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I started to fall in love with Rishi Kapoor during his very first song in his very first movie as the male lead.  It was 1973.  The film was “Bobby.”  I was a not-very-happy 7th grader in boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas.  The song was “Main shaiyar to nahin…” (I am no poet but after seeing you, o beautiful one, I have learnt poetry…) and my life was transformed.

By the time “Hum tum ek kamre mein bandh hon” (What if you and I get locked up in a room together and the key is lost…) came on the screen, I was completely besotted.  As were millions of other girls just like me all across India.

Rishi Kapoor went on to become the romantic and fashion icon of the next decade and more.  He bridged the gap between the grown-up heroes of Hindi films until then to the boys who rule it now.  He was the Prince of Bollywood (a term that actually didn’t even exist then) and born to be a movie star.  Movie stardom was literally imprinted in his DNA because he belongs to the first family of Hindi cinema – the Kapoors.  His grandfather, father, uncles, aunts, brother, sister-in-law were all actors.  He married his most popular leading lady – Neetu Singh. Now, his nieces and son have also carried on the tradition, and one of his cousins also pursued it for a while.

Rishi Kapoor or rather Chintu (his nick name, and how I always thought of him) was more than my teenage heartthrob.  He was a concept, a dream, and the sum of the characters he played on screen which were close to his real self (or so it seemed to me from the filmi magazines that I collected avidly) — youthful, effervescent, boyish, mischievous, sophisticated, with a joie de vivre and always, always charming.  “Chintu” was the kind of person I wanted in my life.

Ironically, it didn’t turn out that way.  I ended up in relationships with men completely the opposite of “Chintu.”  In fact, I lost track of Rishi Kapoor for a long period because I had moved to the United States, and lost touch with Hindi cinema for a rather long time.  Rishi Kapoor also took a break from films.  Suddenly, over the last couple of years, he started making a comeback and began taking on character roles completely different from his “young” days.  And although his looks have changed drastically (he seems to suffer from the male Kapoor genetic curse — physical beauty in youth which turns to weight gain with age) his screen magic has not diminished.

This Spring semester, I taught a class on Indian cinema – Bollywood & Beyond – and screened “Bobby” for my students.  Most of them had a similar reaction to the film and to Rishi Kapoor that I had had more than 35 years earlier – “OMG!  This movie is awesome!  He is amazing!”  (I am obviously oversimplifying.  In truth, they all wrote very thoughtful essays on “Bobby”and how it defined popular Hindi cinema now known as Bollywood.) In fact, when we were making our wish list of people to meet on this trip, his name was on the very top.  And the legendary Hindi film director, Subhash Ghai (SG) made this wish come true.

WWI, the film school in Bombay that SU partners with for our program is SG’s brainchild. Serendipitously, SG directed Rishi Kapoor in his 1980 superhit “Karz” which the 2007 phenomenon of “Om Shanti Om” is based on.  The very open of OSO is a clip from “Karz”…Here’s the real deal…

I was told that SG personally went to see Rishi Kapoor to let him know that some American students were coming to WWI and wanted to meet him — anywhere, anyhow.  And lo and behold, Rishi Kapoor walked into my life.  Literally!   (Thank you, SG.)

Rishi Kapoor with SU students at WWI

Rishi Kapoor with my SU students at WWI

On May 20th, Rishi Kapoor was the featured guest at Whistling Woods.  Meeting him face-to-face had me completely dazed, and I definitely babbled on a bit too much on stage for the very entertaining Q&A in front of more than 300 people.  In real life, he is everything I had imagined him to be and much more.  He was charming, intelligent, articulate, down-to-earth, witty, self-depricating, and above all boyish and endearing.

When I showed him my scrapbook that I had made of magazine cutouts of his photographs from the mid-70s (which my mother had saved for me through years and years of moving all over the world), he was so taken aback that it was cute.  I got him to sign it for me later, and now it is even more precious than before.

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The question that I asked myself over and over again as a teenager, “O Chintu, where are you?” was finally answered decades later as I sat in the WWI auditorium and thoughts raced around in my head: This man sitting next to me is Chintu. It really is him.  Chintu seems to enjoy teasing me. This must really be real and not some fantasy because we are on a stage in front of all these people.  Is this what destiny means because I had always, always known that I would meet him face-to-face someday. Now, if I ever bump into Chintu again, I can actually say “Hi!”

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Me, Rishi Kapoor, Musthaq Sheikh, Benjamin Gilani

Thank you, Mr. Kapoor, for making me feel like a 12-year-old again seeing you on screen for the very first time.

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