For a lot many of us, the most potent memory of Shashi Kapoor is his cult dialogue from Deewar. ‘Mere paas maa hai’ has gone on to become one of the most iconic lines in Hindi cinema, and thereby keeping the man alive. And that shall remain one of Bollywood’s biggest irony. Because in that, most people forgot to credit the man for the enormity of the work he had put up in his life as an actor-filmmaker.
Born to Prithviraj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor had actually started his professional life on a rather modest note. Not because he had starry dreams, but because he had to support his family had acting assignments that came up to him seems a good way to do so. That success came in such measures was something her had barely accounted for. Before that he was happy doing roles in theatre.
And while as an actor he went through the usual journey of good and bad films, he probably kept his desire to do something different in his heart. And that’s what found its way out when he decided to turn a producer for movies Junoon and Kalyug, stories which would have barely found takers in that day and age.
If Shyam Benegal established his credentials as a director with Junoon, you cannot overlook Shashi Kapoor’s contribution in giving Indian cinema a legendary director but also introducing the layman audience to storytelling which was so far reaching out only to the elite few. He did not stop with Shyam Benegal as he went on to introduce Aparna Sen – the director with the scintillating 36 Chowringhee Lane. He followed that up by producing Govind Nihalani’s Vijeta and Girish Karnad’s Utsav.
Interestingly none of Shashi Kapoor’s productions ever made money for him, making him probably one of Bollywood’s most disastrous producers when it comes to finances. An attempt to make something commercial, Ajooba, starring Amitabh Bachchan made only things worse for him. He went on to whopping loss of Rs 3.5 crore!
Shashi’s desire to work on independent cinema was not marred by his failure as a producer. He continued as an actor with films like New Delhi Times, the budget of which was lesser than what Kapoor was used to charging as an actor. For that film, he worked for a mere Rs 1 lakh, the amount which he was paid by BR Chopra for Waqt! The film went on to win director Romesh Sharma the Indira Gandhi Award for best first of a director. And more importantly, won Kapoor his only National Award for best actor.
Kapoor’s love for meaningful content was not restricted to cinema. Rather his first love probably already remained theatre. He along with his wife started Prithvi Theatre, now considered the most sought-after stage in Indian theatre, a centre every Indian theatre actor probably dreams of performing. While he had not been actively running it over the last few years, he could often be seen sitting quietly at the premises which draws a whole lot of young crowd every day.
Beyond his role as a producer, Kapoor was also one of India’s most recognised faces across the world, thanks to his association with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant. The actor was the first leading man from Bollywood to actually headline Hollywood productions such The Householder, which was directed by James Ivory who later went on to be nominated for three Oscar awards. The actor collaborated with the Ivory again later to work on Shakespeare-Wallah (1965), which got the director a nomination for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival while getting lead actor Madhur Jaffery the Best Actress award. Kapoor’s background in theatre and his ability to speak English as good as an Englishman helped him in this part of his career.
Another way Kapoor helped filmmakers is by opening up his own equipment rental company, which provided Indian filmmakers with top-grade equipment right here in India. Kapoor was one of the first people in India to import a steenbeck – an editing system that changed things for filmmaker here. Not many know that it was equipment from Kapoor’s company Vidhushak Arts that were used by the likes of Subrata Mitra, Satyajit Ray’s cinematographer.
Of course, none of these endeavours can take away from the fact that Shashi continued to remain a massive star. Especially through the 70s. Easily the busiest star of the day, it was his popularity that unwittingly contributed one of Kapoor least known contributions to the Hindi film industry – the shift system. So busy was he that he would work four shifts in a day, shooting for multiple films in a single day, moving from one set to another tireless… and yet giving his best. This was the time when he apparently, as Aseem Chabra writes in his book ‘Shashi Kapoor – The Householder, The Star’, was referred to as a ‘taxi’ by his elder brother Raj Kapoor. That’s because Shashi Kapoor would almost live out of his car as he worked overtime. Kapoor was apparently such a busy star that even Raj Kapoor had a difficult time getting his dates for Satyam Shivam Sundaram. This is also the period when he went on to star in some rather forgettable… most of it probably just to maintain a lifestyle rather than for love of the craft. And though he may not have liked some of the films he did, Kapoor never quite complained. He just took it all in his stride, with his charismatic smile. The smile that lit up the screen, made a million hearts flutter… the smile that will continue to charm us. The smile is what shall be missed most of all.
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