In a career spanning 47 years, Rishi Kapoor acted as the solo hero and as part of an ensemble. He had a few big hits, many moderate success and many unsuccessful films.
For more than two decades after his debut in the 1973 smash-hit Bobby, the third-generation member of Indian cinema’s First Family played the romantic hero to perfection. And when it became clear that he couldn’t realistically be paired opposite the leading female actors of the late 1990s who were much younger than him, he switched gears.
The new millennium saw Rishi Kapoor reinvent himself and take on interesting characters, both in the lead as well as in supporting roles. This was also the time when the Hindi film industry was starting to become more inclusive and experimental, and Rishi Kapoor was an important part of that change.
Today, it is not just the loss of the iconic romantic hero of the 1970s that India grieves for, but also the loss of an actor who did some of his best work in his final years. Here’s a look at Rishi Kapoor’s best films.
Bobby (1973): The teen romance was the launchpad for both Rishi and his leading lady, Dimple Kapadia, who was all of 16. The movie became such a huge hit that it led to mass hysteria. Rishi was mobbed and people used to wear shirts with ‘Bobby’ written on them. Dimple was, as biographer Madhu Jain says in The Kapoors: The First Family of Indian Cinema, rushed into marriage with superstar Rajesh Khanna, and Rishi was left heartbroken. But he also met his future wife, Neetu Singh, on the set of this film.
Amar Akbar Anthony (1977): Manmohan Desai’s legendary film remains the gold standard for masala movies to this day. Romance, spoofy comedy, drama, action and a solid dose of melodrama are packaged together in a hilarious take on the long-lost brothers trope. Rishi Kapoor’s Akbar Allahabadi, a qawwal who is determined to win over his paramour Salma’s (Neetu Singh) father, is all twinkly eyes and a mischievous grin that belie a heart of gold.
Karz (1980): Released in the same year that Rishi married Neetu, Subhash Ghai’s revenge and reincarnation drama, starring Tina Munim and Simi Garewal, ranks up there as a classic, and has birthed many remakes and tributes, including Farah Khan’s 2007 hit Om Shanti Om (the title itself is a song from Karz).
Kabhi Kabhie (1976): Even though the movie wasn’t really about Vicky and Pinky (Rishi and Neetu), their romance was at the core of this gorgeous, poetic ode to love that starred Amitabh Bachchan, Rakhee, Shashi Kapoor and Waheeda Rahman. The songs, composed by Khayyam with lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi, were exceptional and remain favourites to this day.
Hum Kisise Kam Naheen (1977): R.D. Burman, Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle, Mohd Rafi, Majrooh Sultanpuri — this movie was powered by its all-star music team. A convoluted plot about a hunt for diamonds, with a complicated romance track, made this masala flick a bit of a maze, but a thoroughly enjoyable one. Fun fact, three of its songs were used in later films as well. Chand Mera Dil featured in Farah Khan’s Main Hoon Na (2004), the title of Yeh Ladka Hai Allah was used in a song in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) and a remixed version of Bachna Ae Haseeno featured in a movie of the same name in 2008, which starred Rishi’s son, Ranbir.
Do Dooni Chaar (2010): A lovely movie about a middle-aged, middle-class couple in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, whose dream is to buy a car, the Habib Faisal film starred Rishi and Neetu in the lead, as Santosh and Kusum Duggal, harried parents and loving partners in the often cruel business of life. The movie won the National Award for the Best Feature Film in Hindi.
Mulk (2018): One of the best movies in recent years, Mulk, Anubhav Sinha’s award-winning film also starring Taapsee Pannu, Manoj Pahwa and Neena Gupta, delivers an important message about communal harmony and not demonising an entire community for the actions of a few people.
Kapoor & Sons (2016): Rishi Kapoor plays an eccentric, jocular 90-year-old whose crass jokes hide how heartbroken he is to see his family falling apart. Rajat Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah, Siddharth Malhotra, Fawad Khan and Alia Bhatt make up the rest of the cast of this unique look at the dynamics of an Indian family.
Hum Tum (2004): Inspired by the classic Hollywood rom-com When Harry Met Sally, the movie stars Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee in the lead. Rishi Kapoor plays Saif’s father, Arjun, who is estranged from his wife, Anju (Rati Agnihotri) and doesn’t want his son to repeat his mistakes. The movie also has some delightful throwbacks to Bobby. One, in the song Main Shaayar Toh Nahin, and the second, when Arjun meets Bobby (Kirron Kher, who plays Rani’s mother) and cheekily says, “Shouldn’t I just call you Dimple, then?”
Luck by Chance (2009): Zoya Akhtar’s directorial debut was an ode to Bollywood and starred everyone in the industry in some way or another. But it was Rishi Kapoor, as film producer Romy Rolly, who stole the show. And in some inspired casting, Romy’s wife, Minty, is played by Rishi’s frequent co-star Juhi Chawla, while Dimple Kapadia plays Neena Walia, a former superstar herself and the mother of an aspiring actor, who approaches Romy for a role and whom Romy describes as “a crocodile in a chiffon sari”.