Remembering Raj Kapoor on his 94th Birth Anniversary
As the nation remembers 'the greatest showman of Hindi cinema' - Raj Kapoor, on his 94th birth anniversary of late, we can't help but reminisce the contributions of the most influential actors and filmmakers of Hindi cinema. Born as Ranbir Raj Kapoor (a name which now his grandson flaunts), he donned many hats in his film career spanning 40 years - as an actor, director, producer and editor. He received multiple accolades, including three National Film Awards and eleven Filmfare Awards. He was a two-time nominee for the Palme d'Or grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his films ‘Awara’ (1951) and Boot Polish (1954). His performance in ‘Awara’ was ranked as one of the top ten greatest performances of all time by Time Magazine. His films attracted worldwide audiences, particularly in Asia and Europe. He was called the 'Clark Gable of the Indian film industry'. The Government of India honoured him with the Padma Bhushan in 1971 and also the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1987 for his contributions in art and cinema.
Born at Kapoor Haveli in 1924 in Peshawar (now Pakistan) to Ramsarni Devi Kapoor and legendary actor Prithviraj Kapoor, many would have thought that his journey into the film world would be easy, but that was not so. Raj Kapoor began his career as a clap boy assisting Kidar Sharma. As Prithviraj Kapoor moved from city to city early in his career during the 1930s, the family had to move from Peshawar to present-day India for residence and education. As a child, Raj Kapoor attended several schools around places like Calcutta, Dehradun, Mumbai, etc. At the age of ten, he appeared in Bollywood films for the first time, in the film Inquilab (1935). Raj Kapoor's big break came with the lead role in ‘Neel Kamal’ (1947) opposite Madhubala in her first role as a leading lady. In 1948, he established his own studio - 'RK Films' in the suburb of Chembur in Bombay, securing a loan from a member of the family of his wife Krishna Malhotra, whom he had married at the age of 22 years, his bride was then 16.
Nothing could stop him. Kapoor became the youngest film director of his time making his directorial debut with ‘Aag’ starring himself, Nargis, Kamini Kaushal and Premnath. In 1949 he co-starred with Dilip Kumar and Nargis in Mehboob Khan's film ‘Andaz’ which was his first major success as an actor. He had his first success as a producer, director and the lead actor of ‘Barsaat’ released later in the same year. This was followed by other hits like ‘Awara’ (1951) and ‘Shree 420’ (1955), starring himself and Nargis. Without much of an ado, in 1964, RK Films came up with Sangam which was Raj Kapoor's first colour film. It became a box-office hit and is considered a magnum opus of Raj Kapoor today. The film was shot in foreign locales for on-location shooting, such as Venice, Paris, and Switzerland. This started the Bollywood trend of shooting songs sequences abroad (primarily in Switzerland), against the backdrop of 'exotic' landscapes. The film was also released in the Soviet Union, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece and Hungary.
In 1970, Kapoor moved on to ‘Mera Naam Joker’, one of India’s lengthiest films clocking 255 minutes with two intervals.
After ‘Sangam’ became a blockbuster, ‘Mera Naam Joker’ was highly anticipated as it was under production for six years and heavily publicized, loosely based on Kapoor's own life. Upon release, the film was rejected by the audience and critics, putting Kapoor into a financial crisis. Perhaps the toughest time that the Kapoor family saw was after ‘Mera Naam Joker’. Raj Kapoor’s most expensive and ambitious film, flopped. In 1970, after the film’s failure, Kapoor almost lost his studio and the family’s assets were mortgaged. Heart bracingly, it was only after the success of Bobby in 1973, that the family was rescued from severe financial stress and he finally bought a family home. Bobby not only restored the RK Studios to its former glory, but went a long way in repaying the debts incurred by the commercial failure of ‘Mera Naam Joker’. Bobby became a trend-setter and was immensely popular and widely imitated. Raj Kapoor launched his second son Rishi Kapoor in this film; he wanted a new heroine to complement the young love story. Dimple Kapadia and Neetu Singh were auditioned for the role of ‘Bobby Braganza’, but Dimple was finally selected. In an interview in 2012, Rishi Kapoor stated, "There was a misconception that the film was made to launch me as an actor. The film was actually made to pay the debts of ‘Mera Naam Joker’. Dad wanted to make a teenage love story and he did not have money to cast Rajesh Khanna in the film".
Raj Kapoor was not only popular in India, but also famous in countries like Africa, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, China, Turkey and Southeast Asia where his songs are remembered till date. His penchant for Charlie Chaplin is obvious in acts where he imitated the tramp-like figure. Raj Kapoor is known to have been consumed by his films while he was making them. From writing, casting, shooting, editing to finally releasing a film, Kapoor would always be involved in all aspects.
With refreshing candor, his son Rishi Kapoor states in his book 'Khullam Khulla', about his father’s dalliances with his heroines. Kapoor and Nargis worked in 16 films together, a classic onscreen pair, they had a roaring affair. But Kapoor didn’t leave his wife and family. All throughout his prolific journey, his wife Krishna Raj Kapoor kept the home front steady and supportive. But she was entirely prostrated when Raj Kapoor had another roaring affair with Vyjayanthimala. She took the kids and moved out to Natraj Hotel in Marine Drive and then to an apartment in South Mumbai. Kapoor had to promise to give up on everything for his wife to return home. Raj Kapoor is also reported to have fallen for the young and gorgeous Zeenat Aman; but as Aman chose to marry Mazhar Khan, that affair petered out too.
Shashi Kapoor, who played the lead in Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978), had once revealed in an interview that his eldest brother had told him he wanted to make a film called ‘Ghunghat ke Pat Khol’. The title was derived from a song rendered by Geeta Dutt for the Kidar Nath Sharma’s ‘Jogan’ (1950), starring Nargis and Dilip Kumar. But the film didn't go beyond the title though. However, Zeenat Aman was not the first choice as a leading lady for the film. Hema Malini, Dimple Kapadia, Vidya Sinha were previous choices, but they refused because of sensual content and body exposure in the film. In her book 'Raj Kapoor Speaks', Ritu Nanda reveals that Lata Mangeshkar was the inspiration behind the film, and that he wanted to cast her in the movie. "I visualised the story of a man falling for a woman with an ordinary countenance but a golden voice and wanted to cast Lata Mangeshkar in the role", the book quotes Raj Kapoor as saying.
Kapoor’s films ‘Prem Rog’ (1982) and 'swansong' ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’ (1985), turned out to be biggest hits of the years respectively and the highest grossing Hindi films. The script of his next film Henna was in the works when he passed away in 1988 at the age of 63 years. Kapoor not only launched several celebrated Bollywood superstars but he was a multi-talented and versatile actor, setting an example for generations to follow. He remains in our hearts forever. As he once said at a function held in Jaipur for ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’, "Hum na rahenge tum na rahoge, phir bhi rahegi nishaaniyaan..." indeed his songs and stories continue to delight us always while the magic of his films stays with us forever.