Is there anything Dimple Kapadia can't do?
On her 64th birthday, we deconstruct 7 iconic roles, from the teenaged Bobby to the stoic Shanichari in Rudaali
In May 2019, news broke that Dimple Kapadia would star in filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s next. Twitter collapsed with reactions. Now, if you’ve been a cinema nerd, or have even followed the actor’s filmography through the years, you already know of her timeless versatility. It was about time Nolan discovered it, too. “Thank you for your great skill and hard work and for lending your talent,” he would later write.
As she turns 64 today, it’s safe to say that Kapadia’s consistent acting career has proven she can’t be force fit into any conventional boxes. Not the eyelash-batting vamp nor the sanskari bahu. She’s danced around trees, and taken on her fair share of independent films.
From her brazen Bobby in polka-dotted crop tops and Mona’s crowning glory act in Saagar to the heart-wrenching Shanichaari in Rudaali and Tara adding gravitas to Dil Chahta Hai, Kapadia is the OG bold type.
Some of her masterpieces are severely undernoticed, including the crossover film, Leela, and Mrinal Sen’s art-house movie, Antareen.
But birthdays provide the perfect opportunity to revisit old memories, and find something new. Join us as we rewatch these gems to celebrate the phenomenon of Dimple Kapadia, and jot down some more fashion statements from her oeuvre.
This Dimple Kapadia watchlist is a masterclass in versatility
In Julie Andrew’s wise words, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” Raj Kapoor took a trope with no expiry date: forbidden teen romance, but kept it rooted in middle-class desi sensibilities.
For some reason, my parents wouldn’t let me watch the film when I was six, but I had figured how to use the VHS player by then, so one afternoon, I discovered Bobby, my first brush with forbidden love.
Set in 1970s India, pretty and headstrong Catholic girl Bobby meets rich young man Raj (Rishi Kapoor), who unlike his peers, is into shayari and poetry. It’s love at first sight for Raj, and at the touch of love, he becomes a singer and belts out “Main shayar toh nahi” hitting all the right notes on piano.
As candy floss romance blooms between the teens, the villains of the year, mummy-papa show up. The young couple battles religion differences, class divides and more, and there’s a lot of drama and a lovely soundtrack to keep you glued, until we find the happy ending.
But it’s not just the songs and the story that people took home, it was also the trend-setting polka-dotted crop tops flaunted by Kapadia through the movie. It became such a rage that they even started calling it the Bobby print.
Clearly, the Bobby print and angry Indian parents stood the test of time, and the movie refuses to age.
Watch on Zee5
The actor was on an 11-year hiatus after Bobby. She returned to the screen with a string of films that failed to recreate the Bobby magic, but in 1985, director Ramesh Sippy took us back to familiar shores.
We return to Goa’s pristine beaches in the company of Catholic girl, Mona (Kapadia), who runs a local pub with her father. And again, there’s rich boy Ravi (Kapoor). Mona is still charming and headstrong. Ravi continues to pursue music, this time, on the guitar, as he strums one love song after another.
But the Saagar conflict isn’t parental opposition; it’s Mona’s best friend, Raja (Kamal Hasaan), who makes it a love triangle. He is smitten by the effortlessly charming Mona, but for the sake of their life-long friendship, steers clear of confessing.
We don’t need to tell you how the movie ends, because you’ve already guessed it. But does it keep us from rewatching the classic? Never.
Maybe I was too young to decode the complexities of the triangle, but I absolutely loved the opening five minutes, in which Raja pretends to have rat poison and causes havoc in Mona’s kitchen. A close second favourite is of course SP Balasubramaniam’s ‘O Maria!’.
PS: If moms of the ’80s are to be believed, Mona became the reference point for their haircuts for the rest of their lives.
Watch on Prime Video
I was two, and “Dil Hoom Hoom Karein“, the opening track on side A of the Rudaali cassette was my lullaby. Kalpana Lajmi’s movie had already made a mark years before I watched the phenomenal film.
There’s some more sand in this Dimple-starrer, but not the kind you see on sunny Goan beaches. We are in Jaisalmer’s golden deserts. And the actor is a far cry from the bold and peppy avatars of her earlier films.
