Dubai – ‘April is the cruelest of the month’ declared T.S Eliot in his poem ‘The Wasteland’, and it proved to be true for the cinema frenzied people of India. They lost two of their beloved actors, Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor, to the other dreaded ‘C’ word disease; on two consecutive days of April, 29 and 30. Both actors were the finest Indian Cinema had, each an antithesis of the other. Irrfan Khan was the self-made actor, one who rose to be the heartthrob of millions by his passion for the craft. He had no mentor in the unforgiving world of cinema, nor the conventional good looks of a film hero unlike the legendary Rishi Kapoor, who belonged to the first family of Indian cinema, and was the official loverboy of the nation.
Both the actors were diagnosed with Cancer and fought their battle with dignity till the end.
Both were seen together in the film D-day (2013).
The news of the passing away of Irrfan Khan on April 29, 2020, aged 53, gutted the cinema loving masses. To many, it felt like a personal loss. The official statement issued read “Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him.” Khan was known for his humility, integrity and hard work. He graduated from the prestigious National School of Drama, and made his film debut with Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! (1988), which was followed by years of struggle. His big break came with Asif Kapadia’s British Film ‘The Warrior’ (2001). His intense performance and charismatic screen presence were noticed and what followed was a series of meaningful cinema starring Irrfan in powerful roles: Haasil (2003) and Maqbool (2004). He was critically acclaimed for his roles in The Namesake (2006)l Life in a Metro (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Paan Singh Tomar, which got him India’s National Film Award for Best Actor in 2011.
Khan’s dialogue in the movie Paan Singh Tomar “Beehad main baaghi hote hain, dacait milte hain parliament mein” made him an overnight sensation. He told the story of a wronged individual by “desh ke liye faltu bhaage hum” with such conviction that it touched the nerve of every cinemagoer. His story became theirs too, he was accepted by the masses wholeheartedly and went on to be a force to reckon in mainstream cinema. His intensity for the craft showed in all his roles, however small it may be, he always brought “charisma to everything he touched “, as Priyanka Chopra says in her tribute to him. Irrfan sustained a British- American film career too, and he was seen in Michael Winterbottom’s Mighty Heart (2007) opposite Angelina Jolie, followed by The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Life of Pi (2012), Jurassic World (2015), and Inferno (2016). It was during this time the news of him being diagnosed with ‘neuroendocrine tumor’ came. On March 5, 2018, Irrfan Khan revealed his diagnosis on twitter “Sometimes you wake up with a jolt with life shaking you up..Little had I known that my search for rare stories would make me find a rare disease”. He went to London for his treatment and returned on April 2, 2019. He began his work on Angrezi Medium, immediately after. His last message was of gratitude to the media and his fans, “I am deeply touched by your wishes, your prayers…I truly respect the way you have respected my journey, giving me time and space to heal. Thank you”
Irrfan is survived by his wife Sutapa and sons Babil and Ayaan.
The next day on April 30, India woke up to yet another devastating news of the passing away of the legendary Rishi Kapoor. It was confirmed by his friend Amitabh Bacchan’s tweet “He’s GONE! Rishi Kapoor .. gone .. just passed away .. I am destroyed !” It brought the end of an era; of romance, of love, of beautiful songs in the valleys, of the handsome prince courting; the brash chocolate boy dancing his way into your heart. Rishi Kapoor was born into a world of films. Films were his destiny. In a tribute to Rishi Kapoor, Amitabh Bacchan reminisces, how ‘he was always learning’ and had that “confident walk of his grandfather” Prithvi Raj Kapoor. Rishi Kapoor was introduced into mainstream cinema by his father Raj Kapoor, with his first lead role in Bobby (1973) which won him the best actor Filmfare award that year. The film became a blockbuster in the Soviet Union, drawing 62.6 million viewers, making it one of the top 20 biggest box office hits of all time in the Soviet Union. In a career spanning over 30 years, Rishi starred in over 92 films. Although in the 1970s and 1980s the ‘angry young man’ phase ruled Hindi cinema, he carved a niche of his own. He was not the typical macho hero, bashing up the goons, saving damsels in distress and the world. He was the sweet boy you could rely on, one who was educated, brash yet sensible; he portrayed the image of a new respectable ‘male’ who had nothing ‘alpha’ in him, which every woman desired. Who can forget the guitar strumming heartthrob ‘bachana aye haseeno’ or the sweet boy romancing Padmini Kohlapuri with ‘hoga tumse pyaara kaun’? Rishi played the sensible Sunny, who took a drunken Bachchan (Johnny) home singing ‘chal mere bhai’ in Naseeb (1981). Sharing the frame with actor extraordinaire Amitabh Bachchan did not blur his aura, rather it shone alongside as a worthy star, as bright as ever. He never shied away from woman-centric films playing second-tier roles as in ‘Damini’ ‘Tawaif’ & ‘Prem Rog”. Rishi Kapoor did not conform to any specific ‘type’, his roles were diverse. Looking at his filmography one can see that he was a vital presence in all of his films: from the natural musical performances in Karz and Hum Kisise Kam Nahin to offbeat films like Rajinder Singh Bedi’s Ek Chaadar Maili Si, and thrillers like Khoj, where he held his own against veterans like Naseeruddin Shah. During the later part of his career, he portrayed characters, like ‘Rauf Lala’ of Agneepath (2012) Iqbal Seth of D-Day (2013) and recently ‘Murad Ali’ of Mulk (2018), which he said in one of his interviews that “he had waited for decades.” His journey from chocolate hero to these character roles, in a way, is the story of the progression of Hindi cinema. Through these roles Rishi Kapoor established himself as a coming of age versatile actor, and so did Indian Cinema. During his treatment in New York he would share pictures of happy moments with his fans, and as Amitabh Bacchan said in his tribute, “Joie de Vivre” was Rishi’s way of life. In his autobiography aptly titled ‘Khullam Khulla’ published in 2017, RK sums up his life in these words “I am Prithviraj Kapoor’s grandson. Raj Kapoor’s son. I am Neetu Kapoor’s husband. Riddhima and Ranbir Kapoor’s father. I am Rishi Kapoor. I was born lucky and stayed lucky.”
For Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kaporr, life truly was a momentous journey and not the destination.
The passing away of these two stalwarts of Indian cinema has left behind a mourning nation and a void that can never be filled.