It’s very strange , though in a way hugely apt that Indian cinema’s resident rake Shashi Kapoor is gone, but almost all his major heroines barring Nanda(with whom Shashi did his career-defining Jab Jab Phool Khile) are still around.
From Sharmila Tagore and Asha Parekh to Hema Malini , Zeenat Aman and Mumtaz , Shabana Azmi and of course Raakhee Gulzar with whom Shashi did the maximum number of films, the actor with the the most disarming smile on this side of Dev Anand has left his heroines shattered.
Shabana who is in Sydney is too grieved to speak on the actor whom she names among her biggest influences in life along with Shashi’s wife Jennifer, filmmaker Shayam Benegal and her parents Kaifi and Shaukat Azmi.
“He was the most handsome man I’ve ever come across,” says Shabana.
Raakhee Gulzar wept as she recalled all the meals she cooked on outdoor locations with Shashi during their spectacularly successful stints for Sharmilee, Kabhi Kabhie , and a slew of films some of them like Trishna and Jaanwar Aur Insaan forgotten today.
Hema Malini remembers Shashi as a through gentleman. “When he did Abhinetri with me I was new and he was established. Still he didn’t mind doing a film that revolved around my character.”
Jeetendra did mind, though. He opted out of Abhinetri at the last minute. Shashi sportingly stepped in. That was the story of Shashi’s saga in commercial Hindi cinema..hardly the first choice for filmmakers,though a favourite with all his leading ladies.He was Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand after Kishore Kumar said no. But when the reigning superstar Rajesh Khanna showed an interest in playing Anand Shashi was shown the door.
Khanna and Kapoor didn’t work together for many years when Raj Khosla cast them together in Prem Kahani as the to men in Mumtaz’s life.
One of his top heroines tells me, “I’d recommend Shashiji for many films. But producers would refuse saying he was a flop actor. As blunt as that. Flop Actor,they said. I was appalled by the crassness of it. But there was little I could do about it.”
In the 1970s Shashi did come into his own with solo hits like Chor Machaye Shor , Chori Mera Kaam and Fakira. But he chose to play the second lead in Amitabh Bachchan starrers. That finished off his career as a leading man in commercial films.
Sharmila Tagore for some strange reason blanks out her stupendously successful pairing with Rajesh Khanna and focuses on her resoundingly flop combination with Shashi Kapoor.
She once told me. “I really enjoyed working with Shashi. He had a wonderful sense of humour and he was an exceptional husband.We did many films together after our successful pairing in Waqt. I enjoyed Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Paap Aur Punya, Anari,Suhana Safar… His work as an actor and then as a producer of important off-mainstream cinema makes him unique. He was the first Indian actor to work abroad, and that too with an eminent director like James Ivory. Together they did exemplary work. Shashi worked really hard to achieve what he did as an actor and producer. He was an exceptionally softspoken co-star and also a very considerate team player on the sets.He was very kind to all the technicians. He generated tremendous goodwill in cinema and theatre. He was an extraordinarily versatile artiste.”
It is to be noted that all films mentioned by Sharmila were flops. Yet she enjoyed working with Shashi Kapoor.
“That guy was immeasurably charming,” says Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi’s most constant co-star in the later part of the 1970s and 80s.
Adds Shabana Azmi who did Fakira with Shashi, “He has been a trailblazer in so many ways. He was the first Indian actor to work in Hollywood. He was the first mainstream actor who when he turned producer did so with artistic cinema like 36 Chowringhee Lane and Junoon. He was a dream producer. He built an institution, Prithvi Theatres which has given Mumbai a cultural space like no other.All that he earned he gave back to the world of art. He didn’t become a real-estate dealer or pump his money into stocks and shares.”
Shashi would often joke that since all the film he produced bombed at the boxoffice,he had no choice but to do any and every film offered to him. Hence his brother Raj Kapoor’s jibe about Shashi being a taxi on hire didn’t stick.
Shashi never recovered from his wife Jennifer’s untimely death . He fell in love with her when she was 18 and announced to his father his intention to marry.When papa Prithviraj Kapoor protested about Shashi being too young, Shashi waited for two years and married the love of his life at 20. Their togetherness was like a fairytale come true.After Jennifer passed away,Shashi lost control of his life. He refused to talk about his wife even with his children.
Now when he is finally reunited with his love we can safely see the wisdom of Shashi’s memorable song in the film Pyar Ka Mausam.
Tum bin jaaon kahan ke duniya mein aake kuch nahin chaha sanam tumko chah ke.