Few may have vivid, early memories of Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor – who passed away today – as the prominent Krishnamurthi family in the Indian film industry.
The pater-familias, A. Krishnamurthi, 91, remembers how decades ago, the young Rishi, fondly known as ‘Chintu’, would visit his father’s or uncles’ film sets and even played with him joyfully there.
“He was always a very well-behaved, cultured child… Even his future wife, and the little child actor Neetu Singh used to play in my lap. Years later, when they got married our family relations became even stronger,” A. Krishnamurthi told IANS.
The incidents he referred to were around the film “Nazrana” (1961) in which he was the production executive and interacted closely with the film’s cast of big names like Raj Kapoor, Vyjanthimala, Usha Kiran, Gemini Ganesan (father of the diva, Rekha Ganesan), when the 9-year old Rishi would often drop in on the sets.
Neetu was a bubbly, lovable 5-year old child actress in Venus Pictures’ superhit musical film, “Suraj” (1966) with Rajendra Kumar, Vyjanthimala, Mumtaz, Ajit and Johnny Walker.
“Neetu started working as a child artiste and years later, she and Rishi married and the entire industry was genuinely happy with their ajodi’. Our long family relations with the ‘Kapoor khandan’ since the mid-1940s were further cemented,” reminisced A. Krishnamurthi.
At 18, when Rishi Kapoor was to make his Bollywood grand debut with “Bobby”, Raj Kapoor was hunting for a suitable playback voice for his son, though there were singing stalwarts like Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh.
“Luckily, through some friends, I came to know of a young but very talented boy, Shailendra Singh, and recommended him to Laxmikant-Pyarelal. After he was approved by the music-director duo and the Kapoors, Rishi called up to express his gratitude for giving him a voice and the film industry a new singer,” A. Krishnamurthi said.
As Shailendra Singh sang many songs for Rishi Kapoor, the latter apparently repaid the debt to A. Krishnamurthi by readily agreeing to break his rule and work in a key role for his son K. Ravi Shankar’s maiden directorial venture, “Sindoor” (1987), under the family’s banner, Tina Film International (TFI).
“I was virtually scared of even approaching Rishi. Very hesitantly, I mentioned to my father that I needed him for that key role in the film which had his uncle Shashi Kapoor and Jeetendra, besides Jaya Prada, Govinda and Neelam Kothari. When my father reluctantly broached the topic with Rishi, he promptly agreed, but on one condition – he would not charge any fees! Such was his magnanimity and down-to-earth character, and he gave a memorable performance,” K. Ravi Shankar told IANS.
Later, he broke another rule for the director whom he admired a lot.
“He enacted the lead in my second film ‘Gharana’ (1989) and one day graciously came for an early 6 am shoot – coinciding with the sunrise – probably the second time in his career, at Hyderabad, recalls K. Ravi Shankar of that morning.
K. Ravi Shankar said coming from a big family of film-makers, Rishi Kapoor was always aware of producers’ problems and pressures working on limited budgets, he never threw tantrums or indulged in ‘star nakhras’, avoided any exorbitant demands, remained punctual and professional.
“Once, during the Gharana’s 3-week long schedule in Hyderabad, he called a production assistant and asked him to book a suite, arrange air tickets and pick his family from the airport to the five-star hotel. The worried production assistant informed me and I gave him the go-ahead. That evening, Rishi came looking for me and I assured him that I had cleared it. But he said only on the condition that ‘he would pay entirely for his family trip’ without any arguments, That was his greatness,” said K. Ravi Shankar.
In 1990, he made it a point to specially fly down to Chennai for K. Ravi Shankar’s wedding with Jayashree and posed for family pictures along with A. Krishnamurthi and his wife Mathuram.
TFI Executive Producer Ramya Iyer recalled how from childhood the Krishnamurthis and Kapoors would bond at various festivals or family occasions.
“During the annual Ganeshotsav, celebrated with great enthusiasm by the Kapoors, Rishi would personally call up and invite my dad (A. Krishnamurthi), and when we went he was there to receive us at the gate without fail, and escort us inside. He was a highly cultured and humble person, respected elders, and on sets would interact with everyone right down to the spot-boys,” Ramya Iyer told IANS.
TFI’s producer K. Ramji, who runs his own company Tina Films Enterprises (TFE), recalled how he was once surprised to see the glittering singer-dancer costume from the mega-hit Subhash Ghai film, “Karz” (1980), starring Rishi Kapoor, Tina Munim-Ambani, Simi Garewal and others, at Rishi Kapoor’s home.
“He mentioned that he had liked it so much after the ‘Om Shanti Om’ number that he decided to preserve ita Four decades after the film release, the costume hangs to this day at his home-office, though he is gone now,” said K. Ramji softly.