Thought Box

Bringing up Bobby

Bringing up Bobby

by Khalid Mohamed February 11 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins, 30 secs

Khalid Mohamed reboots his conversation with the ever-gorgeous Dimple Kapadia on her life and career-defining debut in Raj Kapoor’s valentine to romance Bobby… and more.

She lives in Vaastu, in an apartment a javelin’s throw away from the Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandir. Quite selective, she has a well-knit micro-group of friends. Without letting the world know, she paints (one canvas with a woman’s face highlighted by her deep-set eyes is spectacular), continues to act in OTT series, even showing up in Tandav as a Machiavellian politician, and you don’t have to be reminded that she was cast in a brief but vital role by Christopher Nolan in the special-effects laden Tenet.

Dimple Kapadia, at 64, is seen more on the screen (narrow or wide) than heard. Today, my attempt is to rewind - to rekindle her take on her debut feature, Raj Kapoor’s Bobby (1973) in which she portrayed the eponymous role. She married the superstar Rajesh Khanna before the film’s release, and after nearly a decade, and two daughters, there was a parting of ways, and a return back to the lights, camera, and action.

I can’t say that I know Dimple Kapadia closely. I thought I did, but no professional rapports can morph truly into a personal one. She can respond to WhatsApp messages in a split-second or she can go silent for weeks and months, caught as she is in the hurly burly of her film commitments.

For this week, I go back to DK’s finest glory, Bobby, to guesstimate how she slayed the nation - with what should I call it? - her entry into our lives and hearts forever. Here are snatches then from that once-upon-a-time Bobby conversation:

Were you aware as a teenager that you had to be good-looking, or let’s say camera-friendly to become an actor?

Of course. Back in the 1970s, even kids knew that. Good looks and acting were a deadly combination. Everything goes back to your childhood. I was fat but pretty. If I was hassled about anything it was by my name. Somehow it didn’t seem to go with me. Dimple, at that time, seemed to be flippant, the name sounds as if you’re a bimbette, it has no character. I was born with a deep cleft in the chin, Dad  (Chunibhai Kapadia) probably thought it was a dimple.

When we were teenagers, my sister Simple and I would travel by air. And the guys at the airport’s check-in counter would ask, “Are your names real or what?” I suppose Dad had a sense of humour.

When could you distinguish between fact and fantasy?

Know something? I still can’t. For me, the far-fetched, even the occult are within the realm of the real, the plausible. Believe me, nothing is impossible. I should know. I’m sure if I ever wrote my autobiography - although my life is an open book - readers would say that she’s cooking up stuff. What I could tell you would burn your ears.

So why don’t you?

No chance. All I can say is detect what you can from my performances if you must. An actor always keeps secrets from the camera, she has to keep incidents and moments from her real life buried deep down in her heart.

I can never play Dimple Kapadia before the camera. I can only play the character assigned to me, the way I understand her. Every child, from the very beginning, has a distinct way of responding to the people and events around her…

Go on, I’m listening.

I grew up on loris, under the spell of  lullabies I’d drift away as if I was in a lovely little boat on a clear blue sea. I would look up, half-asleep at the face of my mother (Bitti aka Betty Kapadia). If she had found an opportunity, she would have become an actor.

Now don’t add two and two and get 200. I didn’t become an actor because my mother couldn’t. It was just that she was a die-hard moviegoer and Dad was fond of socialising with film people. The sound recordist Mani Ladia and the character actor Sunder were our neighbours. Dad was friendly with the H.S. Rawail family, Rajendra Kumar and Joy Mukherjee. It was even said that I would become a child star. Maybe that’s where it all started.

Why didn’t you?

I was to play the junior version of Vyjayanthimala in H.S. Rawail’s Sunghursh. But I looked older than the junior Dilip Kumar. This was a tragedy. Actually, it was even thought that at the age of 13, I looked older than Rishi Kapoor when Bobby was being cast. I nearly lost the role. I had fallen ill, very ill. For a while, it was believed that I was suffering from leprosy. Mercifully I was cured and became Bobby.

My greatest joy in life, besides acting, were comic books - Richie Rich, Wonder Woman, Wendy the Good Little Witch, L’il Lotta and Casper. When I became Mrs Rajesh Khanna, I didn’t know whom to ask for money to buy comics. I was embarrassed, I had to summon up the nerve to ask my husband to give me money for comics.

How do you look back upon Bobby?

