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He was a creative storyteller, says Rahul Rawail of his mentor Raj Kapoor

Rahul Rawail’s insightful memoir brings alive Raj Kapoor’s craft, dedication and sheer love for cinema.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Veteran filmmaker Rahul Rawail’s insightful memoir recounts his days spent working in the iconic RK Studios in Mumbai under the tutelage of one of the icons of Hindi cinema, Raj Kapoor.

As a teenager, Rawail had watched, mesmerized, as Kapoor directed his ambitious film Mera Naam Joker (1970). He went on to work with the master as assistant director and thus began his life-long association with the man who would be his mentor, teacher and so much more.

Travelling down memory lane, Rawail’s book Raj Kapoor: The Master at Work takes us behind the scenes into the now-defunct RK Studios. The milieu, the camaraderie and the ways of functioning of the studio and its talented staff are all brought to life in the book as one is transported back almost half a century.

Besides narrating Rawail's experiences and observations and recounting his journey as a young filmmaker, the book goes into the techniques used by Raj Kapoor in some of his classic films in depth. In an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com, Rawail spoke of his inspiration behind the book and shared his thoughts on his beloved teacher.

Talking about the genesis of the book, he said, “Raj Kapoor was my favourite topic. I used to talk about him all the time. There are so many valuable things I learnt from him. I was on the Panorama jury of IFFI [the International Film Festival of India] and Apurva Asrani told me I should write a book on Raj Kapoor.

"I thought who would help me write it. It was more like a passing thing, but I mentioned it to Chintu [the late Rishi Kapoor] and he said you must do it.

"I became a little more serious and spoke to Dabboo saheb [Randhir Kapoor], Neetu [Kapoor], Rima and Chimpu [the late Rajiv Kapoor]. I said I must tell them all. I finally met Krishna aunty and she said, ‘Rahul, you must do it because the amount you know about how my husband worked, nobody else does. You are the only living person who knows about it. If you don’t do it, the legacy of how he worked will die a natural death. Nobody will ever know about it.’ That kicked me off.”

The book takes the reader into the mind of Raj Kapoor, a creative filmmaker, bringing to light his keen eye for detail and sheer dedication to his craft, “That’s what Raj Kapoor was," Rawail said. "He was a creative storyteller. His style of storytelling was simple but it was built into the way he created it. His frames, his shots, why he conceived them that way... the idea [of the book] was to tell people how Raj Kapoor was, how he worked, how he thought of things.

“The studio’s working was completely Raj Kapoor’s way of working," he continued. "His quirkiness, his love for food, his respect for his technicians are there [in the book] and then there are those eight chapters where his technique is mentioned in detail.”

Raj Kapoor

Of course, over the years filmmaking has changed as technology has improved and with the coming of the digital medium, the craft of filmmaking itself has undergone a major transformation.

One of the major differences today is the use of multiple camera angles while taking a shot, which is at odds with the way films were shot earlier. Addressing this, Rawail said, “The biggest problem is that with multiple cameras there is no creativity left. It has become so simple for [filmmakers]. With the use of multiple cameras, nobody is using their brains any more.

"Whereas when Raj saheb shot, and we learnt this from him, we had to be sure of whatever we were shooting. You knew the beginning and the end of each shot and there was no going back from that.

"A director who sits and watches the shots on a monitor, I don’t think that works," the veteran director of hits like Love Story (1981), Betaab (1983), Arjun (1985) and Anjaam (1994) continued. "I think the director should be behind the camera so that the actors see the director there because then the actor is not insecure. They have the security that there is a man here who is watching me, he knows what’s happening.

"From the director’s point of view, when you are watching on the spot, you are multi-tasking, you are seeing the actor, the movement, the dialogue, you are seeing the junior artiste walking behind. You are seeing if a crow has come and sat in a wrong position behind you; you will see all that.

"Whereas, if you see it on a monitor, your attention is on the frame, it’s like operating a camera. When Yashji [Chopra] shot Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012), my son was first assistant director. Yashji stood behind the camera. He did not sit on the monitor. Adi [Aditya Chopra] sat on the monitor. Yashji would go back and check the thing after the shot was okayed. If something went wrong in between, Adi would tell him. That is the ideal way to work.”

In the book Rawail also speaks about his own career in conjunction with the insights he received from Raj Kapoor and the ways in which the master’s touch was reflected in his films. In doing so, for the first time, Rawail also addresses the controversy around his directorial debut, Love Story (1981), which remains a film with no director's credit.

Discussing this, Rawail said, “I had never spoken about the Love Story controversy and I felt that now is the time to put everything in perspective. It was necessary for me to talk about Love Story because the way [Raj Kapoor] had predicted every moment which I would go through with that film was uncanny. So I thought I should write about it. I had to tell people about it.”

Speaking of Kapoor’s legacy and what filmmakers today can learn from him, he said, “Basically, to see the kind of dedication he had and the thought that went into every single aspect [of a film]. Whatever he thought of, whatever he did, whatever he said, everything was concerned with the film. That, I think, is the most important aspect.”

The affectionately conceptualized book reflects Rawail’s deep-seated respect and admiration for his mentor, “Whatever I learnt and am doing today is because of Raj Kapoor," he said. "I did go through a bad patch, which I have accepted in the book. When he passed away, I lost a major support. When I started writing the book and started reliving moments that I had had with him, the kind of energy which I had expected to make a film started coming back to me. Now I think I am here and prepared to make a film. I hope I can still do justice to a film project, but I’m charged and ready to do it."

The book was released in New Delhi yesterday on Raj Kapoor’s 97th birth anniversary. The book has been published by Bloomsbury India. Click here to buy your copy.

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Indian cinema