When I was a schoolgirl he was my poster boy. The toothy smile, angreezi ada and his commercial capers made him an actor and a gentleman who was simply irresistible.
I waited for Doordarshan to screen one of his movies but hated to see Shashi Kapoor chasing another woman, even if it was all make-believe. Only Sharmila Tagore and Raakhee’s Sharmilee didn’t make the hate list. And that was because few believe my name is really Roshmila since it’s unusual even for a Bengali. They simply correct it to Sharmila or Sharmilee. These names were so much a part of my persona that I could happily believe I was Sharmila or Sharmilee who made Shashi swoon.
I wasn’t the only one with a secret crush on him. Recently, Shabana Azmi admitted that he would drop by with his father, Prithviraj Kapoor, every Sunday to meet her parents, Kaifi Azmi and Shaukat. And every week, schoolgirl Shabana would save her pocket money to buy a new black-and-white movie still of his that she’d shyly ask him to autograph.
My dream of romancing my matinee idol on screen remained a dream. Shabana was more fortunate. But Fakira made her smile and cry too. It happened one morning when she arrived on the sets and the assistant choreographer told her they were shooting a night-after song. He then went on to demonstrate some intimate dance moves that left her appalled and sent her scurrying into her make-up room.
“I can’t do it!’ she told Shashi in tears. He responded with a gruff, “Silly girl, don’t be daft! Guess you didn’t know what you were getting into when you’d tell Shaukatji, ‘Mummy, mummy main bhi actor banoongi. (I also want to be an actor)’”
He walked out of her make-up room but when she arrived on the sets, she found that he’d changed all the steps. Typical Shashi Kapoor!
I never got a chance to interview him but I recall a senior colleague setting up an appointment with him and arriving five minutes late. She was turned away at the door. Shashi was a stickler for punctuality and even at the peak of his career, when he was juggling four films, he never kept anyone waiting on the sets.
I loved Sharmilee, Fakira, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Chor Machaye Shor, Trishul… And 36 Chowringhee Lane, Junoon, Kalyug and Vijeta too. I found it interesting that Shashi was one of the first Bollywood stars to go international with Shakespeare-Wallah, Pretty Polly and Siddharth, and made his money from commercial cinema and then put all of it back into art-cinema and Prithvi theatre that earned him nothing.
However, the incident that’s etched in stone in her memory involves a hunger strike in ’86. Crusading for alternate accommodation for slum-dwellers whose homes had been demolished, Shabana, with activist-filmmaker Anand Patwardan and three slumdwellers, went on an indefinite hunger strike in Colaba. It was hot and after five days without food, her blood pressure dipped alarmingly.
Shashi heard about the fast and dropped by. Anand explained the issue to him and without a word to anyone, he paid the Chief Minister a visit during which he pointed out that a member of his fraternity was ill and if he didn’t help out now, he should not expect the industry to come together for any government campaigns either.
Immediately, the Housing Minister was sent across and all the demands met. Everyone was jubilant and when the media asked Shabana how the miracle had happened, she pointed to Shashi. "He refused to accept any credit, and when I went on stage and officially broke my fast, I saw a quiet figure disappearing around the corner," she says, with a catch in her voice.
Today is Shashi Kapoor’s birthday and Shabana who has been invited to a few celebrations, remembers them as quiet family affairs at home. "He was a big star, has won the National Award and the Padma Bhushan, done loads of charity work and contributed majorly to our film industry, yet he’s always played down his achievements," she says. "My mother who knew his father well says he’s a worthy son. For me he will always be a gentleman-actor."
Me too! And even though I’m all grown up now, he’s still my Prince Charming!