She’s perhaps amongst those few child actors, who sashayed smoothly into stardom. Though her debut was Rickshawala (1973), it was her jig, Lekar hum deewana dil in Yaadon Ki Baarat, the same year that burned the dance floor. Tresses sans spray, red-hot mini and the shimmer of bonhomie… young Neetu Singh befriended Gen-X with her electric vibe.
When Dimple Kapadia ditched films for marriage, Neetu stepped in to rescue Rishi Kapoor. First co-star, then confidante and eventually his cherished… she moonwalked to fame with him in films including Khel Khel Mein, Kabhi Kabhie, Amar Akbar Anthony, Doosra Aadmi, Dhan Daulat between the ’70s – ’80s.
When she became Mrs Rishi Kapoor on 22 January 1980, it was a wrap for Neetu. Her heart found music in her hearth, husband and kids Riddhima and Ranbir. Through the dizzying peaks and arid valleys, Neetu remained the cornerstone of her citadel.
The most excruciating phase was when Rishi was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2018 and underwent treatment in New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital for the same. Through the therapy and the trials… the smile never left her face… though sometimes it failed to reach her eyes.
Rishi passed away on 30 April 2020. For someone, who’d spent her life from 16 to 60 with him… the vacuum is irrevocable. Today, Neetu stands at a new threshold, accoutred by his memories… and buoyed by the support of daughter Riddhima Kapoor Sahni and son Ranbir Kapoor.
Like every phase in her life, she will come up trumps is daughter Riddhima’s wish for her... Read it in her own words…
"There are so many memories of her through the growing years but what I distinctly remember is the fact that Mom was always around for my brother Ranbir (Kapoor) and me – physically and emotionally.
No matter where she was, whether with friends or elsewhere, she made sure to reach home at 3.30 pm before we came back from school. We never returned to an empty home. She’d be concerned about what we wanted to eat, whether we needed help with homework, whether we needed to talk… I follow the same with my daughter Samara.
At the same time, she made us independent and responsible. We could look after ourselves and did our own thing. But she was always there. She’d say, “I’m in my room in case you need me.”
I was an anxious kid, more so during exams. During those days particularly, I wanted her around. I liked to repeat what I’d memorized to her. It gave me confidence. Like I had nothing to worry about.
I need her for little things even today, though I’m married and a mother myself. I call her up to ask about my shoe size of a particular brand, the size of a T-shirt, which fits me best… and such trivial things.
Mom’s a giver. A caring person, for whom her kids and her family mean the world. She loves unconditionally, expecting nothing in return. She’s a beautiful homemaker. I’d give her 20/10 for that.
Though she loves Ranbir and me equally, I tease my brother saying Mom loves me more. When we ask her, whom she’s soft on, Mom’s patent answer is, “I have loved Riddhima two years more than Ranbir (Riddhima being two years older than Ranbir).”
As they say it takes two to tango and make a marriage work despite the ups and downs. My parents shared a unique relationship. Theirs is a bond to remember. Mom gave Dad a lot of love and attention.
Dad was a complete foodie. Mom, on the other hand, is particular about her workouts, her diet and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. She tried to control his diet and encourage him towards healthy eating. (Smiles) He did listen to her but food was something he really didn’t want to give up.
And alcohol? (Laughs) Well, he listened when he wanted to. Having said that there have been times when he checked into health farms and was so proud of losing weight. He’d beam and point to his jeans turned loose.
Dad was extremely dependent on Mom. He couldn’t be without her for a second. If she was out and didn’t happen to answer his call, he’d anxiously call me and ask “Why is your mother not picking the phone?” Even if she was in the washroom, he’d keep inquiring, “Where is Neetu?”
About Dad, ‘bullying’ her, it was all masti mein, a cute aspect of their relationship.
Dad had no qualms saying sorry if Mom was upset with him. He had to make up with her. He could never sleep over a fight. Mom was the patient one. She never erupts unless something deeply bothers her. That also she will mention it just once. She won’t go on repeating herself.
I too bully my husband (entrepreneur Bharat Sahani) all the time but it’s all in fun.
But I am a mellower version of Dad, while Bharat is more like Mom, just like Ranbir is.
I value Mom’s advice: ‘Support your husband and be his best friend more than anything else. Never cross that thin line of respect.’ She was Dad’s best friend, a one man-woman!
Dad had a different way of expressing his love. He was full of surprises. For her birthday, Dad would ask me for suggestions. I’d suggest something she'd liked but didn't buy and he’d gift her that. But materialistic things don’t mean anything to Mom. Relationships and gestures matter to her.
A recent memory that I cherish is of our trip to Paris, which Dad organised with Dadi (the late Krishna Kapoor), Mom, Ranbir, my husband, Samara and me on my mother’s 60th birthday. Dad was not in the best of health those days. He had a problem with his leg. It had a wound and it was painful. But he pampered Mom throughout.
Dadi loved the Disney Parks. Though he couldn’t walk properly, Dad took the three of them – Dadi, Mom and Samara – to the parks and spent an entire day with them. It was his last trip and the best.
After that he fell ill (Rishi Kapoor was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2018). That was the worst and most challenging phase for as a family and particularly for Mom. But she’s an Iron Lady, a rock.
She dealt with it with great strength. Though Ranbir and I kept visiting Dad in New York, Mom didn’t leave his side for a day. She was with him throughout the one-and-a-half-year period of treatment.
It was a good 20-minute walk to the hospital from where Mom was put up. She’d be going up and down regularly as she couldn’t stay there at night. Sometimes, Dad craved to eat something not available at the hospital. She’d prepare it herself him. At times, she’d even pamper him with a manicure and pedicure.
The period was indeed tough. But she didn’t give up. Of course, there were moments when she felt she couldn’t pull it further. She may have had a meltdown like we did. But she never shared it with us. Because we would fall weak. She pushed herself to make him comfortable. Her life was just about him those days.
Somewhere, we knew this was it. But no family is prepared for the tragedy. Due to the lockdown, I wasn’t even there to bid Dad the final goodbye. Though I have Dad’s last Facetime call saved on my phone.
I flew down later from Delhi and stayed with Mom for an entire year. We three – Ranbir, Mom and I – derive strength from each other. And our mother is our priority.
Dad too wanted us to look after her.
We miss Dad every day. We’re not complete without him. We cry, we laugh… while we remember him. We celebrate him all the time. He was so larger than life that I feel he’s still around us. He’s not gone anywhere. Yes, life has to move on but we carry his memories along.
If I had my way, I’d visit Mom every month. But she doesn’t like anyone around her for too long. She says, “Now go back home. I want to do my own thing. I need my space.” She likes her independence, her me-time.
Mom will make a fab mom-in-law. Totally chilled out. She'll give her daughter-in-law everything and expect nothing. She won't be a ghusu – the interfering kind. She values her space, so she will give them their space too. She will spoil her daughter-in-law rotten, shower her with love, give her all the respect and look after her… without meddling in their lives. In short, she will treat her like a queen.
Last year, we wanted mom to relaunch herself as an actor. Thankfully, she agreed. She’s a natural and a born star. Of course, when Dad was around, she only worked with him (Do Dooni Chaar, Love Aaj Kal and Jab Tak Hai Jaan) in the millennium).
Then she worked with Ranbir (Besharam). They were always around to protect her. Now she’s on her own (Neetu will be seen in Karan Johar’s Jug Jugg Jeeyo). So, the game is different now.
But we know, as always, she will get it right.