Handsome hero, passionate filmmaker: The many legends of Shashi Kapoor
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.Updated: Dec 04, 2017 23:42 IST
Many legends died with Shashi Kapoor when he passed away in a Mumbai hospital on Monday.
He was the last of a generation of flamboyant and influential Kapoors, the youngest of his brothers Raj and Shammi. He was the chubby, fierce little child star in Awara (1951); and the impossibly handsome young leading man of the early Sixties who could do a serious Partition film Dharamputra (1961) and then four years later, a light romance like Jab Jab Phool Khile or the glamorous Waqt.
Later, he was the man who became one of the industry’s busiest stars in the 1970s, performing with a host of heroines (from Raakhee to Neetu Singh), doing so many shifts a day that his co-stars began calling him ‘Taxi.’ That was the time when he played foil to Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man, a phase which peaked with Deewar (1975), where got to say the immortal dialogue “Mere paas ma hai”.
He was probably India’s first true crossover star who had a lifelong association with the international team of producer-director Ismail Merchant-David Ivory, starting with Householder in 1963 and continuing with six more films, including Shakespearewallah, Bombay Talkie and the seductive, highly successful Heat And Dust (1983), where he played an elegant nawab. Writer Ruth Prawer Jhabavala was a crucial collaborator in many of them. He worked with New York director Conrad Rooks in Siddhartha (1972), based on a Herman Hesse novel, which sparked off a controversy in India for its intimate scenes, but went on to become something of a cult film.
Shashi Kapoor was also the producer who put all the money he earned from his commercial films into intelligent cinema, whether it was the period drama Junoon (1978) or the dark tale of a modern-day Mahabharata, Kalyug (1981). He directed only one film in his life, Ajooba (1991), a costume fantasy which flopped and plunged him in serious debt. And this was after he had been singed financially because he produced the expensive period film Utsav (1984).
But all these movies proved something that had not been remarked upon often enough -- that Shashi Kapoor was an exceptional actor. In 1986, there was official proof -- he got the National Award for Best Actor for his subtle, sensitive portrayal of a journalist in New Delhi Times.
Perhaps this was not so surprising for someone who, at age 15, had decided to drop out of school and join his father, the great Prithviraj Kapoor’s theatre company, where he worked from 1953 to 1960. Prithvi Theatres led him to another theatre company, a turn of fate that was to impact Shashi Kapoor’s life forever. He joined Shakespearana, run by an Englishman, Geoffrey Kendal, and he also fell in love with Geoffrey’s daughter Jennifer who he married in 1958. But the pull of theatre never left him; in 1978 he built Prithvi Theatre and Jennifer managed it till her death in 1984.
Jennifer is also part of the Shashi Kapoor legend – the wife who managed his world, brought up his three children (sons Kunal and Karan and daughter Sanjana) away from the spotlight, acted in his films (36 Chowringhee Lane, Junoon).
The death of his wife left a void – Shashi Kapoor continued doing films till the late Nineties, but he started putting on weight and his health began deteriorating.
In the last few years, though he could still be spotted in a wheelchair at Prithvi Theatre, he had all but retreated from public life. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2011, but by the time he got the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 2015, he was too ill to travel to Delhi to receive it.
With his death, all the different legends of Shashi Kapoor have come together – the handsome hero with the crooked smile serenading his heroine in the Kashmir valley, the busy and successful actor of the Seventies, the polished international star, the passionate film-lover who made movies he believed in even when he had no money, the son who built a theatre in memory of his father, the affable man who often introduced himself as “I’m Shashi Kapoor,” the seasoned actor -- and probably the star with the most charming screen presence in the history of Hindi cinema.