He was christened taxi by his legendary brother, the greatest showman, Raj Kapoor for hopping between different shots and dropping his co-stars before finally wrapping home production helped by the former in the last. Shashi Kapoor belonged to the rare breed of actors who immortalized the pause in his dialogue delivery. There are very few actors who would go into pause mode and inject their own style to pack a punch.
It’s a real treat to watch Shashi Sir perform on screen. He was a heartthrob, an actor par excellence much ahead of his contemporaries who bridged the gap between what we call art house or meaningful cinema and entertaining flicks. It wouldn’t be wrong to call him the Thinking Actor who unpeeled the character layers in sketching what he was known for, donning simple and middle-class roles. He lent so much credibility and gave rare depth to the roles that he played on-screen. There was a certain grace and suaveness in the way he trotted on celluloid.
Balbir Raj Kapoor, that’s his real name who belonged to the first family in the Hindi industry dared to go against the crowd in playing memorable roles, be it in Junoon, Shakespearewalla, Utsav, 36 Chowringee Lane, Kabhi Kabhi and his last appearance Jinnah. There is a considerable debate that rages over time whether an actor should act into mainstream cinema whose aim is to entertain or do realistic artsy cinema. Somebody of his stature has put all debates to rest not through value statements but the rich repertoire of work by striking a fine balance between films that entertain and educate. At the end of the day, it’s a tale of making two kinds of movies, either a good or bad one. There are no two ways about it.
He was debonair, charismatic and a legend in his own way. There was no starry air of arrogance on screen, no overbearing act or yelling at the top of his voice. Shashi Kapoor’s performance was natural, effortless and to the point. Remember the effective Mere Paas Maa Hai in the classic confrontation scene as Ravi with Vijay immortalized by Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar?
It is very rare to find an actor of the stature of Shashi Kapoor in today’s time of social media, Insta world and tweet at every second that seems to replace histrionic performance on-screen. Gone are the days when the mere presence of a Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan or Dilip Kumar would make us sit and watch in awe. I think it’s very tough to list the top performances of the first crossover actor who acted in several international projects much before the overpublicized Indian film stars testing the Hollywood waters since he was in competition with himself.
Deewar, Jab Jab Phool Khile, Utsav, Kala Pathar, Shakespearwala, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Junoon, Sharmili, Trishul and Aa Gale Lag Ja are some of the memorable movies that remain entrenched in our minds. He was underrated as an actor but unfazed by stardom in the film industry. One of the rare actors who believed more in playing a character than taking the entire screen time as showcased in Deewar. It is perhaps attributed to his training at the Royal Academy of Drama and Art (RADA), one of the rare if not the only Indian who become alumni of this prestigious institution. Shashi Kapoor was secure as an actor and no matter the length of the role, he not only stood tall but shone with his soul looming large throughout the film. One such film is Silsila, the bonding that he shared with Bachchan electrified the screen and one among my favorite is the drunk sequence where both sang, ‘Neeche paan ki dukan upar Gauri ka makaan. Zara Jhoom Jhoom ke.’
One of the most handsome and secure actors, his energy was unmatched, the zest and passion for his craft as an artist or filmmaker something he shared with Dev Anand where both invested every cent into films.
Today, he takes an immense chunk of cinema with him as he bows out and experimenting with roles that made his journey into filmdom memorable. The death of Shashi Kapoor is a huge loss to actors and the industry as a whole but he also leaves a void which is almost impossible to fill. The charisma and sheer passion which made him a cut above the rest and set him apart, the vulnerability showcased that made the actor far ahead of several of his film contemporaries. Film-making is a risky proposition but at the same time, is listening to the heart like love. He was way ahead of his time. The history of Hindi cinema cannot be written without an artist of Shashi Kapoor’s caliber and truly the first filmwallah who nurtured his dream and dared to go beyond the kind of cinema of what his family has always done.
There is an interesting anecdote that Amitabh Bachchan once narrated on his blog. There was a time when Bachchan was struggling as an actor and stood among a crowd of extra for a flick when Shashi Kapoor saw him. Kapoor immediately walked to him and asked not to do small parts since he was meant for bigger things. The thespian actor told Bachchan to never hesitate for any help and his door is always open. It speaks volume of Shashi Kapoor as a large-hearted man.
Shashi Kapoor shall be sorely missed. He was not just a versatile and charismatic actor but a true legend. The down-to-earth and affordable personality, memorable screen presence and a smile that would warm the heart of the most ruthless person must be told to aspiring cinema artists in film schools to help them hone their craft. The theatrical pause shall always be a legion to Shashi Kapoor and the ease with which he injected theatre into films made his screen presence relatable that aspiring actors must take a cue from. Unfortunately, not many could understand his Ajooba as a director, a modern take on the Arabian Nights with Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor in the lead.
RIP Shashi Sir! You shall always stay in our hearts forever. Can’t believe that an era has come to an end with your death as you leave behind such a rich film legacy.