Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor: two contrasting on screen characters, one intensely serious and thoughtful, while, the other, always lively, full of fun, frolic and energy. Yet, both very natural talents, masters in their own art. And, both, immensely popular.
And just within a span of 24 hours, the stalwarts of Indian cinema, who mesmerized the audience for many decades, were gone. The entire nation and in particular, the cine-lovers, grieved as Irrfan left on April 29 and the next day, followed Rishi Kapoor. It’s extremely difficult to fill the void.
Rishi Kapoor, thanks to his lineage, arrived as a national heartthrob almost instantly, courtesy Bobby (1973) produced and directed by his father, the great, Raj Kapoor. Bobby, which was Rishi’s debut movie as a hero- introduced to the nation a new lover boy, an image that he cemented through his portrayal in scores of his subsequent movies-(Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977), Laila Majnu (1976), Karz (1980), Saagar (1985) Chandni (1989) and many others.
Rishi, the quintessential king of Bollywood romance’s often remembered for his characters as the urban upper middle class, fun loving, flamboyant boy who was neatly dressed, drove swanky cars, sang and danced in style and wooed his lady love. However, he was equally superb as an average Indian family boy in Sargam, Prem Rog and Amar Akbar Anthony etc as well. Even in the presence of superstars of the era-Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, he stood tall and left his own stamp. Remember, Akbar in Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony?
Irrfan, on the other hand, struggled hard for decades, played small, often unnoticeable roles in television serials and movies. He climbed the steps slowly, against odds. “He’s so tall and gangly and angular — like a praying mantis. And of course, he had this extraordinary face. He was only 18, but he still had a craggy face and those hooded eyes. The interesting thing was that he was very keenly focused. He was acutely observant and very open, not filled with any kind of big attitude,” is how filmmaker Mira Nair, who gave Irrfan his first role in Salaam Bombay (1988) recalled him in an article published in the New York Times.
After starring in the British film The Warrior (2001), came Haasil (2003) where he played a negative role. Finally Irrfan had arrived where he was destined to. Things began to change for the actor, post Haasil. The world had noticed Irrfan, the powerhouse of talent.
Irrfan, who excelled as a common man, went on to leave everyone spellbound by his artistic appeal, in both Bollywood (Maqbool (2004), Paan Singh Tomar (2012), Piku (2015), The Lunchbox (2013), Qissa (2013), Talvar (2015), Hindi Medium (2017), and his last film Angrezi Medium ( 2020) and Hollywood movies (The Namesake (2006), Jurassic World (2015) Inferno (2016) Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Life of Pi (2012)). Long after the movie show, even for days together, Irrfan’s character stayed on in the mind of the audience. He made every character he played, simply, real and imaginable.
True, Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan lost the one final battle in life. But, before that both had won millions of hearts, earned goodwill, respect, adoration and affection of countless fans. They will remain immortal, forever.