Born in Calcutta to Ramsarni and Prithviraj Kapoor, he was christened Balbir Raj – in keeping with the Kapoor family tradition of adopting the word ‘Raj’ (or king) in its many variations. However, his mother did not like the name and began calling him Shashi – or moonbeam – since as a child, he was obsessed with the moon and spent long hours gazing at it. This wad of information comes from the book, Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star, written by Aseem Chhabra in collaboration with movie mogul Karan Johar, exactly 15 months before this evergreen hero of the silver screen breathed his last at 79 on December 4, 2017.
He was the Kapoor with a difference. He was one of those men you’d long to see shirtless and that’s not to say Shashi Kapoor was all about the steaminess. Here was a man who embodied quintessential Bollywood masala, at the same time daring to push boundaries with his abstract choices in non-conformist roles. As the nation mourns his loss, here’s looking at the man who lived, his movies and his magic…
FAREWELL RAINBOW MAN, OUR VERY OWN FEMINIST
In 1970’s Bombay Talkie, Shashi Kapoor had an onscreen lip-lock with his wife Jennifer Kendal; in 1987, he chose to act in a film titled Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and though, he played neither Sammy nor Rosie, his very presence in the film went on to speak volumes about his open-mindedness at a time when Indian films were reeling desolately under the demands of patriarchy. Even in scripts that portrayed him as somewhat of an anti-hero (Satyam Shivam Sundaram, for instance), he managed to champion radicalism through is approach. He may not have made a hue and cry about it, but his heart beat for equality – deep down Shashi was a feminist – a Kapoor man, whose wife continued to work in films after marriage, right until she passed way in ’84 unlike the many Kapoor brides, including Babita and Neetu Singh Kapoor who had to kiss goodbye to the glamour ship, having wed into the clan.
JAB SHASHI MET JENNIFER
Jennifer Kendal was on a theatre tour of English drama Shakespearana, in Asia, when she met Shashi Kapoor. But it was not until 1957, when they went to Singapore for a show that the duo expressed their love for each other. According to film historian, Praveish Vishwanath: “It was his suave cosmopolitanism that saw him get close to the Kendals, who also shared his passion for Shakespeare and theatre.” Shashi Kapoor’s sister-in-law, Felicity Kendal, writes in her autobiography, White Cargo, about that one evening when her sister – five years older than Shashi – went to the Royal Opera House in Bombay to catch a performance by Prithvi theatres. “Shashi was backstage and happened to look through the curtains; that’s when he caught a glimpse of her. There she was dressed in a black-and-white polka-dotted summer dress with a halter neckline… [he] fell instantly in love… The next afternoon, I was sitting in a Chinese restaurant, watching Jennifer and Shashi fall in love over their noodles. They would stay together till she dies, through thick and sometimes very thin… She had met in Shashi the man she wanted forever.” And indeed, they lived their vows till her very last breath before she succumbed to cancer.
He was the Kapoor who thundered with Deewar– making the demure Mere Paas Ma Hain an immortal part of Indian pop cult – a Kapoor, who also dared to experiment with offbeat films like Kalyug and Shakespeare Wallah; and, the very Kapoor, who 16 years after his father’s death, took it upon himself to transform Prithvi Raj Kapoor’s dream of a permanent home for his 150-member travelling theatre group, into reality. And thus, Prithvi was born. In 1974, when Shashi Kapoor bought two plots to set up what went on to become one of the most iconic theatres of Mumbai, his wife, Jennifer, wrote to her sister expressing her concern: “Shashi is mad, he wants to build a theatre!” However, that did not stop her from supporting her husband’s venture whole-heartedly. Eventually, a number of his friends from the film fraternity got together to raise funds and there was no looking back. It went on to pave the trend of star shows that are such a rage today.