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Shashi Kapoor, the last of the trailblazers, passed away at a Mumbai hospital on Monday. A tribute by Khalid Mohamed.
Yaaar! Do you have an empty cassette?" he hollered, to get the snap reply from the next room, "No, I don't Mr Kapoor and don't call me yaaaar. In case, you've forgotten, it's Jennifer."
Over a Sunday English breakfast interview - tea in thickset indigo-white porcelain cups, dark slabs of toast, globs of butter, marmalade, eggs sunny side up (bacon strips avoided in courtesy to the guest), I'd exhausted a 90-minute tape.
Shashi Kapoor was amused, "You're the first... and last person...who will bum a tape off me. Take notes. I won't deny my quotes, like some of your better friends do."
The better friend—more his than mine—was Amitabh Bachchan, then a MP, who'd got himself into a jam on recorded tape for calling politics a "cesspool." I chortled. Next, a phone call chimed, he ended it pronto, and hollered out to Jennifer, "Nowadays they're only calling for Karan, not for me. Ever since he did an ad in which they called him a dream boy? Or was it dream boat?"
The Next Room Voice hit home, "Now, now, you're getting 'j' about your own son."
There are so many little and big stories which vault back today. Jennifer left 33 years ago after combating a terminal illness. Shashi ("Never call me Shashiji or saab, you're so mean to me in your reviews") left yesterday. Reasons: advanced age, I suspect, compounded by heartbreak.
Without the reprimanding omnipresence of his grand amour, he was never the same again. I would see him downing vodkalimetinis in a moving car, I would see him summoning up barely a crescent of a smile at Atlas Apartments on Harkness Road. "Do you know Jennifer wanted to move to that new building you see closer to the sea?" he had murmured. "Then she said, 'No way?' Because they named it Ben-Hur. Imagine living in a house that would keep reminding us of Charlton Heston on a chariot!"
The breakfasts over interviews were never the same again. Not surprisingly, he moved out of Atlas to a high-rise, a tiptoe away from the Prithvi, the magnificent ode to theatre founded and preserved in the memory of Prithviraj. Shashi, the youngest of the three sons of Prithviraj, looked uncannily like the thespian, especially in the black-and-white period drama Sikandar (1941).
Weaned on the cinema of the 1950s, for me Raj Kapoor was the big boss, Shammi Kapoor the fun-raiser, and their chhota bhai, the Adonis. Drop-kaboom-gorgeous. Innocent confession: I had posters of Shashi and Elvis Presley plastered on my ratty room's walls. The first and only fan letter I ever wrote was to the Adonis. Not fair, I'd harangue myself. Why can't I look like him? In a delirious bid to be Shashi, I'd buy those shark's fin-collared silk shirts, floral that too, from Burlington's, his favoured boutique.
"Naah, you're a liar, shyaana you don't even like me," he had grinned that jagged, fluorescent smile of his. For evidence, I had to show him the reply, a cyclostyled sheet, his letterhead there, his signature inscribed with best wishes, plus a picture postcard showing him in a white suit and floral shirt, using a tree as a backrest. "Really?" the nature-manicured eyebrows had shot up, "Jennifer must have mailed you that. You didn't expect me to reply personally, did you? Anyway you must have been a baccha."
From details like noticing that I or anyone else, hadn't shaved properly, Shashi would snort, "If you can't handle a razor, just grow a beard like all the serious artwallas, wear a khadi kurta-pajama and carry a jhola."
"Excuse me, aren't you an artwalla too?" he had to be countered. His initiation into acting was thanks to stage plays performed at Bombay's Opera House by his father. He was dedicated to the Shakespearana troupe of his father-in-law Geoffrey Kendal. And when he turned to film production, it was with projects helmed by Shyam Benegal (Junoon), Aparna Sen (36 Chowringhee Lane), Govind Nihalani (Vijeta) and Girish Karnad (Utsav). So there.
