Ever since Shashi Kapoor passed away on December 4, innumerable tributes have been paid to the ultimate handsome actor of Bollywood. From his versatile acting style, looks to his personal life, specifically his relationship with wife Jennifer Kendal, almost every aspect has been touched about in detail. So, there is perhaps very little more than can be said about him as part of a tribute. But, such is the legend of Shashi Kapoor, even the overflowing tributes don’t seem to be overdone. I would like to focus on one aspect of Shashi Kapoor’s career, that has been touched down upon in almost every obituary, but deserves greater attention – Shashi Kapoor’s chemistry with superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
Well, this is just not about the ‘Mere paas maa hai’ legend. The on-screen bonhomie between Shashi and Big B goes much beyond that, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Amitabh Bachchan’s super stardom would be incomplete, had it not been for the solid sustenance provided by Shashi Kapoor in the numerous films they did together. While Amitabh himself is a great actor, he was lucky to have co-stars who were so good that they held their own against him, without overshadowing the megastar. Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor and Shatrughan Sinha are among the names who come to mind, but with Shashi, Amitabh took the bonding to a completely different level. In cricketing parlance, if Amitabh was Sachin Tendulkar, Shashi was Rahul Dravid.
Deewar legendary scene — ‘Mere paas maa hai’
Rather unfairly, just as it happened with Amjad Khan after Sholay, Shashi almost become synonymous with ‘Deewar’ and the maa-ind blowing dialogue he had in it. But, while that in itself is a great factor to be associated with, Shashi stood out in the entire film, even though he underplayed his part as the honest cop who has to bring his unlawful brother to book. The conviction with which he played the upright younger brother, people were shocked to know that Shashi was actually older to Amitabh in real life by a few years. This aspect of the film has since gone on to become part of Bollywood folklore.
Then again, Shashi displayed his wares in many other movies with Amitabh. Very few could have pulled off the role of Big B’s ‘maalik’ (boss) as effortlessly as Shashi did in Namak Halaal (1982). Those were big shoes to fill, and Shashi stepped in just like a pro would. In Kabhie Kabhie (1976), he completely overshadowed Amitabh Bachchan in the poignant scene discussing the latter’s past with his wife (Raakhe). You must see the scene to appreciate it. The list of their on-screen camaraderie goes on, and what stands out is the versatility in it – in Do Aur Do Paanch (1980), they pulled off some rather frivolous pranks with delightful ease, Trishul (1978) saw them as half-brothers, with Big B being the illegitimate one, and Shashi’s righteousness again complemented Bachchan’s angry young man persona to the T.
Even in films that did not do well, Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh’s geniality was often the saving grace. The much-hyped and big-budgeted Shaan (1980) is the standout example. With a Sholay-esque cast also comprising Sunil Dutt, Shatrughan Sinha, Rakhee Gulzar, Parveen Babi and Bindiya Goswami apart from the surprise element added by Kulbhushan Kharbanda, this Salim-Javed written movie seemed destined to make it big. However, what people remember about the film after nearly four decades are Shakaal, and the blockbuster songs. ‘Jaanu Meri Jaan’ was a real fun number, and Shashi Kapoor’s charm surely won him over a lot more fans.
And, for someone who started really young, and went on to become the Shaan of Bollywood, whilst always smiling, it would only be fitting to end the tribute with a couple of beautiful lines from the same ‘Jaanu Meri Jaan’ song.
Chhoti Si Ik Baat Bani, Baat Se Dastan
Bhool Ke Sab Baatein Hanste Hain, Yehi Pyaar Ki Shaan…
(The article was originally published on December 9, 2017, as a tribute to Shashi Kapoor following his death)