'In the presence of Raj Kapoor, even the sun set quickly', says Aditya Raj Kapoor- EXCLUSIVE
On Raj Kapoor’s 34th death anniversary, ‘part-time actor and full-time biker’, nephew Aditya Raj Kapoor shares memories of the Showman.
Aditya Raj Kapoor, son of the famed Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali, has walked a prismatic path. His has been a many-splendored innings from building amusement parks, biking, and even authoring the book, Quest, documenting his ride from Mumbai to Russia. An adventurist, he follows no map, only the compass of his heart.
And much of this desire to unravel himself can be traced to the intangible ‘Raj Kapoor influence’ in his life. Someone, whose presence was like a signpost for young Aditya through the tumultuous curves in his early years.
Like… when ‘Taya uncle’ (Raj Kapoor) and wife Krishna tenderly looked after young Aditya and sister Kanchan when their mother, Geeta Bali, fell gravely ill.
When as a child he played in the precincts of R.K.Studio, Aditya’s sensibilities were quietly sculpted, thanks to the formidable legacy around him.
Or when Raj Kapoor as a filmmaker took Aditya under his wings, alluding how art is culled from life, from love, from loss, and even that reassuring ‘hug’ from the patriarch, when Aditya abruptly chucked it all at the behest of his Guruji, was all about benevolence.
Raj Kapoor was larger-than-life. His energy was too infectious to evade. His charisma too magnetic to circumvent. Decades later, when Aditya revived his romance with the camera, directing boutique films like Sambar Salsa, Don’t Stop Dreaming, and acting in Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji, Yamla Pagla Deewana 2, and Warrior Savitri among others, he perhaps drew from what Raj Kapoor had inadvertently bequeathed to him during those years.
On Raj Kapoor’s 34th death anniversary, Aditya Raj Kapoor looks back fondly at ‘Taya uncle’.
What are your earliest memories of uncle Raj Kapoor?
As a child, I addressed Rajji as ‘Taya uncle’. He was extremely affectionate towards us kids. Even if he was in a busy moment, he’d tear away and meet us immediately. He was fun during festivals. There was colour and gaiety around him. In those moments, he became a child. Around seven to eight children from Prithvirajji’s (Kapoor) sons that is Rajji, my father Shammiji (Kapoor) and Shashiji (Kapoor), and daughter Urmilaji (Sial Kapoor), were born close to each other. I spent a great deal of my childhood in Raj uncle’s house, under the love and attention of his wife and my aunt Krishnaji (Kapoor).
Tell us something about the late Krishna Raj Kapoor.
I affectionately called her Baji. Everyone called her ‘Bhabiji’. I shortened it to Baji. It stayed for a lifetime. Baji was my mother-in-the-gaps. She took care of me like her own. We would often play at the RK Studio. I remember when Jis Des Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960) was completed and the wooden rifle props became redundant, Raj uncle let us play cops and robbers with it. So we cousins and friends would assemble at RK, go to the dress department and get our weapons.
Raj uncle would be working in his cottage. We’d go and have sandwiches with him. My awe for him grew from the great respect with which my father treated him. Whenever we stayed in Raj uncle’s house, we’d all dine together. He’d be seated at the head of the table. He was a generous man. He made sure we ate well. Of course, Baji made sure that he made sure.
It’s said that when your mother (Geeta Bali) passed away, Raj and Krishna supported your father greatly
It was an extremely sad moment. The grief hit me a month later. My mother fell sick in the last part of December 1964. She was diagnosed with smallpox. My sister Kanchan and I were promptly shifted to Raj uncle’s house a week later. We stayed there and played there, not knowing what was happening. I was nine and my sister was five. Raj uncle and Baji protected us both. For some reason, I remember seeing a lot of him those days. I guess they realized I’d lose my mother soon.
One late evening, my dad came back from somewhere and took the two of us to a quiet corner of the house and told us simply that our mother had passed away. He was upfront with us. It didn’t make much of a difference right then as within some time I had to leave for my boarding in Simla. It hit me when I went to school and everyone began giving me condolences.
Back home, Raj uncle and Krishnaji looked after dad for almost six months. She refused to let him budge out of the house for weeks together as he was running a fever. She took care of him like a child. I learnt all this as I grew up.
Much later, You assisted Raj Kapoor during Bobby (1973) and Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978). Were you intimidated by him?
