Vijay Kapoor — champion of the physically challenged
My acquaintance and knowledge of the famous Kapoor clan of Indian cinema can mainly be attributed to my friendship with Vijay Kapoor. And although he is not there anymore, his friendship has been instrumental in my attachment to India’s Hindi cinema ever since.
Vijay was the son of Trilok Kapoor, brother of Prithviraj, the patriarch of the family, who left Peshawar to settle in Mumbai during the British Raj. Trilok had another son Vicky also a classmate, who dabbled in the film industry but gave it up almost immediately.
Vijay left college after graduation to continue his master’s degree plus LLB at the same time. This was very common at the time although I thought the two degrees should be pursued separately in order to benefit the most from the courses. Vijay did both at the same time and told me by mail about his success.
But Vijay did not take up the legal profession and instead chose to go to the film industry. His father Trilok was a famous actor of mythological films and his cousins Raj, Shammi and Shashi were well known actors of course. The name Kapoor is a legend in Hindi films with so many of the boys and girls now occupying exalted places in the industry. Kareena, daughter of Randhir, is presently the most famous of them all. Ranbir son of Rishi — of Bobby fame — is also famous.
Bobby is the film that saved Raj from near bankruptcy after the debacle of his Mera Naam Joker in which he sustained unbearable losses because the public simply did not like it or did not like the concept of Raj making a fool of himself whereas he had been held in such high esteem and admiration that the public could not accept such denigration of their hero even by himself.
Bobby was a smashing success although it was directed by Raj himself and acted by his youngest son Rishi who went on from there to become one of the finest actors of Hindi cinema.
Shekhar Kapoor, a renowned director, once said that Raj was better at directing than acting although he was a marvelous actor as well as we can see in Awara, Shree 420 and other blockbusters.
Vijay preferred to go into directing rather than acting and started making some good films with a social content which made the government exempt them from the usual taxation. In l987, he produced and directed under his own banner Aakanksha starring Saeed Jaffery, Supriya Pathak and others including his father Trilok.
The film premiered on Doordarshan was an attempt to reflect the life of a physically challenged youth and his journey to reconcile with his destiny. It was connected with Vijay himself who was suffering from muscular dystrophy by the time and he was determined to make a film about the trauma of the victims. He struggled for 10 years to convince the government to help in funding the film whose theme was not commercially viable as it was devoid of the songs and dances of the age that the audiences in India would identify with and keep watching it.
He finally succeeded but by then his muscular disease had progressed and he began to walk with difficulty and unable to convince producers to finance his film ideas. That was the time we consolidated our friendship and our frequent meetings at the Oberoi in Mumbai and at times in Delhi, Nainital, Colombo and even the Maldives where I used to go on assignments or to accompany him for a holiday.
Another film which I liked was Call Girl about another challenging theme as it tackled the tragedy of call girls in India which had a great story. When he raised the huge banner on one of Mumbai’s streets, the commissioner of police at the time objected to what he thought was a scandalous display and ordered it brought down which was done although the film went on to click with the masses who empathized with it.
Vijay was born in Mumbai in l939. He grew up and played in the city’s R.P. Masani Road (popularly known in those days as Hollywood street because of the large film fraternity staying there) in Matunga with his brother Vicky and cousins Raj, Shammi and Shashi then he went on to St. Xavier’s College where we met until graduation. Since he wanted a filmy line he started his career by assisting S.N. Tripathi, the director in his father’s home production Shiv Parvati, and made another film with his uncle Prithviraj and his cousin Shashi and Saira Banu. He hit off with his bold film Call Girl which was acclaimed as one of those films that dealt with an important topic that few had dared deal with. It was a hard hit social commentary aimed at the youth. He was heading for success with his film Radhaa Aur Seeta when unfortunately he suffered a heart attack at an early age that dealt a strong blow to his ambition and career. But he strove forward with the film drama Parakh starring Vijayndra and Sarika.
When in l980, India was experiencing a revolution in television viewership, Vijay was one of the first filmmakers to venture into video and telefilm productions but by then his muscular dystrophy was gradually dissipating his health and energy at a time when his talents as a director were being recognized, especially when the national television agreed to subsidize his film about the physically handicapped even if it was not going to be a commercial success as it lacked the Hindi film tamasha or the usual fare of dance song and slapstick comedy which made very few people above the age of ten laugh anyway.
Vijay’s health continued deteriorating with both heart and muscles crippling his energy but he did succeed in launching his two sons Ajay and Sanjay into the field with both doing exceedingly well.
Ajay is an acknowledged authority on filming of cricket matches both national and international while Sanjay is the owner and director of a huge film production company operating in the Gulf and growing from strength to strength. His only daughter Anuradha is settled in India but her daughter is in Australia. His widow Veena is living in Chandigarh.
Apart from his talents and championship of the handicapped, Vijay was a very nice man indeed, gentle and extremely polite and was very good company so good in fact that you would not know that he was silently suffering from a debilitating disease that was wasting away his life.
— Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah.