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Khullam Khulla book review: Rishi Kapoor highlights role of mother, wife in his success

Forgoing a chronological narrative for an episodic one, the actor has chosen to narrate incidents that offer insights into his personal and professional journey.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

An actor who faced the screen at the age of two in Shree 420 (1955), won a National award at 16 for his debut film Mera Naam Joker (1970), and played a 90-year-old in Kapoor & Sons (2016) after having spent almost half a century in the film industry; Rishi Kapoor has lived a truly cinematic life. So it is no surprise that the biography of the actor by veteran film journalist Meena Iyer is replete with cinematic moments. 

A born actor, a four-year-old Rishi would run to cry before a mirror when his mother scolded him for being naughty! On hearing his parents discuss the possibility of him acting in Mera Naam Joker, he ran up to his room to practise his signature for the herds of fans who he was certain would hound him for an autograph in the future! Khullam Khulla is a treasure trove of such incidents that mark Rishi Kapoor's life. 

Adopting the mode of the confessional, the actor, with characteristic candour, recounts incidents ranging from his poor academic record, his relationship with his family, and his first girlfriend to his changing attitude in the face of stardom, the exhilarating ups and inevitable downs of his career, his struggle with depression in the face of a declining career, and his second innings… moments that allow us to see the person behind the star.

In one such revelatory episode, describing his attitude after the success of Bobby (1973), Kapoor says, “I had the world at my feet and didn’t give a damn for anything but my stardom.”

Forgoing a chronological narrative for an episodic one, Kapoor has chosen to narrate incidents that offer insights into his personal and professional journey. He also uses the opportunity to put certain rumours to rest — like his father’s relationship with Nargis and Vyjayanthimala, or the speculation regarding his own relationship with Bobby co-star Dimple Kapadia as well as with some of his other co-stars. Not one to shy away from the truth, he gracefully acknowledges uncomfortable truths and gives credit where it is due. 

In fact, blunt as a hammer, he graciously accepts his own gruff manner and follies made in an inebriated state (which are quite a few!) without making excuses for them. In an age of political correctness, it is a welcome change to read about the not-so-flattering accounts of errors of judgement on his part. After all, one cannot imagine any other actor acknowledging that they bought an award! 

A trivia lover’s delight, Khullam Khulla tells us about casting coups and Kapoor family facts. In fact, the book doles out trivia with gusto. But after a while, the interesting facts give way to acknowledgement of members of the film fraternity, which does becomes a bit tiresome, like an Academy Award speech that needs to wind down.

But the most revelatory sections in the book are the ones when Rishi Kapoor talks about his family and his absolute love for cinema. He ponders over his uneasy relationship with his brother Chimpu (Rajiv Kapoor), and son Ranbir. As he says, “He [Ranbir] is a friend to Neetu but not to me, and that’s something I deeply regret” (p235).

He also discusses the legacy of the Kapoor khandaan at length, looking at the stalwarts as both professionals and people. In doing so, he highlights the role of the women in the family — his mother, wife, daughter, and mother-in-law, all of whom have contributed towards his immense success. 

A breezy, enjoyable read for fans of Rishi Kapoor and film trivia enthusiasts; in true filmi style, this book is all about loving the family.