THE LAST RO­MAN­TIC

India Today - - INSIDE -

An en­tire gen­er­a­tion of women saw in Shashi Kapoor their dream guy. Yet he had to wait long to get his due

Shashi Kapoor’s crooked ca­nines saved him. With­out them he would have been too per­fect—and bor­ing, like the im­pos­si­bly hand­some he­roes of the sil­ver screen. De­spite this tiny im­per­fec­tion, he was never quite given his due as an ac­tor in In­dian cin­ema un­til much later in his ca­reer: the Padma Bhushan in 2011 and the Dadasa­heb Phalke Award in 2015 when he was so ill and could only smile fee­bly. (Strangely, when his el­der brother Raj Kapoor was be­ing pre­sented the Phalke award in Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van, he col­lapsed and was rushed to a hos­pi­tal, where he breathed his last some weeks later.)

Women lusted af­ter Dhar­men­dra and Vinod Khanna, penned fan let­ters with their own blood for Rajesh Khanna and ad­mired the histri­on­ics of Amitabh Bachchan. But Shashi Kapoor was the one they fell in love with—moth­ers and daugh­ters alike, and yes, se­cretly, grand­moth­ers too. It wasn’t just his u-turn eye­lashes or dim­pled cheeks. Among the least ac­torly of film stars, the au­di­ence be­lieved in him as a ro­man­tic lover. The take­away from his break­out hit Jab Jab Phool Khile in 1965 was that the ac­tor’s ro­man­tic feel­ing for his lead­ing lady Nanda rang true on the screen.

Ob­ses­sive fans come with the job. How­ever, in Shashi Kapoor’s case, women from dif­fer­ent cor­ners of the coun­try landed up at the door of his pent­house flat at At­las Apart­ments, off Ne­pean Sea Road—all con­vinced he would marry them. While I was re­search­ing my bi­og­ra­phy of the Kapoors, he told me about a run­away young woman from Pun­jab who re­fused to leave. She sat on her trunk on the build­ing’s premises for weeks un­til the po­lice forcibly re­moved her. There wasn’t a trace of brag­gado­cio in his voice re­count­ing this in­ci­dent; he ac­tu­ally felt sorry for her.

Be­ing the Nice Guy of the In­dian screen made him a mag­net for lovelorn women even well into his six­ties. But he was equally con­vinc­ing, if not more, play­ing the bad guy. Shashi told me that on one oc­ca­sion he had to play down his role as the vil­lain. “In

Paap Aur Punya, I came on too strong as the bad one. Con­se­quently, the hero ap­peared weak.”

He was right. Dis­cern­ing Shashi’s po­ten­tial for com­plex or ob­ses­sive char­ac­ters, Shyam Bene­gal ex­plored the nonan­gelic side of the ac­tor in both Junoon and Ka­lyug. Per­cep­tive in­ter­na­tional cineastes recog­nised his abil­ity to ex­plore the com­plex­i­ties of hu­man na­ture, be­yond his hand­some­ness. Dis­cussing Bom­bay Talkies (1970), James Ivory, who di­rected him in sev­eral films, said: “Shashi draws on his own dark side. We all have our own dark sides, and he is able to bring up his.”

Per­cep­tive in­ter­na­tional di­rec­tors ex­plored this facet of his per­son­al­ity: as a shifty no­ble­man who is ac­tu­ally a thug in The De­ceivers, star­ring Pierce Bros­nan; as a notquite-straight Pak­istani busi­ness­man in Stephen Frears’s Sammy and Rosie Get Laid; and as a mafia boss from the sub­con­ti­nent in Dirty Bri­tish Boys. Nor was he al­ways so good-na­tured. “I was an an­gry child,” he said. “I was the youngest, and could al­most get away with mur­der. When I was about eight or ten, I chal­lenged a friend. I had an air gun and shot him in the leg—I put a lead bul­let in his leg. Ev­ery­body thought Sham­miji was the an­gry young man, but I was.”

Like his broth­ers Raj and Shammi, Shashi Kapoor shared an ob­ses­sive love for food and al­co­hol. How­ever, his wife Jen­nifer Ken­dal, whom he met at 18 and mar­ried two years later, was re­spon­si­ble for his ‘un-Kapoor­ing’. She steered him to­wards the theatre and en­cour­aged him to pro­duce and act in a dif­fer­ent kind of cin­ema—as well to en­act the real life role of the ‘per­fect gen­tle­man’. The youngest son of Prithvi­raj Kapoor was known for his gen­eros­ity. Sev­eral ac­tors told me he sur­rep­ti­tiously slipped money into their pock­ets when they were out of work. What’s in a name, one might ask. But had his mother not changed his name from Bal­bir­raj (cho­sen by his step grand­mother be­cause of the pun­dits) to Shashi, would he have achieved sim­i­lar suc­cess? She se­lected the name be­cause he was al­ways look­ing at the moon.

And leav­ing le­gions of us moon­struck.

Madhu Jain is ed­i­tor of The In­dian Quar­terly and au­thor of The Kapoors: The First Fam­ily of In­dian Cin­ema (2005)

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