Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star
Author: Aseem Chhabra
Once upon a time, there was a handsome young boy for whom movies was a staple diet that he couldn’t resist and by a stroke of luck became an apprentice for the Shakespeare Walla group in Pune. He met the love of his life and together this heavenly match entered a flawless and perfect bliss churning out Bombay Talkies. A householder star and the energy behind Prithvi Theatres, Shashi Kapoor was a sensation not just in reel but in real life through his sheer belief in cinema and theatres that need to be told to the masses and classes alike.
Respected and acclaimed journalist Aseem Chhabra’s book, ‘Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star’ is a brilliant ode to the man, the actor, superstar, Shakespeare Walla who is unquestionably our first crossover star at a time the whole breed of stars are eyeing Hollywood. The author provides a rare insight into the life of Shashi Kapoor, the actor, superstar, householder, producer and director where many of his ilk right from Amitabh Bachchan to Shabana Azmi and close friends, Anil Dhakar, the Merchant and James Ivory, Sharmila Tagore to his children, Karan, Kunal and Sanjana offering a rare insight into the life of one of the most relatable and heart-warming actors who broke the myth of stars much before Twitter sashayed into our lives.
The book contains passages and unique insights into the life of Kapoor foraying into Hindi commercial potboilers, English movies and art cinema showcasing that in the actor’s book, cinema is one emotion which is not restricted to language, pretty much like music. His romance with Jennifer Kendal, a marriage of two souls becoming one and the strained relationship both had at some point with Geoffrey Kendal or the moment the former succumbed to cancer which made Kapoor a recluse broke the heart.
Of course, it is legendary on how Shashi Kapoor was christened, ‘taxi’ by Raj Kapoor, something which we often came across but Chhabra offers a first-hand account on how the biggest showman was desperately looking for film dates from his star-brother who would land for his shoot in the last after canning numerous shoots. He was one of the busiest stars landing in various studios with the signature expression, ‘What are the lines?’
Shabana Azmi, a gold medallist from Pune’s Film Television Institute of India offers a glimpse of the ‘teacher’ Shashi on how tears wouldn’t well from her eyes. He chided her through mock tones, ‘What is the use of a major gold medal? He made me stare and stare until I got used to it?’ Azmi couldn’t face the light and the actor taught her the intricacies of top lightning. As ironical as it gets, 1972 released Siddhartha was one flick where Kapoor taught Simi Garewal how to kiss on screen while the narrative demanded the other way round. The book serves the purpose here through such rare anecdotes of what goes behind the scenes.
Another story that we knew but was testified through the horse mouth on how Kapoor dissuaded a then-struggling Amitabh Bachchan to stand as an extra in Bombay Talkie since the megastar would make 50 bucks in those days much to his chagrin. He told Bachchan that he was set to become bigger. A prediction that became true and perhaps what gave birth to the Shashitabh phenomenon (Amitabh-Shashi), one of the most super successful duos in the late 70s and early 80s. Both acted together in 14 films and struck gold at the box office. The saddest part is that the Shashi Kapoor’s directed Ajooba failed to repeat the magic, a wondrous film that I loved as a child and feel it was so under-rated.
Chhabra offers several interesting tales on the kind of movies that many mainstream cinema lovers largely ignore where the actor delivered some of the most stupendous performances. The films, Heat and Dust, The Householder, Bombay Talkie and Shakespeare wala with James Ivory-Ismail Merchant or in the later years, Sammy and Rosie Got Laid, In Custody or Side Streets, New Delhi Times, 36 Chowringhee Lane and Junoon must be watched by every student of good cinema.
The 178-odd pages book is not sufficient enough to decode the life and times of Shashi Kapoor, an enigma to uncover his rich repertoire as an artist. One thing which I find is lacking relates to the actor’s dedication to theatre and, particularly Prithvi Theatres where an entire chapter could have been written about.
Shashi Kapoor was one rare actor, blessed with a theatrical pause something this young generation should imbibe. Of course, Chhabra speaks about this large-hearted personality as a film producer in whose dictionary, frugality never existed and perhaps explaining why he never made money from his productions. Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star makes for a fascinating read delving into the life of the one of the most kind-hearted, loved actors and the author’s effort is commendable in bringing alive a rich tale of success, camera, and a middle-class hero.