There was no escape from acting as it was in his blood; he did not struggle for fame and fortune as it came with his family lineages, Rishi Kapoor wrote in his memoir. Acting was not a profession for him. His passion for life was embedded within acting. He was undoubtedly one of India’s finest actor. He inherited not only the legacies of acting from his illustrious family, but also represented progressive lineages of the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA). His unfiltered and fearless defence of India’s liberal, secular, democratic, and constitutional values separate him from other actors of from the pretentiousness culture of Bollywood.
After Modi became the Prime Minister of India, many leading actors within Bollywood crowd either voice their sympathies with Hindutva politics or maintained cowardice silence but Rishi Kapoor did not share this self-serving trend. He opposed the lynching of Muslims, journalists, rationalists and stood with secular forces in India. The terms like ‘anti nationals’, ‘traitors’ and ‘go to Pakistan’ are used to describe anyone opposed to Modi government. These three phrases became the most favourite slogans of the Hindutva fanatics in defence of the Modi government. The emanating climate of hate and fear did not deter Rishi Kapoor to openly oppose the reactionary politics promoted by Modi government. He said openly that he is not a minion of BJP.
Rishi Kapoor did not calculate loss and profit while taking a firm position against Islamophobia and bigotry. He declared himself as a beef eating religious Hindu and faced the wrath of cow vigilantes and other Hindutva fanatics groups. He opposed beef ban and argued audaciously that the culture of consumption should not be linked with religion and spiritualism. Religion is different from food habits of people. He was trolled for being pro Muslims by the Hindutva zealots but he stood to his ground. When Hindutva fundamentalists are tearing apart, he unapologetically stood firm in the defence of multicultural ethos of Indian society and its cosmopolitan outlook.
Rishi Kapoor was an unapologetic ambassador of peace between India and Pakistan. He loved Indians as much as he loved the people of Pakistan. His ancestral home is in Pakistan. So, his relationship with Pakistan runs far deeper than films. He requested the Government of Pakistan to convert his family home into a museum. He wanted to visit Pakistan eagerly but died with this unfulfilled dream. His commitment to peace processes between two countries defines him as a public figure in India. On 19th of March 2020, he wrote in his twitter handle about his feeling for the people in Pakistan as coronavirus spreads all over the world. He wrote that “people of Pakistan are also dear to us. Once we were one. We are concerned too. This is a global crisis. No ego matter this. We love you guys. Humanity zindabad”. The narrow silo of ruling class narrative of nationalism was unattractive to him. He truly lived with Indian ideals of universal brotherhood and peace.
Self-criticisms are rare among leading actors in glittering self-confidence within the world of cinema. But Rishi Kapoor is unique. He did not spare himself. In the memoir, he candidly confessed about the mistakes in his life. He openly criticised himself in public. Indians are shocked and India is grieving, as one of most important cultural icon is now gone. It is unconceivable loss to the world of Indian cinema. But a fine actor survives in the silver screens after his death. The memories of Rishi Kapoor as a person continues to inspire us as a progressive and liberal citizen. He was enchanted by life to entertain and bring smile to the masses, and divert their attention from the ugly realities of their everyday life. India lost him when Indians need him the most. It is important to celebrate his poignant legacies beyond films.
Bhabani Shankar Nayak, Coventry University, UK