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'Shashi Kapoor gave his heart to every film'

Last updated on: December 05, 2017 13:49 IST

Aseem Chhabra, author of Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star, pays rich tribute to the iconic actor.

IMAGE: Shashi Kapoor with Felicity Kendal in The Householder.

'Last night I was woken up twice with messages from India that Shashi Kapoor had passed away. It's hard to describe how helpless one feels when you hear a terrible rumour like that, from more than one person. It's a horrible sense (forget about what it does to your sleep).'

 

'I was always a big fan, but having spent the past year writing about him and talking to many, many people I feel like he is family, a parent to me or perhaps like my father's younger brother. I often found similarities in his personality, as he was portrayed in his films, and that of my father. And there was also a slight resemblance between the two.'

'I lost my father a few years ago. I am relieved that Shashi Kapoor is still with us. Bless that man for giving me so much joy in my childhood, youth and adult life.'

-- My Facebook status, March 23, 2016

Shashi Kapoor had been unwell for so long, that his passing on Monday is no surprise.

But even though this was something one had expected for a while, the news that the once dashing, absolutely handsome, utterly charming Shashi Kapoor is no more makes me feel terribly sad.

IMAGE: Nanda and Shashi Kapoor in Jab Jab Phool Khile.

Like many people of my generation and even those older and younger than me -- I grew up watching Shashi Kapoor's films, initially films like Jab Jab Phool Khile (who can forget the song Pardesiyon Se Naa Akhiyan Milana?) and Sharmilee (which I watched at Delhi's Regal Cinema after bunking the drama rehearsal and I still swoon over the song Khilte Hain Gul Yahan) and later the range of his films in the 1970s -- Kabhie Kabhie, Deewar, Trishul, Kaala Patthar and Shaan.

In the late 1960s, when I was entering my teens, Rajesh Khanna was the toast of the Hindi film industry.

His star dipped just as suddenly as it rose after a sharp rise, and by the early to mid-1970s Amitabh Bachchan had emerged as the angry young man, and would eventually be referred to as a superstar (before Shah Rukh Khan claimed that title).

But all through this period Shashi Kapoor remained a solid actor.

When he started his career, he argued with Yash Chopra taking the position that he did not want to do song sequences in one of his first film Dharamputra. But Chopra prevailed and Shashi finally accepted that songs and romance were part of the DNA of Hindi cinema, and that he would do whatever the director required him to do.

IMAGE: 'He always had a sense of humour,' Sharmila Tagore said of Shashi Kapoor.

When I interviewed Sharmila Tagore for my book Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star, she narrated this story to me.

"Shashi would constantly tease me because I would argue a lot with the directors on the sets. Each time, he'd remind to get on with it -- 'don't bicker, just do it!' This is what I've learnt from him. When you are doing a film for money or to help a friend out, be clear about the motives and then finish what needs to be done."

"When you come to the set, and are aware of the limitations of the script or the director, don't expect the pigs to fly."

There were a range of lovely films that Shashi acted in the first decade of his career including Pyar Ka Mausam with Asha Parekh (with my favourite song Ni Sultana Re); the wacky Haseena Maan Jayegi, where he plays a double role, although the film never explains why the two characters look alike (another favourite song Bekhudi Main Sanam); Aamne Saamne (one of his 10 films with Sharmila Tagore and the song Kabhi Raat Din Hum Door The); Aa Gale Lag Jaa (with the lovely song Wada Karo Tum Nahin Chodoge Mera Saath).

And he made many awful films such as Chor Machaye Shor (with Kishore Kumar's heartbreaking song Gungron Ki Tarhan), without which Shah Rukh Khan would not have the title for his hit film now referred to by its acronym DDLJ.

Even when he was supporting Amitabh Bachchan in Yash Chopra's films and so many more productions (the two friends acted in 14 films together), Shashi was the dependable supporting actor who gave his heart and soul to every film.

And he was okay playing a second fiddle to Bachchan while at times even shining brighter than the actor who was taller and four younger to him.

Shashi's Mere paas maa hai dialogue is a good case in point.

Fans of Bachchan would like to believe that his bank balance and buildings monologue was the greatest moment in Deewaar. But the fact is that Bachchan's dialogue would not have carried the weight if Shashi's had not deliver those four iconic words that Javed Akhtar and Salim Khan wrote after a lot of thinking.

I quoted Ramesh Sippy saying the following in my book: "If Shashi had to play that role (in Deewaar) and be sincere to it, he had to underplay it... However, if he had tried to stand out as a performer and give the kind of performance that gives you stardom, he would not have done justice to the role... He did it right."

"He always had a sense of humour," Sharmila Tagore added. "He had no problem being Amitabh Bachchan's number two in Deewaar or elsewhere."

IMAGE: Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor in the iconic 'Mere paas Ma hai' scene.

That was one of the many great qualities of Shashi Kapoor, which few actors tend to display.

He never rushed to join the rat race to become the number one star, even when he was accepting more and more roles in the 1970s and 1980s.

He started the shift system -- shooting for more than one film in a day and going home late at night. It earned him the wrath of his older brother Raj Kapoor who said Shashi was like a 'taxi', ready to be hired by anyone.

That comment hurt Shashi, but he continued playing along like a trooper, always a member of the team.

He learned the value of fairness from his father Prithviraj Kapoor. There are so many stories of Shashi Kapoor walking up to every technical and crew member on film sets, introducing himself to them, sitting and having tea.

He also learned from his father to give back to the industry and the people of Mumbai who had loved him for so long. So, he started Prithvi Theatre with his wife Jennifer, the only such venue in Mumbai.

Shashi produced films -- six in all, including masterpieces such as Junoon, 36 Chowringhee Lane and Kalyug. These films were a breath of fresh air from the regular masala Hindi commercial films, and multi-star ventures of the time, often featuring Shashi Kapoor.

Shashi was the first Indian actor to really cross over to the West. He satisfied his desire to work on good films with a few classics, including The Householder, Shakespeare Wallah, Heat and Dust, all directed by the American film-maker James Ivory and produced by Shashi's friend Ismail Merchant.

He also acted in other projects by foreign film-makers, including in one of my favourite films, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.

For all his commitment to good cinema and strong roles, Shashi only won the National Award for one film: Ramesh Sharma's New Delhi Times.

In this thriller, Shashi Kapoor plays a newspaper editor caught up in a political mess of corruption.

Shashi's Vikas Pande had a pencil-line moustache. He reminded me so much of my father who was also a journalist and maintained a similar moustache.

Even in films such as Kabhie Kabhie, Shashi's whiskey drinking, jovial character reminded me so much of my father and his exuberant Punjabi personality.

Shashi Kapoor's passing must be so difficult for his children, Kunal, Karan and Sanjana. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

In his death, I sense I have lost a family member, someone I got to know really well while working on my book, even though I never interviewed him.

In Shashi Kapoor's death I have lost my father again.

Aseem Chhabra