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Hollywood Insider Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan, Bollywood Legends, Remembrance

Photo: Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan

The Indian film industry has recently lost two legendary actors: Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor. Khan is well-known around the world for his long career in Indian, British and American films – a true crossover star who dazzled both Bollywood and Hollywood, Kapoor has reigned supreme over Bollywood for the past five decades, a descendant of the famous Bollywood dynastic family of entertainers. While these deaths come at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic, both deaths were unrelated to the virus. 

Rishi Kapoor: “We all have a little bit of tears written in our life… And to erase them we need a little bit of help, a little bit of love, a little bit of magic.”

Irrfan Khan: “I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”

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Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan’s Brilliance

India’s film industry is a huge staple of the country’s culture, with actors and directors celebrated endlessly. Upon the two performers’ passing condolences and memorials began to pour in, from the country and around the world. Leaders from India’s highest levels of government expressed their grief, including former President of the Indian National Congress Rahul Gandhi and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor. The huge impact that Bollywood films have on the people of India makes the passing of Khan and Kapoor feel deeply personal to many. 

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Irrfan Khan has been a prolific actor for decades, with his first on-screen appearance being in 1988’s Oscar-Winning film Salaam Bombay! Since then Khan has appeared in a large number of universally acclaimed roles, often embodying villainous or antagonistic characters. He starred in the drama film Maqbool, in the titular role of Miyan Maqbool, which is a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The musical drama Life in a Metro garnered Khan even more praise, as did the 2012 sports biopic Paan Singh Tomar based on the Indian steeplechase champion of the same name.  

Rohit Kumar, writing on Irrfan Khan for The Wire, explains that, “The actor who passed away was more like one of us than he was like one of his contemporaries. And while we may not have known Irrfan personally, when we watched his movies we just knew that he knew and understood us.”

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In addition to an iconic Indian filmography, Irrfan Khan also appeared in a number of British and American films as well. He starred in 2006’s The Namesake, an English-language drama film directed by Indian-American director Mira Nair. Ang Lee’s 2012 adventure film Life of Pi also saw Irrfan Khan in a major English-language role, as an adult version of the main character Pi. He appeared in supporting roles in the blockbuster films The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012 and Jurassic World in 2016. Khan also made minor appearances in 2007’s dramatic comedy The Darjeeling Limited, directed by Wes Anderson, and Danny Boyle’s 2008 Oscar-Winning crime drama Slumdog Millionaire.

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Irrfan Khan died on April 29th, due to a colon infection that was likely the result of a neuroendocrine tumor. Khan had been diagnosed with the neuroendocrine tumor in March of 2018, and he pursued treatment for the ailment in the United Kingdom throughout that year before returning to India. He died only four days after his mother, Saeda Begum, who had passed on April 25th. 

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The Indian film legend, Rishi Kapoor, died on April 30th. An icon of Hindi cinema, Kapoor’s on-screen debut was at the age of three when he appeared in Shree 420, directed by his father Raj Kapoor. The Kapoor family is Bollywood royalty, including director Raj Kapoor, Sashi Kapoor, actor/director Randhir Kapoor, his son Ranbir Kapoor, Karishma Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor. 

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Fifteen years after appearing in Shree 420 Rishi Kapoor made his true film debut in Mera Naam Joker, also starring and directed by his father, as the young version of the main character Raju. Three years later Rishi would star in the 1973 film Bobby, once again directed by his father. Bobby was a huge success in India, still holding a spot as one of the twenty highest-grossing Indian films in history, and his performance earned Rishi Kapoor a Filmfare Best Actor Award. 

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Throughout the 80s and 90s Kapoor starred in a number of romantic films and thrillers. One of his most notable thriller roles is 1980’s Karz, directed by Subhash Ghai, which focuses on themes of revenge and reincarnation. Two of his more well-known romantic films from this period are Prem Rog, directed by his father Raj, and Henna, directed by his brother Randhir.

Rishi Kapoor’s career, particularly later in his life, was incredibly diverse. He also retained a strong familial connection throughout many of his projects, given his family’s history in cinema. The 2010 comedy Do Dooni Chaar, about a middle-class father struggling to provide for his family, saw Kapoor star alongside his wife Neetu Singh. The 2013 action thriller D-Day had Kapoor appear alongside Irrfan Khan, the first and only film to feature both stars. Jeethu Joseph’s 2019 thriller The Body, an adaptation of a Spanish film of the same name, would prove to be Kapoor’s final film role. 

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Rishi Kapoor was diagnosed with leukemia in 2018, leading to him pursuing treatment in New York City. After a year of treatment, Kapoor returned to India towards the end of 2019, and he died on April 29th, 2020 from health complications. 

The death of these two legendary actors, Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor, has devastated Bollywood fans. India thrives on its film industry, which serves as a major source of cultural pride and entertainment, so this is a tremendous loss for the country as a whole. The death of two icons, along with the persistence of the coronavirus pandemic, is a heavy burden to bear for the people of India. 

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In Remembrance of the two Legends Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan

However, many have taken this opportunity to celebrate the lives of these two icons, rather than simply mourn their passing. Baadal Nanjundaswamy, a well-known street artist from Bengaluru, India, created an artistic tribute to both actors which portrays Irrfan Khan from one angle and Rishi Kapoor from another.

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Legendary Indian film actress Sharmila Tagore wrote a letter in memory of the two men, describing their differences while also portraying their total commitment to the acting craft. Some even feel that the loss of Khan and Kapoor helped bring the country together, as Gulf News explained that, “In their death, the two actors managed to unite a fractious, terrified nation of currently manifold divisions into a common grief.”

While many mourn the loss of Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor, many also celebrate their lives. As two of Bollywood’s greatest actors, each with decades of acting experience, they should be recognized for their contribution to cinema. Whether it’s by watching one of their favorite films or creating a work of art, Indian film fans are sure to create touching tributes to their most iconic stars. 

We, at Hollywood Insider, would like to express our deepest condolences, love and kindness to the families and fans of Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan. 

By Thomas McNulty

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