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    What Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan's loss means for Indian diaspora

    What Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan's loss means for Indian diaspora

    What Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan's loss means for Indian diaspora
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    By Lavina Melwani   IST (Updated)


    Fare thee well, Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan – what a show you’ll put on for the Gods in Heaven!

    It is a tragedy within a larger tragedy: in the larger context of the coronavirus crisis where we have lost over 233,000 people worldwide and at least 63,000 right here in America, it’s all relative and the number of meaningless deaths leave you numb.
    Yet millions of Indian-Americans still feel a pain in losing within the course of two days, two particular individuals – Irrfan and Rishi – whom they had never met but with whom everyone was on a first name basis, and instinctively felt they were family. So it was like losing someone you had known all your life.
    Irrfan Khan, 53, had been battling neuroendrocine cancer and died on April 29 following a colon infection. Rishi Kapoor, 67, had struggled with leukemia for two years and lost the battle on April 30. Both were warriors who fought cancer till the very end.
    Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor -- both fine actors -- gave us so much joy and so much of laughter with their performances. Both marvelous actors, each in their own way, with their own unique personas.
    Yet we are particularly sad in our loss because they partly belonged to us, they were a part of our youth, and a part of our lives. Our identities were tied up with theirs. In darkened theaters they brought so many truths of life and living to us, revealed so many complex layers of relationships to us. For the Indian diaspora, for immigrant parents and first generation American children, they mapped our longings and our dreams.
    In the days of internet and live streaming, their films – be they from the 70’s, 80’s or 2000’s are available so easily that it is finally possible for Indian-Americans to be intimate with their latest work.
    Irrfan Khan, who started out as an unknown performer in Mira Nair’s ‘Salaam Bombay’ (1988) went on to become a truly international star with films like ‘The Namesake’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘The Lunchbox’. He was also noted for films like 'Maqbool’, ‘Haider’, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, ‘Piku’, and ‘Hindi Medium’.
    Rishi Kapoor, from the illustrious Kapoor family with grandfather Prithviraj and father Raj Kapoor, the dream merchant, uncles Shammi and Shashi , and son Ranbir, was particularly beloved by diaspora audiences – they carried their stories with them into a new world. Rishi, whose romances from ‘Bobby’ to ‘Chandini’ excited so many young people, had one of his best performances in ‘Prem Rog’. He went on to a stellar career with fine dramatic roles in many films including ‘Mulk’.
    So great is the love of international film buffs on social media that fans from many countries, including Pakistan, are sharing tributes. Both Irrfan and Rishi came to New York so often that fans felt they knew them and sometimes even had the thrill of meeting them. From Twitter to WhatsApp to Facebook and Instagram, it’s been a love fest for these two actors.
    Sandeep Chakravorty, Consul General of India in New York, said, “We were extremely saddened by the untimely loss of these two great personalities, admired both in India and abroad. They are people who brought India to the world, particularly in the context of the US and New York, they had many friends and admirers here.”
    CG Sandeep and Taruna Chakravorty, Neetu and Rishi Kapoor
    Irrfan Khan was in New York for the South Asian International Film Festival and there are many happy pictures of fans and film volunteers with him. As Shilen Amin, director of the festival said, “There are not enough words. We are so saddened by the loss of one of the great ones. Irrfan set the benchmark for Indian actors launching internationally.”
    Irrfan Khan with South Asian International Film Festival volunteers and fans.
    A video which was the trailer for ‘Angrezi Medium’ was revisited by thousands of fans on YouTube after his death because in this video Irrfan Khan actually bids farewell to his fans and his last words on it are poignantly -‘Wait for me’.
    Fans were so moved that this video got 10,444 comments on YouTube: as one fan wrote, “The last words ‘Wait for me’ - it just breaks my heart a million times.” Another fan quoted Irrfan’s parting words ‘I'm here with you and yet I'm not.’ “That sentence hit me like a truck. You may have left this world but your legacy will still live. Until next time Mr. Irrfan!”
    Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh were in New York in 2011 for the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) where the Rishi-starrer Disney film ‘Do Dooni Char’ was shown, and hundreds of New Yorkers turned up to meet and greet them.
    Aroon Shivdasani, creator of the festival, recalled his bonhomie and passion for living. He had the festival-goers doubled over with laughter in the question and answer session with festival director Aseem Chhabra.
    Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh with Aroon Shivdasani and Aseem Chhabra
    At the gala, says Shivdasani, it had to be a Kapoor-sized Scotch for him. “Salad was served - oh no! Rishi did not want to eat ‘ghaas phuus’....it was promptly removed and the non-vegetarian entree placed before him. Throughout dinner Rishi was laughing and joking - it was both an eventful and entertaining evening! His talent, laughter and antics will be sorely missed.”
    In the following years Rishi and Neetu’s visits to New York were for sadder, more somber reasons - for cancer treatment for Rishi. Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty met them several times and was introduced to them by the late Arun Jaitley who asked him to guide them about the treatment.
    He recalls, “I set up a meeting in my home for the doctor and the meeting lasted several hours as they discussed the diagnosis and treatment.”
    Chakravorty also remembers Rishi Kapoor as intensely patriotic, a passionate foodie and as a man of his word: “On two occasions I witnessed that he had given his word to Gulshan Grover and Anupam Kher that he would attend their book releases and although he wasn't very well and had to take blood transfusions, he made it a point to attend the public functions. He was truly a zinda dil person living life with gusto.”
    As the Indians in America and around the globe join their fellow desis in the homeland as well as film fans of many nationalities across the world in their tributes to these two legends, we can be grateful for the legacy both Rishi and Irrfan gifted us – their best work remains as close as the click of a button. Switch it on, and their magic unfolds. It’s as if they never left us.
    The characters they played, the stories they told crossed borders and the ideals of love and truth always won, as they should.
    Fare thee well, Rishi Kapoor and Irrfan Khan – what a show you’ll put on for the Gods in Heaven!
    Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina. Read her columns here.
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