Just like Neetu’s 37-year marriage to a mercurial husband has survived to become one of the most successful unions of the film industry, I can finally exhale and say, phew, I’ve also emerged with a quick-read after working closely with the inimitable Rishi Kapoor as co-author of his autobiography, Khullam Khulla. In fact, that’s perhaps why he chose me to write it for him – he’s a notoriously impatient man while I’ve been blessed with the perfect reservoir of patience to handle celebrities.
Our friendship, that dates back to the early 80s, had armed me well for this assignment. His flip-flops in mood were familiar acquaintances of mine. They had to be since I was introduced to his pique and his pleasantness from my very first encounter with him. I was working with Star & Style, a well-circulated film magazine of the 80s, where the Queen Bee was an acerbic columnist called Devyani Chaubal. Devi had written what Rishi considered a particularly vitriolic piece on him and he was hopping mad. Since I was the newest entrant to the editorial team (read: clueless), I was despatched to bury the hatchet with Rishi Kapoor. What did happen was that he buried me under a debris of anger and nasty plain speak, and sent me packing. However, a week later, the mood has swung to the other side of the pendulum when he called me over and gave me a wonderful interview. So by the time I wrote his life story three decades later, I’d got used to Rishi Kapoor and him to me.
It was not only a question of being able to handle his myriad moods. I grew to appreciate his candour, his straightforwardness and, of course, the talent that has never ceased to surprise his audience 44 years after he made that award-winning debut in Bobby. I can safely say on Rishi’s behalf too that why he wanted me to be a part of this journey was because he could be himself with me. The trust between him as celebrity and me as writer has been unspoken but omnipresent.
And that’s evident all through Khullam Khulla. Rishi Kapoor is too reserved a man to have otherwise comfortably spoken to me for hours on his fear-cum-respect for father Raj Kapoor and how he’d quake under the guilt when he’d come home drunk at night. While he dwelt on his father’s tempestuous life and times, indeed that of the entire Kapoor khandaan, Rishi also admitted to his long sulks and silences with Neetu and to erecting a formal wall between his superstar son Ranbir and him.
Khullam Khulla stops being solely about Rishi Kapoor when he makes pithy observations about the film industry that he has been such an integral part of, as the journey makes relevant stops to look at co-stars, shenanigans in the studios, fisticuffs and fiery outbursts with colleagues, and even a trip to Dawood Ibrahim’s Dubai mansion for tea and biscuits.
This is the first time a Kapoor has written his autobiography and Rishi has done it with the same blast of outspokenness that he regularly gives his Twitter followers. But his famous candour is maximised for himself as Rishi, for the first time, describes the clinical depression that followed his marriage. The crisp frankness remains steady when he talks of moments of tension even with close friends Jeetendra and Rakesh Roshan.
I also know that he likes the radio on all the time in his bathroom or bedroom, and there’s childlike exhilaration over his own repertoire of 350-odd songs that dominate radio stations to this day. When a romantic track of Neetu and his plays; he will hum a few lines under his breath without fail.
But most of all, in a milieu where there’s an unfortunate preoccupation asking whether the autobiography has anything scandalous or sinful, working on this one has diverted my attention to things that are far more relevant to a superstar’s journey.
(Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored by Rishi Kapoor and Meena Iyer, published by Harper Collins, releases on January 15)