On Golden Pond
More Than 50 years after mega- HIT Jab Jab Phool Khile HIT The Screens, ORIGINAL ‘ fan- boy’ Khalid Mohamed LOOKS back at a checkered career, and pays Tribute TO BOLLYWOOD’S matinee IDOL — Shashi Kapoor
Most evenings, at the age of 78, he sits on a wheelchair in a tree- shaded enclave of Prithvi Theatre — founded in the memory of his father Prithviraj Kapoor. He can’t speak much but his eyes sparkle on recognising a past friend or acquaintance. Theatre- goers who frequent Prithvi Café offer their salaams and handshakes. They’re sensitive enough not to crowd around him, quickly expressing their abiding regard for the actor who rocked the marquee in the 1960s and through the 70s. Shashi Kapoor has been a class act. A reluctant hero to a degree, because his first love was theatre — although, ultimately, he couldn’t ignore the call of movies. His elder brothers Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor were making huge waves in show business. It was but natural that their kid brother should follow the family tradition. For the record, Raj Kapoor had successfully cajoled his baby brother into doing cameos in RK banner’s Aag and Awara. Growing up, Shashi was ill at ease as an actor, more at home in James Ivory- Ismail Merchant art- house productions, like The Householder. B u t wh e n h e d i d t ake t he plunge i nto Bombay’s mainstream cinema, he had a blast; he was consistently supported by his wife Jennifer Kendal, who would even design his film costumes, which became fashion trendsetters. This month, film critic Aseem Chhabra has released an evocative book tracing Shashi Kapoor’s journey as a matinee idol as well as the producer of the unconventional Junoon, 36 Chowringhee Lane, Vijeta and Utsav, directed by Shyam Benegal, Aparna Sen, Govind Nihalani and Girish Karnad respectively. None of these may have fetched back their financial investment, but are remembered fondly by the cognoscenti. The star actor’s foray into direction with Ajooba, an Arabian Nights- style fantasy, however, turned out to be a downer, leading to debts, besides an irrevocable sense of disillusionment. Shashi Kapoor wasn’t the same again, compounded by the passing of his wife following a terminal illness. The Adonis of the Indian screen appeared to have discarded his lust for life and the creative arts. Gratifyingly, despite the monetary odds, Prithvi Theatre has had to face over the decades, his daughter Sanjana and son Kunal have strived to keep it more than alive and kicking. Not an easy task, that.
On a personal note, as a schoolboy, I became the actor’s fan- boy for a lifetime after watching Jab Jab Phool Khile, which released 50 years ago. As a Kashmiri boatman who falls in love with a well- heeled, big city girl — played charmingly by Nanda — here was an entertainer who stoked the fantasies of the audience. Directed by Suraj Prakash, the film ( brilliantly photographed by Taru Dutt) underscored the point that love knows no class barriers. Romantic to the hilt, the storyline also asserted that an underprivileged boatman will not accept humiliation from the moneybags. He’d rather retain his pride than sell his soul.
Nearly three decades later, the film was remade into Raja Hindustani ( 1996). It was a whopper hit as well, but it wasn’t quite in the same league. The lasting appeal of Jab Jab Phool Khile was enhanced by a catchy music score by KalyanjiAnandji. The songs ranged from the absolutely joyous
Shashi Kapoor has been a class act. A reluctant hero to a degree, because his first love was theatre — although, ultimately, he couldn’t ignore the call of movies
CROSSING OVER: Shashi Kapoor was part of many English- language films for international audiences, such as ( clockwise from bottom right) In Custody, Heat and Dust, Bombay Talkie and The Householder