The Fair Tale Wedding- Neetu and Rishi Kapoor
26 years ago...when Neetu Rishi tied the knot
Months ago on Eid day, I had casually dropped in at Neetu’s place for one of my usual how-are-things-going session. That afternoon, I found the mother and daughter busy packing clothes in suede bags. The contents included blue shimmer sequins, red shimmer sequins, white chiffons, silks, beautiful nighties, gowns, housecoats, packets and packets of cosmetics, perfumes, salwar kameez suits, more suits, dupattas. F’us jeans dumped by the dozens, T-shirts, pillow-cases with laces and cut-work, napkins... junk of various materials.
And - there was her bridal costume, diligently wrapped in layers of three different cloth pieces. Her dupatta was blood red, with intricate gold embroidery Rich and tantalizing, except that it looked so heavy, I wondered how Neetu would carry - leave alone wrap - it round her shoulders. “My lehenga is heavier than the dupatta. The whole thing amounts to 10 kilos,” she chuckled. “I have made two special belts to go across the shoulders. It’s beautiful - only, we actresses wear similar costumes so often in our films, that the charm has worn out.”
I saw her point, when just a few days ago I met her on the sets of Rajmahal, at Essel Studio. As I walked into the huge Dharam Veer - like set, horses and swordsmen were milling to and fro in the heat and dust of the afternoon. I spotted Neetu dressed in a flaming orange costume with gold sequins shining in the sunlight. Playing a princess in the film, she was adorned with jewels and a fancy crown. Holding her flowing trail in one hand, she was using the other to shake hands with everybody from the cameraman to the director. It was her last day with the unit and there were murmurs of congratulations in the air. Someone was even distributing ladoos.
“I reached the studio at the dot of eight in the morning,” she gasped. “Can you believe this? In my entire career I have never reached my sets before 10.30 a.m. The unit was shellshocked. I had set the alarm for 6 a.m. and at 6.30, while brushing my teeth, I was waking up my sleepy hairdresser. There was no time for tea, so I had it in the car and of course, broke the glass in the bargain. It was so funny - while the building children were going to school in uniforms, I was racing down the staircase in full make-up and this gaudy costume.
“It was worth missing those few winks. Do you know, between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., my director has taken 52 shots? It’s mind blowing! I don’t know how he’s done it. I don’t know how I worked. I feel I’m just breathing work these days. Last Sunday, for the first time after four years, I was working on a holiday. I finished my portion of work on Teesri Aankh. In the coming three days I should be completing three more films. Every day I am doing three shifts and later dubbing. My deadline is January 16.”
Almost every studio in town was holding a set for a Neetu film in January. Everywhere it was Neetu’s dubbing. Neetu’s close-ups. Broke producers, unable to organise finance, dumped directors unable to get dates, had their problems sorted out. “I would have preferred to end my career on the last day with Rishi. Unfortunately, Dhan Daulat was the last of our films together. The last time we met was on the New Year. According to the Punjabi custom, the bride and the groom are not supposed to see each other, two weeks before the wedding. Today, is only the fifth and I still have 17 days to go for the wedding. This morning while I was coming to Chembur for my shooting, he was leaving home for his shooting. As our cars crossed, at almost same time both of us ducked, so that we wouldn’t see each other. My driver looked at his driver, they smiled and we went our separate ways. Isn’t that hilarious?”
The tension of seven years of waiting, compressed into seven months of climactic activity, is telling. Both are overworked. At home, in Shailaja Apartments, the atmosphere is buzzing with excitement. Everybody is full of what they’ll do and what they’ll wear. The best dressed man at the wedding would, of course, have been Karan, Neetu’s young nephew. Mama Singh had bought him an entire wardrobe from London and special decorative bells for pet, Tanya. At nights when the ladies of the house played dholkis, the mother and daughter had weeping sessions. Neetu said, “I’m very attached to Tanya and it would have been lovely if I could take her with me as a part of my trousseau, but mummy would never allow it.”
“N-e-v-e-r,” added Mrs. Singh emphatically. “Do I want to die? The house will be empty and lonely once my daughter is married. I need Tanya. For the last many years, since Do Kaliyan, it’s been a hectic life - shootings, dubbing, outdoors. Moreover, the wedding preparations have kept me so occupied, that the contrast will be unbearable. Much as I wish the sun, moon and world for my daughter, I tremble at the mere thought of parting.” Her lips went dry as she spoke, and all the shining diamonds failed to light up her pale face. She cheered up the very next minute. “She’ll be in the same city, at least. She’ll be dropping by time and again. Due to sentimental reasons, I’ve decided to leave her room as it is. Everything - her cupboards, her drawers - nothing will be shuffled. She’ll be visiting us and then, of course, she’ll have kids. I am waiting for that.”
