Revisiting the Showman: A look at Raj Kapoor

Veteran filmmaker Rahul Rawail decodes the magic and charisma of Raj Kapoor
Legendary Bollywood actor Raj Kapoor. (Photo | Rishi Kapoor Twitter)
Legendary Bollywood actor Raj Kapoor. (Photo | Rishi Kapoor Twitter)

Very few books talk about the art of cinema and the crafting of films by Indian directors, so Rahul Rawail’s new book on Raj Kapoor is a welcome addition to the bookshelf.

Privileged to closely view the Showman at work, thanks to his being an apprentice to him in his mid-teens, Rawail, as RK’s blue-eyed boy, is indeed the right person to open the window into how Raj Kapoor approached his films and created enduring cinema.

In a tone that shuttles between awe and self-depreciation, Rawail leads us through the many milestones of his learnings, both through observation as well as conversations with his acknowledged guru. Along the course of the book, we get not just nuggets on how scenes were shot and songs embedded in them, but also personality traits. Chief among them, the actor-director’s love for good food and alcohol.

There are stories of Kapoor eating non-stop through a train journey as the Deccan Queen toiled its way up to the Pune plateau. Then there’s this thing about his ‘eating routine’ when he was in Bombay, which would start with a stop at a panipuriwala outside Chembur station, as he started for home from his studio at 6 pm. This would be “followed by a dosa and medu wada” at the South Indian restaurant nearby.

Rawail also talks about the bonhomie at the studio where along with work, the team would discuss where to source dishes for lunch, dinner, and the elaborate high teas; each of these being a feast fit for kings.

A particularly insightful food story is the one where he talks about Kapoor’s fondness for sitting at the Wayside Inn in South Bombay, choosing a particular table and chair, because, “This is where Dr Ambedkar sat and wrote the Constitution of India. I sit here so it can inspire me to do constructive work.”

Many such stories give us glimpses of the man behind the legend. But it is as a mirror to his working style and passion that the book scores. Rawail literally shares his learnings in the chapters titled ‘Lessons, Numbered 1 to 5’. They include the entire process from concept and inspiration to preparing for the shoot, directing the actors, the actual shoot, and the music that Kapoor wanted for the film.

Adding humour, drama and at times suspense, are the anecdotes that one encounters at every turn. Chintu (Rishi Kapoor) and the author ruining their childhood friend, Bunty Peerbhoy’s honeymoon by spending every waking hour with the couple; Premnath setting the ‘sur’ for every scene he had to be in by playing the harmonium; the circus lion in Bobby running loose; and a theatre owner’s wife selling tickets of Bobby at her own theatre in black—are some of the sparkling bits that add zest to the book. And there are plenty of them; some to showcase techniques used by Kapoor or his disregard for everything, including money, and others, just memorable events that happened over the years.

Though it’s often been mentioned that Kapoor was a talented director, Rawail makes it clearer to the reader through several small instances. An incident worth quoting is as follows—When RK watches a shoot carried out for the climax of one of Rawail’s films where he had seven cameras running to catch real action on the busy Bombay street, he immediately asks why only six cameras had managed to catch the action. And indeed one camera had failed to work!

Rawail also spends chapters on Bobby, and on his own films, including the mistakes he made, and his adaptations of the master’s work style and even scenes into his own films. It comes from the heart and makes for engrossing reading. The book ends on a sombre note; with Raj Kapoor’s death.

All told Raj Kapoor: The Master at Work is a valuable chronicle. For those who like reading about the Showman or watching good cinema, and for students of filmmaking and cinema history.

Raj Kapoor: The Master at Work
Rahul Rawail
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
Pages: 246
Price: Rs 699

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