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An Honour Overdue

The week that went by brought the fabulous news that Mr Shashi Kapoor had been conferred the prestigious Dadasheb Phalke Award for 2014. Awards in a creative endeavour like filmmaking are more often than not based on subjective criteria and therefore frequently prone to much debate and discussion on whether the winner truly deserved the honour. The fact that this announcement has been unanimously and enthusiastically welcomed by the entire film fraternity speaks volumes, not only for Shashiji’s remarkable body of work – both in terms of quality and quantity – but also his impeccable and graceful conduct off-screen.

In fact, the only objection to the award decision would be the fact that it took so

long coming.

Shashiji, after all, is one of those rare, resilient actors who lit up the silver screen as one of our foremost leading men for over four decades with a remarkable (and prolific) roster of films that he has top-lined – Jab Jab Phool Khile, Aamne Saamne, Kanyadaan, Haseena Maan Jaayegi, Pyar Ka Mausam, Raja Saab, Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati, Abhinetri, Suhana Safar, Sharmeelee, Jaanwar Aur Insaan, Aa Gale Lag Ja, Paap Aur Punya, Chor Machaye Shor, Mr Romeo, Salaakhen, Deewangi, Aap Beati, Fakira, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Phaansi, Kali Ghata, Maan Gaye Ustaad, Pighalta Aasman and so many more.

Equally impressive is the list of multi-starrers that Shashiji featured in – Deewar, Trishul, Kabhie Kabhie, Namak Halal, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan, Kranti, Suhaag, Do Aur Do Paanch and Kaala Pathar, to name a few – many of which were hugely successful and are now considered cult classics. While Shashiji may not necessarily have played the main lead in some of these films, he more than stood his ground and contributed greatly to making them the memorable films they are. Case in point: The “Mere paas maa hai” rejoinder by his Ravi to Mr Bachchan’s Vijay in Deewar.

In many ways, Shashiji was also one of the trail-blazers of something that is only now taking shape and will only grow further in the years to come – collaborations between Indian and Western film talent.

Decades before Indian actors began sporadically featuring in Hollywood films, albeit as supporting characters, Shashiji appeared in starring roles in British and American films like The Householder, Shakespeare Wallah, Bombay Talkie, Heat And Dust, The Deceivers, Side Streets, A Matter Of Innocence, Siddhartha and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.

The Phalke awards have the stated mission of honouring ‘outstanding contribution to the growth and development of Indian cinema’ and in that regard, Shashiji’s contribution goes beyond just acting in so many successful and memorable films. At the peak of his career, he produced path-breaking films like Junoon, Kalyug and 36 Chowringhee Lane. While we live in an era in which many of our top actors also double as producers and there is an increasing acceptance of so-called ‘high-concept’ films that dare to go beyond the conventional boundaries of formulaic entertainers, the ’70s and ’80s were a very different period indeed. For Shashiji to back the kind of films that he did, at the time that he did, was an act of courage that many of us from newer generations will be hard-pressed to really gauge the magnitude of.

Equally courageous and visionary was Shashiji’s support to the fledgling Indian theatre scene and Prithvi Theatre, that he painstakingly built along with his wife, Jennifer, is an enduring legacy that continues to offer a platform for new actors and directors to showcase their talent.

Yes, there can be no doubt that this year’s Dadasaheb Phalke Award is richly deserved, and one that was long overdue. However, before we get too harsh on the powers-that-be that decide on the award, perhaps we need to ask ourselves, the film fraternity, whether we too have not been guilty of the same? Have we truly acknowledged and appreciated this great man’s illustrious career and accomplishments as intensely and as demonstrably that we ought to have?

Nitin Tej Ahuja
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