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Khan and Kapoor: Indian cinema loses two of its brightest stars 24 hours apart

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on April 30, 2020 Published on April 30, 2020

Irrfan and Rishi had vastly different careers, but they shared a relentless ambition to entertain

“The only thing certain was the uncertainty,” actor Irrfan Khan had said in a note about his fight against cancer — a disease he often called the ‘uninvited guest’.

Khan had been diagnosed with high-grade neuroendocrine cancer in 2018, the same year that veteran actor Rishi Kapoor had been diagnosed with leukaemia.

Two years later, both the actors lost their battle against cancer. Khan, 53, passed away on Wednesday at a Mumbai hospital where he had been admitted for a colon infection. A day later, Kapoor, 67, passed away at another Mumbai hospital.

One was the heartthrob for many growing up in the 1970s and 80s, with box-office busters such as Bobby, Rafoo Chakkar and Amar Akbar Antony. The other, till he died, was the benchmark for superlative acting, with quiet and understated performances in films like Lunchbox and Piku.

Sharing the screen

Losing two legendary actors within the span of a day was rather hard on Indian cinema lovers. Celebrities and fans, while pouring tributes in social media, fondly reminisced the only time the two legends had shared a frame — in the 2013 Nikhil Advani-directed D-Day, in which Khan played secret agent Wali Khan and Kapoor essayed the role of Iqbal Seth aka Goldman.

A shot from the film — which shows Khan’s Wali smiling with relief after having captured Kapoor’s Goldman even as he knows that the worst is yet to come — went viral on social media on Thursday.

“I never thought I had it in me to be a Rishi Kapoor,” Khan had said in an interview back in the day, when asked about his experience working with the veteran actor.

Admiring Kapoor’s love for the craft, he said: “He has worked on cultivating his craft so well and he is one of those stars you never have enough of, even if he is doing the same thing movie after movie. I think that’s what makes his second innings so spectacular. He doesn’t have to be a star any more, so he is having a blast being an actor.”

One of Kapoor’s regrets had always been not being able to go beyond the mushy romantic hero role early in his career, apart from a few films such as Karz and Damini, which he delivered with depth and poise.

Kapoor had always craved meatier roles — a love for the craft that the duo shared.

Substance matters

“I want to entertain, but with substance,” Khan had once said.

Khan, whom Tom Hanks had once called the “coolest guy in the room”, and Kapoor, the consummate entertainer who made it a point to keep the people around him engaged, have both left a void that will be difficult to fill.

The two were polar opposites. Kapoor, a third-generation actor from the Raj Kapoor clan who was eased into Bollywood, was a man open about his failures, frustrations and shortcomings, even documenting them in his memoir Khullam Khulla. Khan, a Jaipur boy who struggled all the way to the top after a jinxed big-screen debut, was the often silent yet forceful presence in a room, with what his colleagues and friends described as a ‘wicked sense of humour’.

Kapoor had begun his career as a child artiste in Raj Kapoor’s Shri 420, followed by Mera Naam Joker. It was his debut as the lead in the 1973 blockbuster Bobby that made him one of Bollywood’s favourite romantic heroes for almost three decades.

He delivered many hits early in his career, including Amar Akbar Anthony, Laila Majnu, Rafoo Chakkar, Sargam, Karz, Prem Rog, Chandni, Heena, Bol Radha Bol and Saagar, starring in almost a 100 films. “He was my childhood,” producer-director Karan Johar wrote on Twitter.

Effortless performer

Be it his effortless charm and charisma romancing his leading actresses at scenic locations in films such as Bol Radha Bol and Karz, or his effortless chemistry with fellow veteran actor Amitabh Bacchan in films such as Amar Akbar Anthony and, most recently, 102 Not Out, Kapoor’s evolution and his contribution to the industry have been nothing short of legendary. He could also play the uncle next door with aplomb. His performance in films such as Do Dooni Chaar and Netflix’s Rajma Chawal resonated with the audiences.

Khan, who had come to Mumbai as an air-conditioner technician, with his first assignment reportedly at the residence of Bollywood star Rajesh Khanna, made his debut on the big screen with Salaam Bombay. However, it was his performance alongside Tabu in Maqbool that proved to be a turning point in his career. He followed it up with gems such as Paan Singh Tomar, Piku, Hindi Medium and the much acclaimed The Lunchbox.

With big-ticket projects, such as Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, the award-winning Life of Pi, Inferno, The Amazing Spider-Man and Jurrasic World, Khan also appealed to audiences abroad.

Condolences have been pouring in relentlessly for the two stars, from their film colleagues to politicians to sports stars to adoring fans.

“Yesterday and today, two of the most talented artists, mentors, friends, fathers and co-actors bid us farewell, in times when we can't go pay our respects physically. Lost for words and actions honestly,” said Arjun Rampal, who has acted with both Kapoor and Khan.

In these testing times, though, it’s best to live by Khan’s words: “When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade. It’s easier said than done. What choice do we have but to remain positive?”

Published on April 30, 2020

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