Raj Kapoor would’ve been 99 on the 14th of this month. But in place of the lusty celebrations that used to bring the whole industry together, the last piece of his iconic RK bungalow has gone under the hammer. Instead of party lights, jaunty cars and an overflowing bar, demolition cranes, site engineers and hard hats will overrun the place that RK had bought from the Hitkari family and turned into a landmark.
This is where RK had stood in 1969 to receive chief ministers and commissioners as the father of bride Ritu, who wed industrialist Rajan Nanda. As the calendar turned to the 70s, the bridal couples changed. Son Randhir and Babita had their turn and then Rishi and Neetu, but the venue and the host remained at the post.
An invite to the December 14 celebrations was like the door to stardom had opened. The birthday boy would hold fort spiritedly in one corner of the lawn, from where he hardly moved. “I invite, Krishna does the rest,” he’d say. Indeed, Krishna, her daughters and her daughters-in-law, especially Neetu, were the hosts on their toes. There was an RK rule. Once a guest asked for a drink, you could never again enquire about his preference — that detail had to be filed away.
Krishna had her own rules too. Whether you stepped in for a photo session with Chintu or Chimpu, you and the crew couldn’t leave without helping yourself from a laden table.
As December 14 nears and the bungalow is but a memory, nostalgia lingers. “It’s sad, all gone, only memories left,” Rima Jain, the youngest daughter who has seen it all and feels it all, is wistful. Randhir, her only living sibling, is in a mental cloud of his own, not much of the change registers anymore.
But it had to happen. This is where all of us had trooped in to bid farewell to RK in 1988 as he lay still in the large living room. Ritu, Chintu, Chimpu, Krishna, the studio, the bungalow, everything’s history.
On the one hand is a heart-tug of the past. On the other are hearty cheers of the new as Ranbir’s Animal is the biggest blockbuster of his life, his little girl Raha has taken her first step and nephew Agastya has embarked on his career.
This December the spirits are high again as the Kapoors gathered in Mumbai for Ritu’s grandson Agastya’s debut premiere night of The Archies. In his first interview, Agastya had named grandma Ritu as the person he really looked up to. As people know, Amitabh Bachchan’s daughter Shweta’s marriage to Ritu’s son Nikhil turned the Nandas, the Bachchans and the Kapoors into one big family and all of them were there for Agastya. Octogenarian Neila Shammi Kapoor, now the oldest in the family, said that with everybody in the city, each one was taking turns at playing host, “You know how we Kapoors are.” Always ready to party and Christmas — when the large Kapoor clan gathers for lunch — is around the corner too.
In a link between what’s gone by and what’s happening now, there’s a “Thank you” to Neila Shammi Kapoor in the end credits of The Archies. A magazine with Shammi Kapoor on the cover features in a beauty parlour scene in the film. Mrs Kapoor was surprised to find her name in the credits. “That was so sweet of Zoya. She’s my husband’s fan and had asked me for the magazine from my collection,” she said.
Irrespective of the reception to The Archies, the arrival of the film precisely when the RK bungalow stands demolished is a poignant reminder of the cycle of life. While the house where grandma Ritu grew up and got married comes down, the clan rises to cheer grandson Agastya as he steps out into the world.
The old order changeth.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author