Spoilers Ahead by Rajeev Masand: With stars in our eyes

Someone wise once said – Don’t meet your heroes. The logic being that they will inevitably fail to live up to your expectations. On Rishi Kapoor’s second death anniversary recently, I was reminded of my first interaction with the actor I had grown up admiring.

In the early ’90s, Rajeev Masand was a proud Rishi Kapoor fan. “When I met him, he was brash, opinionated, and – believe it or not – charming,” he writes.

In the late 80s and early 90s, when everyone around me was subscribed to the cult of Amitabh Bachchan, I was the proud Rishi Kapoor fan. He was charming. In Saagar, Chandni, Deewana, Bol Radha Bol, and Damini, he’d not only displayed remarkable versatility, but had also managed to retain his leading man status as newer generations of heroes arrived. Chintu, as he was affectionately called, was a fine actor, and a consummate movie star who enjoyed living a full life.

When I first got to interview him in the early 2000s, some years had passed since he’d last played the leading man. He had transitioned into a supporting player in Raju Chacha, Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi, and Hum Tum. His was no longer the first name on the call sheet. And yet nothing about his demeanour suggested that he was willing to fade into the background.

He had tried his hand at direction (Aa Ab Laut Chalein, 1999) and had realised he just didn’t have the patience for it. When I asked if he’d ever go behind the camera again, he told me, with a straight face, that he hadn’t worked 30 years in the movies so he could be at the mercy of Aishwarya Rai and when she’d be ready to step out of her vanity van and give the shot. Ouch.

Rishi Kapoor was just as brash, opinionated, and – believe it or not – charming as one had expected him to be. In 2009, he called me after going through my review of Vishal Bhardwaj’s brilliant film Kaminey and demanded to know what I had enjoyed so much about it. I told him it was edgy and smart and had great performances. “Didn’t you think so?” I asked.

Talking Star Wars with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in 2019 was something eight-year-old me could never have dreamt of.

“I might have liked it if I could see anything on screen,” he barked, referring to the deliberately dark lighting style, devised to treat the film as a true noir.

On another occasion when I called to ask if he’d please do a short interview about Laxmikant-Pyarelal and their contribution to his father’s RK Films banner, he agreed and summoned me to the studio in Chembur the same afternoon. I explained that my producer, not I, would be there to conduct the interview. Calmly, he replied: “Okay, then ask him to come and interview my driver.” Of course, I went across and recorded the interview myself later that day.

The only other time I remember being starstruck was when I flew to Tokyo to interview Mark Hamill for The Rise of Skywalker in 2019. For as long as I can remember I was obsessed with Star Wars. Entering that room to talk Star Wars with Luke fricking Skywalker was something the eight-year-old me could never have dreamt of.

I was professional throughout the interview. When it was over, I said, “Thank you for bringing so much joy into our lives.” He had clearly heard such things before. He stood up, put his arm over my shoulders and asked a handler to take a picture on my phone. The rest is a blur.

Don’t believe anyone who says you shouldn’t meet your heroes. Go out and find them. Tell them what they meant to you. You only live once.

From HT Brunch, May 20, 2023

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