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My dear friends: My parting words to Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor


Earlier this month we lost two stalwarts of the film industry. First Irrfan Khan and then Rishi Kapoor. One representing the realistic school of acting, the other pure entertainment. And yet, both touched millions of Indians, leaving them bereft.

“How is Pakistan yaar?” Irrfan asked me when we landed in Karachi. “This is my first visit.”“Mine too,” I said .“Oh, is it?Then you are as wise as me!”

The mind goes back immediately to January 6, 2017. My husband Om Puri passed away due to a sudden heart attack. We were in shock. As my son and I headed to the crematorium, someone came and stopped the van. It was Irrfan. He pushed his head through the window and stared at Om. Grief, affection, admiration, pathos were in his eyes. He was weeping without shedding a tear. I will never forget those eyes. They spoke a million words then like they did in his films always.

It was in 1993 that I first met Irrfan, then Irfan on the sets of Gulzar’s Kirdaar, a series for Doordarshan based on award-winning short stories. This story was Khuda Hafiz by Samaresh Basu, starring Om and Irrfan. I was amazed by Irrfan’s performance. It was past midnight and the boats at Madh Island, the location of the shoot, had stopped, so Gulzar saab asked us to drop Irrfan. He was staying at D N Nagar in those days as a paying guest and when Om tried to drop him at his doorstep, he said, embarrassed, “Om bhai, no. It’s okay. It’s too ramshackle. I’ll get off here.”

As the years moved by, so did Irrfan. Over breakfast once at Jehan Numah hotel in Bhopal during the shoot of Maqbool (2003), Irrfan and I got talking. He had moved to a bigger apartment, was doing well but spoke with a certain naivety. The biggest worry then was leaving his pregnant wife Sutapa in Mumbai while he shot in Bhopal. “Can’t be with her and that’s killing me. But what to do. All the stars, their dates…I have to be here.” That was 2003.

Om Puri appeared alongside Irrfan Khan in Samresh Basu’s Khuda Hafiz on DD and also acted in Rishi Kapoor-starrer Prem Granth

Om Puri appeared alongside Irrfan Khan in Samresh Basu’s Khuda Hafiz on DD and also acted in Rishi Kapoor-starrer Prem Granth

In 2005, Irrfan had come into his own. Mahesh and Pooja Bhatt, Vinta Nanda, Om, Ishaan and I along with Irrfan were headed to Karachi for the Kara International Film Festival. As we landed in Karachi and waited for our luggage, he asked me excitedly, “How is Pakistan, yaar? This is my first visit.”

“Mine too,” I said.

“Oh is it? Then why am I asking you? You’re as wise as me,” and we both laughed. We had a lovely time – not to mention the beautiful ladies who took a shine to Irrfan. When one of the top Pak television heroines asked him out, he innocently asked me, “Yeh kaun, tumhe maalum?” When I mentioned her name, he said simply, “Oh achcha. Jau kiya dinner pe?” I laughed. Up to you, I said, but I marvelled at his childlike impishness.

We kept bumping into each other at various festivals worldwide. Some years back at a café in Juhu, as Irrfan (by now a big star) entered, he saw me, and immediately joined me for a few minutes. By the time he left to join his friends, my two girlfriends had nearly swooned with disbelief. He had indeed come a long way from those ramshackle PG days!

Last month I heard he was not well. I chose not to believe that after watching Angrezi Medium. I was thinking of calling him. But that was not to be. As I tried to take in the news of his passing away, those eyes looking at my husband’s face haunted me. Then, it was as if Om was passing on his mantle to Irrfan. The two of them were not only great Indian actors, but truly left their mark in international cinema as well.

Gone too soon, Irrfan, is all I can say, and I know Om bhai will admonish you up there, “Abbe khotey…. Aur thora jalwa dikha key aana tha na…”

The year was 1984 and Rishi Kapoor was already a star. An NSD trained actor, Om Puri, staying at a PG dig in Andheri East, was trying to catch a break with Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya. When he returned home one evening, his landlady told him that Rishi Kapoor had called and said he would call back later. Om looked at her and said, “Oh, someone’s playing the fool.”

“I thought so too,” she retorted.

Later that night Rishi Kapoor called and it took Om a while to believe it was true. Kapoor was a little high and praised Om for Ardh Satya: “…Especially that drunk scene. Did you really have a peg or two?”

“Chintu ji asking me genuinely about that scene was one of my best compliments as an actor. But what touched me most was that Rishi Kapoor, a huge star those days, actually took the trouble of finding my PG number and calling to appreciate my performance… that was his magnanimity,” Om was to recount later.

Almost a decade later, the lad from NSD went on to make a mark for himself in Indian cinema and this time RK Films approached him for their home production, Prem Granth (1996), starring Rishi Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit. Om had refused initially due to money matters. Rishi Kapoor called him (and this time Om had his own apartment and landline!) and said they needed to talk.

“I’ll come to the office

Chintu ji,” Om said.

“No, Om ji, I will come home,” Kapoor emphasised.

On the appointed day he came home, and we first had a cup of tea together. Then I disappeared while the men talked. When I heard the clinking of glasses and “Cheers,” I entered knowing everything had worked out well. After a drink Chintu ji left and Om decided to walk him down to his car. The compound was teeming with the building children and their mothers as word had obviously got around that Rishi Kapoor had come. These two incidents illustrate the magnanimity of Chintu ji even though he was a star.

What followed was a month in Raj Kapoor’s farmhouse in Loni, the incredible hospitality of the Kapoor khandan, and a lifelong association with Dabboo, Chintu and Chimpoo. The elegance of Krishna Raj Kapoor is something I will always remember. The first time I went to RK House in Chembur, Krishna ji asked what I would like to drink. A few minutes later I saw her walking towards me in her elegant white sari and trademark pearls, hair perfectly coiffure, followed by a waiter holding a tray and my drink. She took the drink and handed it to me. She could have sent the waiter with the drink,

but no. That spelt class. I remember calling up Chintu ji after reading his biography Khullam Khulla where he described a similar incident.

The last time I spoke to Chintu ji was soon after seeing Mulk (2018) and just before he left for treatment in New York. My son wanted to have a word with him too. The last thing Chintu ji told my son was: “Beta, look after your mother.”

I can quite imagine Om and Chintu ji laughing together up there. “Toh deri kis baat ki… Cheers!”

(Author bio: Nandita Puri is an author, chairperson of Om Puri Foundation and wife of late Om Puri)

From HT Brunch, May 10, 2020

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