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Raj Kapoor on his life and times

Raj Kapoor on his life and times, Interview Of Raj Kapoor By Rohini Iyer

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He would tell his life story passionately. Like he made films. From Awara to Ram Teri Ganga Maili, he was obsessed with all his films even though his profession had taken much more than given in return. It took me a long time to convince him to talk about himself. It took me even longer to tell him that it was for an interview for public reading. Finally, after much cajoling from me and my good friend Randhir Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, relented.

It was over innumerous cups of tea, and endless meetings at his cottage that I finally got him to relive his past. And the glory of it!

He sat cross-legged on the divan, with a far away look in his eyes. With the shades drawn and the d├ęcor tastefully subdue in the pearly light, time in the RK cottage seemed to have suspended. Even the sun tiptoed in with caution as Raj Kapoor spoke:

My parents:
We hail from a small town called Samandru. My grandfather was a judge and my grandmother wished that my father Prithviraj Kapoor too would study law and become a judge like her husband. But my father had other plans. A graduate, he took keen interest in literature and Shakespeare. He was very fond of Ramleela and that's how he got interested in theatre.

Once, he was chosen to play Ram in a small Ramleela company, but his parents were against it. Those days acting was not considered a respectable profession. Only prostitutes and other such lower classes were associated with it. My grandparents felt very humiliated that their son was a part of Ramleela. But my father had made up his mind and one fine day, he gave up his studies, left home and came to Bombay with my mother and me. We lived in a one-room tenement on Reay Road.

From here he started his struggle in films. And that was the beginning of the legend that he was to become. Papaji was like a universe. I've never seen a more complete man. We, Shammi, Shashi and myself are nothing compared to him. In a way he was responsible for the star system. He was the first actual star on Hindi screen.

His spirit was always the same, undiminished till the last day. Papaji died of throat cancer. I took him to Sloane Kettering and we tried everything to save him. The doctors gave him three months to live. He wanted to come back and die in his own house. When the end came, Shashi was in London and its incredible how Papaji remained alive till his son's return. As soon he arrived Papaji took his three son's hands in his and said: 'Never shall you three brothers part!' and then passed away.

My brothers:
I think we brothers realised his loss more and more as we grew older. We actually grew closer after his death. Earlier we had drifted apart in search of our goals... our success. But strangely with age our memories of our childhood sharpened. I used to work on stage as a child artist. Shammi and Shashi also joined me. Shashi loved the theatre like Papaji, while I loved cinema. Shammi struck a happy medium. Nobody knows this, but my parents had two more children, Virendra (Bindi) and Davendra. Both died at a very young age. Virendra by accidentally swallowing rat poison, and Davendra of pneumonia, at the age of three. Recently when Shashi and I were jointly admitted in the Breach Candy Hospital, I felt very protective towards him. A woman always has her man, but the man unconsciously leans on his roots, his heritage. He feels like an orphan without his parents.

My marriage, my family:
Mine was the only arranged marriage among us brothers. Actually Krishna is my bua, my father's second cousin. One fine day my father said, "You are getting married," and I said, "Yes father". That was in 1946 when I was 22 years old.

Nine months later Daboo was born. When he was 15 days old my father introduced him to the audiences at the Opera House where he was performing a play. He put paint on his face and applied a tilak on his forehead and announced his birth. That was the kind of pride he had in his work. He was far removed from today's actors, and this includes my own sons, who make their living out of films and hypocritically say: "Oh, we don't like filmi people!"

My studio:
I've struggled a lot for what I have today. Those days most of the shootings took place indoors, there were very few outdoors. Once when I was shooting for Awara, I had completed 13 days of shooting when on the 14th day I was asked to dismantle my sets because the studio had been hired to someone else. I was very upset and that day I decided to make my own studio. I put together all the money I had and laid the foundation of RK Studio. During our days money was very hard to come by. It took almost ten years to earn my first lakh!

When I was picturising the song Ghar aaya mera pardesi on 13 different sets my wife Krishna saw it and her reaction was: "We don't have a house to live in and you are spending all your money on your studio!" I understood her concerns and explained to her: "Jo pehle set banate hain, unke ghar baad main bante hain. Jo pehle ghar banate hain unke set kabhi nahin bante."

Initially I had thought that only RK films would be shot in my studio but God had something else in mind for me. Jab main fakir ban gaya, I had to let others shoot in my studio. No, Nargis never helped me financially. I never took money from her to build RK but RK ke har set par Nargis ki mehnat aur lagan chuppi hui hai. The RK emblem is a reflection of her contribution to the studio. Without her the emblem cannot fully represent RK. Later, I bought a house in Deonar and shifted there with my children. My father refused to come with me, he preferred to stay back in our old house in Matunga, nor did he ask for anything from me. He never asked me how much I earned. I've continued this tradition.

One has to change to adapt to the new breed. But sometimes I don't understand the new world. I remember, some years ago, an actress came to me with her father for a role in Kal Aaj Aur Kal. While negotiating the price the father said: "Look I'm not interested in your RK banner. I'm only interested in how much you pay my daughter." This is what the system has done to today's actors. Maybe they are right, but there is a sense of loss in all this.

A girl like Padmini Kolhapure, who is tremendously talented, is allowing herself to be a victim of the system by her choice of films. Why, for Mr Rishi Kapoor's dates I've got to go to his secretary and plead with him! I laugh when people call me a legend or an institution. V Shantaram or Mehboob Khan could be called that. Not me. I only feel old and tired. And I see RK as a flickering flame. It is up to Daboo, Chintu and Chimpu to keep it burning. It is now up to them.


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