Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Shashi Kapoor's first screen appearance was in his elder-brother Raj Kapoor's 1951 film, 'Awara', playing the childhood phase of the protagonist, Raj, played by Raj Kapoor himself. The screen time was about 15 minutes, from attending a birthday party, returning to an impoverished desolate while his ailing mother, played by Leela Chitnis, asks him to eat food. There is no food, and he says he is not hungry. Then he runs out to steal bread, and the scene where he slumps against the lamp-post and the menacing villain, played by K.N.Singh, walks up to him and takes him away promising to turn him into a thief. Shashi Kapoor manages the scenes with ease, and there was little doubt that acting came to him naturally.
But when he grew up, it did not become easy. He was literally standing in the shadow of the showman, Raj Kapoor, and the "Yahoo" man Shammi Kapoor with his boisterous antics. Shashi Kapoor had to find his own way to make the mark. Shammi Kappor had to reinvent himself in 'Tumsa Nahin Dekha' with newcomer Ameeta, in 'Dil Deke Dekho' with newcomer Asha Parekh, in 'Junglee' with newcomer Saira Bano. Shashi Kapoor stuck with his own natural elegance in 'Jab Jab Phool Khile' with Nanda, in 'Aamne Saamne' with Sharmila Tagore. In 'Aamne Saamne' he showed Bond-ish flair which no one in the industry picked up. Earlier he did 'Dharmaputra', where he plays a patriot's role with admirable restraint. He also played the role of the younger sibling in the Yash Chopra-directed family drama of 1965, 'Waqt' and again carried it without much ado. He did a delightful double-role in 'Haseena Maan Jaayegi' with Babita.
He became part of the Ivory Merchant team, doing 'Shakespearewallah', 'The Guru'. There were also the 1967 'A Matter of Innocence' also known as 'Pretty Polly' based on a Noel Coward play, and his heroine in the movie was Hayley Mills, where there were interesting 'kissing scenes' which aroused much curiosity because they involved an Indian actor. Four years later, Shashi Kapoor and Simmi Garewal enacted the kissing scenes in Conrad Rooks' 'Siddhartha'. There was nothing more to that pedestrian movie.
In the 1970s, where he seemed to have had some commercial success, especially with 'Sharmeelee' with Rakhee, he was mostly overshadowed by Amitabh Bachchan. But he remained unfazed, doing movie after movie with him.
He tried to make what he believed to be good cinema. This resulted in 'Kalyug' and 'Junoon', both directed by Shyam Benegal, and 'Utsav', based on Shudraka's Sanskrit play 'Mrichchakataka' (The Little Clay Cart), directed by Girish Karnad. He acted in all three of them. Then he produced Aparna Sen-directed '36 Chowringhee Lane', where his wife Jennifer Kendall gave a heart-warming performance of an Anglo-Indian teacher. But he realised that good cinema does not pay. And he opted out dignifiedly and without bitterness.

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