On Monday, December 4, the Indian film fraternity was left irrevocably poorer by the loss of a true titan, Shashi Kapoor.
Superstars, especially in Hindi cinema, often tend to get associated with a signature genre or an on-screen persona. While there may be other legends who better personify heart-wrenching pathos or smouldering anger or swooning romance, it is Shahshiji’s handsome visage that immediately springs to mind when you think of sheer charm radiating from a film screen. A guileless charm that warms your heart and makes you believe – in that moment at least – that the world is a happy place to be in.
With his flawless good looks, his captivating smile, his languid aura of always being in a state of comfortable ease and that unaffected fashionableness that made him look dapper no matter what he was wearing, Shashiji was the epitome of the ‘movie star look’. And what added immensely to that appeal was an unmistakable air of niceness – a kind-hearted gentleness – that always seemed to envelope him.
Yet, there was so much more to Shashiji than his attractive physicality.
He was, after all, 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.
In fact, on reviewing his formidable filmography, one can’t help but feel that – as so often happens with stereotypes – his abiding image of the urbane charmer doesn’t quite do justice to the versatility of his craft and the diverse characters he portrayed with great aplomb when he did get a chance to go beyond type.
Shashiji’s contribution to Indian cinema is not restricted to 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 now 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, it was a most noteworthy journey that drew to a close on December 4, 2017. But even as we grieve the loss of one of our most beloved legends, we celebrate his multifaceted accomplishments. Though the body that is made of flesh and bones may be mortal, the body of work is eternal. Thanks to the timeless magic of cinema, we, and generations to follow, will continue to be dazzled by that unpretentious personification of warmth and charm: Shashi Kapoor.
– Nitin Tej Ahuja