In search of the artiste

January 07, 2018 12:00 am | Updated 03:31 am IST

A daughter remembers her auteur father

May 2, 1988. Despite his health having made it inadvisable for him to travel, Raj Kapoor soldiered on to the Siri Fort to receive his Dadasaheb Phalke award. As he was accepting it, an asthma attack overpowered him . A month later, he was dead. In death, as in life, his king-sized persona played out in full public view.

The career of Ranbir Raj Kapoor, which peaked during the heady days of the Nehruvian era with Awara , and troughed at the time of the post-Nehruvian gloom with Mera Naam Joker , is part of modern Indian history. His popularity in former Soviet Union is stuff of legend. His association with his leading ladies like Nargis, Padmini and Vyjayanthimala has made for numerous articles. His obsession with nudity — he called it muqaddas uriyan (sacred nudity) — is discernible to anyone visiting his films. So what space can a re-published book aspire to fill? This biography by Ritu Nanda, Kapoor’s daughter, claims to be a “complete study” but leaves an average cinephile disappointed.

Nonetheless, its narrative style deserves appreciation. It collates material available in Kapoor’s own words and is interspersed with reflections from his family members. It feels like Nanda is hand-holding her father as he revisits his past. However, the finished product reads more like an introduction to Raj Kapoor for those who do not know him.

In Kapoor’s own lifetime, books like Prahlad Aggarwal’s Aadhi Haqeeqat Aadha Fasana documented his tradecraft . Much later, Madhu Jain’s The Kapoors touched on some difficult topics like Kapoor’s complex relationship with his father Prithviraj.

However, none of the books answered some vital questions. Kapoor had an excellent sense of music visualisation. But, we only have a cursory knowledge of how he developed this acumen and how it evolved from the grandeur of Awara to the rusticity of Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai and beyond.

The relationship of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas — the mind behind Awara , Shree 420 and Mera Naam Joker — with Kapoor is one subject that deserves an extensive study.

How did Abbas, an intellectual, a prolific writer, and an agnostic, come to form a fruitful partnership with Kapoor, an extremely superstitious individual whose reading habits did not extend beyond Archie comics? What were the core principles that guided their association?

Further, not much has been written on Kapoor’s approach to his own films vis-à-vis those of the other directors with whom he worked. Abbas directed him in films like Anhonee and Char Dil Char Rahen . Ramesh Saigal and Hrishikesh Mukherjee gave Kapoor his best-acted roles in Phir Subah Hogi and Anari .

Without a detailed look into what made Kapoor — a blue-eyed, woolly-headed dreamer — a true auteur, books on him are bound to be guilty of repeating the broad outlines of his life. And that would amount to doing his art a great disservice.

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