Sharmila Tagore on Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor: 'In Two Days I've Lost Two Of My Favourite Actors'
Sharmila Tagore shares her thoughts on the loss of two actors she was deeply connected with
The legendary Sharmila Tagore is devastated by the double blow that Indian cinema has received on two successive days. “Why are these younger actors going and the older ones are still around? First, we lost Irrfan who was an absolute favourite and now Rishi Kapoor who was not only a fabulous actor but also part of my family. In fact I’m trying to call (daughter-in-law, Rishi’s niece) Kareena since morning. But can’t get through,” Sharmilaji has barely been able to get over the first tragedy before the second struck.
“I took Irrfan’s death very personally. He was an actor I related deeply to. His performances in films like Maqbool, Paan Singh Tomar, for which he won the National award, and The Namasake were so subtle layered and brilliant…I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen The Namesake. Irrfan transformed into a Bengali gentleman. He learnt Bengali for the film. My daughter Soha has done three films with Irrfan. I’m very envious of her.”
Sharmilaji remembers meeting Irrfan at an international film festival some years ago. “I remember him as very silent, not saying much but very observant. He spoke about how important it was for an actor like him who believed in realistic acting to bridge the gap between niche and populist cinema, and how realistic acting became boring after a point. Irrfan wanted to change that. If you watch his performances keenly he always ended his scenes on an ambiguous note…a quirky twitch of the eyebrow, a cryptic smile. His performances intrigued me. I wanted to know what he was going to do next. What was he hiding?”
With Rishi Kapoor it was just the opposite. Says Sharmilaji, “He came on the screen like a bright light and embraced the audience. Unlike Irrfan who always seemed to withhold something, Rishi spilled it all out and connected unconditionally with the audience. No matter what he played, the loverboy or the old father in 100 Not Out he was completely into character. I remember this film of his with Dimple Kapadia, Pyaar Mein Twist where he was shown walking his dog. He looked so properly and gentlemanly. In Hum Tum he came into the plot midway. But the screen brightened the minute he walked in. Rishi had a rare ability to immerse himself in every character completely. And he was a people’s person. He could connect with the audience immediately.”
Sharmilaji remembers receiving a joint award with Rishi some years ago. “We were both given Filmfare awards for Lifetime Achievement. Rishi openly grumbled about why he was being bracketed with me since I was around for so much longer. That’s the he was. He spoke his mind regardless of the repercussions. Recently he tweeted about liquor shops being opened during the lockdown. People were outraged. but he had a point. Those addicted to alcohol are bound to get restless sitting at home.”
Sharmilaji feels the unfairness of the double loss very strongly. “Irrfan and Rishi had both gone for treatment of their cancer. They came back and we all hoped that they would be fine. That was not to be. I don’t know what greater calamities this year has in store.”