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Everybody wanted to project me like Shammi Kapoor: Rajiv Kapoor

An elusive figure for years, Raj Kapoor’s youngest son speaks exclusively to Cinestaan.com. The actor opens up on what went wrong in his career and personal life, backs nephew Ranbir to bounce back from professional and personal setbacks.

Mayur Lookhar

There is one thing about the Kapoors. No matter how long or short their careers, you can never forget them.

Back in the 1980s, the original showman Raj Kapoor’s youngest son Rajiv carried on the family tradition of acting. His early films were uninspiring until his father cast him as the male protagonist in the woman-orientated social drama Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985). The film was a blockbuster but, sadly, it could not do much for Rajiv’s career.

Kapoor later continued his father’s legacy by assisting in the production of films under the RK Films banner. He even directed the Madhuri Dixit-starrer Prem Granth (1996) but the film failed at the box office. A broken marriage added to his agony. However, like most of the Kapoors, Rajiv, who turns 54 today, is a survivor, a jovial person who refuses to let his failures affect him.

In an exclusive chat with Cinestaan.com, Rajiv Kapoor sportingly revealed why his career didn’t take off, discussed his failed marriage, explained why he believes Ram Teri Ganga Maili can never be remade, and backed his struggling nephew. Excerpts:

All these years you have kept a low profile. Do you also like keeping your birthday celebrations low-key?

Well, the best way to celebrate a birthday is by being low-key. Our celebrations are never extravagant. We usually celebrate with a few close friends and family. Besides, my mother is in hospital, so it’s not a convenient atmosphere to celebrate.

Sorry to hear about that. How is she doing? We hope for her speedy recovery.

She is recuperating well. She is doing better.

In normal circumstances, do all you brothers get together on such occasions?

Yes, we do. We are a big family. So, we do get together on such occasions. Randhir is with me, but Rishi has gone to Australia and New Zealand. Besides, everyone has their schedules, commitments, families. So, as and when if everyone is in town, we do take time for such occasions.

Would like you to share any birthday memory from your childhood?

Most of them were low-key celebrations, spent with a few close friends. I remember having a great time celebrating my 21st birthday in Mauritius. Then I was in Goa for my 50th birthday. I remember my father giving me a treat on my 25th birthday. I was taking a few friends out and he paid for the bill. It was very nice of him to have done so. I was supposed to treat my friends, but before I was leaving he gave me the money and said, “Go, enjoy yourself."

Mandakini and you became the toast of the nation with Ram Teri Ganga Maili. Three decades later, how do you look back at that film? What did it do for your career?

To be honest, if I’m remembered today, even amongst the younger generation, that is purely because of Ram Teri Ganga Maili. It gave me great recognition and platform all over the world. It also comes regularly on television. Today, I go to a mall or a theatre, I meet people who talk about the film. It’s fine for people of my generation to talk about it, but I get touched when their children know about the film. Obviously their parents have told them about this film. Arguably, it’s the best film that I’ve done. I’m grateful to god and my father for having made that film.

We live in an era where classics get reprised. Would you be comfortable if some current filmmaker were to remake Ram Teri Ganga Maili?

He won’t be able to do it. You need a Raj Kapoor to do that.

But if some promising filmmaker were to come up with the proposal, would you be willing to accept?

No, it’s not a matter of permission. Of course we won’t permit anybody because the rights are with us. But look, you need a director of that calibre, a director who has the same thought process. Cleaning of Ganga is still very topical, I guess we’d still be cleaning it 30 years later. I’m not disputing that today we have a few promising filmmakers, but we need to understand those values in it [the subject] and appreciate them.

A lot of good actors fell prey to the clichéd subjects of the 1980 and early 1990s. Do you think your career, too, couldn't progress because of this?

As far as my career is concerned, Ram Teri Ganga Maili is the best film I did. The other films didn’t do well, but not all were bad. The sad part was that everybody wanted to project me like Shammi Kapoor, because I looked like him. To summarise in simple language – hit is fit. If your movies did well things would be on a different tangent. I did some nice films which had good music, but not many did well.

As a child, I used to love watch watching Zalzala (1988), which was inspired by Mackenna's Gold (1969).  Back then, of course, we didn't have great technology.  Would it be great to have a Zalzala remake now?

