Rishi Kapoor on how his latest film addresses a serious social issue, and his satisfying second innings
In the last few years when Muslims have been sidelined in the political discourse, Hindi cinema is increasingly putting them at the centre of its narratives. In films such as Sultan, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Secret Superstar and Naam Shabana, the Muslim characters don’t fall into the bracket of that stereotypical friend who would sacrifice his or her life for the hero. Nor are they cardboard villains plotting against the nation. They are very much like you and me dealing with problems of life, and are central to the story. Murad Ali Mohammad is an addition to this list. Unlike the aforementioned, he carries the symbols of his identity and when pushed into a corner, fights for the honour of his family. “A retired judge, he is both rational and religious,” says Rishi Kapoor who is playing Murad in Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk. Rational and religious – it is a combination we rarely find reflected on screen. Nods Kapoor, “I think this is a voice that we must hear. I don’t understand politics, but at an emotional level I feel what is happening with the community is wrong.”
Elaborating on the plot, Kapoor says when Murad’s nephew is found to be a terrorist, his entire clan is branded as anti-national. “If one person in your family is radicalised, it should not taint the entire family or community.” The film, he says, also presents a counter narrative. “The public prosecutor played by Ashutosh Rana has his own logic. We are not offering a solution, but are presenting what is happening.” But the bottomline, says Kapoor, is that the two communities can’t live without each other. “The sooner we understand this, the better. And those who have lost their way, need to be given a second chance.” According to Kapoor, cinema can be a catalyst for changing perceptions. He cites the example of his father Raj Kapoor’s reformist saga Jis Desh Main Ganga Behti Hai which talked of giving dacoits a second chance. Years before that, he reminds his grandfather Prithiviraj Kapoor played the title role in the play “Pathan” that talked of Hindu-Muslim unity in the mid-1940s. “These lynchings and mob attacks are also a result of false perception created through social media. It happens when you start taking the fringe elements seriously. Secularism is a vital element of our Constitution and this country can’t be run by gundagardi.”
Over the years, Kapoor has played many Muslim characters and he is delighted to share that a fan recently made a list of ten such characters. Kapoor still remembers Akbar Ilahabadi, Kaish Amari and, of course, Rauf Lala. “Rauf was a like a morale booster. It helped me shed my goody-goody image though I got a lot of hate mail from my Pakistani fans who asked me why did I accept such a diabolical Muslim character. I said the bigger villain in the film was Kancha who recited Vedic mantras. One should not see every character through the prism of religion. There are good, bad and ordinary people in every religion; and films demand characters with engaging stories.” He is also remembered for Muslim socials such as Deedar-e-Yaar. “I still remember Tawaif. It created a lot of social impact. The characters of that genre are difficult to relate to today. That nazakat, that dressing sense has become outdated but in the ‘80s there was a dedicated audience for such films.”
Kapoor looks back at his romantic hero days with a hint of remorse. “See, I was not allowed to show my range. Everybody wrote a romantic hero for me. I tried to break free but the word they used for me was cute. My pet name, Chintu, added to that image. No doubt, I was good at singing songs and romancing young heroines on screen, but that didn’t mean you make me do the same thing for 25 years. Sirf gaane gaata raha. Only the locations changed – from Ooty to Switzerland to Kashmir valley,” he laments. Having said that, he clarifies that he was not going through some sort of internal turmoil during that period. “I made peace with the situation and tried to make the best of the opportunities I was getting. That’s how I survived the action era.”
The image also meant that he was never put in the list of top actors. “Meri films main koi ‘samasya’ hi nahin thi (there was no real obstacle in my film),” he quips. “So I never made to that list which is never updated. It has the same two-three actors for decades.” If you watch Aurangzeb, 102 Not Out or the trailer of Mulk, you realise what Kapoor is hinting at. He internalises the pain and agony of the character and gives a measured performance. It seems like the work of a method actor but his directors say that he is a spontaneous actor. “I’m getting much more joy as an actor now because I am getting to play different characters with different get-ups.” He says he doesn’t have a process to discuss. “I believe in natural acting. I followed greats like Motilal and Balraj Sahni. I respect the other school as well but it doesn’t suit me.” I probe him further by pointing to his ability to play so many instruments on screen. That must have required some method? He shrugs, “No, I just know how to fool the audience!” The change in technology doesn’t worry him. “I don’t mind if young directors put five or fifty cameras around me; I do my job.” Today, he says, he is busier than he was three decades back. With half-a-dozen films lined up for release, Kapoor is making up for lost time.
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