Review: Shashi Kapoor’s Bio Attempts to Oversell the Star

A review of the biography ‘Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star’

6 min read
Review: Shashi Kapoor’s Bio Attempts to Oversell the Star

There are those mega-stars who are the box-office blue chips through the course of their careers. At the other extreme, there are non-starters or early burn-outs. And there is a third category of ‘career’ actors who neither command the top rung of lead roles nor get pushed out of business. Through ego-less self-evaluation, they find their optimal slot in the ladder. And then, by applying hard work, demonstrating flexibility and adaptability, by being disciplined and generally nice to people, they stay there and flow with the tide for decades, ageing gracefully.

We are almost defining Shashi Kapoor.

In the 1960s, Shashi always found himself competing with his own brothers and the likes of Rajendra Kumar, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar. The 1970s was anyway a Rajesh Khanna musical till 1974 and then, post that, a fistful of Bachchan. Shashi neither dog-chased those ahead of him nor did he look back with worry on those fast catching up on him.

He merely knuckled on and believed in doing his job as well as he could. And quite intelligently, he chiseled out for himself the brand of a part art-house actor and theater artiste. And by doing so, he had ‘opted out’ of the Bollywood box-office race.

His life-long association with Ivory-Merchant, in retrospect, was a strategic masterstroke as it had earned him the ‘international’ tag. Overall, Shashi Kapoor leaves a lingering sweetness in the memory of everyone who crossed paths with him.
Shashi Kapoor, The Householder, The Star has been written by Aseem Chhabra.

Aseem Chhabra’s biography Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star is a well-intended effort to pay a tribute to this karmayogi of Indian cinema. Chhabra is correct when he says that the nostalgia that is Shashi Kapoor is confined to the generation of movie-goers between 1960 and 1990. One also agrees with Chhabra’s observation that Shashi Kapoor was the most suave, charming and handsome of the Kapoors.

Family Portrait: Shashi Kapoor with his wife Jennifer and kids Sanjna, Kabir and Karan (Photo: Twitter/@kashyray)  

In the first few pages, one can smell the pink-blue moments of an early romance between Shashi and Jennifer, those ‘slow-motion’ moments of their first meeting at the theater back-stage, their elopement and a quick-fire marriage. Chhabra’s portrayal of Jennifer as Shashi’s partner and a moral support through thick and thin, her personal and professional sacrifices, and her admonishing love for her husband till her death accurately characterizes the lady as the ‘background’ heroine in Shashi’s life.

Kapoor in Jab Jab Phool Khile, his first hit.

But on the professional side of things, the author has tried to over-sell Shashi Kapoor. This has led to hasty oversights, for example the book says that while Shakespeare Wallah (released in Dec 1965) was being conceived, “…(Shashi) had become a prominent star in the Hindi film galaxy”. Whereas Shashi’s first hit Jab Jab Phool Khile was released in January 1965 and would have been registered as a hit no earlier than end-Feb 1965. Assuming that Shakspeare Wallah was being conceived towards the end of 1964, there was no way that Shashi could have been “a prominent star” by then.

Likewise, Chhabra’s interpretation of Shashi Kapoor as the ‘busiest star’ of the 1970s makes it sound as if he was a leading star of the era - another example of over-selling. As mentioned earlier, Shashi was a strong support actor, who rode the tailwind created by Amitabh Bachchan, Salim-Javed and the music department.

Big banners with deep pockets like those of Yash Chopra also helped in creating the distribution momentum. But Shashi on his own was rarely an independent big box office draw.

Shashi Kapoor in a still from Sharmilee.
Apart from Abhinetri, Sharmilee, Fakira, Chor Machaye Shor, Shashi does not have a track record of having been the film’s leading success factor. In fact Chhabra contradicts himself when he admits that “…Shashi soon came to be referred as Amitabh’s favorite heroine”.

The fan in Aseem Chhabra becomes a road-block to objective and unbiased analyses. As a result, there seems to be a rush to ascribe every commercial failure of Shashi Kapoor to external factors like absence of multiplexes etc.