"So there yourself," he reasoned and though I couldn't verify this he had said pointedly, "None of them brought me my money back. Tell me, how do I survive on praise and fresh air? Anyway, none of them has kept in touch... in the way they used to. It was Shashi, Shashi, Shashi, then. Now what? Ismail (Merchant) and Jim (James Ivory) are the only ones who're still asking me to act."
Right. "Not so right, my friend," he responded stoically, "Ismail has never been the perfect paymaster. He still has to pay up my dues."
There was a residue of bitterness, followed by abject capitulation when the Arabian Nights-style fantasy Ajooba, his first and only film as a director, tanked. Debts had piled up, he was on the cusp of bankruptcy. To keep going, he would act as the benign middleaged sort in potboilers. Clearly, he was no longer the most wanted "taxi metre" as Raj Kapoor had called him, when he was studiohopping for the lord alone knows how many different dawn-to-dusk shooting shifts. Perhaps, Shashi just wasn't interested in being a cog in the showbiz wheel anymore.
For a fan tracking Shashi Kapoor—the star of the 1960s and '70s, was a dream ride though. For starters, Dharmputra, The Householder, Char Diwari were an eclectic bunch. But what the heck, he had cared to be eclectic, he was unconventional enough to defy the herd mentality.
Bollywood's first bona fide crossover actor, unacknowledged albeit, Shashi fetched up in a gigolo act opposite Hayley Mills in Pretty Polly. Ulp, he even lip-to-lip kissed Ms Mills, who to my consternation, chainsmoked cigarettes on screen. Goodness gracious, my prudish instincts went, how daring is that? Polly didn't click. Just as well.
Because my Shashi, a brimful of charm and gallantry and I'm just listing my personal favourites—with Nanda (Neend Hamari Khwab Tumhare, Jab Jab Phool Khile), Sharmila Tagore (Waqt, Aamne Saamne, a grossly undervalued thriller), Rajshree (Dil ne Pukara) and Mumtaz (Chor Machaye Shor)—were the stuff which bespoke gloss and glamour are made of.
Stardom finds its own level, he was to the Kapoor family born. Yet his eternal charisma was not only inherited. That factor was experimented with and attained. Gloriously.
Truly if there was the ruggedly handsome Dharmendra in the Greek god looks rally, there was the urbane, sophisticated Shashi who could slay with his goodfella swag.
I'm not sure whether playing second fiddle to Amitabh Bachchan, in a series of fivestarrers was a judicious gambit, be it the quirky male bonding shower room scene in Silsila or the 'Mera paas maa hai' jawsocker of a Salim-Javed line in Deewaar. But then Shashi wasn't ever the scene-hogger, was he? His style was laissez-faire, no cheating.
With time, Shashi could carry off Bollywood's must-do songs-and-dances capably. Yet there seemed to be a shadow of doubt within him, "Why the illogical intrusion?" Nasir Hussain who directed him in Pyar ka Mausam, had stated that his hero was a "bit too westernised."
There could be a grain of truth in that. Still, Shashi with his self-taught credo of I'lltoe-the-line, since that's an actor's supreme strength, dignified the tribal rites of Bollywood, a realm where rules are scripted in stone.
I'm not the right Shashi chronicler. I could recall an infinite number of Shashi Kapoor incidents. The time I shushed him up, shouting "Shut the damn up!" during a screening of an Andrei Tarkovsky film screening at Delhi's Vigyan Bhawan, without knowing it was he, who was chatting away in the row behind. I could recall many more English breakfasts. I could recall him seated hunched, eyes wide closed—in the midst of the Prithvi cafeites—recognising me and offering me his warm hand to touch.
I can recall Jennifer and Shashi, once, gifting me a carton of socks from the Harrods' store, on noticing my frayed footgear.
Recalls can't be total or sufficient. I will not weep now for my poster boy. That would be momentary.
And perhaps he wouldn't have liked this. The Shashi I know, and always will, would have been embarrassed by public displays of emotion.
Too late for objections now. Here's to you forever, Shashi ji.
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Source : https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/cover-story/exit-swag/articleshow/61923055.cms