Shashi Kapoor birth anniversary: When the romantic and realist co-existed in seamless harmony
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Shashi Kapoor birth anniversary: When the romantic and realist co-existed in seamless harmony

On late Shashi Kapoor’s birthday today, a look at his legacy as a performer and producer. He was an actor who worked all kinds of cinema and genres. Versatility was his unique calling card.

bollywood Updated: Mar 18, 2018 11:23 IST
Nivedita Mishra
Nivedita Mishra
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Shashi Kapoor,Raj Kapoor,Shammi Kapoor
Shashi Kapoor was among the most popular stars from 1960s till 1980s.(HT Photo)

In the annals of Indian cinematic history, very few actors can claim to have straddled two diametrically different styles of creative expression with as much ease as the late Shashi Kapoor. The second generation of Kapoors - Raj, Shammi and Shashi - are, perhaps, a rare example of sons of a popular personality achieving fame, sometimes, surpassing their predecessor. All three were successful actors, like their illustrious father.

However, Shashi Kapoor was different. While Raj and Shammi operated strictly within the limits of mainstream cinema -- formulaic and often removed from reality -- Shashi managed to carve a niche for himself in mainstream films, but was equally productive as actor-producer in the parallel cinema movement. He straddled both these disparate worlds with consummate ease.

To many a rational mind, popular Indian cinema’s song-and-dance routine, over-the-top acting styles, high-octane melodrama and often simplistic narrative style is a huge put off.

And while many would find it hard to move from one to the other, Shashi, like Sharmila Tagore, did it without much fuss.

The romantic hero

Though Shashi started out as a child artiste, playing the younger versions of his elder brother Raj (Aag and Awaara), he first saw success playing romantic roles, primarily with Nanda as his heroine.

In films such as Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965), Neend Hamari Khwab Tumhare (1966), Raja Saab (1969) and Rootha Na Karo (1970), they made a hit team.

Nanda remained Shashi Kapoor’s most favourite co-star...

Shashi had the highest regard for Nanda among his many co-stars. “Nanda, till date, remains my most favourite heroine. Do you know that the likes of (actor) Sridevi have blatantly imitated her Yeh Shama song sequence from Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965) in their films? She was like a fairy in an awesome film industry that has no respect for genuine talent. Very few could match Nanda in her transparency and emotional abilities.”

In the 1960s, though Shammi Kapoor would often beat Shashi at the box office, the latter was quite consistent with his successes and remained a very popular actor from the 1960s till the 1980s.

Shashi Kapoor with Raakhee in Kabhi Kabhi...

Not just Nanda, Shashi formed formidable romantic combinations with a host of other leading ladies including Shamila Tagore in Waqt (1965), Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973) and New Delhi Times (1985); with Raakhee in Sharmeelee (1971), Kabhi Kabhie (1976), Baseraa (1981) and Trishna (1978).

With Hema Malini, he formed a successful pair delivering hits such as Abhinetri (1970), Aap Beati (1976), Trishul (1978), Aandhi Toofan (1985), Apna Khoon (1978) and Maan Gaye Ustaad (1981).

Hema Malini and Shashi Kapoor first worked together in Abhinetri.

Shashi had successful run with the glamour girls of the day - Parveen Babi in (Suhag (1979), Namak Halaal (1982), Kaala Patthar (1979)} and Zeenat Aman in Chori Mera Kaam (1975), Roti Kapda Aur Makaan (1974) and Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978).

Shashi has delivered hits with other actresses as well including Asha Parekh, Moushumee Chatterjee, Mumtaz and Babita.

Versatile actor and Bollywood’s first internationalist

Shashi was perhaps among the most versatile of actors Bollywood has produced. The thing about Shashi was that not only did he bring in variety in the genres he worked in, he experimented with different styles of acting as well.

He started out doing romantic films. Soon, he diversified to family dramas like Waqt and Trishul, multi-starrers (Deewar, Suhag, Kaala Patthar) and comedies (Namak Halaal, Chori Mera Kaam, Chor Machaye Shor).

However, he was not content doing mainstream films. He was in fact the first Indian star to go international, featuring in Hollywood and British films. In particular, the body of work he did for the celebrated Merchant-Ivory (Ismail Merchant and James Ivory) films - Shakespeare Wallah (1965), The Householder (1963), Bombay Talkie (1970), Heat and Dust (1983) and In Custody/Muhafiz (1993) was phenomenal.

Shashi Kapoor and Leela Naidu in a poster of The Householder.

Siddhartha (1972), Pretty Polly (1967), Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), The Deceivers (1988) and Side Streets (1998) being his other international films.

In many ways, Shashi was among the early pioneers of method acting in India. The films that he did with the Merchant-Ivory combination are proof of that. With their thrust of realism, they were in stark contrast to Bollywood and prevalent trends.

One of the pioneers of parallel cinema

Despite so diverse an oeuvre, Shashi was obviously not content. He wanted more and went on to set up a production house, Film Valas. What’s remarkable is that under this banner, he went on to star and produce some of the best-known films of the parallel cinema movement also. He worked with some of the best minds of the era - Shyam Benegal in Junoon (1979) and Kalyug (1981), Govind Nihalani in Vijeta (1982), Aparna Sen in 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981) and Girish Karnad in Utsav (1984).

A still from Shyam Benegal’s Junoon.

What’s more he even produced and directed Ajooba, an Indo-Russian fantasy drama that starred Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor. The film sank but it showed that the man had it him to experiment.

Last but not the least, he and wife Jennifer gave Prithvi Theatres, started by his father, a new lease of life.

Author tweets @mniveditatweets

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First Published: Mar 18, 2018 11:22 IST