences. He had the pulse of the audience in his outstretched palms. He dealt with the chemistry of love in his films and seldom did he face failure, except for Mera Naam Joker which had hit him badly on his face.
With different heroines in different films at different times, Raj Kapoor created history. Raj believed in exploiting his personal relationships with his heroines to extract memorable performances out of them. Whether it was Padmini or Vyjayanthimala or Nargis, Zeenat Aman or Dimple, Raj Kapoor succeeded in saddling his heroines with a larger than life image. There were hundreds and thousands of girls ready to give their right arm to bag an offer to work in Raj Kapoor’s films.
In fact, for the last three years of his life before his untimely demise, Raj had been seriously looking for a new girl to play the title role in his ambitious project Henna, a love story between a Pakistani girl and an Indian boy from a traditional family. Even though Raj was afflicted with an incurable bout of asthma, he never lost hopes. At several filmland functions, I have spotted Raj Kapoor climbing the stage and gasping for breath.
The youth of today may remember Raj Kapoor only as the man who had made films like Ram Teri Ganga Maili or Prem Rog or for that matter Satyam Shivam Sundaram. But old timers remember his performances in films like Anari, Awara, Sangam, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai and Mera Naam Joker, which were masterpieces of their time- films that changed the face of contemporary Indian Cinema. His Bobby, even today is a big draw at the box office.
Not many are aware of the fact that Raj Kapoor who had a chequered career with forty years behind him had actually made his bow as an actor in a film called Balmiki in which he had enacted the role of Narad. It was Kidar Sharma’s Neel Kamal which presented Raj Kapoor as the romantic leading man on the Hindi screen for the first time way back in 1947, the year India attained her Independence. Raj Kapoor was teamed in the film with the then rage of the nation – Madhubala. Before he was elevated to the status of the leading man of the film, believe it or not, Raj Kapoor served as an apprentice to the versatile director Kidar Sharma. On several occasions Kidar Sharma had even given stinging slaps to his bumbling assistant as Raj himself had confessed to me that too very proudly before his demise.
It was at Rajji’s party to celebrate the success of his film Ram teri Ganga Maili at the Oberoi Sheraton that he was witness to a historic confrontation between Anil Kapoor and myself when Anil was angry with me because I had written in the Mid-day that day that in Janbaaz he had tried to ape none other than Amitabh Bachchan. Though Raj Kapoor could have ignored it, like a real host , he intervened between me and Anil and separated us or else it would have ended up as fisticuff fight between the hot headed Anil of yore and me, at the party where hardly around fifty people were there since in those days in 1986, there was no TV channel at all or for that matter youtube channels and I and Chaitanya Padukone were among the few freelance journalists then, who used to cover parties religiously.
Rajji breathed Cinema till the day he received the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award from the President for India for his contribution to the Indian Cinema – the day he fell seriously ill. The eternal romantic nomad of Awara and the clown with a bleeding heart who serenaded grandiloquent lines about life and death under the dome of a circus in Mera Naam Joker vacillated between life and death in the capital from May 2, 1988, before the end came exactly a month later.
Raj Kapoor is indeed a legend. A romance selfless specialist professing unadulterated love to everyone like him was and is a rarity in Cinema. It is sad that today Raj Kapoor is not alive and also his R.K Studios is no longer there in Chembur. All that I can do now is to sing in his remembrance Jaane Kahan Gaye Woh Din.