With that smile — on Shashi Kapoor

Shashi Kapoor made his debut as a hero well into Hindi cinema’s Golden Age in 1961 with Yash Chopra’s Dharmputra. The story of a Hindu family bringing up an illegitimate Muslim child, it brought the ghosts of Partition to the fore and underscored the necessity of addressing the trauma, violence and bigotry that arose out of that fissure. In time, Chopra would cast him in Waqt, among the first multi-starrers and which marked the start of another, splashier era in Hindi films. It would seem that Kapoor, with his crooked-toothed good looks, amiable manner and acting skills that would never outpace the demands of the film at hand, had always been around. The youngest son of Prithviraj Kapoor, after Raj and Shammi, he would also nominate himself as the inheritor of the family’s theatre legacy. For all the easy-breezy romancing of his big-budget films, he widened his canvas, becoming the first successful crossover actor with roles in, say, Merchant-Ivory productions (The Householder, In Custody), and producing landmarks such as 36 Chowringhee Lane. Through it all, his body of work was held afloat by an underlying spirit of progress, inclusion and innovation.

Like Raj Kapoor, he set up a production house. However, unlike the more mainstream RK Films, Film Valas was all about providing support to alternative voices and indie cinema, much before the term was even coined. It was a rare, selfless gesture from an industry insider for those on its fringes. In a way, it was a private version of the government’s National Film Development Corporation and, despite incurring huge losses, it delivered landmark films like Shyam Benegal’s Junoon and Kalyug, Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane, Govind Nihalani’s Vijeta and Girish Karnad’s Utsav. These films also gave Kapoor a platform for his acting skills, given that the big directors had by the 1970s caged him in romances and multi-starrers. He was smouldering as the Pathan lover of a young British woman in Junoon and fascinating as Karan in Kalyug, a modern-day interpretation of the Mahabharata. He brought alive in Vijeta the dilemmas of a man in a troubled marriage even as his son is trying to find himself, and was unrecognisable as the wily Samsthanak in Utsav. Kapoor’s most dedicated stint was in establishing Prithvi Theatre. In his boyhood, he would travel across South Asia with his father’s travelling Prithvi Theatres. In 1978, along with wife Jennifer Kendal, he built the theatre in Juhu as a tribute to Prithviraj and to his own roots. To know it would outlast him would surely have given him the greatest joy.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 11:03:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/with-that-smile/article21268624.ece

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