Such a wonderful journey!!by Dhruv Somani January 31 2021, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins, 21 secs
Film historian Dhruv Somani, a self-confessed admirer of Dimple Kapadia, looks back at her films with affection.
I just finished watching the political drama Tandav, streaming on Amazon Prime directed by Ali Abbas Zafar (most famously known for Ek tha Tiger and Sultan). And I must mention that one of my most favorite actors Dimple Kapadia never disappoints.
Be it a special, a guest appearance or a full-fledged role, she justifies them to the fullest. In her latest avatar as the cold blooded, feisty and ruthless Anuradha Kishore, she makes her presence felt strongly amongst the top-drawer of actors, besides making a strong fashion statement (which she always did at her peak too) - her raw silk sarees with different borders and motifs.
She was also seen in the Hollywood sci-fi espionage thriller Tenet, as Priya and earlier in Angrezi Medium with Irrfan Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan, just before the lockdown was announced. Dimple never fails to spring a surprise for her avowed fans like me.
Bobby released in 1973, the year I was born. So it was much later in my life that I could watch the cult love story. My allurement towards Dimple began after watching Manzil Manzil (1984) in which she portrayed Seema Malhotra opposite Sunny Deol. I was simply blown away by her beauty and became her fan for life. People closely associated with me have seen my delirious fan mania towards her during my adolescence. They have seen all the crazy things; I would do to see her films on the first day and first show.
The girl whom the nation revered as the Bobby girl had me captivated. I would always drag a friend or two along to see her movies. Her light brown eyes, highlighted by her thick auburn mane soon became her trademark as women flocked to the popular Bandra salon (Nalini & Yasmin) to get the Dimple haircut.
She was the epitome of beauty who gradually made her name also as a powerhouse actor, first in Mukul Anand’s Aitbaar (1984). Though she was making a comeback after 12 years, she had already been seen in Zakhmi Sher and Manzil Manzil before her big ticket to stardom with Ramesh Sippy’s Saagar (1985).
My earliest memory of Saagar begins and stops with Dimple.
I gasped, wondering if Dimple could be a real person as she mesmerized the audiences playing Mona D’Silva, who runs a small restaurant in a fishing village with her father. While her role initially had shades of a carefree girl in love, it shifted to an emotional performance-oriented role in the film’s second half in which she excelled. The scene in which Ravi (Rishi Kapoor) breaks the news about Raja (Kamal Hassan) being in love with her was brilliantly enacted with candid expressions. Though she looked devastatingly gorgeous she did live up to the high pressure and expectations of the audiences and also won the Best Actress Filmfare Award.
A major section of Saagar was shot at Madh island where Ramesh Sippy had built a fishing village but the sets looked so authentic that the audience thought that it was shot in Goa. The indoor shoots were pictured at a Juhu bungalow, where the famous song Jane Do Naa was pictured on Dimple in a seductive red sari with a stringed, backless choli.
Something went amiss with Saagar, even though the discerning viewers appreciated the film. The masses didn’t, making it tank at the ticket counters although it had everything going in its favor with a love-triangle-story embellished by a memorable music score by R.D. Burman.
Maybe deep within Dimple regretted her decision due to its failure. She had to make a choice between Saagar and Sadma, which was offered to her first. The latter was a more offbeat venture. Obviously, she played safe and had opted pragmatically for the more commercial project.
Primarily, she needed the Vitamin M (Money) since she had separated from Rajesh Khanna and left him, taking along her two daughters to restart her career independently. Perhaps she had also felt that the audience wouldn’t accept the glamorous avatar she had created with Bobby for a down-to-earth role in Sadma, which eventually went to Sridevi.
Next she showed up in Pataal Bhairavi (just in a song), Rahul Rawail’s Arjun and Ravindra Peepat’s Lava, where she was cast in strong performance roles. Except for Arjun – in which Sunny Deol dominated the scene – the other two films failed to create ripples at the box-office.
Then came the Feroz Khan-helmed Jaanbaaz (1983). In Jaanbaaz she played the ultra-glamorous Reshma Rai opposite Anil Kapoor and Feroz Khan. Her multi-colored sarongs, mini-skirts with boots and permed hair created new fashion trends. Jaanbaaz was the typical stylish action flick as expected from a Feroz Khan production with zingy music. Again, the slick flick had everything going for it but the audiences felt otherwise. It failed to break box office records like Feroz Khan’s Qurbani (1980) had.
Somewhere down the line, viewers could not accept the fact that the young hero Anil Kapoor was killed in the climax while Dimple was left with the senior-in-years Feroz Khan. It is believed that during the shoot of Jaanbaaz, Boney Kapoor had accidentally met the actress on a Bombay-Bangalore flight and had advised her to style her hair into pigtails to look younger with Anil Kapoor. Dimple, known for her outspokenness, called Anil Kapoor a barber’s delight in an interview with the Movie magazine. Result: she was dropped from Parinda (1989).
The year 1987 proved to be a great one for her as she was given a captivating glamorous makeover in Mukul Anand’s Insaaf. Mukul who had earlier worked with her in Aitbaar (1984) had tremendous regard for her and cast her in a double role: of a charismatic cabaret singer/dancer Sonia and of her identical twin sister who emerges on the screen after Sonia is killed, as Dr. Sarita in simple saris.
Insaaf (1987), a crime thriller, was designed as a comeback vehicle for Vinod Khanna, after his five years of a sabbatical at the Osho ashram in the U.S. In fact, the poster and the publicity materials credited his name as re-introducing Vinod Khanna. Dimple, who formed a charismatic pair with him, went on to do several films with the actor whom she fondly called V.K.
