Rishi Kapoor, Chintu to his friends, passed away in Mumbai on Thursday. To those of my generation, Rishi was the romantic superstar, the heart-throb, the lover boy, who sang, 'Mein shayar toh nahin…' and millions swooned. He danced to 'Bachna ae haseeno…' and millions went crazy.
He gyrated to, 'Aa dekhen zara kisme kitna hai dum…' and millions started to sway with him. He sang, 'Om Shanti Om…' and millions went into a trance with him. And when he proudly (and shamelessly) proclaimed, 'Khullam khulla pyar karenge hum dono…” millions of Romeo-Juliets went delirious with joy.
I was perhaps in class six when Bobby released in 1973. A balcony ticket which in those days used to sell for Rs.3 (yes, no typo there, Rs.3), was said to be selling for Rs.100 in the black market.
Whether it was the charm of Dimple Kapadia or the appeal of young Rishi Kapoor, or a bit of both, I don’t really know. But Bobby was a blockbuster, the likes of which had not been seen in a very long time… especially with raw newcomers. I finally got to see the movie in perhaps the fourth week. I was mesmerised. I sneaked back to see Bobby one more time, without my parents knowledge, the next week again. Rishi Kapoor on his mini-Rajdoot motorbike was in Bobby the epitome of everything everyone of my generation wanted to be, and to have: a gorgeous girlfriend, chocolate boy good looks and a rich father! The cult of Rishi got bigger and bigger with Rafoo Chakkar, Amar Akbar Anthony, Khel Khel Mein, Laila Majnu, Hum Kisise Kum Nahin, Kabhi Kabhi, Doosra Aadmi, Sargam and Karz. Though my personal favourite by far was Ek Chaadar Maili Si which was very close to my Punjabi roots. Rishi was the true inheritor to the Kapoor khandaan’s legacy, the true son of his father Raj Kapoor.
I first met Rishi in 2001 when I was group CEO of Zee TV. He was one of the potential anchors shortlisted for Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, our Indian re-make of This Is Your Life. We had a good chat, but Rishi somehow did not see himself on television, despite the phenomenal success of Amitabh Bachchan on Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC). I thought Rishi would bring his signature joie de vivre and his charm to the show. He had pedigree, he had the stardom, he had the stature, he had all the credentials. But Rishi was hesitant; he continued to dither. His reluctance forced us to look elsewhere. Farouq Sheikh eventually took the role.
I think Rishi’s career in a manner of speaking went into a kind of hiatus post Chandni in 1989. Sure he did Bol Radha Bol, Damini and Karobaar in the 1990s, and then did roles in Hum Tum, Fanaa, Namastey London, Love Aaj Kal,and Delhi-6 but Rishi during this period of nearly 20 years lost some of his charm, and aura, that he had in the 1970s and 1980s. He did shine in his own way in Hum Tum and Love Aaj Kal, especially the latter, but a couple of generations of brand managers kind of never witnessed his magic on the screen.
KBC gave Big B’s personal brand both a big refresh, and a big boost. The Angry Youngman of the 1970s by the year 2000 was a genial uncle, supportive, helpful, friendly and charming. The aura of the past was there, the legacy was there, but a new persona had replaced the Amitabh Bachchan of an earlier generation. The older, newer avatar was wiser, kinder, friendlier. And that is the avatar that Brand Big B has portrayed to brand owners for the past two decades. So, if you thought your brand needed to be seen as trustworthy or reliable or dependable, you just dialed Mr. Bachchan to sign him up. Others of his generation… Rajesh Khanna, Jitender, Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna, Anil Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor were just nowhere in contention.
Rishi Kapoor’s effective comeback started with Agneepath, then Student of The Year, D-Day, Do Dooni Char, Kapoor & Sons, 102 Not Out, Rajma Chawal and even Mulk … Rishi Kapoor in this second innings was seen to be fun, charming, humorous, loved-by-all, carefree, pedigreed, friendly, rich but perhaps advertisers were looking for trust, reliability, respect and yes, most importantly gravitas. A light-hearted old man, somewhat prone to gaining weight, and with a penchant for good fun somehow didn’t quite appeal to brands and agencies. Wonder why.
Just before the lockdown, I included Rishi in atleast two pitch decks to clients looking for older brand ambassadors. Anil Kapoor, with his recent success with Spotify merited some discussion; Boman Irani was weighed as an option; Rishi did not find favour. Big B remained on top despite my repeatedly pointing out that he was overexposed and in just too many ads.
I don’t really remember if Rishi Kapoor did any major ads. If memory serves me right he did feature in a forgettable ad for Kabzend, a laxative brand of Mankind Pharma. Nothing much else. Which is really a pity. Rishi, with his love for good food (and drink!), would have worked wonders for Cadbury’s or Nestle or Fortune or Britannia or any of the various brands of namkeens, snacks and more. With wife Neetu, they could’ve easily sold some luxury brands with their pedigree and panache. The marketing world was just not fair to Rishi Kapoor. Perhaps his second coming came too late. Perhaps Big B was far too entrenched and far too trusted. Perhaps his fun and charm were not fully appreciated. His genial, jolly good self somehow failed to charm marketers. Alas!
Dr. Sandeep Goyal is a specialist in the study of Celebrities as Human Brands.