Shashi Kapoor birthday special: Where commercial meets cerebral cinema

Years ago, a celebrated editor of a famous women's magazine wrote about Shashi Kapoor, “Almost all educated female cine-goers in India have a sapiosexual crush on Shashi Kapoor.” So very true. But, one hastens to add that the actor-director and producer Shashi Kapoor was not just idolised by scores of female fans, he was a veritable cynosure of all eyes. His Adonis looks, ultra-refined manners, seraphic smile and sophisticated bearing made him a darling of the movie buffs.

The decade of 1960s witnessed a plethora of heroes. Many of them were pretty successful. Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Pradeep Kumar, Biswajeet, Joy Mukherjee, among others had a steady fan following. Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand were already established actors and stars. Yet, a couple of heroes had a Paul Newman-type cerebral presence. They were Shashi Kapoor and Sanjay Khan, who’d love to read Sarte, Camus and Heidegger when they were not shooting. That intense reading along with the profound understanding of Shakespearean characters, thanks to his wife Jennifer Kendal, Shashi Kapoor emerged as an actor of oceanic depth.

Unlike his elder brother Shammi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor had a very serene presence, which was far from being boisterous. Just watch his films Benazir (1964) and Mohabbat Isko Kahete Hain (1965). His characters, Anwar and Vijay respectively, endeared themselves to the cine-goers. And, when Shashi sings Dil mein ek jaan-e-tamanna ne jagah paayee hai (Benazir, Rafi, lyricist: Shakeel Badayuni and composer: S D Burman) or Thahariye (and not thehariye... that’s totally according to the rules of transliteration like kahte is nowadays erroneously written kehte) hosh mein aa loon toh chale jaiyega with Nanda on the silver screen, audience got transported into the world of ethers and embers of smouldering passion and graceful serenading. Or when the dejected and desolate Shashi sings Woh tere pyaar ka gham (Film: My Love, lyricist: Anand Bakshi, composer: Daan Singh, 1970), one empathises with him.

Shashi’s depiction of pain and passion had a stamp of exclusivity. It was because of his foresight and intellectual bent of mind, Shashi Kapoor produced Aparna Sen’s directorial debut 36 Chowringhee Lane in an era when women directors were a rare breed in the world. Shashi’s acting in all the 116 Hindi films will remain etched in the collective memory of the masses as well as classes. At the same time, he was India's first crossover star. James Ivory summed up the persona of Shashi Kapoor so tellingly, “Here’s a genuine actor who doesn't hanker after stardom because he knows that stardom follows a true actor.”

Shashi Kapoor indeed was a magnificent actor, director, producer and individual.

(The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, cultures, religions and civilisations. He teaches linguistics, psycho-linguistics and philology at world’s premier varsities and contributes to world’s leading publications and portals in various languages.)

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