(Shashi Kapoor breathed his last on 4 December. This story is being reposted from The Quint's archives to mark his passing)
After suffering from a prolonged illness, actor Shashi Kapoor passed away at the age of 79. At IFFI 2015, celebrated filmmaker Shyam Benegal spoke at length about Shashi Kapoor to The Quint. Excerpts from his interview:
Q: What according to you separates Shashi Kapoor from the other actors?
Shyam Benegal: Without a doubt, it was his commitment. He was fully committed to not just films but also theatre. It was almost as if it were his religion. I can’t help but recollect this one incident when we were shooting Junoon and somebody lit a cigarette and made the mistake of stubbing it on the set in Shashi’s presence. He was so furious to see the man disrespect his very workplace that he would have beaten him unhesitantly if it weren’t for us on the same set. Basically, for him, “work was worship”. His sense of discipline was absolutely uncompromised.
Q. Do you think he was a more accomplished producer than an actor?
Shyam Benegal: Before I answer this question, I need to lay down the background to help you understand how passionate he was about theatre and hence, why he took to a completely different genre of films when it came to production.
Before he became his hugely successful film star, what he had etched in his mind and heart were the aesthetics of theatre. After all, ever since he was in his crib, he had grown up to see drama all around him. Geoffrey Kendal, who was a British producer, brought his troupe to India to perform Shakespearean plays in different parts of the country. Just when Shashi was halfway through his college, he became a part of his troupe and that came to him only as a natural response because he was so passionate about theatre right from his very childhood.
Later, he also went on to marry his eldest daughter, Jennifer Kendal who, by the way, if not more, was equally passionate about theatre. As time passed, his passion only grew stronger. As his father and father-in-law had both wished, he revived this lost art by opening (what is now called) the Prithvi Theatre on a small piece of land in Juhu. Nobody could have imagined that this place would soon be a cultural hub of the city.
So, now that you’ve understood how strongly he felt about acting and theatre, you’ll understand why he chose to produce the films he did. He never waited for anybody, he did what he liked and to make that kind of alternate cinema popular, he invested his money in it. He and his wife called themselves the ‘Filmwallahs’ and Junoon, in fact, began with it. In my opinion, Shashi is the propagator of good cinema, he never worried about whether he’d make money or not, and he actually never did but it was for the love of the art that he kept fuelling such projects.
Q. Any particular memory of Shashi Kapoor that you hold very dear to your heart?
Shyam Benegal: I don’t know if this qualifies as a memory but I do always think of him as the best producer I have had the good fortune to work with. He had this uncanny ability to perceive things from the eyes of the director and so, he always understood the director’s needs. How rare that is, I can’t begin to tell. He was so good at anticipating my needs as a director that he would jokingly say, “I think I am the best producer-manager in the world.”
And, it didn’t end at anticipating needs, he went all out to fulfil them and for that I will always be grateful to him. And as I talk about his incomparable virtues, I have to add that he was a thorough gentleman. How he valued other people’s time is something worth learning from him. In fact, as an actor when he was working with others, he would always reach the location on or before time. That’s the kind of man we are talking about.
The world is truly mourning the demise of India’s international superstar.
“I think I am the best producer-manager in the world.”Shashi Kapoor, Filmwallah
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