The acting, fighting, singing, dancing Hindi film hero is the sum of many parts. Jeetendra may not have won the critics, but he managed to be a producers' pet for 25 years thanks to his indisputable commercial appeal.
Jeetendra has done nearly 200 films as hero, a feat matched by just a handful of his peers since the inception of Hindi cinema. He has repeatedly costarred with the biggest heroines of his time -- Rekha (24 films), Hema Malini (12 films), Sridevi (14 films) and Jaya Prada (21 films). In the late 1950s, Ravi Kapoor (Jeetendra is his screen name) was a science student who loved combing the back roads of Girgaum (in south Mumbai) with his friends. "I enjoyed harassing tram conductors," he chuckles. Occasionally, he would visit film studios to supply imitation jewellery his family dealt in. Filmmaker V Shantaram gave the slim youngster a chance as Sandhya's double in Navrang (1959) and Sehra (1963). He was irretrievably bitten by the glamour bug.
Jeetendra got his first major break when Shantaram cast him as hero in Geet Gaya Pattharon Ne (1964). But the actor 'cuckoo'ed into the spotlight with Farz (1967). Jeetendra held the audience's interest at gunpoint when he pranced with Aruna Irani, even dragging her between his legs in the runaway hit Mast baharon ka main aashiq... cuckoo. Farz, a slow starter, went on to become a golden jubilee success. The actor introduced a new, brasher hero, in keeping with the times. Since dress designers were a rare breed those days, Jeetendra picked up a tee shirt from a retail shop and wore white shoes from his personal collection for the Cuckoo number. It became his signature. His vigorous dancing in Farz and subsequent films like Caravan and Humjoli won Jeetendra the epithet, Jumping Jack.
Jeetendra's immense popularity can be attributed to the fact that he unabashedly catered to the masses in films like Jigri Dost, Humjoli and Caravan. He was at home in these roles. After all, when he eve-teased the pert heroine on screen, he was only extending his off-screen persona -- while wooing Shobha (his wife), Jeetendra pelted her with peanuts. His knee-slapping songs, too, were filled with onomatopoeic sounds like Cuckoo, Tik-a-tik, Taaki-o-taaki.
But his energetic outbursts suffered a temporary setback in the early 1970s when his childhood friend Rajesh Khanna became a superstar. Like Khanna, Jeetendra too aimed at respectability and yearned to do an Anand. He dabbled with bespectacled histrionics in his trilogy with Gulzar -- Parichay, Khushboo and Kinara.
He displayed a fair amount of sensitivity in these films, but increasingly veered toward commercially safer, moolah-making melodramas in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Apnapan, Judaai, Asha, Pyaasa Sawan, Maang Bharo Sajna, Ek Hi Bhool). Jeetendra attributed his sudden spurt in popularity to "the middle class values of most of my characters, which was something I too could identify with."
Simultaneously, if the trend was action, Jeetendra adapted to it with films like Dil Aur Deewar, Jyoti Bane Jwala and Meri Awaaz Suno. At this juncture, his dream project, Deedar-e-Yaar (1982), a wannabe Mere Mehboob, rudely disturbed the star's upward trajectory. This home production, costarring Tina Munim and Rishi Kapoor, was a box-office washout. Within months, the Jumping Jack bounced back. The stupendous success of his Chennai films -- Himmatwala, Justice Chowdhary, Mawaali and Tohfa -- in the 1983-1984 phase made Jeetendra's success assume humungous proportions. He had found a dazzling co-star in Sridevi. Critics panned the colourful 'pots-n-pans' potboilers, but the masses thronged to see Jeetendra doing a Bak bak mat kar and Ice cream khaoge with Sridevi, who was half his age but had as much sizzle.
Touted as a competitor to Amitabh Bachchan, the level-headed Jeetendra sagaciously shrugged away the compliments with, "Amitabh is No1 to No 10." The southern invasion, led by K Raghavendra Rao and K Bapaiah, marked the high point of Jeetendra's decades-long association with south-based filmmakers. Jeetendra struck gold with the Raveekant Nagaich-directed Farz and continued to mint money with the legendary L V Prasad's Jeene Ki Raah (a drama centring around a harried-married man's involvement with a cripple, played by Tanuja) and Bidaai (a kerchief-soaker about a dutiful son who tames his shrewish wife, played by Leena). T Rama Rao too gave a hat-trick of hits with Jeetendra and Rekha in 1980-1981: Judaai, Maang Bharo Sajna and Ek Hi Bhool.
But, by the late 1980s, a 40-plus Jeetendra was finding it difficult to stay in the rat race despite his commendable efforts to stay fit. The star turned serious and made determined last-ditch efforts at histrionics in films like New Delhi Times (1985), Santaan (1993) and Udhaar Ka Zindagi (1995) but, unfortunately, they failed at the box-office.
Today, Jeetendra takes pride in his children -- Ektaa Kapoor, head honcho of Balaji Telefilms, India's number one television production house, and, Tusshar, a budding actor. Jeetendra was last seen in a cameo in his home-production, Kucch To Hai. "I know these are my mandatory overs," he says, "but I would like to do films for as long as I breathe."