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To go back to Amitabh, I must confess there is still a lingering issue I have with Amitabh Bachchan. A big disadvantage of working in an all-star movie in those days was that everybody only wanted to make action films, which automatically meant that the star who could carry off action with the most flair would get the meatiest part. That's how, with the exception of Kabhi Kabhie, which was a romantic film, none of the multi-starrers I featured in had an author-backed role for me. Directors and writers unfailingly reserved their strongest, pivotal roles for Amitabh Bachchan. And it wasn't just me. Shashi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna faced it too.
Amitabh is undeniably a superb actor, immensely talented and, at the time, the number one star who ruled the box-office. He was an action hero, the angry young man. So roles were written for him. Although we may have been smaller stars, we were not lesser actors. Yet, the rest of us had to constantly measure up to him. We had to work hard, really exert ourselves to match up. In my time, the musical/romantic hero had no place. Amitabh was an action hero in an era of action films. As such, writers gave him the lion's share and he had the authorbacked roles in almost all his films. This gave him an advantage over the rest of us who had to make our presence felt with whatever we got.
But this is something that Amitabh has never ever admitted to, in any interview or book. He has never given due credit to the actors who have worked with him. He has always credited his writers and directors, Salim-Javed, Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Yash Chopra and Ramesh Sippy. But it is also true that his co-stars had an undeniable role in his success. Shashi Kapoor in Deewaar (1975), Rishi Kapoor in Amar Akbar Anthony and Coolie or Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and Dharmendra all contributed to the success of his films where they shared credit with him, even if in secondary roles. This is something no one has realized or acknowledged.
But it was the way things were and we accepted it gracefully. Not because we considered ourselves inferior actors but because tedha sikka chal raha tha (that was the coin of the day). It cannot happen today. No Khan works with another Khan. Nobody is willing to work with any other hero on such unequal terms. Today, if Shah Rukh Khan is ruling the roost, Salman, Aamir or Hrithik will not accept a secondary role. Vinod Khanna was damn good in Khoon Pasina, Shatrughan Sinha shone in Kaala Patthar, Shashi uncle was superb in Kabhi Kabhie. But if they remained unappreciated, it was because they were working at a disadvantage. But still we worked together amicably.
Few actors in Hindi cinema have had this sort of a career arc: from the gawky adolescent pining for his schoolteacher (Mera Naam Joker, 1970) to the naughty ninety-year-old (Kapoor and Sons, 2016), Rishi Kapoor has regaled audiences for close to fifty years. He won a National Award for his debut, became an overnight sensation with his first film as a leading man (Bobby, 1973), and carved a niche for himself with a string of romantic musical blockbusters in an era known for its angst-ridden films. He was the youth icon that is still the toast of the satellite TV circuit. The songs he lip-synced are the bread and butter of all radio stations even today. Then there was the second coming after a brief hiatus in the 1990s - as one of the finest actors in mainstream Hindi cinema with powerhouse performances in films like Do Dooni Chaar, D-Day, Agneepath and others.
Characteristically candid, Rishi Kapoor brings Punjabi brio to the writing of Khullam Khulla. This is as up close and personal a biography as any fan could have hoped for. He writes about growing up in the shadow of a legendary father, skipping school to act in Mera Naam Joker, the workings of the musical hits of the era, his streak of rotten luck with awards, an encounter with Dawood Ibrahim, his heroines (their working relationship, the gossip and the frisson that was sometimes real), his approach to his craft, his tryst with clinical depression, and more. A heart-warming afterword by Neetu Singh rounds off the warmest, most dil se biography an Indian star has ever penned.
Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins