Shiboprosad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy on their incomplete dream to work with Rishi Kapoor
Shiboprosadâ€™s heartfelt note on the demise of the veteran Continue reading ...
Before the first quarter of 2018 drew to a close, it was decided that Rishi Kapoor would play the lead in our Hindi directorial launchpad. The production house in Mumbai had sent across the DVD of our Bengali film to him, which he agreed to do. We were about to begin our meetings when the news of him having taken ill surfaced. Rishiji left for New York for his treatment. The project was pushed back by a couple of months.
In February, 2019, when he was getting better, I texted him. He took no time to reply. His answer was, “Both Neetu and I have seen the film, not once, but twice. We had tears in our eyes.’’ He told me he could return well by end-July or August (2019). We got in touch with the production house. They asked us to move ahead. It was decided that we would get things finalised in New York itself. Rishiji was happy with the idea.
Nandita Roy and I boarded a flight to NY on July 2. He said he would meet us at our hotel and not the other way round, as that’s what an actor usually does with his directors. We met at Hotel Sofitel on July 5. He was a bundle of energy that afternoon. His loud guffaws still ring in my ears. He laughed and said since he had undergone blood transfusion, he wasn’t sure if his ‘actor’s blood’ was still there! He said if the role demanded him to learn something new, he was game, as he had a lot of free time.
I could feel that he was dying to get back to what he loved the most - acting. After the work-related conversation was almost over, Rishiji asked what we were doing that evening. He took no time to invite us over to his place and even asked what drink we preferred. He pronounced that his favourite was Black Label. We had taken with us two handwoven shawls for Neetuji and him. They were happy to accept them at their home in New York. He admired the kantha stitches and said all the raw talent came from Bengal. Meanwhile, he poured me and the rest a drink. I asked for a smaller one and he snapped at me for that. There’s nothing called a ‘small drink’, he said. We then went to an Asian-Chinese restaurant, where Rishiji ordered food for 10 though we were just five people. All the while, I noticed how concerned Neetuji was. Her eyes were always fixed on him, what he was eating, on which side of the road he was… it was as if someone was protecting a child. I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful relationship they shared. That evening, the conversation mostly revolved around Kolkata, Shantiniketan and of course, Bengali food. Rishiji wanted to shoot in Kolkata and was yearning to be in Rabindranath Tagore’s abode. I learnt that he was a lover of the famed Bengali mustard fish. He said we must work out what to eat during the shoot. I told him my production boy, Ganesh, is a cook par excellence.
Once he returned to India, we resumed talks regarding the rest of the cast. Every time I was in Mumbai, he would ask me to come over. He told me that a Bengali journalist had suggested that Neetuji and he should work in the Hindi version of our film Belaseshe (2015). He asked me for the film saying he didn’t know how to browse through OTT platforms.
He also expressed the desire to savour some mustard fish. He wanted to meet my wife, Zinia, who’s a good cook. He invited us over to their residence, Krishna Raj and asked us to prepare a Bengal rice-fish meal for them. I had packed Bekti fillets and a big hilsa cut into pieces in an ice box. Since it was inconvenient to cook in an unfamiliar kitchen, Zinia made fish fries and mustard ilish at our sister, Indrani’s place in Worli. Even before we were done with the cooking, calls started coming in by the dozens. Rishiji was punctual about time. Once we reached their home, Rishiji was excited like a child. Neetuji said she wanted to learn the Bengali way of cooking fish for him.
That evening, Kunal Kapoor, son of the late Shashi Kapoor, joined in. The conversation revolved around the Calcutta of Raj Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor. The family has immense respect for the city for and the connection that Raj Kapoorji shared with it. Neetuji also spoke about shooting for Yaraana at Netaji Indore Stadium and the excited Kolkata crowd that lined the streets to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars. They were surprised to learn from us that Fairlawn Hotel in Kolkata, where Shashiji would put up during his long stays in the city, still has a room named after him. It was an evening of discoveries.
I was concerned about his health after I read that Rishiji had taken ill in Delhi. Every time I heard any such news, I’d leave him a message and he’d reply much to my relief. Given the bout of illness, our film got pushed back further as he was already shooting for one. On March 26, we last spoke when he said he’d like to begin the shoot fast. On April 21, I texted him saying I wanted to speak to him. That was for the first time he didn’t reply. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried. Some stories are destined to remain incomplete. Ours is one such.