In Insaaf she was seen in kaftans, chikankari kurtas with lungis, off-shoulder blouses with saris, which again became fashion statements. Dimple worked with V.K. again in the forgettable Khoon Ka Karz (1991) but lost out on working with him in Mahasangram (1990), as well as with Amitabh Bachchan in Khuda Gawah (1992) because she asked for Rs. 2.5 lakhs more than her market fee at that point. Mukul Anand refused to up her fee and signed on Sridevi, paying her almost Rs 15 lakhs more than what Dimple was asking for.
In the year 1987, she was also seen as Pooja opposite Jackie Shroff and Anupam Kher in Mahesh Bhatt’s Kaash - a sensitive drama, which dealt with her husband’s dwindling stardom and their only son detected with cancer. After Aitbaar and Lava, Mahesh Bhatt’s Kaash made the industry notice her as an artiste of substance. Though Kaash did not click, the performances of all the lead actors were applauded.
Over the coming years one saw her in practically every second high-budget Bollywood production like Batwara, Kabzaa, Ladaai, Sikka, Shehzaade, Aakhari Adaalat and Mera Shikar. She was considered to be a close competitor for the Number 1 position against Sridevi. Indeed, a magazine conjectured that she was bound to become numero-uno. Dimple continued to experiment with her outfits, like the mirrored cholis and skirts topped by stylish ethnic bindis in J. P. Dutta’s Batwara. In Shehzaade, she wore a black crop top fully embellished with safety pins for the song Dheere Dheere Haule Haule.
She knocked out a terrific performance in Zakhmi Aurat in which she was a rape victim cop Kiran Dutt, who sets out on a revenge mission. The film fared well commercially. Ditto Rajkumar Kohli’s ghostly take on reincarnation, Bees Saal Baad, in which she played a ghost named Nisha along with Mithun Chakraborty and Meenakshi Seshadri. Bees Saal Baad had a chart-topping music score by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and celebrated a silver jubilee.
I remember watching it at a trial show with my dear friend Bianca who was extremely amused. Every time Dimple appeared as a ghost, I began to rattle all the dialogues as I had learnt them by heart, thanks to the promotions on the radio. Bianca had to shush me up as after sometime it got embarrassing because the crowd began looking at us.
The year 1989 also saw her in the blockbuster Ram Lakhan as Geeta opposite Jackie Shroff with her trademark hair flip during the song Mujhe Tumse Hai Kitne Gilebut. Her role was snipped off at the editing table since Subhash Ghai chose to favor his muse, the younger flavor of the season Madhuri Dixit.
Actor-turned-director Shashi Kapoor’s fantasy Ajooba was released in 1991 in which she portrayed Princess Rukhsana opposite Amitabh Bachchan. This was the first time they were paired together. However the pair did not gel as their subsequent projects including Mrityudaata and Hum Kaun Hai were financial downers.
She teamed up in Haque with Anupam Kher, Aasif and Sonu Walia, but it failed to make a mark as the producers kept changing the script. She was fetched up with Sunny Deol in N. Chandra’s Narsimha, albeit but with a limited scope for acting since it was a hardcore actioner. Clearly, Dimple was disappointed. She had apportioned bulk dates and had reduced her price for the film. There was hope yet with Lekin (1991) for which she approached Lata Mangeshkar (who produced the film) and Gulzar for the project through a common doctor friend and signed up for just Re. 1. Here she enacted a soul lost in transition.
After Lekin, she had approached Govind Nihalani through his secretary but he promptly turned her down since he wasn’t interested in working with stars. It was a chance meeting with her at a party, which made him change his mind and he penciled her in for Drishti (1990), opposite Shekhar Kapur and the then-newcomer Irrfan Khan. In an interview, Govind Nihalani stated that it was her direct and sincere approach to do the film that made him change his mind. Moreover he was convinced that there was a certain pain and anguish in her eyes.
A major artistic triumph was achieved with Kalpana Lajmi’s Rudaali (1993), based on a short story by Mahashweta Devi. Dimple played Shanichari, a professional mourner at funerals in Rajasthan. She was involved in the project right from its script, which was authored by Gulzar. She won almost all the popular awards as well as the National Award for Rudaali.
From thereon she featured in commercial as well as off-the-mainstream films to strike a fine balance. On the one hand, she was doing Prahaar, Mrinal Sen’s Antareen (Bengali), Gardish, Leela, Banaras, Phir Kabhi, Being Cyrus, Finding Fanny and on the other, Krantiveer (2001), Dil Aashna Hai, Pyar Mein Twist and Cocktail etc. She was a breath of fresh air as Tara Jaiswal in Dil Chahta Hai for which she was paired with the much younger Akshaye Khanna. She also did the yet to be released film Jai Shiv Shankar opposite her husband Rajesh Khanna.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see her from close quarters. I was in shock as she sat right in front of my seat when I had gone to see Barsaat at the Metro cinema, while she was there with a friend to gauge the reaction of the audience to the debut of her daughter Twinkle Khanna. Later, I saw her again as I stood outside the coffee shop Sea Lounge. She was walking up the red carpet stairs, wearing a white sharara designed by Abu-Sandeep, towards the ballroom of the Taj Mahal Hotel to attend a party hosted by Rakesh Roshan.
As I gazed on I was frozen, wondering again if she’s real….