Happy birthday Dimple Kapadia: The teenage star who became a diva

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It is famously said about Bollywood that married female actors don’t make leading ladies. Strangely, this belief has been turned on its head many times. One actor to do so was Dimple Kapadia, who pretty much began her film career after her marriage broke down, but rose to spectacular height in her professional life.

The time was early ’70s and filmmaker Raj Kapoor was in the lookout for a young and fresh face for a teenage romance he had in mind. His search led him to a 16-year-old daughter of a wealthy Santa Cruz businessman, Chunnibhai Kapadia, with deep links in the film industry. Her name was Dimple Kapadia.

Dimple was reportedly shown videos of young Nargis and asked to bring onscreen the sort of innocence associated with the senior actor. Dimple was launched with fanfare -- when Bobby released in 1973, this 16-year-old became an instant hit. People were struck by her cherubic beauty, her innocence and, of course, the manner in which Raj Kapoor presented her. Dimple’s fashion sense became a craze with girls of that era. Dimple’s polka-dotted, midriff showing skirts and blouses were a rage. Who can forget her red bikini shot? Raj Kapoor made her enact a scene from his own life -- the scene where Rishi Kapoor meets Dimple for the first time replicates the showman setting his eyes on Nargis for the first time.

Dimple Kapadia in Bobby.

Dimple Kapadia in Bobby.

As Rishi knocks at the door of Mrs Braganza, his one-time nanny, a young Dimple opens the door. Even as Rishi admires her beauty, Dimple keeps enquiring about the purpose of his visit. At one point, she brushes aside her hair with her dough-stained hand, a scene reportedly straight out Raj Kapoor’s life when he met Nargis.

Dimple Kapadia’s fashion sense was a big hit with girls.

Dimple Kapadia’s fashion sense was a big hit with girls.

Bobby was a roaring success and Dimple its crowning glory. However, even before the film could release, Dimple had married the reigning superstar of the day, Rajesh Khanna. Dimple retired from films and settled into domesticity. Bobby, nonetheless, fetched Dimple her first Filmfare Award for Best Actress.

The marriage was never a happy one. The only saving grace was the birth of her two daughters - Twinkle and Rinke Khanna.

After 9 years of marriage, Dimple finally walked out of it with her two daughters in tow and moved back to her parents’ home. It was then that she decided to give her film career a second shot.

Her first film after the long break was Saagar, where she was again cast with Rishi Kapoor. It also starred southern star Kamal Haasan. With Saagar, audiences were forced to sit back and take note of the ravishing beauty Dimple had transformed into - the cherubic face had given way to a stunner. Her auburn hair, deep set eyes, beauteous face and a figure to die for. Who can forget the song, Jaane Do Na, and her red sari act. The year was 1985. The film fetched her Filmfare Award for Best Actress.

Dimple Kapadia in Lekin.

Dimple Kapadia in Lekin.

Thereafter, there was no stopping Dimple. Though the reigning divas of the era were Sridevi and later Madhuri Dixit, Dimple managed to carve a niche for herself, doing a mix of commercial and arthouse films, worth remembering.

Around the time Saagar released, a number of her other films she had signed for were also hitting the screen - Manzil Manzil (Sunny Deol), Aitbaar with Raj Babbar (inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller Dial M For Murder), Arjun (Sunny Deol) - all showed Dimple as a bankable commercial heroine.

Feroz Khan cast her in Janbaaz, where she was cast opposite Anil Kapoor. Feroz presented her as the ‘macho man’s woman’ and, to her credit, she pulled it off with aplomb.

Dimple was, of course, never content doing just commercial cinema and was keen on picking up more meaningful roles.

In the late 80s and later early 90s she signed up for the string of films, for which she is best remembered now - Mahesh Bhatt’s Kaash, Govind Nihalani’s Drishti, Gulzar’s Lekin and Kalpana Lajmi’s Rudaali.

Also read: Tenet trailer: Twinkle Khanna showers praise on mom Dimple Kapadia, calls her ‘Superwoman’

Playing a wife and mother in Kaash, Dimple was cast opposite Jackie Shroff who was in the role of a fading film star. It showed a woman struggling to make sense of a failing marriage, desire for a career, separation from husband and finally reconciling as the couple discovers their son has cancer.

In Drishti, she and Shekhar Kapur play a young urban professional couple, who both have extramarital affairs. Their marriage totters after Shekhar confesses to his affair and they divorce. Four years later, they meet again and she tells him of her affair. Dimple showed the complexity in relationships well, particularly within the folds of marriage.

With Gulzar’s Lekin, however, came her finest performance. She played a restless spirit named Reva seeking liberation. Through the film, she keeps appearing and presents herself to Vinod Khanna, in the role of a government employee, assigned to take stock of inventory in an abandoned haveli in Rajasthan. The film and, particularly its songs, are a huge hit and remain popular to this day.

For Lekin, Dimple was nominated Filmfare Award for Best Actress but didn’t win it.

Then, in 1993, came Rudaali, where Dimple was cast in the role of a professional mourner. The film follows the practice of hiring women whose job is to publicly express grief of family members who are otherwise not permitted to display emotions in public at the death of the family member.

Dimple Kapadia in a deglamourised avatar in Rudaali.

Dimple Kapadia in a deglamourised avatar in Rudaali.

Playing Shanichari, Rudaali literally translates to weeping woman. The film did more than just show an age-old tradition - it was an engaging tale of the complex web of relationships, the societal structure of feudal Rajasthan and, of course, the status of women in a deeply male-dominated society.

Till Lekin and Rudaali happened, Dimple was mostly cast in urbane roles. Seeing her essay essentially rural roles was quite a revelation. Dimple’s powerful performance fetched her National Award in the best actress category and Filmfare Critics Award in the same category too.

Then, in 2001, young Farhan Akhtar, in his debut film, Dil Chahta Hai, cast her in a supporting role. Essentially a slick tale, telling the story of urban Indian youth, Dimple was cast an older woman, who finds herself as the object of affection of a one of film’s three heroes. Playing a woman caught in a troubled marriage, Dimple’s small but significant presence in the film is still fondly recalled.

Dimple will soon be seen making her international debut in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, when it hits the screen. She was last seen in Irrfan Khan’s film, Angrezi Medium, in a small but significant role.

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