An akhand paath, a ritual the family believes in was in progress for three days at Kesar Villa, their new bungalow. Guests from up North were put in the same bungalow. In the evening there were great gab-sessions. On lohdi-di-raat, they lit a campfire and sang folk songs. It was noise all around. A fat woman with a child tucked at her waist... Another woman with a gaudy duppatta, chanted shlokas. A little child, played on the carpet with flower petals. And finally, Mama Singh in a pretty pink saree, looked indefatigably tired.
In the office downstairs, Rishi’s childhood friend described the R.K. cottage as a madhouse. “Anyone who enters the house is drowned with work. Everyone is screaming because nobody can cope with the tension. Papaji (Raj Kapoor) does not get very excited, but Bhabhiji (Krishna Kapoor) is hyper and by the time the wedding is over, she’ll be a bundle of nerves. Her blood pressure shoots while organising a small dinner party - you can imagine how the tension must be these days. Rishi, of course, takes the cake. Unconcerned with all the preparations, he is busy with his shooting.”
“Exactly like me,” chuckled Neetu. “I’ve not helped a wee bit in the preparation. Not even in my own shopping. Mummy has chosen my entire trousseau. These days I’m observing maieeya - it’s a custom where in the to be bride is deliberately under dressed before the wedding so that she looks ravishing on the big day. Unfortunately, I’ve had to wear make-up for my shootings but I believe that these traditions have a meaning. I adore the chooda we are supposed to wear for a month. Thank God no tradition censors phone calls. If I don’t speak to him. I can’t live. I can’t concentrate. I can’t work.”
Nor can Rishi it seems. All these days he had been sending Neetu a bouquet of roses every day through his chauffeur, Tukaram.
“It’s overwhelming the way everyone is being supportive. All my directors are going out of their way to accommodate my dates. All my close-ups have been adjusted without my co-stars. If somewhere just the arm is seen in the frame, somewhere it is just the shoulder or the back. It’s hilarious and I’m going to die laughing when I see these films. Today, because Aruna Irani is in Madras, I am shooting with her double. For Ganga Meri Maa, we had to shoot the climax and both Shatru and Amjad were not available. It was a hopeless situation and I thought the director would give up. Instead, he put both the men in masks, so that he could use their doubles. Also to maintain the mood of suspense, he put me in a burkha. Isn’t he intelligent? Most of these films were started long ago but got stuck. Still, my producers are full of blessings for me. They say, “Had it not been for you...” I feel the reverse: “Had it not been for them...” After all, they could have easily said, what does she mean by she won’t shoot? What about the vast sums we’ve invested? But all of them are going out of their way and willingly, too. I’m very touched...
“I feel heroines wanting to marry should plan their dates in advance. That’s if they don’t wish to continue working after marriage. The problems begin because they quit irresponsibly. Then they complain that producers don’t have a heart. Its about having a temperament to cope with home as well career. I don’t. I’m very clear that even if I had to work just for one month after marriage, I wouldn’t have been able to cope. Everyone asks me if I am nervous about the marriage. I’m tense, but not insecure or uncertain. I’ve known him for seven years. What more adjustments could it entail? And even if there are, I am most willing. For two years until we have bought and decorated a home of our own, we’ll be living at Chembur with his parents. Even Dabboo and Babita did that. After seven years of romance, this would be refreshing for the relationship. Besides, bhabhi said that those two years were the best years of her life. My in-laws are great at fussing over you. This is my only opportunity to get to know them better.” What about her honeymoon? “Hawaii and Singapore,” she said blushing.
Six months ago, shooting for the last day for Dhan Daulat, Neetu had been at her lowest ebb, feeling depressed and in the dumps. When she packed up, she told her fiance in a voice which was barely a whisper. “It’s the last day today.” He had not answered and her hurt had only deepened. Next morning, he phoned her and chirped, “Wake up to our new life. And don’t talk of lasts. This is only the beginning.”
It’s the beginning of the happily-ever-after of a relationship which evolved against all odds, surviving the blows, torments and storms of scandals that all celebrated affairs are exposed to! The Neetu-Rishi romance has been a romance, everyone has identified with and blessed. Somewhere, all of us want a happy ending. That’s why even outsiders like HMV are doing their cheery bit for the dream couple. They’ve made a special LP with all Neetu and Rishi’s hit songs together, to be released on their wedding day. The label reads. “MAD(E) for each other - our dreams, our songs.”
It has the dream-like ethereal reality of a fairy tale, strains of a soft serenade wafting through the dream, unbroken even by the stroke of midnight, when Cinderella usually had to rush home. On January 16, 1980, Neetu stopped work, and rushed home. She made sure not to leave behind her glass slipper, so no courtiers are going to rush after her.