Raj Kapoor is an undisputed legend in Bollywood cinema. An actor, producer, and director, he made a name for himself in the 1940s and 50s with films such as Barsaat, Awara, and Shree 420, all of which featured him and screen beauty Nargis in leading roles. (Their illicit off-screen romance is the stuff of legend as well.) By the late 1960s Kapoor’s career was somewhat on the skids, and the critical and box-office failure of his six-years-in-the-making Mera Naam Joker (1970), a quasi-autobiographical work, seemed to be a strong indicator that his star had truly fallen.
After the failure of Mera Naam Joker, Kapoor decided that his days as an actor were over, but his desire to direct remained strong. By the early 1970s, changes in youth culture that had swept America and Europe were also making inroads in Indian society. Fashion, music and attitudes that were a far cry from those of their parents were but a few of the liberating changes that empowered the youth of the day. In an effort to capture this social upheaval, Kapoor decided to create a modern love story about two teenagers, and the result was Bobby, a film that is as much loved today as it was in 1973, the year of its release.
Kapoor cast his middle son Rishi in the lead role, and introduced Indian audiences to Dimple Kapadia as the titular heroine. Only sixteen years old at the time, it didn’t go unnoticed that the beautiful and shapely new actress bore a striking similarity to Kapoor’s former leading lady, Nargis. What’s somewhat remarkable about Bobby’s long-lasting success is how simple a story it is, with seemingly little substance to justify it’s nearly four-hour running time. Yet the film became a template for countless teen romances that followed.
With a nod to Romeo and Juliet, Bobby tells of Raj (Rishi Kapoor), the son of extremely wealthy parents who have little time to care for their only child. Raised more by his wet-nurse Mrs. Braganza, Raj is sent off to boarding school as a young child due to his impetuous and not-too-polite behavior. Jumping ahead to eighteenth birthday, Raj returns home to find that his parents are extremely pleased with the way he turned out, but still have little time to spare for him. Visiting his former wet-nurse, he runs into her granddaughter Bobby (Dimple Kapadia), and it’s love at first sight. When Raj first spots Bobby, her hands are covered in batter, which she inadvertently wipes in her hair. Legend has it that Nargis did the exact same thing the first time Raj Kapoor visited her house.
The daughter of a Catholic fisherman, Bobby is of course considered unacceptable by Raj’s snobbish parents. Attempts to pay-off Bobby’s father in exchange for terminating the relationship creates a feud between the families, but the two youngsters have decided that they don’t care about their parents’ wishes. Though Bobby is sent away and Raj’s father arranges a marriage with the mentally challenged daughter of a business partner, the rebellious teens have decided that they would rather die than be apart. However, being Bollywood the outcome is, unsurprisingly, far from Shakespearian.
Part of Bobby’s charm is that it’s very much a product of its day. Mini-skirts, hotpants, leather outfits, oversized glasses, and swinging parties are but a few of the period items on display. The new liberal spirit of India’s youth who were ready to break free of tradition (at least somewhat) is also evident throughout. Dimple’s beauty, especially sequences that feature her in a tiny red bikini, has also no doubt contributed to its success. The songs by Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Anand Bakshi are today considered evergreens, especially the wedding song "Main shair to nahin".
Bobby was the start of Rishi Kapoor career as a heartthrob, and he continued to play the role of the romantic hero for the next two decades. Though an impressive actress, Dimple Kapadia’s career was to remain on hold for eleven years, as she married then-superstar Rajesh Khanna, though he was fifteen years her senior. She returned to the big screen in 1984, a year after her divorce. She and Rishi Kapoor are both still acting in films today. Bobby might not have much in the way of original content or dramatic depth, but it remains a milestone in Bollywood cinema for its fresh approach to the teen romance. The song and dance numbers are wonderfully imaginative, with the kind of impressive set design associated with the Bollywood of that era.
Starring: Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Pran, Prem Nath
Directed by: Raj Kapoor
Produced by: Raj Kapoor
Music: Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Anand Bakshi
Running Time: 2 hrs. 48 min
Link: Bobby (IMDB page)