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RIP Krishna Raj Kapoor – The lady in white: A tribute to the Kapoor khandaan’s matriarch 

On Monday morning, the Hindi film fraternity woke up to the extremely sad news of Krishna Raj Kapoor’s demise. I will always remember her as the First Lady of Bollywood. It was her elder son, Randhir, who said, “I regret to announce that I lost my mother early this morning. She died peacefully.” The wife of Padma Bhushan recipient and Dabasaheb Phalke awardee, filmmaker Raj Kapoor, Krishnaji (88) died of a cardiac arrest at 5 am on October 1, 30 years after she lost her husband on June 2, 1988. While friends and family members poured in to pay their last tributes, her son Rishi, who left for the US with Neetu and Ranbir on Saturday, couldn’t be present for the last rites. Speaking of Krishnaji, well, a hundred memories live with me. From her immaculate, usually, clad-in-white appearance to her bright lipstick and well-manicured painted nails, almost everything is etched vividly in my mind. Apart from being a benevolent human being, she was also extraordinarily sharp. 

A CHARMING HOST

On one of my visits to her Deonar residence two years ago, I bent to touch her feet and she reprimanded me saying, “Betiyaan, pair nahin chhooti.” Yes, the Punjabis do not permit their daughters to touch the feet of elders because they feel a girl should never have to ‘bend’ as they are considered Goddesses. So, while Rishi Kapoor, with whom I had gone to their family home, touched his mum’s feet and got blessed in turn, I got a hug from the lady.

Next, we were treated to a glass of chaas. And, then asked to go about our business. We were picking out photographs for Rishi’s autobiography, Khullam Khulla. And, Krishnaji had kindly given us access to the treasure trove of family albums spanning seven decades that are lying safe in aluminium trunks on the bungalow’s first floor. 

At lunchtime, the lady of the house appeared dressed in a dark-coloured salwar kameez, her sartorial choice a rare exception. When we requested her for a photograph, she promptly pulled out her orange lipstick, dabbed her lips and said, “I’m ready.” Like the rest of her khandaan, she didn’t relish the fact that I was a vegetarian because the choices for a herbivorous person are limited at the Kapoor lunch table. Once that hurdle was crossed, she enthusiastically fed me aloo-gobhi and garam parathas, explaining how the cauliflower was broken into pieces, not cut in the Kapoor family kitchen. Minutes later, she saw Chintu eating without wearing a napkin. She wrinkled her nose and said, “Napkin pehen loh.” It was sweet to see a 64-year-old Rishi (in 2016) being pulled up by his mother for his lack of table manners on that occasion.

A WOMAN OF STEEL

Like I said at the start, Krishnaji was her own person. She didn’t suffer fools and though the world believed that she lived in her legendary husband Raj Kapoor’s shadow, this was not true.

In his book, Chintu spoke so affectionately of his mother. He said, “When my dad wanted to cast me as the young Raju in Mera Naam Joker (1970), he had to take permission from my mother, who gave him the go-ahead with a caveat saying — it should not interfere with my school studies.”

Not many may know this. Chembur would not have been the destination for the famed RK Studios that came up on a barren plot of land there seven decades ago.  Bollywood’s showman wanted the studio to be built at Tardeo back in the day. Legend has it that when Krishna heard that Raj saab had a choice of choosing between Tardeo and Chembur, she promptly told him to choose the latter. The reason, according to the family grapevine, is that Nargis had a home in South Mumbai and Krishna didn’t want anything too close to her place as she was romantically involved with Raj for many years.

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