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Six career-defining performances by Rishi Kapoor

In a career spanning close to half a century, Rishi Kapoor played many memorable roles.

Suyog Zore

Hailing from a family that had dedicated itself to cinema, it was only natural that Rishi Kapoor would carry the baton forward. Making his acting debut under father Raj Kapoor's direction in Mera Naam Joker (1970), Rishi Kapoor went on to create his own path in the Hindi film industry.

In almost 50 years as an actor in Hindi cinema, Rishi Kapoor, who died on 30 April 2020, essayed many memorable roles. So choosing just six of those and holding them up as the best is an admittedly difficult and subjective task, but here is our attempt nonetheless, listed chronologically.

1. Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) 

It was the typical Manmohan Desai masala commercial entertainer, The film told the story of three estranged brothers — you guessed it! Amar, Akbar and Anthony. One is brought up as a Hindu, the second as a Christian and the youngest as a Muslim.

Rishi Kapoor, youngest of the three leading men in the film, played the youngest brother, Akbar. Kapoor had already proved he could act in solo films like Bobby (1973) and Zahreela Insaan (1974), but here he was pitted against two of the biggest stars of the 1970s, both far more experienced actors — Amitabh Bachchan, who was at the height of his popularity, and Vinod Khanna, whom many saw as his only real rival for the crown of superstar.

At 25, Rishi Kapoor was not only the youngest of the three heroes but also the least experienced. But this did not deter him from giving one of the best performances of his career. Even when he was over the top, it was completely in synch with the make-believe world Desai had created in his film, which was full of all the commercial tropes one associates with the filmmaker. Even at the risk of being overshadowed by the two towering stars, Rishi Kapoor not only accepted the role of the eccentric yet lovable Akbar Illahabadi, but excelled at it, and how.

2. Doosara Aadmi (1977)

Doosara Aadmi was a romantic drama directed by Ramesh Talwar. Made under the banner of Yash Chopra's YRF, the film had all the markings of the YRF brand. Doosara Aadmi was a romantic triangle involving Karan (Rishi Kapoor), Timsi (Neetu Kapoor, with whom he got married two years later) and Nishi (Rakhee). Kapoor delivered a convincing performance as a  man caught between two women.

3. Karz (1980)

Karz must be the most memorable film in Rishi Kapoor's long filmography. This reincarnation revenge saga produced and directed by Subhash Ghai saw him play stage singer Monty, the reincarnation of a man named Ravi (Raj Kiran) who was killed by his wife (Simi Garewal) after their wedding.

It was one of the most intense roles of Rishi Kapoor's career. Though the film also had a romantic subplot between Monty and Tina (Tina Munim), it was far from Kapoor's routine romantic roles. The film saw him depart from his usual chocolate-hero image and deliver a serious performance. The role allowed him to display his wide range as an actor, from his usual jovial and cheerful self to a man seething with rage once he remembers how he was done to death.

4. Do Dooni Chaar (2010)

The turn of the 21st century marked Rishi Kapoor's second innings as an actor. He was now at an age and a physique that precluded him playing the romantic leading man. Kapoor realized this and turned to character roles that offered him a chance to explore his still untapped potential as an actor.

His roles in films like Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi (2001), Fanaa (2006) and Namaste London (2007) were well appreciated, but it was Habib Faisal's Do Dooni Chaar (2010) that finally did justice to his talent. The film was about a middle-class family, the Duggals, residing in New Delhi. Kapoor played the head of the family and won the Filmfare Best Actor Critics' Choice award for his outstanding performance. The film, which also saw Rishi Kapoor paired with wife Neetu Singh for the first time since Jhoota Kahin Ka (1979), won the National award for Best Hindi Film.

5. Agneepath (2012)

We finally saw an aspect of Rishi Kapoor's histrionic ability that we had never seen before in Karan Malhotra's Agneepath (2012). The film was a reimagination of Mukul S Anand's cult classic Agneepath (1990), starring Amitabh Bachchan. Rishi Kapoor played the ruthless gangster Rauf Lala. The imposing figure in oversized kurta with kohl-lined eyes and a piercing gaze sent shivers down the audience's spine whenever he appeared on the screen.

This was the first time Rishi Kapoor was playing an out-and-out negative character and it was easily his vilest act which evoked not a shred of sympathy from the viewer. It was so dramatically different from the rest of his work that the actor initially refused the role, fearing that he would not be able to do justice to it. It reportedly took director Malhotra three and a half months to persuade Kapoor to take up the role. Once he did, however, Kapoor went at it with his usual passion and won many awards in the bargain.

6. Mulk (2018).

Anubhav Sinha's intense court drama saw Rishi Kapoor deliver arguably his best performance. The actor played the role of an ageing Muslim man whose nephew gets involved in terrorist activities. As Muslims, he and his family members also become suspects in the eyes of the law and even their friends and neighbours.

The film was a harsh critique of the second-class treatment that Muslims often get in India. Kapoor played Ali Mohammed, a retired lawyer who is forced to come out of retirement to fight his embattled brother's case. The old man quickly finds himself dragged into the case and having to prove his patriotism.

Kapoor struck the perfect balance between being theatrical and subtle without leaning too much into either side. His gut-wrenching performance was the heart and soul of the film.