Shashi Kapoor in a still from Junoon.

One sorely misses the in-depth analyses of Shashi’s association with leading filmmakers he had worked with, like Manmohan Desai, Prakash Mehra, Nasir Husain, Subhash Ghai. Or, the behind-the-scene stories of how Shashi patched up with the Sippys later in the 1970s after being rudely replaced by Rajesh Khanna in Anand.

Shashi blames it on director Hrishikesh Mukherjee, but what was the inside story? Did Shashi ‘inherit’ the lead role in Nasir Husaain’s Pyar ka Mausam from his elder brother Shammi, who had played the lead in Dil Deke Dekho and Teesri Manzil?

In any case, why did Nasir not pick Shashi ever again? Why did Subhash Ghai never pick Shashi again after Gautam Govinda? Did Shashi manage to bag the co-lead role in Prakash Mehra’s Namak Halaal (1982) because Vinod Khanna was away at the Osho ashram? (Vinod and Amitabh had, till then, been Prakash Mehra’s tried and trusted duo). Many of these potentially interesting stories are missing altogether.  
A still from Heat and Dust.

Yes, there are those anecdotes around the making of The Householder, Bombay Talkie, 36 Chowringhee Lane, Kalyug, Junoon, New Delhi Times, In Custody, Heat & Dust, Jinnah and a few others. But in a biography dedicated to one single person, the reader would expect the author to go to Red Rackham-ish depths into at least all the significant films.

Shashi Kapoor’s roles in Deewar, Trishul, Silsila, Sharmilee, Amne-Samne, Pyar ka Mausam, Chor Machaye Shor, Roti Kapada aur Makaan, Fakira, Shaan, Aa Gale Lag Ja, Basera etc. have neither been described nor analysed. In fact these films find fleeting, if any, space at all in the book. Even the well-known fact that Navin Nishchol had refused the role of Ravi Khanna in Deewar hasn’t been mentioned.
Chor Machaye Shor was one of Kapoor’s big hits.
Where the book lets down the readers even more is that Awara (1951) has been mentioned as Shashi’s first screen appearance. A casual browse of the net would show a 6-year-old Tabassum and a 12-year-old Shashi Kapoor lip-syncing Kas ke kamar ho ja tayyar (a sequence choreographed by Guru Dutt) in Gyan Mukherjee’s Sangram (1950). In fact Shashi Kapoor had played a young Raj Kapoor in Aag (1948) too. Post Awara, Shashi (Shashiraj, as he was known as a child artiste) acted in Dana Paani (1953).
Shashi Kapoor as a child actor in Awara.

Shashi Kapoor’s role as an assistant director in films like Post Box 999 and Shriman Satyawadi too find no mention.

At the very least, one would have expected a mention of the fact that Shashi Kapoor had essayed Satyajit Ray’s fictional private investigator Feluda in the TV serial Kissa Kathmandu Ka (Joto Kando Kathmandu Te in Bengali). This was the only occasion in which Shashi Kapoor had acted in a Ray script. Of course Shashi’s wife Jennifer had acted in Satyajit Ray’s Ghare Baire earlier in 1984.  

Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star seems to have been written with a fast-approaching deadline in mind. It is shallowly researched and jumps back-and-forth chronologically. Halfway into the 178-page manuscript, one stops expecting anything that even a casual follower of Hindi films would not know.

But there is always a scope for a second edition to set these right.

(Anirudha and Balaji, engineers by education and IT consultants by profession, are film addicts who find time to sing, quiz and discuss songs of the 1950s through to the 1980s. They won the National award for “Best writing on cinema” for their first book in 2012 : R D Burman, the Man the Music. Their 2nd book : Gaata Rahe Mera Dil, won the inaugural “Excellence in writing” award at the Jio MAMI film festival in 2015.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Shashi Kapoor   Subhash Ghai   Deewar 

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