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December 05, 2017

A Heartfelt Tribute To Shashi Kapoor

Text by Ameya Bundellu

A man, a gentleman and an actor who will forever live on through his movies, on our screens and in our hearts!

The onscreen lives of most 1950s’ heroes were long agonies of self-repression, till a suave Shashi Kapoor exploded all fuddy-duddy notions. His debut in the early 1960s heralded the arrival of a stylish and swaggering hero, whose wooing of the leading lady almost transformed love into a contact sport. While his songs were in step with the swinging ’60s (Humko tum pe pyar aaya from Jab Jab Phool Khile or Nain mila kar chain churana kis ka hain ye kaam from Aamne Saamne), he had a lifestyle to match. And yet, with devastatingly good looks and a charming smile that warmed the cockles of the heart, Shashi remained the man’s man. He was possibly the only big star confident enough of both his stardom and masculinity to let his co-stars hog the limelight in film after film, such as Jab Jab Phool Khile (1965), Pyar Kiye Jaa (1966) Sharmilee (1971), Deewar (1975), Trishul (1978), and Kala Patthar (1979), right upto Silsila (1981) and Namak Halal (1982).

Probably the only one of the three Kapoor brothers to have his histrionic abilities challenged by critics, Shashi was accused of being more style than substance. He, however, proved his detractors completely wrong – first with Jab Jab Phool Khile, then the menacingly mischievous double role in Haseena Maan Jayegi (1969) and finally finally sealed all doubts with superbly restrained performances in Sharmilee and Deewar. Later, with a Mumtaz, Rekha, Zeenat Aman or a Neetu Singh hanging onto his arms, the debonair actor’s romantic chimera quite outlived that of his contemporaries.

Can anyone possibly forget that cutting-edge dialogue from Deewar delivered in a nuanced style, “Mere paas maa hain,” that swept Shashi to the higher octaves of stardom? It was precisely this that repeatedly drew the paying public to his films right until Namak Halal. And major foreign directors as diverse as the famed duo of Merchant-Ivory (1963’s Householder to 1965’s Shakespeare-Wallah and 1980’s Heat And Dust) or the noted Conrad Rooks (Siddhartha, 1972) or even British brat Hanif Qureishi (Sammy And Rosie Get Laid, 1987) have always considered only one Indian – Shashi Kapoor – good enough for major roles in their films.

Most fans will remember the superstar for a chequered career that encompassed highs such as the endearingly dead-on shikarawala of Jab Jab Phool Khile. Through the ’70s, he went on a ‘phew-nomenal’ signing spree, getting severely rebuked and eliciting the famous “he is a taxi” quote from older brother Raj Kapoor. For an entire generation of discerning movie-goers like me, he was probably the only actor among his contemporaries who had both the vision and the gumption to collaborate with arthouse film makers, the likes of Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad and Govind Nihalani, to produce quality movies like Junoon (1979), Kalyug (1981), Vijeta (1982) and Utsav (1985). These may not set the cash registers ringing, but they surely resuscitated the creative muse of the man who gave his all to the art of cinema.

And he is a man, a gentleman and an actor who will forever live on through his movies, on our screens and in our hearts!

Ameya Bundellu is a PR professional, budding Bollywood historian and a world traveller.

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