I usually will get a message almost instantly when some celebrity dies. Occasionally one will slip through the cracks. So was the case with Rajiv Kapoor, often crudely referred to as the least known Kapoor brother. But to me, “Chimpu Kapoor” was the first “hero” I ever got to meet on a film set.
We used to come to India every summer holiday and I was quite a Bollywood fan from day one. I used to record myself on the tape player singing along to Amitabh Bachchan hits or going all high pitch and cranking out a Lata Mangeshkar song in parody. It literally was no surprise upon reaching Bombay, my infatuation for the movies and stars would be known by all.
So, in the summer of 1984 (or 1985, I don’t remember) when my extended family managed to get us an invite to a film set, I just about was as giddy as a 7-year-old kid could be. While I hoped I’d get to see Amitabh Bachchan or even Rishi Kapoor, I was told we were going to see the shooting of a movie titled “Lover Boy” starring Rajiv Kapoor, Anita Raj and Meenakshi Seshadri – basically “nobody’s” in my mind at the time.
While I was briefed a bit further about Kapoor and that he’s Raj Kapoor’s youngest son and Rishi Kapoor’s younger brother and that he’s made a few movies – honestly, my interest moved straight from being about the stars to just being on the film set. I asked if we’d get to see a song being filmed. My Mom was a bit surprised that I had moved from always talking about the stars to actually talking about the set, the camera, and the excitement I had for understanding how a movie is made.
When we got to the set, the crew was prepping two different sets and I suddenly became a shy boy, just trying to take in everything I saw. I honestly don’t remember many details other than us standing to the side and watching Kapoor and Raj practising their lines off-camera and then the director calling for silence and all of a sudden it was the first time me seeing “lights, camera, action” in real-time.
We couldn’t really hear what they were saying but all of a sudden as I saw Kapoor standing there in the “hero” position, he instantly moved from a nobody to somebody for me. As we heard “cut”, some PA told us that we could go and meet the stars now. I literally remember nothing of the exchange other than 2 things. One was the photo we got to take with them and perhaps has further etched that memory into my head because I got to keep a reminder with me of that day to now. But the other thing was that my Mom and my Uncle both expressed my obsession with everything Bollywood and that I too wished one day to be a “star”.
I remember seeing Kapoor’s face light up as I stood a little embarrassed, hiding behind my Mom. He asked me if I was enjoying being there and I nodded yes and then something happened that I didn’t expect. He walked over to me and directly addressed me. He asked me if what they were saying was true. I nodded and the smile and warmth he emitted made me come out of the shell.
I started to tell him about my favourite movies and songs and actors, and he started to laugh as he was so surprised that someone living in America could know so much about films in India.
Just then, the director called for a scene change and he asked me if I wanted something to drink. I don’t remember what I said but I do vaguely recall having a Campa-Cola in my hand moments later.
They went back to filming and I was so humbled and amazed by Kapoor’s kindness and I remember thinking, that’s a real hero. We watched a few scenes be filmed that day. Raj left and they prepared for a song sequence. I remember Kapoor looking right at me and gesturing that music is coming. I was enthralled. I’ll never forget that song. I knew from the voices that it was Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle. I remember thinking how loud the music was blaring as they prepped to film the sequence.
The song strangely sounded familiar. Suddenly, I found myself humming along to the melody and I whispered to my Mom doesn’t this sound like that song from your Barbra Streisand LP? She shushed me knowing I was likely to start telling everyone the song was a copy but as soon as I heard “action”, all I cared about was the song being filmed. Kapoor was filming “Bahon Mein Leke Mujhe”, a Bappi Lahiri composition clearly copied from “Woman in Love” by Streisand. As I stood jumping up and down in excitement about what I was watching, in-between takes I could see Kapoor looking our way and maybe it was wishful thinking or real, but it felt like he was looking at me.
As it was turning to evening, we were told that we should make a move. I was not at all wanting to leave, I felt like I was at home but of course, we then left. We waved as Kapoor was busy with some crew members and that last smile felt like it was especially meant for me.
For months upon months, I waited anxiously to find out when the movie would release and finally when it did, and we could get our hands on the VHS print, of course, I watched that film time and time again. I remember loving that movie and I knew it had nothing to do with the content but because of my personal connection to the film.
For the years that followed, Chimpu Kapoor was a far bigger star in my head than in reality. He was the only Kapoor who mattered to me because I mattered to him. And then I saw how his acting career stalled and I couldn’t understand why. I heard jokes about his weight, and I guess with the industry-changing and evolving, perhaps he wasn’t what folks wanted to see.
But then I heard he executive produced the film “Henna” with his brother Rishi Kapoor starring and his other brother Randhir Kapoor stepping in to direct after the passing of their father Raj Kapoor. I was blown away by his ability to move from in front of the camera to behind the scenes so quickly. This went one step even further when by the time I was finishing high school and starting college, he had directed “Prem Granth”.
I remember coming to India that summer and despite the film already being considered a flop, I still insisted to my cousins to go see the movie as I wanted to see what Kapoor had done.
In the years that follow, I’ll be honest, I kept waiting for him to do something, but when RK Films shut down, it seemed like perhaps he too was opting to leave the film world behind.
Over the last 2 decades, I’d often think about Kapoor and wonder why he never participated in the industry again like practically every other Kapoor was still doing, no matter what. But then again, life doesn’t always go the way we plan and from recent reports, it looks like Kapoor was allegedly trying to make a comeback in films. I certainly would have been excited to see him back on the big screen.
In just one interaction with him, Kapoor made me feel seen, made my dreams and hopes for my future feel legitimate and real and he found a way in such a short amount of time to reassure me that my passion wasn’t just playtime or for pretend but that it could be something real.
I spent years chasing that. I had some great successes, but I also experienced plenty of failures too. And as the setbacks continued to build up, I realized that the sum of my experiences had changed me and the things that I thought I wanted, weren’t holding the same priority anymore. I too hopped from acting and singing to producing and directing. I learned that passion is more than just one specific job/role. I learned that you can still be happy and lead a good life even if the reality isn’t what you expected.
So as the world bids adieu to the unsung Kapoor, I hope we realize that achievement isn’t just based on what you did on screen but who you were off-screen. I’ve visited countless sets in the passing years, but nothing quite has stuck with me as Kapoor did on that day on set. Maybe it was my first time visiting a film, but I’d like to believe some of it had to do with Kapoor. While I can’t even begin to know for a second what all he went through in his personal life, I can say this very assuredly that for me, Kapoor will always be my first real hero.