For a child to be told to “Go give Aunty a kiss” is not unique, especially not in India. Most of us have grown up obliging our parents at parties where we meet their friends. But the 1973 movie Bobby is all about breaking the mould. So when his parents’ friend proffers her cheek to a young boy for a kiss, he does the unthinkable – he bites her. And when his father orders him to apologise, he angrily asks why he should be forced to kiss anyone.
The scene, which comes in the first few minutes of the movie, sets the tone for the story of young lovers who rebel against claustrophobic, old-fashioned ideas.
The film’s lead actor, Rishi Kapoor, has often said that contrary to popular belief, the movie wasn’t intended as a launchpad for him. His father, filmmaker Raj Kapoor, needed to recover the losses from his 1970 film Mera Naam Joker, so he couldn’t afford to cast superstar Rajesh Khanna, whom he had originally wanted. He needed to cast young people who wouldn’t cost him much, and he needed to get young audiences into theatres.
So he decided to tell the story of a teenage romance that stands up against parental objection, and he signed 20-year-old Rishi (who had appeared as a child actor in Mera Naam Joker) and 16-year-old debutante Dimple Kapadia. And he opted for a decidedly youthful look. So while Rishi was kitted out in oversize sunglasses, colourful mufflers and flared pants, Dimple’s look was all short skirts, midriff-exposing blouses and, in one scene, an orange bikini.
The decision paid off and how. The highest-grossing film of the year and one of the biggest hits of the decade, Bobby set the trend for generations of movies about young love conquering all.
As India mourns the loss of Rishi Kapoor, there could be no better movie to watch this weekend in tribute to Bollywood’s favourite baby-faced, twinkly-eyed lover with a smile that could melt even the stoniest of hearts.
Dared to question the family dynamic
Rishi Kapoor stars as Raj Nath, or Raja, who has just graduated from school. His father, a wealthy businessman (played by Pran) is cold-hearted, harsh and extremely arrogant about his wealth and social capital, while his mother (Sonia Sahni) is a more loving parent, but equally snobbish. As punishment for biting their friend, his parents had him packed off to boarding school, where a fellow student points out that there is no love between Raja and his parents. Raja doesn’t deny it, and that in itself is a bold move, given that in Hindi movies, family is usually sacrosanct.
Later, when Mr Nath, who doesn’t even remember when Raja’s birthday is (but wants to use it as an occasion for professional networking), attacks his wife’s parenting skills and makes a snide remark about her bridge parties, she doesn’t take the criticism lying down, but argues that parenting isn’t just her job.
Raja meets Bobby Braganza (Dimple), the grand daughter of his former governess (Durga Khote) and the two fall in love. But Bobby’s father is a fisherman who isn’t as wealthy as the Naths, and she is a Catholic, spelling instant disapproval from Mr Nath.
The rebellion of young people breaking the barriers of religion and class came as a breath of fresh air for audiences, as did the non-judgemental portrayal of young love and raging hormones, beautifully expressed in songs like Hum Tum Ek Kamre Mein Band Ho and Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai.
Incidentally, after Rishi Kapoor’s death, former Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted a picture of the actor outside Highlands Park, the Gulmarg hotel where the song Hum Tum… was shot, which is now a beloved tourist spot that people call the Bobby Hotel.
Rishi Kapoor outside the Bobby Hut in Gulmarg. For decades now people have wanted to see the hut he & Dimple made famous with that memorable song “Hum tum……..” https://t.co/25GcZyU0Ue
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) April 30, 2020
The Bobby effect still shows in the new millennium
The movie was a trendsetter, not only for its fashion in the 1970s but for its portrayal of youthful love, which moviemakers have looked to for generations. If Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (which marked Aamir Khan’s debut, in 1988) followed a similar theme, so did Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham in 2001. Director Karan Johar says he was inspired by the title of another Rishi Kapoor movie, Kabhi Kabhie (which is why he spelt his title in the same way, as a homage), but truth be told, K3G has far more in common with Bobby – the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, the overbearing father, the fact that the link between the lovers is a former governess.
Bobby‘s songs, too, have inspired countless movie titles and parodies. While Na Chahoon Sona Chandi has been part of Mr India (1987) as well as Mohabbatein (2001), the 2004 hit Hum Tum (which also stars Rishi Kapoor, this time as a dad), shares its name with the Bobby song, it also features another song from the film, Main Shaayar Toh Nahin.
But perhaps the cheekiest (and most talked-about) nod to the movie was in Saawariya (2007). Rishi’s son Ranbir Kapoor’s famous towel-dropping scene in his screen debut was a clear throwback to Rishi’s own in-the-buff moment in Bobby.