It was like falling in love for the first time. When I think of Bobby, I think of my first boyfriend. I’d call him Kaania. He’d stand on his balcony, squinting in the sun for hours to get a glimpse of me. I felt beautiful, and I slimmed down for Bobby. I felt like an actor, it was the easiest film I’ve ever done. I felt the emotions rushing out, as if a dam had burst. I was fine in solo shots but with Chintu, I’d clam up. I had become very conscious of him. But then I was totally directed by Raj Kapoor. He would instruct me the way a parent instructs his child to take the first baby steps.

Again in Bobby, I was trying to be older than my real age. In the song sequence Beshak Mandir Masjid Todo, I looked so mature. I felt like a 20-year-old woman. When I see the song Jhoot Bole Kauva Kaate, I cringe but the audience loved it.

I had no inhibitions about wearing a swimming costume. If I could wear it in real life, why not on the screen? Quite often, Raj Kapoor would demonstrate how a scene could be done in two or three different ways and then ask me which way I wanted to do it. While projecting the emotions, which a girl in love goes through, he would leave me alone. He wanted a certain purity, which has to come first-hand, it cannot be dictated to you, not even by the director.

Raj Kapoor treated me like his daughter. I didn’t realise that I was working with a genius. I thought all directors are like him. Later, I understood that he was the only one.

How confident were you?

Too much confidence can make you cocky and closed-in. In fact, I’ve never been sure of myself. I dissect and think too much. The ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ get to me. Quite often, my ideas get diluted in the process. On the other hand if I’m convinced about doing a shot in a certain way, I pursue that with all my heart and mind. I don’t give the technical aspects of acting much thought. I’d rather go for the internal aspects. If I get a certain emotion right within me, I forget the rest. That’s why even the greatest actors will always say, “I’m still learning.”

Overconfidence kills. Instead, I  think an actor shouldn’t goof off or be casual. A line of control has to be kept even while disclosing one’s honest feelings. Like Smita Patil did, her performances had raw power. There was nothing put-on or artificial about Smita. 

What if  Bobby hadn’t happened?

How couldn’t it? I was destined to be Bobby although so many other girls were considered for the part. Having said that, I would like to add that I didn’t like myself in the film. I felt I was very fake at times. I didn’t like the way I looked, I didn’t like using gobs of make-up. When I told Raj Kapoor that I was not up to the mark, he said, “That’s good, dissatisfaction is the hallmark of a good artist.”  

Were you afraid that Bobby would be a difficult act to follow?

Subconsciously, yes. Maybe that’s the reason why I rushed straight into marriage. I became a woman with the release of Bobby. I used to like Kaka (Rajesh Khanna), his movies and his romantic image was overpowering. I believe in romance, and that’s a major problem with me. I don’t function at a normal level, I see too much into things even when they are not there. I get carried away. I was thrilled to bits, my father had finally accepted me with a guy - with Kaka. He had never approved of any of my boyfriends earlier. I would see them secretly. Kaka was a one-way ticket to freedom.

I felt the entire courtship wasn’t happening to me, it was happening to another girl. I did have second thoughts though about rushing into marriage. But I had a fight with my boyfriend just a few days ago. It was my way of hitting back at him. I was even willing to call off the marriage if he had phoned me. He didn’t. I couldn’t backtrack from the marriage. It was unreal, I felt like a queen.

At the age of 25, I returned to acting because I wasn’t equipped to do anything else. Fortunately, I was still remembered as the Bobby girl.

Didn’t marriage blunt your creative faculties for years?

I don’t want to make any grand statements about creativity. Suffice is to say, marriage didn’t make me wiser. It was as if my marriage was happening to my own reflection in a mirror. Seriously, sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if I had let things and events affect me. It’s as if you’re crying and trying to see how you look in the mirror while crying.

Right till today, I’m helpless as far as my anger is concerned. I can’t deal with it. Once I had  really lost my head with my domestic help. I yelled at her but it was I who was shivering. I loved my husband completely.

But acting goes beyond love, it means a certain flair for drama. You have to emphasise, underline every moment. Perhaps it’s difficult to express an emotion in acting if it has not been experienced in real life. A performer has to draw on personal experience, on emotional memory. For a scene in Mahaveera, I used the sorrow I felt when my mother-in-law had passed away.

At times, I would try to talk to Kaka about where he was going right or wrong in his performances. Like I wanted to discuss his death scene in Prem Nagar. But he made me feel as if I was a fool. So, I stopped. My biggest mistake was not trusting my own instincts.

What would be good news for you right now?

Ha! A fat bank balance and the kind of work I’d like to do. I hope I’m not sounding too high-handed because that’s not my intention. I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m crazy but I know there’ll be a happy ending to my story. That’s why I laugh a lot even when people expect me to cry.

Lastly, what’s your first thought on waking up in the morning?

God! Here comes another day.  

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