The film industry is among the sectors worst hit by the lockdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic. Cinema halls and multiplexes by their very nature require close proximity, which is anathema to the new mantra of ‘social distancing’. So, these will be the last to reopen, when there is absolute confidence that spread of the virus cannot take place. And, of course, the making of films requires the presence of large crews and casts, so that also remains in limbo. Shooting films in the conventional format remains suspended for the predictable future. Consequently, the financial loss to the sector can only be imagined.
Almost symbolically, Bollywood’s woes have manifest themselves in the sudden deaths of two of its towering personalities – Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor. The two represented opposite sides of the spectrum – Irrfan was the struggling outsider who made it to the very top by dint of hard work, while Rishi was filmic royalty, who was acting in films by the time he could barely walk, but impressed on making his debut as a leading man in ‘Bobby’. It revealed the potential for what proved to be a hugely illustrious career. Both performed a wide range of roles, wowing audiences and critics alike.
The two were also cancer-survivors, who ultimately succumbed to the disease. Ominously, both died in the time of COVID-19, when people with pre-existing illnesses have displayed vulnerability to the virus. Hopefully, they would have been tested for it in hospital. It might be too much of a coincidence that they died with sudden complications at such a time. Sadly, because of the shutdown, they could also not be given the send-off that Mumbai would have accorded them in normal times.
While Rishi was the quintessential romantic hero, who performed most of his roles in the mainstream genre, albeit at a time replete with master movie makers who created immortal films, Irrfan belonged to the more grounded genre of ordinary people experiencing special moments in life. Eventually, Rishi got to do movies over six decades that explored his versatility as an actor, which was never more visible than in the recent ‘Mulk’. He was the heartthrob of the nation, who managed to hold his own against macho heroes like Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna in films such as ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony’. Irrfan had a much shorter, but considerably fulfilling career. He excelled not only in India, but also the Mecca of world cinema, Hollywood.
As individuals, too, both were evolved persons, who had extracted the essence of their extraordinary experiences to become better human beings and role-models for others. By inspiring others in so many ways, they have left behind a legacy that will be cherished by all, their industry in particular, for a long time to come.