Friday, July 1, 2011

Kapoor Khazana: Rishi Kapoor - The Heroine's Hero!

There's one thing I find really interesting about Rishi Kapoor's film choices ... his willingness to do heroine-oriented films. Obviously, Bollywood is based in a patriarchal society. Films almost always center around the journey of a HERO - Heroines are often thrown in as just a love interest and not much more. Although Hindi cinema has evolved to a certain point, sadly South Indian films still extremely hero-centric. And since much of Hindi cinema is copied from South Indian cinema (don't take offense, it's been that way for a very long time!), we still see far more films that center on a male protagonist's experiences. In fact, ApunBindaas recently did a very interesting post about Hindi films copied from Hollywood that actually changed the female protagonist into a male one for Indian audiences. It is what it is, and it may take a very long time for the industry at large to change.

But back to Rishi ... if you look over his filmography (particularly as he got older), you will note that Rishi is one actor who has not been afraid to take a male lead role that is primarily just there for the female lead to fall in love with, and the rest of the film centers on her experiences. It's really unusual - I simply can't imagine other leading actors, whether his contemporaries such as Jeetendra, Anil Kapoor or Amitabh Bachchan, or today's heroes like the Khans (SRK, Aamir and Salman), doing films where they weren't the primary focus. But Rishi has done it, time and time again ... and that gives me a strong respect for his confidence in himself and his approach to films.

Here's a list of 10 films that Rishi took a backseat to the heroine - which seriously makes me love him even more!

 Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981)
The bulk of this story focuses on Kanchan (Padmini Kohlapuri), a poor young girl who adopts her sister's son after she and her husband tragically die. Rishi plays the husband's younger brother who searches for his long-lost family and ends up falling in love with Kanchan. There's a wide variety of characters (many of whom share the same name) but the movie really follows the journey of Kanchan more than anyone else!

Nagina (1986)
A snake follows her mate beyond the boundaries of species - when a young boy is bitten by her mate and a snake-charmer uses his powers to have the snake pour his soul back into the boy to revive him, the female snake transforms into a human body (Sridevi) to reclaim her love. This movie wholly and completely belongs to Sridevi and I don't think anyone can deny that!

Chandni (1989)
As the title suggests, this movie is all about Chandni (Sridevi). Rishi plays her primary love interest, Rohit, who gets hurt in an accident and then begins to push her away in a twisted attempt at selflessness. Unfortunately by the time he comes to his senses, he has a rival for Chandni in Lalit (Vinod Khanna). Again, this is a Sridevi show, though Rishi has some wonderful moments to shine in the film, particularly when he is haunted by his memories of Chandni.

Henna (1991)
In the grand tradition of RK Films that are heroine-centric (such as Satyam Shivam Sundaram and Ram Teri Ganga Maili), Henna's story had an amnesia-affected Chander (Rishi Kapoor) crash land in the rustic hills of Pakistan. He is saved and nursed back to health by innocent and lively Henna, played by Zeba Bhaktiar, and they quickly fall in love. Eventually Chander's memory returns to him, and he realizes he has a love interest/fiancee waiting for him back in India. Henna had a typically RK-feel to it, very lush and epic, and it approached Indo-Pak border conflict in a subtle and romantic way long before films like Veer-Zaara. Ultimately Henna's character emerges as the true hero of the film.

Deewana (1993)
Deewana is heralded is Shah Rukh Khan's big debut in Hindi films, but both SRK and Rishi Kapoor's characters were just aspects of Kajal (Divya Bharati)'s story in Deewana. A young woman falls in love with a singing star and marries into his home, but then he is tragically taken from her. Shortly afterward another young man pursues the young widow relentlessly until she finally gives in, only to find out that her husband still lives!

Sahibaan (1993)
I'm not going to pretend this was a good movie. It wasn't. I really wanted it to be, because when the previews came out I was totally charmed by the village setting and Madhuri's outfits and make-up. Unfortunately we ended up laughing out loud throughout the film (yes, at the theatre). But it was definitely Sahibaan (Madhuri)'s story! Rishi once again played the love interest that conveniently disappears and reappears (he has a habit of doing that in films). Sahibaan is about a village belle who captures the eye of a rich, alcoholic, murderous Sanjay Dutt, but her heart already belongs to a simple bansuri-playing villager (Rishi Kapoor).