Based on writer Mahashweta Devi’s novel, the title refers to the custom of hiring professional female mourners (Rudaali) on the death of a male relative, in parts of Rajasthan. The women express grief that the aristocratic members of the upper-class families refrain from showing, or feel.
Dimple plays Shanichari, a woman from the lower strata of society. Her life is enveloped in sufferings: parents who’ve abandoned her, poor finances, a drunken husband.
In her old age, when her friend Bhikni (Rakhee Gulzar) asks her to work as a rudaali, Shanichari faces a problem: she cannot cry. A life full of misery has turned her into a stoic stone. Shanichari’s delayed catharsis comes with a big revelation.
It’s haunting and painful, yet freeing. As a viewer, you’ll not be able to control the dam from bursting as you watch Kapadia’s heart-wrenching performance. It’s one of her finest, and she certainly deserved the National Award she bagged that year.
Watch on AirtelXstream
Starring Anjan Dutta and Kapadia, Mrinal Sen’s sentimental movie is a story of two lost and lonely souls, who build a safe space together, only to have it all crumble down. There’s pain, longing and a deep yearning of love in this National Award-winning film.
Dutta plays a struggling writer (unnamed), who starts living in his friend’s mansion. He hopes to find inspiration. One night, the landline rings. the caller hangs up immediately. The caller (Kapadia) is a lonely woman in a high-rise apartment.
She calls again and their correspondence begins. Soon, the two look forward to these long calls, and neither reveal their details. They build a secret world of their own. But when an unforeseen tragedy disconnects their correspondence forever, all that’s left is a desperate call for closure and a heart full of “What ifs?”.
When I look back at the film now, Sen’s Antareen, based on Saadat Hasaan Manto’s Badshahat Ka Khatimah, in the weirdest sense of the term, feels like a precursor to online dating, where often you’re left hanging with a barrage of questions, as a memorable association comes to a sudden halt.
Watch on Epicon
Hair goals, saree goals, ageing gracefully goals and a reverberating ghazal by Jagjit Singh, “Khumar-e-gham”, Somnath Sen’s crossover film, Leela, is such an underrated gem.
Leela (Kapadia), stuck in an unhappy open marriage with Nashaad (Vinod Khanna), is a professor of history in Mumbai. After the loss of her mother, she realises she has never lived for herself.
She moves to the USA, and starts teaching at the University of Southern California. Here, she befriends her colleague Chaitali (Deepti Naval), who describes herself as “a post-modern woman and I do as I please”.
Chaitali’s son, Krish / Krishna (Amol Mhatre) is more rooted in American culture than his own. Krish makes a bet with his friends that he’ll seduce his stunning new professor.
Sure, he wins the bet, but when the repercussions of their bond take a toll on the other spheres of life, they reassess their choices. On the surface, Leela appears to be a teacher-student relationship gone awry, but it’s not without layers of cultural exchange, shedding of cross-cultural baggage, and a poignant tale of self-exploration and rediscovery.
Available on Amazon
Dil Chahta Hai, 2001
For many, Farhan Akhtar’s debut directorial marked the onset of Bollywood 2.0. Three friends (Aakash played by Aamir Khan, Sameer essayed by Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna’s Siddharth) in a metro city, are busy doing what their hearts want (as the title suggests). They manage to take last-minute road trips to Goa, prank each other, one practical joke at a time, and are more or less carefree.
We’d like to focus on Siddharth, the 20-something artist, drawn to his new neighbour, Tara (Kapadia), a divorced mother with a history of substance abuse. They develop an unusual friendship, and Siddharth can’t stop himself from falling in love with her. As Tara brings Siddharth out of his shell, her vulnerability and guilt of being a bad mother is soothed by Sid’s maturity beyond hisyears.
The odd couple is arguably the most crucial one in the film, and sends every character on their own soul-searching journey.
Dil Chahta Hai would remain a buddy movie, if not for the sensitive storyline of one of the most unusual couples of Bollywood.
Watch on Netflix