It is not easy for any celebrity whose face is known across the country and beyond to wear a happy face when the person knows that he is suffering from a deadly illness that could be terminal. So, he has to put up a cheerful face in the public domain when he Rishi Kapoor adds to the list of others like Irrfan Khan who passed away a day before he did.

One of the biggest challenges for a famous film star as an actor is his/her ability to bring across the greatest acting in his/her life. Rishi Kapoor is one of them. He was hyper-active on the social media till recently taking on the trolls he got for his brazen views and opinions on some things he did not agree to. After he returned from the US, he decided to go on with his passion and his genes – films.

The Kapoor family needs no introduction for the Pan-South Asian audience. Even a feature film was made called Kapoor and Sons which had nothing to do with the original Kapoors but was certainly an attempt to capitalise on its celebrity status. But one met a different Rishi Kapoor from the one we saw in Mera Naam Joker, his first feature film as a child actor.

Rishi Kapoor spent eleven months and eleven days on a hospital bed in the US where he went to be treated for bone marrow cancer. He returned in September 2019, presumably having recovered completely. But he had not recovered as evinced from his having fallen very sick in February this year in Delhi where he went to attend an important family occasion. But he developed breathing problems in April this week and passed away this morning. His wife, ex-actress Nitu Kapoor, was beside him right till the last minute. His son Ranbir Kapoor, is a famous actor while their daughter, Riddhima, is married and settled in Delhi.

He is one actor I never could nail down for a one-to-one interview because I had heard that all the Kapoors were quite inaccessible. I did not even try and find out whether they were really inaccessible so the interview never happened. I remember having seen him at a street side shoot near Metro Cinema in Bombay (then) one afternoon. What struck me about all the Kapoors was their incredibly fair complexion and flawless skins that would embarrass any model of any fairness cream or skin bloomer.

In his first film Mera Naam Joker (1970), his debut film, Rishi Kapoor portrayed the boyhood version of the hero played by his father Raj Kapoor. He was a sweet, cherubic, baby-faced little boy who developed a massive crush on his beautiful teacher portrayed by Simi. It was perhaps the first mainstream Hindi film to explore the subject of the sexual awakening of a boy slowly growing into adolescence.

I think it is the first part of the four-part-long Mera Naam Joker is the best part, enriched by the wonderful performance of the small Rishi Kapoor. His performance fetched him the National Award for Best Child Actor the following year. But before Mera Naam Joker, he was in a beautifully choreographed scene as a small boy in a song sequence along with his older brother and sister in Sri 420 (1955). The song was pyar hua ikraar hua hai in a rain sequence.

He made his debut as full-fledged hero in Bobby (1973) produced by his father as a try-out film that might rescue him from the massive burden of debt Raj Kapoor had incurred for the miserable commercial failure of Mera Naam Joker. Bobby was a story of teenage love between the only son of a very rich businessman very proud of his power and his affluence and a beautiful young girl (Dimple Kapadia), the daughter of a leading fisherman.

Bobby ranks second in the list of the biggest Hindi hits between 1970 and 1979 till this day as it was one of the biggest box office hits and the only film that holds first rank is Sholay (1975). He got the Best Actor Award from Filmfare for his performance in the film that demanded every kind of emotion there is in human life specially for a young boy who rebels against his arrogant parents to elope with the girl he has fallen in love with. In terms of its aesthetics and its quality, Bobby was directed rather heavy-handedly, ran into footage much more than was called for and was both formulaic and melodramatic. But it offered the freshness and charm of youth and turned out to be one of the biggest hits in Hindi cinema. The songs will remain archived in the annals of Indian film music.

For the first thirty years of his fifty-year-long career, Rishi Kapoor basked in the direct glory of his romantic screen image as hero. Of these, some were multi-starrers while the others had him in the single male lead. During these years, most of his single-hero films flopped but nevertheless, there are some very good films among them not talked or written about much. During this phase, a few films that flopped at the box office but carried a subtle strain of romance treated differently are – Doosra Aadmi (1977), directed by Ramesh Talwar, Khel Khel Mein (1975) directed by Ravi Tandon and Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (1977) directed by Nasir Hussain. Each of these films belonged to different genres but the common bond they shared was romance spelt out differently in each film.

In Doosra Aadmi, he plays the role of a young man with who, an older woman (Rakhee) falls in love with because he reminds her of her dead lover. He does not understand what is going on till he finds himself falling in love with her though he does have a girlfriend. It is not surprising that this story much ahead of its time, did not go down well with the audience. Khel Khel Mein begins like a light-hearted, young romance which turns into a murder mystery and then takes a different twist altogether. The film will remain memorable for its beautiful song-dance numbers. Rishi named his autobiography after a hit song in the film Khulum Khulla.

It is a pity that except the last one, a romantic musical melodrama, were turnips at the box office. He was an excellent dancer at a time when no handsome hero was technically trained in dancing and did not have too many action scenes which actually gave him an edge over actors who were mainly doing action films including the great and invincible Amitabh Bachchan.

He changed the direction of his career as an actor when he put on a lot of weight like all male Kapoors and looked more aged than he really was. He took up character roles and his versatility became extremely challenging and a wonder to watch as he changed colours from Agneepath to Kapoor and Sons to 102 Not Out to Mulk. Playing a girl trafficking mafia lord in Agneepath with his soorma-stained eyes, Rishi Kapoor gave such a scintillating performance that the audience hated him.

In Mulk, Rishi Kapoor plays a sensitive Muslim family head who decided to stay back in India when the country was partitioned off into two nations. The sweet and syrupy ‘romance’ between Maulana (Kapoor) and his wife the older Tabassum (Neena Gupta) reminds one of B.R. Chopra’s famous Waqt song while the Maulana being a culinary expert in Moghlai cuisine adds that bit of non-patriarchal mileage to the film as does the daughter-in-law Aarti being a practising but progressive Hindu.

Rishi Kapoor’s sudden passing away may be tragic and painful. But the huge treasure of films he has left behind, with beautiful love stories and scintillating music, will keep us charmed forever and will also function as a frame of reference for actors, filmmakers and film scholars. Bye bye Rishi Kapoor, may your soul rest in peace.