Shashi Kapoor: The suave middle class hero
Bollywood icon Shashi Kapoor -- a star of 1970s Indian cinema and a member of the Hindi film industry’s famous Kapoor family -- died on Monday aged 79 after a long illness, his family said.bollywood Updated: Dec 04, 2017 20:44 IST
Would Deewar remain such a notable film and Vijay the quintessential angry young man in absence of inspector Ravi Verma? Shashi Kapoor, the man blessed with fantastic theatrical pauses, is not with us anymore, but his onscreen avatar in Deewar will keep reminding us of the fine line that divides the right and the wrong.
Shashi Kapoor, the youngest son of Prithviraj Kapoor, was probably destined to be an actor due to his legacy. It must have increased the pressure to excel on him because the comparison with father Prithviraj and brothers Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor was inevitable.
The never ending journeys with Prithvi Theatres taught him the art of reading the mindsets of the commoners, which later came handy to him in films such as Jab Jab Phool Khile and Aa Gale Lag Jaa, where he played middle class characters.
This tendency to portray the anxieties of the middle class was visible in his choice of films. Be it Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug or be it A Salaam’s Salaakhen, he tried to represent the weaknesses of the middle class. He might look suave at the first glance but the nuances of his character demonstrated vulnerabilities.
On one hand, he looked soft, charming and defenceless, and on the other, he took a firm stand and represented justice. Most of his characters were clear in their approach. Shashi Kapoor hesitated in showing over the top anger on screen but that didn’t mean he was subdued, he remained a gentleman who didn’t believe in very loud expressions.
At a time when the debate about the parallel and commercial cinema was getting intense, he chose to adopt a mid way. He remained a mainstream actor but produced offbeat films.
Apart from Ajooba, which was also his directorial debut, all of his production ventures were critically acclaimed. Junoon, Kalyug, 36 Chowringhee Lane, and Utsav showed his concern towards the sustenance of the parallel cinema movement.
This was a noteworthy concern because he was promoting the films which showcased social issues in a realistic way, and were in a stark difference to the mainstream cinema of the day that was gaining prominence. He took immense risks because with his industry experience, he knew that these films were not going to work commercially, but still he backed those ventures. Probably, it wouldn’t have happened in absence of his vision towards good cinema.
This vision prompted Shashi Kapoor to amalgamate the Indian films with European sensibility that sees cinema as a medium of social change.
Shashi Kapoor started his career as a child artist with Aag in 1948, and after some similar roles went on to grab his first adult role in Dharamputra (1961). Yash Chopra’s Waqt and some other films brought him in the big league, but his English films bring forth an entirely new side of his personality. From Shakespeare Wallah and Pretty Polly to Siddhartha and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, he played everything from a doting father to a carefree youngster who wants to explore the world with all his innocence. Even the camera movements and lighting in the films he produced were different, probably a learning he gained during the shoot of his English films!
He might have been seen as one of the replacements of Rajesh Khanna in popular Bollywood films but he was someone who knew the immense potential of the visual medium, otherwise he wouldn’t have gone for films such as 36 Chowringhee Lane and Utsav which still receive praise for their subject and treatment.
Shashi Kapoor had a distinct ‘class’ (watch Abhinetri, Sharmilee and Kabhi Kabhie to believe it), which endeared him to the urban audiences, but somehow he managed to do away with that class in his English films where he was just a character.
Shashi Kapoor was among those rare film actors who were deeply involved with the process of filmmaking. He worked as an assistant director on several films including Shriman Satyawadi and Manoranjan where he developed his own idea about filmmaking. Though his only directorial venture in Hindi, Ajooba (he directed a Russian film also) was a flop but he shouldn’t be judged by this film only. From Kabhi Kabhie to New Delhi Times, he displayed his acting skills without getting overpowered by other actors, and that shows he was in command of the situation.
It’s true that Shashi Kapoor was never a threat for Rajesh Khanna or Amitabh Bachchan, but probably he was never a part of the race. Had he been in the race, he would not have dedicated so much time to the theatre, the only love Shashi nurtured till his death, apart from his love for late Jennifer Kendal, who he lost in 1984.
Shashi Kapoor will remain a visionary for a film industry that normally doesn’t dare to go beyond the mathematics of box office. Hope his legacy will be carried forward by his children and his family banner.
‘Aaj humare paas sab kuch hai, bas aap nahi hain…’