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A quiet half century

Shashi Kapoor's first film: With Nanda in "Char Diwari".

Shashi Kapoor's first film: With Nanda in "Char Diwari".   | Photo Credit: HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

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Actor Shashi Kapoor — who has completed 50 years in films — goes down memory lane in a chat with Ranjan Das Gupta

Dharmendra's golden jubilee in films received a lot of media coverage as did Manoj Kumar's. Astonishingly their contemporary Shashi Kapoor, who also completed his golden jubilee around the same time, has been ignored both by the film industry and the media.

Beginning as a child artist in Raj Kapoor's “Aag” and “Awara”, Shashi Kapoor started his career as a hero with “Char Diwari” in 1960. The film's editor, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, predicted a bright future for him. Through thick and thin, his main support was his wife Jennifer Kendal. Her death was an irreparable loss and Shashi kapoor lost all interest in work after her demise.

When I met him recently, Shashi Kapoor sat silently in his wheelchair after receiving the Padma Vibhushan. Seeing him smile, memories of a golden era throng the mind. “May be the media does not feel I deserve any coverage. After all I am a flop actor, producer and director,” he says.

String of hits

Why does he consider himself a flop? What about the string of hits like “Jab Jab Phool Khile”, “Waqt”, “Haseena Maan Jayegi”, “Sharmilee” and “Kabhi Kabhi”? After a brief lull, Shashi Kapoor breaks the silence, “I may have given hits, but what are they compared to the stupendous success achieved by my father Prithviraj Kapoor and brothers Raj and Shammi Kapoor? As a producer I tried my best to make offbeat and good cinema. None was a hit. If a film does not connect with the audience it carries no meaning.”

Shashi Kapoor spent all his earnings from commercial pot boilers in producing memorable films like “Junoon”, “Kalyug” and “Vijeta” under his banner Filmvalas. He gave Aparna Sen her coveted break as a director with the evergreen “36 Chowringhee Lane”. “The films received critical acclaim and awards but a flop is a flop is a flop. I tried my hand at fantasy with “Ajooba”. When it bit the dust, I understood I had had my innings.”

After Dev Anand, Shashi Kapoor ranks the second most romantic actor on the Hindi screen. His devastating good looks backed by his toothy smile, charm and effortless performance saw his popularity soar in the 1960s, 1970s and even the 1980s. However, Shashi Kapoor does not consider himself great. “Chabi Biswas, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Uttam Kumar were truly great actors. Balraj Sahni was versatile and honest. In the past four decades, Amitabh Bachhan has been the biggest star actor with whom I acted in ‘Deewar', ‘Kabhi Kabhi', ‘Trishul', ‘Kala Pathhar', ‘Silsila' ...”

Mala Sinha, Sadhana, Asha Parekh, Sharmila Tagore, Hema Malini and Shabana Azmi... Shashi Kapoor has acted with all of them successfully. Of his heroines, whom does he remember the most? “Nanda,” is the spontaneous reply. “She acted with me in my first film ‘Char Diwari'. Nanda excelled in a variety of characters; she performed with dignity. Her movements in the song sequence Yeh Shama in ‘Jab Jab Phool Khile' were imitated even by Sridevi later. Sadhana was initially hesitant to act with a new hero like me but we developed a good rapport while working in Bimal Roy's, ‘Prem Patra'. Sadhana's eyes and smile were her assets.”

Unforgettables

Of course the best of Shashi Kapoor came in the films produced and directed by Ismail Merchant. Shashi Kapoor - according to the late Satyajit Ray - was unforgettable in “Householder”, “Shakespearewala”, “Pretty Polly”, “Bombay Talkies” and “In Custody”. Remember the suave anti-hero in “The Deceivers” opposite Pierce Brosnan? For once Shashi Kapoor flashes his famous smile and recollects, “In one scene I had to look up straight into Brosnan's eyes and smile. Brosnan asked me to look around after looking up and then into his eyes. The advice yielded brilliant histrionic results.”

Until now Shashi Kapoor remains the only actor to have refused a National Award for “Dharam Putra” in 1961. He answers, “I did not consider my performance worth an award. I did receive the National Award for “New Delhi Times” in 1986. Do you remember the scene where I dream of running through burning debris and then break down in Sharmila Tagore's lap? That was instrumental in me receiving my recognition.”

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2019 4:18:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/a-quiet-half-century/article2226395.ece

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