Non-Fiction Reads: Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored with Meena Iyer

Acting was in my blood and there was simply no escaping it. When I say this, I am thinking of not just the Kapoors but also the Malhotras, my mother’s side of the family, who were just as volatile as my father and his relatives.

Rishi Kapoor (1952 – 2020), the legendary spontaneous actor, was also an outspoken man, a wholesomely non-existent quality in a Hindi film celebrity. Just that one refreshing quality makes Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored a honest, spunky, if disjointed autobiographical account.
You may not like Rishi Kapoor as a person at all after reading the crushing Neetu Kapoor (wife, actor)  afterword. Neetu Kapoor’s outburst is very revelatory of a man who is at home as an actor, but is otherwise a male chauvinist by his own admission, selfish, arrogant, and short-tempered.   

The Kapoors, Cinema’s first family 
Rishi Kapoor belonged to the illustrious Kapoor family, easily the most iconic, talented family to have worked in Indian cinema. 
For four generations now, the extended Kapoor family have created unforgettable moments in Hindi films, the biggest star of them – Rishi’s father – writer, director, producer, actor, Raj Kapoor. 
That Rishi Kapoor had no dearth of source material is both the book’s doing and undoing. There are mountain loads of it and in a haphazard, zigzag manner, readers are in for a treat. 
Speculatively speaking, co-writer Meena Iyer either recorded or took down notes from Kapoor and then brought the whole book together, a staggering achievement by her to make sense of the abundant, exclusive material. 
Art in the blood: Rishi Kapoor, years before Mera Naam Joker (1970)
Movie star craziness 
Indian cinema is over a hundred years old now and the Kapoors have been an influential part of it for almost nine decades, spanning four generations, beginning in 1928 when my grandfather joined the Grant Anderson Theatre Company. He was, in fact, the last of the male Kapoors to graduate from college. He had started a course in law too, but the draw of theatre was too strong. He abandoned that degree for an acting career.

My grandfather was only fifteen or sixteen years old when he chose to become a stage actor. And his foray into the film industry was heralded by no less a figure than Rabindranath Tagore himself.

– Book Excerpt 

This is not a flowy, one-minded swing but an anecdote-rich book. 
The craziness, the madness of movie stars, how uncle, rebel star Shammi Kapoor drove his hand through glass just to get female attention is just one shocker. 
Kapoor also admits to have paid to receive a prominent film award. The blunt frankness in talking about disagreements with all his contemporaries, from Rakesh Roshan, Jeetendra, and Amitabh Bachchan is pure autobiographical joy. 
Kapoor in his first blockbuster Bobby (1973) 

Too much, too little? 
Strangely, despite Prithviraj Kapoor’s stature in the film industry, my father didn’t grow up dreaming of an acting career for himself. He in fact wanted to enroll at Dufferin, the naval training school, and join the Indian Navy. Fate willed otherwise and perhaps it was also the pull of his genes towards the world of cinema. After he failed his final exams at school, Papa started work as an assistant to film-maker Kedar Sharma. It wasn’t a long stint though, because he ended up stepping in front of the camera – and a star was born. His first role, at the age of twenty-three, was as lead actor in Sharma’s own Neel Kamal (1946). After that there was no looking back. Just one year later, he launched his own film production company, RK Films, becoming the youngest studio owner ever in India. He made his first film, Aag, the same year. These achievements were early evidence that he would go on to be regarded as one of the most influential film-makers in the history of Indian cinema.

– Book Excerpt 
In retrospect, the free-flowing Rishi Kapoor frankness could have been reined in to chronological effect. That there is no established storyline ensures that the content doesn’t come together cohesively to be a defining autobiography of our times, but it’s easily the liveliest I have read recently.  
From tales of his great-grandfather the gruff baritone giant of a man, Prithviraj Kapoor, father –  mercurial, showstopper Raj Kapoor, the scandalous Nargis story addressed without any hesitancy or guile, Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored is certainly one of a kind.   
More revelations, family photographs, hell lot of entertainment, this is a breezy read, simply told as it is, the late actor’s spontaneity exuding in every page. The best moments are bare and raw, there is just too much to tell, and this clearly calls for a sequel, only that Kapoor is no longer around to tell it all. 
With Amitabh Bachchan in 102 Not Out (2018)

Good buy for Indian movie fans 
That there are no lingering moments is the book’s greatest downer, the stories just rush through like a fast Mumbai local train, making for great popcorn-crunching reading, when it could have been so much more, an epic, sprawling account of arguably India’s greatest film family.  
Despite the impulsive, speedy take, Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored is a great read in innumerable bits and pieces, wickedly disarming, and recurrently entertaining.  
(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

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