Hahahaha. Intimidated? That’s pretty mild. In the presence of Raj Kapoor, even the sun set quickly! It’s not that he was a violent or aggressive man. He was extremely focused and you had to match his force. The beauty was that he could reach across to all. From big directors to humble peons, he could communicate with each one. He could sit down on his farm in Loni (Pune) and discuss with the Panchayat head about growing flowers there in time for a shoot. He had absolutely no airs.
He never explained things like a teacher. He wanted you to make a run for your own education. But he watched what you were doing and kept a score. He would let me enter his edit room at the farm and help him. Just the two of us. He trusted me enough to let me do some corrections on my own. You had to prove yourself. You had to win his trust. For that, you had to work absolutely hard.
After the debacle of Mera Naam Joker (1970), was he nervous about Bobby’s fate at the box office?
I didn’t do much of Bobby. I joined when Bobby was entering the final edits. I joined Randhir (Kapoor) on Dharam Karam (1975) and after that switched over to Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Yes, there was a need for him to prove that he could resurrect himself once again. But he was calm. If he was nervous, he kept it under cover.
Satyam Shivam Sundaram was shot on his farm in Loni. something about the picturesque locale.
Oh, this was a lovely period for me! Acres and acres of pure farmland, almost touching the river along with a lovely villa. It was the ideal locale for setting up a village. The film progressed with the seasons. So Rajji planned the scenes with flowers blooming and things like that in keeping with the changing seasons. We even had our own make-believe waterfall. He made a separate bungalow for the assistants. A sunrise shot was filmed early in the morning. So work began in the dark. After the scene was completed, we were done for the day. We could then chill. Blue skies above and Raj Kapoor on the ground… It was a beautiful school indeed.
A special memory associated with Satyam Shivam Sundaram…
During the monsoons, the river water flooded the land and the temples got submerged. Raj uncle was in Mumbai. But he told us to get a camera, use duplicates and shoot the ending of the film.
What did you learn from him as a filmmaker and actor?
I learnt many things from him both in terms of direction and acting. Like, the film is made on the edit table, so you work in reverse. Shoot with natural light when possible. Know the mathematics and science of camerawork. The era of broad lighting was over so he used a cut light to highlight something. He believed in looking after the staff as they made the film.
As an actor, there were basic things to keep in mind like ‘look good-feel good-and you do good’. Keep your lips open, show your teeth, or else you’ll appear grimacing. Learn your lines. (Laughs) And if you’ve forgotten to get your particular pair of shoes, never mind. No one looks at them (this was especially for Shashi uncle as he was so handsome).
How different were the brothers – Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, and Shashi Kapoor – from each other?
Oh, completely different as their tools of the trade were different. Raj uncle was the showman and director. Shammiji was a music lover and dancer. Shashiji was too handsome. He didn’t need to talk. Shashiji was generous too. After a day’s work, he’d take us for rides and dinners, knowing we needed some fresh air.
The Holi parties were legendary. Any memories?
Yes, it was a riot of colour, musical chaos with old friends pouring in by the minute, with the family all over. The predominant colour was red. We wore white so that the colour could be seen well.
Raj Kapoor was a foodie. Something his meals had to include?
Crab! Apart from that, he loved simple yet tasty food. Our evening tiffin came from a restaurant in Chembur and another one in Sion. Sometimes, Raj uncle would himself visit the restaurants with all of us for an evening snack. It was great fun to be part of this glamorous and hungry entourage.
You were supposed to be launched by the RK banner.
What was his advice when you decided to quit films as guided by your Guruji?
Hahaha… when I quit, I just ran away. I didn’t meet Raj uncle for months. I was so scared that he’d be angry and justifiably so. I didn’t get close enough to get advice or seek any. I made a clean break, which was needed. The world I stepped out of and the world I stepped into existed on different planets. Then one day, after three months, we met each other in an elevator. As the doors opened, I realized that Raj uncle was inside. I had to get in. He was looking at me. I got in and hugged him. He hugged me back. I cried. I’d got back to ‘Taya uncle’.
Raj Kapoor collapsed when he was about to receive the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1988 and was subsequently hospitalized in Delhi never to recover
A sad moment! I did visit him in Delhi during that period (between May-June 1988) when he was hospitalized (he was treated for asthma at the Apollo Hospital). The family kept going up and down. Finally, I was asked to stay back in Mumbai to receive the bier (Raj Kapoor passed away on 2 June 1988) as the chartered plane touched down in Mumbai. I couldn’t believe that an era was over. But he lives on in his movies.
In retrospect, a remarkable trait he possessed.
Sometimes, he forgot he was Raj Kapoor. That’s why he could listen to another voice.
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