Rishi Kapoor on meeting Dawood Ibrahim, swatting off Salim-Javed, and Ranbir Kapoor

In his richly anecdotal memoir ‘Khullam Khulla’, the veteran actor is frank about sipping tea with the don and his emotional distance from his son.

Actor Rishi Kapoor’s autobiography Khullam Khulla, named after the popular song from his 1975 hit Khel Khel Mein, is a frank and often humourous look back on his life and career. The memoir is packed with anecdotes about Kapoor’s encounters with famous and infamous people, including the fugitive criminal Dawood Ibrahim. Kapoor also honestly discusses his relationship with his son, actor Ranbir Kapoor, in these edited excerpts.

‘You have the guts to refuse Salim-Javed?’

…I was in Bangalore for the release of Bobby and was free one evening with nothing to do.

Someone mentioned to me that a film called Sholay was being shot near Bangalore and that the crew was staying at Bangalore International Hotel, so I went across. I didn’t know anyone as I was still new to films. I ordered a cola – I wasn’t into alcohol back then – and looked around with interest. The first person I noticed was a strange man sitting at the bar and looking at me with what seemed like disdain. I didn’t quite understand what he wanted from me.

A little later, he came up to me and asked, ‘Are you Rishi Kapoor?’

He introduced himself as Javed Akhtar. He could have been the king of England for all I cared. Besides, Salim–Javed had not yet become the Salim–Javed. I knew they had written a few films like Zanjeer and Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973) but I wasn’t in awe of them.

Javed continued, ‘You must be very happy that Bobby is such a huge hit.’

I replied, ‘Yakeenan, I am.’

Mubarak ho,’ he said, congratulating me. ‘Bobby bahut kamaal ki hit hai (Bobby is a great hit). Par yaad rakhiyega (Please remember) that we’re in 1973. In the year 1972, we had Yaadon Ki Baaraat, in ’73 we wrote Zanjeer, in ’74 we will present Haath Ki Safaai (it starred Vinod Khanna, Randhir Kapoor and Simi Garewal and turned out to be another huge success) and in 1975 we will release such a film that if it makes a profit of even a rupee less than Bobby, I will break the nib of my pen. I will never again write in my life.’

The man was drunk to the gills but his confidence was phenomenal. Bobby had done unprecedented business and to predict that an unreleased film would break its record or else he would quit his profession was brave, if not foolhardy.

A few years later, Salim–Javed wanted me to work in Trishul, directed by Yash Chopra. They offered me the role that eventually went to Sachin, but I said no. I must be the first and only actor in the history of Hindi cinema to have refused Salim–Javed at their peak. Kabhi Kabhie had been released by then. Ramesh Talwar (erstwhile AD to Yash Chopra) had become a friend; I was already doing his film Doosra Aadmi, which Yash-ji was producing. And I was on excellent terms with Yash-ji too. But I turned down Trishul because I didn’t like the way the role had shaped up. Salim and Javed bristled at my rejection and the animosity bubbled to the surface when I encountered Salim Khan at Playmate Club (which used to be in Hotel Sea Rock in Mumbai) a few days later.

I was playing a game of snooker when Salim sa’ab walked over and asked me, ‘How did you have the guts to refuse Salim–Javed?’

Not one to be intimidated, I shot back, ‘I didn’t like the role.’ Salim sa’ab boasted to me, ‘Do you know that to this day nobody has said no to us? We can destroy your career.’

‘What can you do to finish me?’ I demanded.

He said, ‘Who will work with you? You know, we had offered Zanjeer to Rajesh Khanna and he turned us down. We didn’t do anything to him but we created an alternative to him, a hero called Amitabh Bachchan, who destroyed Rajesh Khanna. We will do the same to you.’

Later, I starred in Amar Akbar Anthony, which broke many box-office records while a film called Imaan Dharam, written by Salim–Javed and directed by Desh Mukherjee, bit the dust at the box-office. It was such a dud that people started saying, ‘Salim–Javed ki film flop ho gayi.’

Tea with Dawood Ibrahim

The year was 1988, a time when mobile phones were unknown to us in India. I had landed in Dubai with my closest friend, Bittu Anand, for an Asha Bhosle–R.D. Burman night. Dawood always had a man at the airport to keep him posted on VIP movement in and out of the UAE.

When I was leaving the airport, a stranger walked up to me and handed me a phone. He said, ‘Dawood sa’ab baat karenge (Dawood sa’ab would like to talk to you).’ Obviously, this was before the 1993 blasts in Mumbai and I didn’t think of Dawood as a fugitive on the run. He wasn’t an enemy of the state yet. Or, at least, that was the impression I had. Dawood welcomed me to Dubai and said, ‘If there is anything you need, just let me know.’ He also invited me to his house.

I was staying at the Hyatt Regency in Dubai on that trip and Dawood’s airport man would regularly drop in to use the gym there. Then I was introduced to a fair, pudgy guy who looked British. This was Baba, the second-in-command in Dawood’s hierarchy, the don’s right-hand man. He said to me, ‘Dawood sa’ab wishes to have tea with you.’

So, we had a tea-and-biscuits session for four hours. He spoke of a number of things, including some of his criminal activities for which he had no regrets. ‘I have carried out petty thefts but I have never killed anyone, though I have got someone killed,’ he revealed. He claimed to have had someone shot in a Mumbai court for lying. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was about someone going against Allah’s word and so they had to do it. He claimed, ‘I was Allah’s messenger, so we shot him through his tongue and then through his brain.’ Director Rahul Rawail later used this real-life incident as the basis of a courtroom murder scene in his film Arjun (1985).

Dawood also told me he’d loved me in the film Tawaif because my name in it was Dawood. I resurrect the life of a downtrodden woman in Tawaif and Dawood was pleased that through the film I had (unwittingly) glorified his name. Years later, in Nikhil Advani’s D-Day, I once again played Dawood on screen.

‘Ranbir has strange likes and dislikes’

I do not have a say in Ranbir’s creative choices, I have never attempted to interfere in his career. Of course I must admit that as a father I felt uncertain at times because deep down I felt the objections were valid. People around us meant well. Indeed, what was Ranbir doing in movies like Rockstar? Or Wake up Sid (2009)? In Raajneeti (2010) he shared the screen with five other lead actors and then he played a hearing- and speech impaired person in Barfi (2012). His unconventional choices used to scare me.

Ranbir has strange likes and dislikes. When he’s home, he loves to start his day with scrambled eggs and caviar. I marvel at his indulgence. I grew up as Raj Kapoor’s son, but we never had scrambled eggs and caviar. I tell Ranbir that caviar isn’t good for him but he’s extremely fond of it. And then, for someone who starts off his day with such a flourish, he starves the rest of the time. He is not fond of liquor, but it would be good if he gave up smoking. I managed to finally give up cigarettes in my second attempt. It’s been years since I smoked. Ranbir went to some spa overseas and now I hear he doesn’t smoke. That is good. He never smoked in front of me, anyway. When he turned eighteen, I gave him a beer and said he could drink in my company. So he has a drink with me once in a while but he is not a heavy drinker.

The distance that exists between us is similar to the one between my father and me. Ranbir and I see each other through this space but can’t feel each other. At least, I can’t. There are times when I feel I’ve missed out on being a friend to my son. I was a strict father because I was brought up to believe that’s how a father should be. In one of his interviews, Ranbir said, ‘My father is not a friend. He is a father. I can’t backslap him and joke around with him.’ He is a friend to Neetu but not to me, and that’s something I deeply regret.

Excerpted with permission from Khullam Khulla, Rishi Kapoor with Meena Iyer, HarperCollins India.

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