Ask any movie buff who he would pick as the “Handsomest Actor in Hindi cinema” and pat will come the reply – Shashi Kapoor !
Very few would dispute that Shashi Kapoor was the type who would make women swoon as soon as he made an entry. That slick and stylish haircut, a wonderful smile combined with a boyish, suave presence assured that he would gain attention.
He was an actor who could ham through many roles and then suddenly come up with a performance which would win praises. These complexities always made Shashi Kapoor an enigma because he could run around trees with aplomb or play a role with greyish shades with equanimity.
His good looks always assured him a role as a hero. But one always felt that Shashi Kapoor was toying with audience in silly roles and judging their response.
He did a total of 116 Hindi films in all, and extended his repertoire to English films, mostly made by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory in the early days before going to mainstream films. In fact, he was the first actor to have a decent run in English films in both the UK and the US.
Shashi Kapoor also thrived in his own space in the 1970s and 80s when multi-starrers were the order of the day. He did many films with Amitabh Bachchan and his “Mere Pas Ma Hai” became a defining piece of dialogue in Hindi cinema.
He had many hits with Hema Malini and Rakhee too and delivered six hits with the former. But the point of all these hits were that it helped Shashi Kapoor to set up his own production house Film Valas.
This was a landmark of its own for Indian cinema as in days of dishoom, dishoom and highly exaggerated plots with divine interventions, Shashi Kapoor banked on his popularity to introduce some serious cinema.
He started with the critically-acclaimed Junoon (1978) and followed up with more of the same. Kaliyug (1981), 36 Chowringee Lane (1981), Vijeta (1982) and Utsav (1984) were thought-provoking efforts which established Shashi Kapoor as a serious filmmaker.
Shashi Kapoor played a grey-shaded character in Kaliyug and a villainous one in Utsav.
The scene where Shashi Kapoor sleeps in the foetal position explains a dark situation without saying anything.
His last major role was in the Muhafiz (In Custody) in 1993 which won him a National Award.
He did two more films before disappearing into oblivion in the late 1990s, There was no explanation, no grandstanding, The death of his wife Jennifer in 1984 had affected him badly. Theirs was a love story which faced opposition but they fought it together.
So the young boy who appeared on stage and in films as a child in the late 1940s and got noticed in the Raj Kapoor starrer Aag, had a long and fulfilling career in cinema. He had started with his father Prithviraj Kapoor on the stage and he did not forget his roots.
The Kapoors’ Prithvi Theatre has played a major role in Indian theatre and Shashi Kapoor and later his daughter Sanjana have kept it going.
Shashi Kapoor also helped Raj Kapoor when his Bobby could not find any takers after Mera Naam Joker flopped. He looked after the distribution and Bobby went on to be a big hit.
He became a recluse once he faced health issues. He lived in Pune for a while too. Like all Kapoors, he put on weight in later life and was wheelchair-bound. But that boyish face with the dazzling smile was there for all to see.
Rest In Peace Shashi Kapoor. Your rich legacy will remain forever…