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A question of pedigree

Good old Shashi Kapoor continues to charm. He still cherishes the moments spent with wife Jennifer. And the children have all stepped beyond the shadow of a formidable lineage.

The Kapoor's Family photo

HE IS his legendary father's son to the core, yet a man completed by sheer dint of his solid work. Shashi Kapoor, in his 60s, is not that flamboyant pin-up boy of the 1970s anymore. Rotund he has been for quite some time. In fact, it seems it is a Kapoor legacy to be round and plump on a slow but sure note. Be it his father Prithviraj Kapoor, brothers Shammi and Raj or nephews Randhir, Rishi and Rajeev, all have been generously bequeathed with it.

"It is the food at Kapoor household that does the trick. Most of us also end up liking the glass. It is a logical progression," a smiling Shashi says, though tagging this: "It has been a few years now that I have stopped clinking glasses. I am not missing it." A proud grandfather of five, a contented father of three talented children, a man who now keeps alive in his mind a long and happy marriage with wife Jennifer Kapoor snatched away by the fate in 1984, a versatile stage and big screen actor who admittedly would never fall out of love with it, the patron of Prithvi Foundation's projects for the have-nots in many parts of the country, a gracefully aging Shashi has reasons enough to live every moment of this fulfilled life.

"I started acting quite early. From 1953 to 1960, I accompanied my father's touring troupe Prithvi Theatre, even to places where people did not understand Hindi. He never treated me like his son. I was just another member of the group travelling in long distance trains, on the back of tempos, during floods or in scorching heat. But the sheer love of theatre was a good enough drug to keep us going," recounts this gifted actor. This love ultimately handed him his beloved wife.

First meeting

"I saw Jennifer for the first time in Kolkata in 1956. Before our play could begin, I peered out of the curtain to see the crowd and there I noticed her. She came the next day too. I found out that she belongs to this British touring drama company Shakespeareana which was supposed to use the Empire Theatre but couldn't because our play got extended by a few days," narrates Shashi. After some days, he requested a cousin to take him to their hotel one evening. "I found the family having dinner. My cousin introduced me to her father, Geoffrey Kendall, the owner of Shakespeareana but she refused to even look at me. I was crestfallen," he says. Jennifer continued coming to watch the Prithvi play though. And one day, she came backstage and invited 18-year-old Shashi to watch her play.

"For the first time, I saw Shakespeare on stage. She acted as Miranda in the play `The Tempest'. It was British English, I couldn't understand much of it. But I came back thinking of Jennifer," a long and rather complicated courtship finally led to their marriage, bringing in thus to the Kapoor household first ever British bahu. Shashi says though he never would have the guts to take up the issue of marriage in front of his parents, it was his brother Shammi who "ordered" him to bring her home. "Instead of taking her to my parents, I took her to Shammi bhaisahab's house. Geeta bhabhi immediately fell in love with her. Things became easier after that," a smiling Shashi narrates.

Gradually, he embarked on a Bollywood career. In came many memorable movies. Continued parallel to it a happy family life with a caring wife and three children, Sanjana, Kunal and Karan. Jennifer too came to big screen but in a chosen few. Stage remained her first love. And in 1983, she started Prithvi Theatre as not only a play auditorium but to serve as a serious platform for theatre in India.

Family man

"After my mother was dead, her sister had brought out a book on her. While going through my aunt's old letters that time, I found my mother writing to her, `Shashi is desperate to start Prithvi Theatre. I don't know what to do. I am trying hard.' I was stunned. All this while, I got the impression that it was she who was wanting it more than my father. But then, it was this strong and silent kind of relationship my parents shared," says Sanjana.

At the peak of his career, though many of his peers fell to rumours of extra-marital affairs, Shashi remained out of this ring. "We never used to go to these film parties. I spent all my free time with my family. That is why I suppose, my marriage lasted," he reasons. "He used to keep Saturdays off for us. Kunal and Karan did not miss him much because when they were growing up, he was gradually winding up his film career. But during my childhood, he was a busy man. I used to miss it at times," relates Sanjana.

"When I now see Kunal and Karan taking so much responsibilities as fathers, I wonder how Jennifer must have managed it alone. I just did not bother about it then. Today's fathers are different than yesterdays," comments Shashi, though Sanjana adds, "knowing her, she must have loved doing all that." The only family picture in black and white, standing next to her as a living testimony of it. "We were very young at that time. Somehow, it ended up as being the only family picture. After we grew up, somehow, the entire family never stood together for a picture," says Sanjana, looking at it. Now a mother of two-year-old Hamar, Sanjana has other things to keep her busy. Being the director of Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai and a house to look after in Delhi, she flip-flops roles. Having grown up with such amazing parents, she knows though, how to balance life and harmony.


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