Memoirs Biographies

The life and times of Bollywood’s Greatest Showman

Vijay Lokapally | Updated on: Jan 06, 2022
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In Raj Kapoor, The Master At Work , Rahul Rawail presents little known aspects of the maverick film-maker, actor-producer-director who explored cinema like few did.

He was considered the greatest showman of Bollywood.  Raj Kapoor lived up to that sobriquet really well. There was purposeful cinema as he dealt with social issues, demolished taboos through the flourish of his storytelling, and seemed way ahead of time.  In a film industry decorated with some iconic names, Kapoor was a colossus.

Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand gave the nation much to cheer about with their talent - there was romance, and there was joy on the screen. While Dilip Kumar earned the title of a tragedy king, and Dev Anand was dubbed the eternal romantic, Kapoor was the entertainer with an eye for detail, a connoisseur of music and one who knew the pulse of society.

When Rahul Rawail, who had worked as assistant director to Kapoor, took up the idea of penning a tribute to the master film-maker through a book, he obliged genuine lovers of cinema. An account of this shape was much needed to bring out the crazy, weird, affable, unique, genius that Kapoor was.

In  Raj Kapoor, The Master At Work  , Rawail succeeds in presenting some little known aspects of the maverick film-maker, actor-producer-director who explored cinema like few did. Written with the assistance of Pranika Sharma, it is a delightful reading experience for every Kapoor fan.

Rawail draws on his amazing memory and close association with Kapoor to reveal hilarious anecdotes from his life. Kapoor the actor and Kapoor the director are two hugely appealing compartments that Rawail presents with immense clarity.

It would not be erroneous to deem Kapoor one of the greatest contributors towards making cinema popular in free India. He took up subjects which few had the courage to.  Mera Naam Joker,  the story of a clown who makes other laughs hiding his own sorrows, is a prime example. It was a story close to his heart. It also became a story that broke his heart when the film flopped. Today, it has attained the status of a cult movie and in the opinion of his elder son, Randhir, it’s a film that defines Kapoor the most.

 

“Raj Kapoor had his own brand of film making. His ideas were always ahead of his time and his films reflected that.  Mera Naam Joker  was one such example. It was a major flop when it was released but  with time and people understanding what the film was about, it is now one of Raj Kapoor’s most appreciated films…,” writes Randhir in his Foreword.

Kapoor made his directorial debut with  Aag  in 1948 and never looked back. His rise was phenomenal, and as the book documents, music remained an integral part of his cinema with awesome contributions from singer Mukesh and composers Shanker-Jaikishan. And Rawail does not forget the stalwarts who stood like rocks behind Kapoor’s success - cinematographer Radhu Karmakar and sound recordist Allaudin Khan. We also learn from the book the creators of the iconic logo of the RK Studio - a man playing the violin with a woman in his arms was designed by MR Achrekar and painted by Balasaheb Thackeray.

There was nothing that Kapoor could not do. He would become a make-up artist, a lyricist, a most demanding director, an actor of mind-blowing range, someone who could instruct Lata Mangeshkar on the final notes of a song and a great spotter of talent.

When Dimple Kapadia made a casual visit along with her parents, Kapoor discovered in her the girl who could play Bobby. He chose Dimple despite objections from most present at the audition, including Randhir Kapoor. “What I see in her is what you people don’t have the capacity to see. That’s the difference between all of you and me,” he said, putting an end to all arguments. Dimple got the role opposite Rishi Kapoor and two stars were born as Bobby set screens on fire.

The most rollicking chapter deals with Kapoor’s obsessions and eccentricities. Here, Rawail is at his best with first-hand experiences that bring out the showman’s obsession with drinks, food and cinema. Rawail tells us of Kapoor's love for Johnnie Walker Black Label which he would collect on his foreign tours because he was not convinced of the authenticity of the brand available in India. “In fact, when he passed away and they opened his personal cupboard there were only bottles of Black Label to be found and nothing else,” writes Rawail.

The most hilarious incident involved Kapoor sending off his driver and insisting on walking back home, at 3 am from Bandra to Chembur. Rawail spotted Kapoor at a bus stop, without even bus fare in his pocket. When Rawail invited him to get into his car, Kapoor yelled at him, “I will go by bus only.” Rawail let him be, but returned in a bit to check on him and found him missing. He followed the route and was pleased to see Kapoor sitting in the front seat of a taxi, flanked by the driver and another passenger, his arms slung around their shoulders and a gamchha tied around his head, humming “ sun sahiba sun, pyaar ku dhun .” Eleven years later the song was featured in  Ram Teri Ganga Maili .

Kapoor was fond of food from small eateries. It was common to see him eating pani-puri on the streets near Chembur Station, dosa and medu-vada from a south Indian restaurant close-by, driving down to Ghatkopar and Thane for dal and mutton, biryani at Coronation next to Novelty Cinema near Grant Road. “Arrangements were made to assign cars that would go to various locations at varying times to pick up the food so that we all had `hot food’ to eat,” writes Rawail.

One of the incidents that stands out in the book is the narration of how Kapoor while scouting for a location visited the border area in Kashmir. He was escorted by a senior army officer and very soon had visitors from across the border -  the Pakistani soldiers were his fans too. Rawail also writes in detail on Kapoor’s handling of the Dimple-Rajesh Khanna wedding during the making of Bobby and she disclosing her pregnancy at the shooting of a song.

Rawail signs off with a moving chapter on Kapoor’s death and the funeral. “The flames engulfed the mortal remains of the Master and, as the fire rose, it heralded the birth of the immortal Raj Kapoor.”

(Vijay Lokapally is an independent journalist and author)

About the Book

Raj Kapoor: The Master At Work

Rahul Rawail & Pranika Sharma

Bloomsbury

Rs 699/ 245 pages (Hardback)

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Published on January 06, 2022

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