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Dimple Kapadia's eternal romance with cinema – Birthday special

As the beautiful star turns 60, we look at the manner in which Dimple Kapadia went from teenage pinup idol to one of the more accomplished actresses of her generation.

Shriram Iyengar

The year 2005 saw the release of Pyar Mein Twist, a romantic comedy with Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia playing middle-aged veterans who find love well after their youthful years. It was a justifiable continuation of a love story that began with Raj Kapoor's Bobby (1973). While Rishi Kapoor was a far cry from the cherubic teenager who became an overnight sensation, Dimple Kapadia remained as she was — effortlessly beautiful.

That natural ease was one of the reasons she got her debut film. In 1973, Raj Kapoor was looking for a girl to play the seductive, rebellious, and beautiful Bobby. In truth, he was looking for a teenaged Nargis, his long-time muse who had by then retired into marriage and motherhood. He found Dimple Kapadia. Such was her natural ease in front of the camera, and the powerful gaze, that gossip mills began circulating rumours that she was the love-child of Raj Kapoor and Nargis.

Those rumours originated in the fact that the showman recreated his own first meeting with Nargis in the entry scene for Bobby. For a 15-year-old actress in Indian cinema, there could be no bigger tribute. But Dimple was nonchalant. In an interview to Filmfare magazine in 2000, she said, "At the age I was then, no girl is expected to understand what doing a Raj Kapoor film meant. At 15, I wasn’t aware that I was working with a living legend." 

Even before the craze for Bobby, that orange bikini and the kiss could hit the theatres, Dimple Kapadia got married. She married one of the biggest stars the Indian screen had witnessed, indeed the first superstar of Hindi cinema — Rajesh Khanna. Hysteria broke out. Women committed suicide. Men were a lot calmer and resigned. But it was a sudden end to a mercurial star. Dimple Kapadia gave up stardom just as simply as she had acquired it.

It was 12 long years before she returned to the screen again with Ramesh Sippy's Saagar (1985). Though it was the late Dasari Narayana Rao's Zakhmi Sher (1984) that was released earlier, it was Sippy's film that Kapadia had shot for first. It is also the film that stands out in public memory.

It was perhaps destiny that pitted Kapadia again as the love interest of her Bobby co-star, Rishi Kapoor. Saagar was a resounding hit and re-established Dimple Kapadia as the heart-throb of a generation. She also won the Filmfare award for Best Actress for her performance in Saagar.

In Janbaaz (1986), Kapadia took it to another level. She was just 28. Producer-director-actor Feroz Khan would tell the fortnightly news magazine India Today in 1985, "No other girl has so much of pent-up aggression."

However, Kapadia's return to the silver screen and stardom also eventually saw the actress more willing to experiment. In the 1990s, she embarked on a conscious attempt to shed the tag of 'glamour girl', to take on roles in films by Govind Nihalani (Drishti, 1990), Gulzar (Lekin..., 1991), Kalpana Lajmi (Rudaali, 1993).

From the rebellious Anita in Narasimha (1991) to the journalist in Krantiveer (1994), Dimple Kapadia had found a new range. A mother of two children, Twinkle and Rinke, who would try their hand at acting themselves, Dimple Kapadia was only working to be independent. In the Filmfare interview, she said, "I returned to films only when I had to look after myself and my children. Acting was the only thing I knew, at least I thought I knew, since I had some experience in it. So, I decided to give it a shot and see if it worked. And it did." 

But Kapadia did not rest on this success. She was willing to push herself in directions few other successful actresses of her generation were willing to attempt. In a conversation with Cinestaan.com, celebrated filmmaker Govind Nihalani said, "She is very honest. Once she decides on the character, then she tries to imbibe her character completely. When I say honest, she doesn't bring in any kind of incisive interpretation to the character. She just forgets about the glamour, she forgets about the commercial aspects. She concentrates totally on giving the character what it demands, without giving it any additional decoration." 

It is this honesty that has enabled Kapadia to metamorphose into a new range of characters in the new millennium. However, the allure of Dimple Kapadia did not go away. In Farhan Akhtar's seminal film, Dil Chahta Hai (2003), she played the lonely divorcee who becomes the muse of a young artist. 

Over the past decade, the actress has played a range of characters. In Being Cyrus (2006), she played a bored housewife who falls for the charms of a murderer. In Luck By Chance (2009), she was fantastic as the wily, manipulative mother of the heroine. It won her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Filmfare awards.

Despite her versatility and popularity, Kapadia makes few appearances on screen now. Happy to spend time with her grandchildren, the world of cinema no longer holds an allure for the actress. Yet, there are a number of fans still waiting for a sight of Dimple Kapadia. Perhaps, the 60th year will see another metamorphosis?