Friday Review

Beyond flamboyance

Shashi Kapoor   | Photo Credit: Scanned in Chennai R.K. Sridhara

If looks could kill, probably Shashi Kapoor would have been booked for ‘knocking out’ several million ladies. Alongside Dharmendra, he is the finest looking Indian actor ever to adorn the movie screen and while both could make cine-goers go weak in the knees by their adorable smiles, it was Shashi who had a greater ability to carry the garb of a villager as well as an urbanite with finesse.

That is why, cutting across all barriers of classes and masses, he made his presence felt both on national and international cinema with his talent as well as gorgeous, good looks.

An actor by legacy as well as training, Shashi was a spontaneous artist whose best performances came when his roles were well etched out. A director’s delight, he could astound even in the most minute of roles; whether as a suffering child protagonist in “Awara” or the driver in “Waqt” or the middle aged man in “Doosra Aadmi”. However, if people applauded his versatility in “Dharmputra”, “Aamne Saamne”, “Jab Jab Phool Khile”, “Householder”, “Bombay Talkies”, “Kalyug”, “New Delhi Times”, “Vijeta”, “Junoon”, “Kabhi-Kabhie” or “Deewar”, they were equally mystified and offended by his presence in mediocre films like “Shaan”, “Faqira”, “Saalakhein” and umpteen others where he just went through the motions.

You could fault him for accepting many such pedestrian films but as per writer Sagar Sarhadi, “Shashi was too compassionate and caring to refuse producers who came to his door”. And since “he couldn’t be rude or discourteous, Shashi burdened himself with films that were neither good for his image nor for his health”, earning him the sobriquet of “Taxi” from his own elder brother Raj Kapoor.

Terming Shashi a gifted actor who gave shape to many roles, Sagar cites his role as Vijay Khanna in “Kabhi-Kabhie” for the dignity and depth that he brought to the characters. The scenes wherein he chides Amitabh or interacts with his son reveal an “actor of merit” and why he became one of the most loved romantic heroes of all time! Sagar even credits Shashi’s deft underplay in “Deewaar” for providing a halo to Amitabh’s “vocal and volatile character”.

However, it must be understood that despite winning national and other awards in the past for his histrionics, the illustrious Dadasaheb Phalke Award has not been awarded to Shashi Kapoor the actor but to a visionary who had the courage of convictions to deliver meaningful cinema and theatre in this country.

Unlike his peers, he didn’t amass wealth from real estate or other businesses but had guts to invest lifelong earnings into producing off-beat films like “36 Chowringhee Lane”, “Junoon” and several others.

In a private chat with this writer, Shabana Azmi describes Shashi as “a trailblazer who was not just the first Indian actor to act in Hollywood but also the first mainstream actor to produce art cinema”. Ecstatic over his recognition, Shabana also praises Shashi and his beloved wife Jennifer for keeping the theatre movement alive and kicking in the concrete jungle of Mumbai.

Even though Prithvi Theatre in the metropolis is worth millions, Shabana salutes the sensitive Piscean for dedicating the prime property “to provide cultural space like no other” and which is the best platform for actors, writers and directors to showcase talent and earn their wings.

By conventional evaluation, Shashi may have erred but it is a flaw that made him acquire a towering stature as a saviour of good cinema and theatre. In terms of returns on investment, producing unconventional films as well as keeping Prithvi Theatre alive has been a losing proposition. Many have even questioned his wisdom but like all true seers and visionaries, Shashi rose above filial relations and rather than save just for family, adopted the entire fraternity of artists as his own to become an exemplary patron of art and cinema.

True, it is also a tribute to the memory of his dear father and the spirit of his wife but it does show that good, honest people do what is necessary rather than what is convenient. Winning the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award in the twilight years, like his father and brother, also proves that destiny does have a way of rewarding people of substance with laurels as well as affections. One prays that the man, with the sweetest of smiles but extremely feeble health at present, is able to enjoy a few more years of well-being and happiness.


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 2:48:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/beyond-flamboyance/article7035536.ece

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