We have evolved in a different manner. We are making very realistic films today. Even the West isn’t making cowboy films anymore. I played a comedy role. It still airs on television and I enjoy watching myself in it. Sadly, we don’t make that kind of films anymore. But to be honest, both Zalzala and Mackenna’s Gold didn’t have any great special effects save for the climax scene with all the gold mines. Zalzala was a total adaptation of Mackenna’s Gold. It had a more fantasy feel to it. Unfortunately, the film didn’t fare well.

RK Films has made some marquee films, but with very little commercial success. Are there any revival plans?

We haven’t done a movie for a long time. That’s because we haven’t been able to decipher what we should do. The whole scenario of movies has been changing in India. We didn’t do well with our last few films as far as the box office is concerned. Not that they were bad films, but, perhaps, times have changed. We haven’t gone anywhere. In time, we can start on our individual basis. RK Films is a great legacy left behind by my father, so we have to carry it forward. Humko karna toh yeh hi hai, we can’t do anything else dear.

Mera Naam Joker (1970) was a prime example of a great film with no commercial success.

Yes, Mera Naam Joker was a film much before its time. It teaches you a lot of philosophical things, it teaches you a lot of life, a lot of the inner depth of life. Often I watch it on TV or on DVD. Leave aside the film, we don’t get that kind of music anymore. Today’s music is only noise. I don’t understand the lyrics, until and unless I see the karaoke thing that comes on television, only then you get a chance to understand what the person is singing. 

But like Mera Naam Joker, weren’t most RK Films ahead of their time?

Prem Granth didn’t do well for whatever reasons. But as a layman, I still feel that the film was nice. As we saw with the recent tragic Nirbhaya rape case, Madhuri Dixit’s character, too, said in Prem Granth that the law needs to be changed to prevent sexual crimes against women. A woman has the right to take her own revenge. My film was made 20 years ago. The awareness was brought in much earlier, but the film didn’t do well.

Ranbir Kapoor was once quoted as saying that he intends to make films under the RK banner again. How involved is he currently with RK Films?

He is busy making his own films. He is co-producing Jagga Jasoos. Well, of course, in the future if he wants to do something with us, then we will look into it. My father has left behind a great legacy and it remains forever. Earlier, we made one film in 2-3 years, but that era is gone. We will make a film for sure. I will never make a big-budget film, where collections will not go big beyond a week. Besides, the core business is just the weekend business. There is nothing called silver, golden, or diamond jubilee anymore. The current crop of actors doesn’t even know what it means. Today, a jubilee is equivalent to Rs100-200 crore.

Ranbir Kapoor was touted for big things but he has been struggling in the last few years. What do you make of this dip in his career?

Hits and flops are part of life. I don’t keep track of his work. Tomorrow he may have another good release that will be a hit. It is very unfortunate that you are gauged by a yardstick which is very small. Sadly, you are judged by your last Friday. Maybe it is more media-driven matter. Not every film is meant to do 100 crores. You make mistakes, you take wrong decisions. It’s all part of life. It’s not that people don’t like him. He has some good films coming up.

People are too enamoured by the big superstars. People are talking about how much their film has made but not about the credibility of the film. This is ridiculous. Sadly, you are gauged by what’s on paper but not your talent. Today we have agents and agencies working for the actors. I don’t expect an agency to get me work. If somebody wants me then they should pick Rajiv Kapoor as a talented person. Today, you are not recognised by your talent but by the talent that the bloody agent has got.

How much time have you been able to spend with Ranbir Kapoor during this phase?

Earlier it was difficult, but he is currently staying with us since his house is being made.

Ranbir recently gave an interview to a noted TV journalist where, among many things, he spoke about his break-up with Katrina Kaif. He looked despondent. How is he coping with the break-up?

Ranbir is a very level-headed boy. That’s part of life. There is nothing to worry about that. Every human being goes through it. Some things are there, some things are not there. He doesn’t look like a dejected Majnu to me. He has moved on in life.

You married pretty late but unfortunately it didn’t last long. You have remained single since. Was it a case of once bitten twice shy?

Yes, I was married, but it didn’t even last for a couple of months. I then got divorced, remained single, but I was happy with my life. However, I now have my partner with me and I’m happy.

I’m looking forward to start a film. It’s not that I’m not getting any offers but I just don’t want to do something where I’ll be standing in the corner. I’m not asking for a role where I’ll be running around trees. After 25 years, I should have something of some interest. After all, acting is our bread-butter. Jeena yahan marna yahan, iske siwa jaana kaha?