Poonam Dhillon has starred with Rishi Kapoor in quite a few films but says that she would rather start off by talking about him from the recent past, rather than when she was cast as his leading lady for the first time. “You know what, Chintu (as Rishi was fondly called) and I had a common friend and we happened to visit her birthday party after Chintu returned (from his treatment) from the US. I was surprised to see that he broke into a song there: ‘Main Shayyar Toh Nahin’ (from ‘Bobby’). And, he sang it with immense confidence and style. In my 30 years of knowing him, I was unaware of this hidden talent of singing; you see, actors, in those days never sang and maybe that’s why I didn’t know”.
“And, hold on…it isn’t over yet. I heard him sing later at a wedding in Vienna. If it was today’s times, Chintu would have been made to sing in his films,” she adds.
Poonam and Rishi’s friendship was not shallow. Rishi, in his inimitable style, was frank and forthright with her and Poonam was never dishonest in her response. “One of the last times I saw him was at Bachchans’ Diwali party when he had just returned from the US. He pointblank told me that I had neither called him nor come to meet him. He was someone who noticed small things and had certain expectations from friends. I used to always be in touch with him when he was in the US. I told him that I hadn’t come over because I wanted to give him some space and time. After that, I met him at a couple of parties. But soon, I heard that he had taken ill again. It was a huge shock when he passed away. All those who walked or worked with him would have wanted to pay his last respects but sadly could not due to COVID,” rues Poonam.
The actress goes on to lament Rajiv Kapoor’s death (on February 9, 2021). “That was a big blow. But I can say that Rishi at least didn’t live to see his brother’s demise.”
The ‘Noorie’ actress says she remembers calling Rishi to say that Ranbir sounds ditto like him on screen. “He was very proud of his son. He wasn’t one of those who used sugary words and would never go about giving interviews about what an actor I have in my son.”
The lockdown continued and Poonam was unable to go over to Neetu’s house after Rishi left this world. “Neetu got down to doing a film (‘Jug Jugg Jeeyo’), and beyond a certain point, we ought to learn to respect a family’s privacy. It’s a huge thing to lose your life partner of so many years and Neetu’s life largely began and ended with Chintu to a great extent over the years,” Poonam points out, adding, “It is so nice to see that both her kids-Ranbir and Riddhima-are by her side”.
Was Rishi as moody as they say? And did Poonam find it tough to be with him? “The only time that would happen is when he would lose in Scrabble to me; he hated to lose. But he was not moody; he was just very upfront. He was blunt and non-diplomatic. I wouldn’t say we kept our distance per se, but yes, we were never on back-slapping terms either. It was all about respect. He would not hesitate to say that he’s had enough of photographs if and when somebody went on a clicking spree with him! He would unhesitatingly say ‘enough’ after a certain point even if I kept sending him pictures on his phone. And, if you praised him too much, he would feel that you are faking it and sucking up to him.”
Lauding Rishi’s performances which surfaced over his later years, Poonam says that nobody could do a romantic song as well as Rishi.
Point out that Rishi’s T-shirts looked like sweaters, and Poonam laughs, “I think that started with ‘Kabhi Kabhie’. Those days, we used to shoot a lot in Kahsmir. So while his heroine wore a chiffon saree, he would be happy with his woolens. But he never overdressed”.
Rishi told Poonam that he was enjoying his second innings which was, in fact, giving him more than he’d earned in his heydays. “I understand that he felt liberated nowadays; no more signing up of movies which will need him to do five songs and the ‘dishoom dishoom’ in the end. Today, he could do 20 days of shoot instead of the usual 100 he did in his films those days and yet not be shortchanged.”
‘Ek Chaadar Maili Si’ was an important achievement in Poonam’s life. “Think of it, I wasn’t going to sign up for that role. I did it quite unwillingly. I felt I have a very small role in comparison to Hema Malini’s. The director, however, kept telling me that I will remember it as one of the best films in my life. I didn’t think it would turn out that way but it did. And of course, our ‘Yeh Vaada Raha’ did very well”.
Continues Poonam, “I did ‘Zamaanat’ and quite a few others with Rishi. I didn’t like seeing him in ‘102 Not Out’ because that’s not how I knew him; but all the same, he was outstanding in that. The same applies to his brilliant performance in ‘Kapoor & Sons’. He had a long phase after ‘Bobby’, wherein his films flopped and he was very vocal about it. But soon, he knew that it were films like Zahreela Insaan’ that made him a star. He had no competition; he was irreplaceable. Maybe when your films don’t do well in your early days, you aren’t labelled a star. But it was written all over him that he was a very good and reliable actor.
Ask her to pick one of her films that she considers as Rishi’s best and she replies, “He was good in all, so I won’t do that.” But remind her of ‘Prem Rog’ and she shoots back, “I agree with you. ‘Prem Rog’ was a double indemnity- Raj Kapoor‘s direction and Chintu’s acting. Add this to the film’s music and Padmini Kolhapure‘s performance.”
Concludes Poonam, “I would like to believe that eternal and immortal people die young–be it Rishi, Smita Patil, Meena Kumari, or Madhubala.”
Rishi and Poonam starred together in about ten films like ‘Sitamgar’, ‘Yeh Vaada Raha’, ‘Zamana’, ‘Biwi O Biwi’, ‘Ek Chadar Maili Si’, and ‘Tawaif’.