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Talking films with Shashi Kapoor: It was Bimalda who taught me how to face the camera

Actor Shashi Kapoor, who passed away on December 4, was full of stories: about the greats of Indian cinema, such as Satyajit Ray and Bimal Roy; his brilliant wife, Jennifer Kendal; and his leading ladies, including Nanda and Sadhana.

bollywood Updated: Dec 05, 2017 19:42 IST
Ranjan Das Gupta
Ranjan Das Gupta
Hindustan Times
Shashi Kapoor,Jennifer Kendal,Satyajit Ray
Shashi Kapoor, one of the most charming leading men in Hindi cinema, had a rich and eventful journey through his life and career.

“Hey Ranji, did you meet bara saab (Shammi Kapoor)? The other day, he was remembering you and appreciating your memory of our works. How do you remember so much?” Shashi Kapoor asked me during one of our hundred or more conversations. This was about a decade ago. In my journalistic career of three decades, I shared the best of vibes with all the senior Kapoors.

Shashi Kapoor was very fond of Bimal Roy (who made films such as Do Bigha Zamin; Madhumati; Bandini) and actor Nanda, one of his first leading ladies. He always said, “It was Bimalda who taught me how to face the camera and never be conscious of it. In Prem Patra (1962), he asked me to use a silent language of my eyes without speaking. My heroine, Sadhana, who was initially hesitant to work with me, complimented me after the shot. Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Gulzar (filmmakers), in all fairness, rank nowhere compared to Bimalda.”

Shashi Kapoor and Nanda, who remained his all-time favourite leading lady.

About his women co-stars, Shashi Kapoor said, “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.”

Once, I asked Shashi Kapoor, “Please tell me about Jennifer aunty. I never saw her.” Jennifer Kendal, his partner in life and art, was a brilliant actor. Shashi and Jennifer were together in the theatre company, Shakespeareana, run by her father, Geoffrey Kendal, and they both acted in Bombay Talkie (1970) and Shyam Benegal’s classic film, Junoon (1978). Jennifer died in 1984.

Shashi Kapoor with Jennifer Kendal, his wife and co-star in films like Bombay Talkie and Junoon.

When I asked about her, Shashi Kapoor flashed his legendary toothy smile and said, “See, how life is static for me without her. Not only was she my inspiration, but also my real mentor during good, medium, and bad days. She really was the greatest influence for me.”

Speaking about his famous discovery Aparna Sen — she was a top actor in Bengali cinema who made waves with her first directorial venture, 36 Chowringhee Lane, starring Jennifer Kendal and produced by Shashi Kapoor — he was not so happy. “[Aparna] was brilliant in every frame of 36 Chowringhee Lane as a director. Later she changed. Jis gali mein jana nahin, uss gali ka patta puchna nahin (don’t ask for the way if you don’t intend to take that route),” he said.

Never have I heard the gentleman Kapoor speak ill of anybody, even if he was hurt. “You know, when Soumitrada (veteran Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee) refused Kalyug (1981), I was initially hurt. But I never bore any grudge against him. After all, he had his own reasons and was not keeping well,” he said.

Leela Naidu and Shashi Kapoor in the acclaimed Merchant-Ivory film, The Householder.

Shashi Kapoor’s experience with filmmaker Satyajit Ray was extremely positive. Ray’s ace cinematographer Subrata Mitra, who was famous for his work in the Apu trilogy and other films, also worked on the Merchant-Ivory production, The Householder (1963), starring Shashi Kapoor and Leela Naidu. Recalling his acquaintance with Ray, Shashi Kapoor said, “Manikda (as Ray was called informally) and Subrata Mitra were the most genuine human beings I ever came across.”

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First Published: Dec 05, 2017 18:47 IST