When the family was in full bloom, Raj Kapoor was once asked who his favourite child was. The father of two daughters and three sons had pointed to how the child that lagged behind always had a special place in his mother’s heart. “Similarly, my heart beats specially for Chimpu (Rajiv Kapoor),” he’d replied, the sadness evident in his candour.
That was how the world that knew the Kapoors also saw Chimpu. As one who deserved better.
But fate had handed him a stark resemblance to his uncle Shammi Kapoor. “I have some of his mannerisms too. Natural, not cultivated,” Chimpu had said to me in an interview that was pulled out of cold storage and aired on the 9th after he succumbed to a cardiac arrest. Conducted in traditional style, where the journalist stayed out of the frame and spotlighted only the interviewee, Rajiv had spoken beautifully on the Kapoors and his career as one from the famous family. That interview on YouTube, which quickly crossed one lakh views, summed up his story — it didn’t get that much attention in his lifetime.
It was poignant. Shashi Kapoor too had an uncanny resemblance to his father Prithviraj Kapoor; Chimpu had even grown up thinking it was Shashi Uncle in the film Sikander until he was old enough to understand that it was his dadaji and not his chacha. That resemblance had, however, not muddied Shashi Kapoor’s prospects as he became a charmer with a personality of his own.
Raj Kapoor had watched his youngest with a lump in his heart. When the 20-year-old was offered Ek Jaan Hain Hum (1983) by family friends the F.C. Mehras, his father had cheered him on to make a career outside the RK banner.
But it was disastrous. “I was made to perform like Shammi Uncle, even the songs and scenes were showcased like they’d be for Shammi Kapoor,” Rajiv said in that interview. A few more had come along, all playing up the Shammi resemblance. “I didn’t realise that I had to carve an image for myself,” he accepted.
His son’s predicament was not lost on Raj Kapoor, evident when he cast him in Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985) and asked Chimpu at the end of its making, “Do you see yourself resembling Shammi Kapoor anywhere in this film?” However, there was but one Raj Kapoor and he too passed away three years later. Luckless Chimpu floundered.
It’s with great warmth that one recalls the lovely times spent at the night shoots of Prem Granth (1996) where Chimpu was being bolstered by his brothers to turn director. But there was desperation when that attempt too was a failure.
By the time he wed Aarti Sabharwal in 2001, the whole family had its fingers crossed for him. “Pray for my brother,” said his sister Rima at the wedding. But without Raj Kapoor’s magnetic presence, there was no magic in the gathering. And, like Chimpu’s career, the marriage too was disastrous.
Except that success eluded him, in all other ways, Chimpu was a typical Kapoor: fond of food and drink, had a way with women. Just last week, this column had spoken of Padmini Kolhapure’s colourful family tree; Chimpu was Pandhi’s first teenage infatuation when she was the heroine of Prem Rog (1982) and he, as Raj Kapoor’s assistant, was the son waiting in the wings for stardom. Later, his fling with Congress-member Nagma was more passionate and physical.
It’s a wrench that a T-Series film where he played father to a young hero, was ready for a 2020 release but had to be pushed because of the lockdown. He didn’t live long enough to see himself make a comeback to acting.
Four years ago, we’d partied with Chimpu at Neil Nitin Mukesh’s wedding. Coincidentally, he passed away on February 9, Neil’s wedding anniversary.
In 2007, when we did that interview, mom Krishna Kapoor had laid out a customary spread for the whole crew.
The bungalow isn’t the same anymore. Goodbye to cosy times. RIP Chimpu, it was truly good knowing the affable you.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author