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When Shashi Kapoor said, “In India the distributors refuse to touch a film that wins an award”

Remembering Shashi Kapoor on his death anniversary

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Shashi Kapoor

By Jyothi Venkatesh

Today is the sixth death anniversary of Shashi Kapoor, born as Balbir Prithviraj Kapoor, adored as the Adonis of Hindi Cinema and hailed as an actor with a global appeal of his own. The embodiment of romance and charm who wooed the top leading ladies of the ’70s and ’80s on the silver screen and captivated millions of fans, died six years ago at 79 on Monday 3rd December, 2017 in Mumbai. If only he was alive today, he would have been 85 today.

The most understated Kapoor among the three Kapoor brothers- Raj, Shammi and Shashi, the Kolkata born actor who has left behind a legacy of his own films like Junoon, Kalyug, 36 Chowringhee Lane, Vijeta etc besides super duper hits like Jab Jab Phool Khile, Jahaan Pyar Miley, Pyar Ka Mausam, Kanyadaan, Sharmilee, Chor Machaye Shor and Haseena Maan Jayegi, had actually made his debut as a child actor with his own elder brother Raj Kapoor’s film Aag and followed it up with Awara. Sammy and Rosie Get Laid’, ‘Jinnah’ and ‘Side Streets’ were some of his films that never got theatre releases in India, and a few like ‘Siddhartha’ and ‘Heat and Dust’ have been forgotten today.

Shashi Kapoor, I remember created news when on the sets of Satyam Shivam Sundaram, he had told me that today’s actors are akin to taxi drivers because they ply their wares by downing their meters.

I have had the proud privilege of meeting and conversing with the smart and suave gentleman of all times umpteen numbers of times in my 51 year old career as a journalist on various sets including Satyam Shivam Sundaram and Bandhan Kache Dhagon Ka. To mourn his death, we reproduce this rare and frank interview with the then 48-year-old actor by JYOTHI VENKATESH, which appeared 37 years ago in the fortnightly FRONTLINE issue dt June 14-27, 1986.

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Shashi Kapoor, the actor for every role, recognition has been belated but he was an actor without airs. Not for him the star trappings of the others. If he is not at home when you call on his landline, he gets your message and calls you back. And yet he continued to be a busy actor working in about 20 films till the late 90’s.

This interview had to be conducted in between shots, when he was working in two films in the same bungalow in Juhu in the suburbs of Bombay. He was playing Mandakini’s father in Ravindra Peepat’s Hum To Chale Pardes whereas in Khushkismat, he was the young romantic lead opposite Swapna.

Shashi confesses it was a feeling of disbelief that he had on being informed that he had won the year’s national award for best actor for his performance in New Delhi Times. “Even though this is my 27th year of acting in films, I had never ever paid much attention to awards. I only wish they had given it to my wife Jennifer when she was alive, for her performance in my film 36 Chowringhee Lane. Frankly the awards mean nothing to me at this stage when I do not have her to share it with me.”

“In the fine arts there should be no races, ” said Shashi. “It is unfair to all the other contestants. I was told I had to compete for the award with veterans like Sivaji Ganeshan and Gopi. It is unfair to them. I feel that the awards do not make any difference to either the actors or the films in our country unlike in the U.S where the Oscar can change the destiny of an actor or a film. In India the distributors refuse to touch a film that has won an award and the producers even refuse to sign up an actor who has won one because the industry survives on popular Cinema.”

Also read: Amit Sial: “I badly wanted to break away from the kind of antagonist roles that were being offered to me”

Shashi Kapoor appeared in 148 films between 1945 and 1998, in which he was the sole hero in 61 and a lead hero in 53 multi starrers, supporting actor in 21, did 7 guest appearances and did four roles as a child artiste (including the two RK films).These included evergreen hits such as B.R. Chopra’s ‘Waqt’, ‘Jab Jab Phool Khile’ opposite Nanda, the madcap ‘Pyar Kiya Jaa’ — which happened to be among the funniest movies made in Bollywood, ‘Haseena Maan Jayegi’ opposite Babita, who later became his sister-in-law and mother of Karisma and Kareena, ‘Fakira’, ‘Kaala Patthar’ — where he held his own against Amitabh and Shatrughan Sinha, ‘Do Aur Do Paanch’, ‘Silsila’, ‘Shaan’, ‘Namak Halaal’ and ‘New Delhi Times’, where he played a crusading newspaper editor.

