Bollywood mourns another star as Rishi Kapoor dies at 67

Udita JHUNJHUNWALA
1 / 4
Kapoor (left) was born into a prolific dynasty which has produced four generations of actors

Bollywood mourned a second loss in as many days as celebrated actor Rishi Kapoor, whose career spanned half a century, died Thursday aged 67 after a prolonged struggle with cancer.

The news came as a severe blow to the Hindi movie industry and film lovers, who were already reeling from the death Wednesday of the internationally renowned actor Irrfan Khan, aged 53.

"Our dear Rishi Kapoor passed away peacefully... today after a two-year battle with leukemia," his family said in a statement.

Fellow-actor Amitabh Bachchan was among the first to mourn his death, tweeting: "I am destroyed".

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also paid tribute, calling him "a powerhouse of talent", while Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan hailed him as "one of the greats".

Industry megastar Shah Rukh Khan recalled how Kapoor had welcomed him into the Bollywood movie business when he was a newcomer in the 1990s.

"Few men have the capacity for grace as he did, fewer still have the large heartedness of feeling genuine happiness for the success of others," Khan wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.

Kapoor was cremated Thursday at a private ceremony in Mumbai under heavy security, with his family urging fans to follow India's restrictions on public gatherings to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Born September 4, 1952 into the prolific Kapoor dynasty -- which has produced four generations of actors including his son, Ranbir -- he made his debut in the 1970s epic "Mera Naam Joker" ("My Name is Joker").

He received India's National Award for best child actor for his performance in the film, which his father Raj produced, directed and starred in.

But it was his later persona as a romantic lead that won him legions of fans.

They flocked to cinemas to see him sing, dance and charm his way into their hearts in films such as the 1973 superhit "Bobby" and the 1975 thriller "Khel Khel Mein" ("While Playing").

- Bollywood royalty -

His trademark look -- a sweater tied around his shoulders as he courted chiffon sari-clad leading ladies in the Swiss Alps -- became shorthand for stylish Bollywood romance.

He was frequently cast opposite Neetu Singh -- who he later married and raised two children with -- jewellery designer Riddhima and Bollywood heart-throb Ranbir.

Bona fide Bollywood royalty, Kapoor churned out hits as a solo hero, playing a lovelorn youth in the 1976 romance "Laila Majnu" and a rockstar in the 1980 musical thriller "Karz" ("Debt").

But he also felt secure enough to take second billing in blockbusters such as the 1977 comedy "Amar Akbar Anthony" -- starring Bachchan and Vinod Khanna -- although he'd frequently steal the show.

He enjoyed an easy chemistry with male and female co-stars, playing Bachchan's younger brother in the 1981 melodrama "Naseeb" ("Destiny") and his son in the 2018 film "102 Not Out".

- Versatile star -

As Kapoor grew older the romantic roles dried up, allowing him the opportunity to display greater versatility.

He terrified audiences as a human trafficker in 2012's "Agneepath" ("Path of Fire") and won applause for his portrayal of a cantankerous porn-watching grandfather in 2016's "Kapoor & Sons".

His forays behind the camera were less successful.

A 1999 directorial debut "Aa Ab Laut Chalen" ("Come, Let's Go Back Now") was panned by critics, becoming the last movie produced under the R.K. Films banner established by his father.

In a 2016 interview with talk show host Simi Garewal, he praised members of Bollywood's younger generation for taking more chances with their work.

"We in our times never got a chance to (do) one film at one time... we survived," he said.

He was never afraid to speak candidly, whether about his movies -- most of which deserved to be forgotten, he joked to Garewal -- or about his struggles with alcoholism.

In recent years he won a legion of new and younger fans with his frank, and often funny, tweets.

After being diagnosed with cancer in 2018 he sought treatment in New York, but was looking to resume work shortly with plans to film a remake of the 2015 Hollywood production "The Intern".

He was forced to return to hospital this month, where, his family said, "the doctors and medical staff... said he kept them entertained to the last.

"He was grateful for the love of his fans... they would all understand that he would like to be remembered with a smile and not with tears."