Shashi Kapoor : The Householder, The Star — By Aseem Chhabra

shashi“Hum toh samjhe the ki Sanjeev Kumar ke ghar mein hum akele bachchan paida hui paye hain, par aaj pata chala hum toh Shashi Kapoor hain, Bachchan toh koi aur hai,” states the character of Faizal played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur 2. Though one of the most brilliant moments of the film, this scene hints at India’s clichéd perception of the ace actor Shashi Kapoor – as a second fiddle to Amitabh Bachchan. And author Aseem Chhabra’s book, Shashi Kapoor – The householder, The Star compels its reader to see the actor in a completely different light, as householder, as well as star.

The book, ‘Shashi Kapoor – The householder, The Star’ chronicles the journey of Shashi Kapoor. At first glance, you might anticipate a dichotomy between the ‘householder’ and the ‘star’, which thankfully isn’t the case here.

As a reader, you’re richly rewarded by discovering a Shashi Kapoor, who’s a blend of both ‘householder’ and ‘star’. In hindsight, one feels the book should have been titled as ‘Shashi Kapoor – The star, The Producer.’ There’s a reason why.

Shashi Kapoor, the star was in fact, Shashi Kapoor the householder. He took up many Hindi potboilers (brilliantly described in the chapter, ‘The Taxi’) purely to support his family, which eventually made him a ‘star’.

An excerpt from the book, which explains this aspect of his life:

Sanjna, on catching her father in these films, says, ‘I remember asking my mother, “How could he work in such crap?” Really, I am not a great feminist, but there is a whole period of Hindi cinema which upsets me so much — not only the violence, but also the way women are treated.’ Then, Jennifer Kendal Kapoor explained to Sanjna that her father would have continued being a stage actor if it were financially viable. ‘But he had a family and the family expanded. With that, the lifestyle changed and got cushier. If you decide to go to London every summer, and maintain a house in Goa, you have to earn a certain amount of money. You are sucked into this cycle and you can’t get out.’

But the ‘producer’ Shashi Kapoor was a completely different man. He was an artist who valued his inner voice and instinct of giving parallel cinema the platform it deserves.

Further, the kind of support that he extended to a newbie like Ramesh Sharma for his film, New Delhi Times and his first meeting at a plush hotel is one of the indelible memories that the book leaves you with.

An actor who was never insecure, Shashi Kapoor not only promoted filmmakers of parallel cinema, but also actors like Amitabh Bachchan, who wrote in his blog:

Shashiji had always been a great support. I would visit him on set when I was looking for a job, he already being an established star by then, and he would introduce me to all his directors. He never worked on Sundays and would spend the day with his two sons and daughter by the swimming pool, at the newly opened Sun n Sand Hotel in Juhu, then the only Hotel in the region. We, knowing of this activity of his would land up via the beach near the Hotel to see him, going in by the main entrance was impossible for us, and waited anxiously for him to notice us so we could spend some time with him.”

Ismail Merchant, the producer called us one fine day and said there some small parts which we could do and that he would pay us Rs 500 for it. I needed the money so desperately to feed myself, I readily agreed. When Shashiji saw what we had been asked to do, he walked up to me in the crowd of mourners where I was standing as a junior artist, or the ‘extra’ and asked me to move. ‘Don’t do these bit parts’ he advised, ‘you are made for better things’ and then spoke to the director to delete those portions of mine from the film.”

The book, as one could already predict, ends on a grim note, almost sounding like eulogy. The author surely couldn’t have thought of doing it any other way, owing to the fact that Shashi Kapoor of today has indeed become a shadow of Shashi Kapoor of yore. The last chapter, ‘Things fall apart’ is sure to leave a lump in your throat, making you feel as if you’ve time-travelled with a householder, a star called Shashi Kapoor.

Thank you Aseem Chhabra sir for this wonderful book.

A visit to Prithvi Theatre will no longer remain the same, nor will be Shashi Kapoor be perceived as the second fiddle to Amitabh Bachchan, which can be summed up with yet another poignant excerpt, where Amitabh Bachchan states:

“If Shashi had to play that role (in Deewaar) and be sincere to it, he had to underplay it… However, if he had tried to stand out as a performer and give the kind of performance that gives you stardom, he would not have done justice to the role…. He did it right.”

…Later, at the premiere of Deewaar, Amitabh sat next to Shashi. Amitabh recalls: “We never said a word. But (at) the ‘Mere pass maa hai’ moment, I felt a gentle hand on mine. It was Shashiji’s. He never spoke, but the way he held my hand said everything.”

“It was reassurance, it was affection, it was acknowledgement, it was complimentary, it was appreciation, it was everything that a struggling actor that had once played an extra in a film that starred this gentleman sitting next to him (in James Ivory’s Bombay Talkie) had never ever dreamt would happen.”

About the author: 

aseemAseem Chhabra is a film journalist, freelance writer and film festival programmer in New York City. He has been published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Outlook, Mumbai Mirror,; has a regular column in The Hindu and has been a commentator on Indian cinema and popular culture on NPR, CNN, BBC, as also ABC’s Good Morning America, Associated Press and Reuters. Aseem is the festival director of the New York Indian Film Festival and the Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival in Pittsburgh. He is also the voice of Shadow Puppet #1 in director Nina Paley’s award-winning animated film, Sita Sings the Blues. Aseem is from Delhi, lives in New York, and visits India often. He can be followed on Twitter @chhabs.

Author: Aseem Chhabra
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Release: May 2016
Genre: Non Fiction / Biography
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