Damini (1993)
This WAS an excellent film, and one that I've recommended over and over. And though Rishi is the romantic hero, and Sunny Deol gave the performance of a lifetime in it, the film is 100% Meenakshi Seshadhri's. And she is stunning and brilliant in it! Damini is the story of a vibrant and honest woman who marries into a wealthy family but doesn't quite find acceptance, though her husband (Rishi Kapoor) sincerely loves her. After witnessing the brutal rape of a maidservant by her brother-in-law and his friends, she decides to testify against him and is consequently tortured by her in-laws, who are trying to cover up the crime. Sunny Deol plays a gruff, drunkard lawyer who is compelled to represent Damini in court and help her find justice.

Saajan Ka Ghar (1994)
This movie was absolutely heartbreaking. Juhi Chawla stars as a sweet, unassuming woman whose mother died giving birth to her, causing her father to turn completely against her. He remarries and her stepmother also abuses her, but her stepbrother becomes her champion. Eventually she marries Rishi Kapoor's character, but finds a similar reception in her mother-in-law. All the poor girl wants is parental love, and she is rejected again and again. This movie totally made me cry. And again Rishi plays the sweet, supportive husband who really doesn't do much for the plot.

Yaarana (1995)
A crazy little romp of a film about Shikha (Madhuri Dixit), a woman fleeing from a creepy rich stalker guy (Raj Babbar), who happens to run across and fall in love with Rishi Kapoor mid-flight. This movie is only remembered for Madhuri's hit song Mera Piya Ghar Aaya, though I thought it was funny. Again, the film is all about Shikha's experiences, and though Rishi's character brings in the opportunity for romance and comedy, it's a Madhuri show through and through.

Prem Granth (1996) 
The last of the epic, heroine-centric RK Films, Prem Granth followed the tragic life of Kajri (Madhuri Dixit), yet another RK innocent village belle thrown into horrible circumstances in life. Rishi Kapoor plays the love interest who fades into the background during the worst times and leaves Kajri to suffer alone. Though I think Prem Granth had good intentions, it is perhaps guilty of being a bit too heavy-handed in the tragedy. Kajri's experiences are truly horrific. The message is that love conquers all, but they seriously make that poor girl experience ALL before she can find her happiness.

So these are just a sampling of films in which Rishi took hero roles in female-centric films. I'm sure there are many, many more and I'd love to hear which ones are your favorites or stuck out in your memory. I believe his willingness to take the lead male role in heroine-oriented films makes him a unique hero in the Hindi film industry, and it makes me incredibly proud to be his fan!

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  1. Great idea for a post! I've definitely noticed that Rishi is a very generous actor - not only is he more than willing to let the ladies shine, he is great in two- (or more) hero movies, and ensembles, as well. I have only seen a couple of the movies on your list - Chandni (I hated the ending of this, but TOTALLY fell in love with Sridevi - she was SO good), Deewana (I honestly had forgotten Rishi was in Deewana!)... and Nagina when I was very little - can't remember much of it now... so this piece definitely makes me want to watch some of the films you mentioned here. Loving your Kapoor Khazana posts!!

  2. Thank you so much DG! That's the perfect way to describe Rishi - a generous actor. Of this list, the film I would recommend the MOST would be Damini. It's a tough movie to watch, it's brutal and frustrating, but the acting is incredible and the story really draws you in. I'm realizing through KK how few of Rishi's early films I've seen and I really need to fix that. Thanks for reading!

  3. I agree with DG, rISHI IS INDEED A GENEROUS ACTOR PLUS i'VE BEEN LOVING YOUR POST ON HIM FOR kAPOOR kHAZANA, HE'S BY FAR THE ONLY KAPOOR WHOSE FILMS i'VE SEEN THE MOST. I think you've already mentioned all the films I've seen where he allowed the Heroine to take centre stage, he is definitely a secure Hero