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Who’s Hindi cinema’s most promising, handsome and charming superstar? Depending on who you ask, there are multiple answers to this billion-dollar question. But if you ask me, I’d say it’s none other than Shashi Kapoor.
Now if the same question is posed to women who’ve lived through the the late 1960s and 70s, they’ll not hesitate even a bit in recalling how they are die-hard fans of Rajesh Khanna and his many roles.
From Dharmendra’s macho image, to Amitabh’s angry-man demeanour, there’s a lot of actors in the fray to swoon about. But what set Shashi apart was his on-screen presence that made many fall in love with the actor.
Even today, if a set of popular set of dialogues from Hindi films are surveyed, the clear winner would be “Mere paas Maa hai” from the 1975 crime drama Deewaar. Delivered in a trembling voice, these lines are probably the most cited words in Bollywood's history.
This dialogue of Shashi Kapoor in a film sequence shared with Amitabh Bachchan is certainly Hindi cinema's most solid and emotional moment.
But this was popular Hindi cinema's Shashi Kapoor.
Today, I'll introduce you to a Shashi Kapoor who I bet you've never met.
India's first International star Shashi Kapoor, was, in fact, way ahead of his times. When the Indian film industry was still finding its feet and discovering its style, Shashi Kapoor was busy establishing his presence on the world stage.
Kapoor had a special rapport with the producer-director duo Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. The trio worked together in six films including The House Holder (1962), Shakespeare Wallah (1965), Bombay Talkies (1970), Heat and Dust (1983), The Deceivers (1988), In Custody (1994).
You'll be surprised to learn that the music for Shakespeare Wallah was composed by Satyajit Ray – the same Oscar-winning Satyajit Ray who is otherwise known for his directorial prowess.
Shakespeare Wallah opened to loud applause at the Berlin Film Festival in 1965. Madhur Jaffrey, who played Manjula in the film, won an award for best actress. The 1983 film Heat and Dust proved to become a successful international film.
Immediately upon its release, the film was screened at a London Theatre where it ran for almost 11 months. The film was premiered from New York to Sydney and was critically acclaimed at Cannes Film Festival.
Pierce Brosnan was the protagonist in The Deceivers (1988). The same Brosnan who later went on to play James Bond. Shot in Madhya Pradesh, the film featured Shashi Kapoor playing the role of a long-moustached King Chandra Singh.
Shashi Kapoor also worked in Oscar-winning director Guy Green's A Matter of Innocence, Conrad Rook's Siddhartha (1972), Stephen Frear's Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), Tony Gerber's Side Streets (1998), and Jamil Dehlavi's Jinnah (1998) among may others.
He also featured in a few episodes produced by the BBC Radio and even in NBC's Gulliver's Travels. In Bollywood, Shashi Kapoor featured in Trishul, Suhaag, Deewaar, Silsala and other films.
But the truth is, Hindi cinema hasn't been fair to Shashi Kapoor. Perhaps in response to this, Shashi Kapoor came up with his own production house named ‘Film Wallah’ in 1978. Some of the best films were produced by ‘Film Wallah.’
Shyam Benegal's Junoon and Kalyug, Aparna Sen's 36 Chowringee Lane, Govind Nihalani's Vijeta and Girish Karnad's Utsav.
But life behind the celluloid wasn't that easy. Although these films were critically acclaimed, they failed at the box office. Shashi Kapoor had to sell off his property to keep his enterprise running.
In 1991, Shashi Kapoor directed Ajooba, which proved to be a completely failed experiment. This Hollywood-type film featuring multiple stars fell short of funds and had to be released in a haphazard manner.
Shashi Kapoor's life is one such baffling travelogue that originates in the Himalayan waterfalls, but dries up in the desert sands.
(This article is from The Quint’s archives. It was first published on 18 March 2018 and is being republished to mark Shashi Kapoor’s birth anniversary.)