Mahesh Bhatt reminisces on Dimple Kapadia’s career and rejects the notion that there can be an expiry date on beauty
Dimple will always be remembered as the Bobby girl. When all her obituaries are written, Bobby will overshadow everything else. It happens with every star. After he or she delivers a spectacular first film, it’s very difficult to match it. Look at Anupam Kher who couldn’t ever rise above Saaransh. Your best work then becomes an albatross around your neck. Your defining film is also a death knell.
Youth has its own magic. At 15, Dimple had the kind of vitality that a budding flower has. She was absolutely captivating in her freshness but so is anything in bloom. Let’s face facts. Unless you introduce a mystic element into it, truth is that Dimple inherited her looks from Chuni bhai Kapadia ’s genetic pool. That she was stunningly beautiful and had the luxury of working with one of the biggest filmmakers of the era obviously worked in her favour.
Raj Kapoor had fire in his belly. After the defeat and the rejection with Mera Naam Joker, he needed to work 10 times harder on Bobby. So you had this gorgeous couple, a story of young love, and you had Raj Kapoor. To top it all, you had spectacular music. How could it not have worked?!
But just when audiences had found their wonder girl, she disappeared into the king’s domain. And it was Emperor Rajesh Khanna who opened his doors to her and then quickly shut them again so that the world did not see her again for more than a decade. Dimple became a celluloid memory. Until, that is, tales of anguish started trickling from the cracked walls of the fortress. Then you knew that the nymph had been mortally wounded. That Dimple had had her share of anguish, heartbreaks and had been emotionally mutilated.
Thirteen years after Bobby, Dimple resurrected herself once again in Ramesh Sippy’s in Saagar. From my personal point of view, it was a disappointing comeback. The magic of Bobby was missing. But then an encore is never as thrilling as the original act. That’s the story of the entertainment business—people are generous when you’re being discovered. After that they look at you with nostalgia, with the longing to find something of the past in the present. And then they inevitably get mixed up. Despite all the hard work, despite all of Ramesh Sippy’s efforts, Saagar never recreated the magic.
After Saagar came Kaash which I directed. She was at a stage in life when she wanted to stand on her two very shaky feet because she had walked out of her marriage and marital home. She had all the baggage of stardom and she had to fend for herself in this big, bad world. During the making of Kaash, I could see that she was determined to carve out a place for herself. Kaash was uncomfortably close to her life—it revisited the traumas of the broken home of a has-been superstar. The script was her idea. She called producer Farrokh Ruttonsey and Farrokh called me. While shooting, I got the strange feeling that she had underestimated her own abilities. Deep down, she felt that she didn’t have the talent for the role. But she was very, very good. Maybe not a Smita Patil or Shabana Azmi but she was sincere and some of the scenes were very moving.
We strip mothers and fathers of all sexuality. But they’re also human beings and we are slowly beginning to admit that they might be sexual beings too
She was very friendly with Jackie. They were a great screen pair and helped each other. Jackie was her best co-star. He was in awe of her and treated her with genuine reverence. I think it was a platonic relationship; if it had been otherwise, neither would have hidden it.
Dimple’s turn in parallel cinema — Rudaali, Lekin, Prahaar — was born out of the need to stay afloat. What she had to offer could only be absorbed by parallel cinema. The mainstream is regressive and caters to brain-damaged kids. You can’t have a rich and emotionally intelligent woman like Dimple doing the things a newcomer does. With Dimple, I always find that it was the drawbacks of the writers and directors that limited her. She was bold and willing to go out and give it everything.
Dimple is reckless by the standards of the world. If you look at her life, she has not adhered to any prescribed path. She is an ‘aberrant’. But you do feel isolated and you do feel vulnerable and you do feel fragile when you walk alone. The upside is that the suffering, what you go through in the dark side of life, fuels your performance. When the fairy tale of romance, of a happy marriage, crumbled, she didn’t settle for a loveless, lifeless existence.
Generosity is Dimple’s defining trait. Generous. Big-hearted. She’s a generous woman and generous people have no problem in acting because acting has a lot to do with personality. For a woman like Dimple, who’s emotionally reckless, who lets it all out into her performance, it’s not difficult to draw her out.
I haven’t seen Dil Chahta Hai or Leela but I believe she’s brilliant in both. India is growing up, you don’t write off people at 45. Maybe when you look back through the mists of time, 50 years on, you’ll say that this was a watershed event: Dimple Kapadia at 45 still playing a desirable woman. We strip mothers and fathers of all sexuality. But they’re also human beings and we are slowly beginning to admit that they might be sexual beings too.
Of course Dimple’s always lived life on her own sunny terms and I’m sure she has her fears. To break away from the flock and tread your own path is always intimidating. Especially for a woman. I hear that she’s become more and more of a recluse lately. Her private life has made her an emotional recluse. But I have very fond memories of her.
This story was originally featured in our December 2002 issue