Shashi says he is no method actor. “I know the craft of acting. No pretensions for me. I do not believe in skipping a bath for three days just because I have to play an untouchable shudra. I am absolutely a switch on switch off actor who believes in transforming oneself only in front of the camera. As and when I get a role worth its salt, I do involve myself in it. But where are the roles and such filmmakers? Right now I get the script for the films in which I am acting only a few minutes before I have to face the camera. How do you think one can do the homework for his role in such a situation?”

Recognition as an actor may have come at the fag end of his career to Shashi Kapoor but he has done a myriad roles. “I have played different roles in different films right from the time I made my debut with Char Diwari. Whether it was Char Diwari or Householder, Shakespearewallah or Bombay Talkies or Haseena Maan Jayegi or for that matter Jahaan Pyar Miley, I have always proved myself in different roles. The only thing is that I had always maintained a rather low key and didn’t believe in tom tomming about my plus points as most actors do today.”

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Shashi is one of the most popular character artists today. And he has no qualms about admitting it. “I do not believe in hanging on to my youth or teenage years. Let Jackie Shroff, Anil Kapoor, Sunny Deol and Sanjay Dutt come to the fore. It is high time I made my way for the youngsters to step in and take over from the old guard. I am 48 today. I have had a chequered career spanning 27 years and I have enjoyed 28 years of married life. I am today a contented man with two sons –Kunal and Karan and a daughter Sanjana who have grown up.”

Shashi is in the red financially after Utsav which cost him nearly 3 crores. However, Shashi has no regrets having made it. “Utsav has not dampened my spirits. Its delay did initially dampen my spirits but it was inevitable because half- way through, Jennifer was indisposed and I had no alternative but to suspend it and attend to her. For nearly 18 months, I could not concentrate on the film. As a result, the interest on the amount that I had borrowed mounted. Imagine how much I have had to pay on a principle of Rs 1 crore, not at the bank rate but the market price”

He is on a signing spree as a character artist only because he wants to earn whatever he can and concentrate on making films the way he wants them to be made. “I am working in two shifts. There are even days when I am working in three shifts because I cannot say no to a producer if he comes to me with a sob story that he has got his sets erected and all the other stars required for  the scene are present except me.”

Shashi is planning to launch a film for his son Karan Kapoor too, just as he launched Vijayta for his eldest son Kunal. “I will launch Sahebzada with Karan playing the title role. Of course I will be also acting in an elderly role. Sridevi will be Karan’s leading lady and Prayag Raj, my friend from the good old days of the stage, will direct it. I want to make Sahebzada as a quickie on a modest budget before I set out to launch an ambitious Indo-Russian co-production, a fantasy with Amitabh Bachchan and Sridevi in the lead. I have yet to finalize the director of the film. Amitabh has agreed to do the film, I am waiting for him to be free from his commitments before I launch it. The film will be made on a budget of Rs 11 crores.”

Also read: Craving more after Ranbir Kapoor starrer Animal? THESE father-child dramas are perfect for your emotional fix

Shahsi says that he may take up direction sooner or later as and when he is able to free himself from his commitments- assignments wise as well as financially. However he will continue to make films for his concern Filmwallas. “It is my ambition as a producer to have the great honor and privilege of having the greatest showman Raj Kapoor as the director of my film. I know it is like reaching for the moon but then I am sure one day I will be able to launch a film with Rajji as the director.”

Shashi is in the meanwhile toying with the idea of going in for television serials in a big way. “Amritlal Nagar will be writing a TV serial to be produced by me with Shyam Benegal as the director. The serial known as Parampara will deal with Indian culture and heritage. It will be about Indians and deal with the past, present and the future. Shyam has reservations about the serial because the serial Buniyaad has already been made by Ramesh Sippy but I feel that the scripts of Parampara and Buniyaad are poles apart. I am confident of launching the TV series as early as possible. I am waiting for Shyam to be free from his commitments too.

“I have done all my parts in real life too. As a child, a teenager, middle aged husband and now an old widower. I will be failing in my own esteem if I were to fall in love and marry again after spending 28 years with Jennifer. However, I do not mind having a couple of affairs,” he winks at me and signs off.

That’s Shashi Kapoor for you, a thorough gentleman, with a wicked as well as wild sense of humor.

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