Shashi Kapoor was a killer. A cold hearted killer. But he killed affectionately; his weapon of choice was that disarming smile. In a rather poetical stance, if good looks could kill, then Balbir Raj Kapoor alias Shashi Kapoor was the most admirable sleuth. The bright side is, he was an assassin none wanted to bring down; someone who had no opponents. You allowed yourself to be arrested by his enthralling beauty. Whether teaming a plain white and black combination or wearing those flowery or eccentric red shirts of the 60s with white bellbottoms, Shashi Kapoor could marry grace and elegance with a sense of fluidity.
You felt as if he wore cool weathers up on his sleeves.
He was, for all intents and purposes, an original trendsetter. That unhurried gait and carefree walk (that birthed dance movements that mimicry artists floor audiences with to this day) and those long, flowing locks weren’t following a trend. Nor interested in setting one; but became a figure of great resonance in the uncomplicated sixties and seventies. India’s first cross-over star didn’t bombast in his stardom. Instead he remained avidly humane by his success. He chose to focus his energies on theatre and the venerable Prithvi, is a result of decades of painstaking effort; a great body of theatrical restoration that Shashi devoted his energies to.
There’s this refreshing everdayness to Shashi Kapoor. If you happen to be someone in the 20s or 30s and have had the fortune of growing up in an Indian household where a Bachchan or Rajesh Khanna dominated dining table discussions, then chances are- our first introduction to this unforgettable Kapoor has been through our mothers or Chachi’s or Taiji’s who secretly had a crush on him.
He wasn’t the guy next door. For women, he was the guy next door they wanted to marry or move in with.
How often have we heard the phrase beauty associated with leading men in the industry? Shashi Kapoor with his genteel mannerisms, easy going presence and, jaw-dropping personality splashed an ostensible wave of beauty, hitherto less-seen in movies. In all likelihood, it won’t ever be seen again save for rare instances like Hrithik Roshan.
How often has a solitary man commanded plaudits and fanfare, bouquets of respect but not brickbats from men and women alike?
Words painted in respect for this great connoisseur of movies reach crescendo when you hear the likes of Shabana Azmi, Hema Malini, Sharmila Tagore and Asha Parekh confessing their love for Shashi. For his immensely humane mannerisms, for that passion for acting, he was a star whose presence was well-liked by even his contemporaries. You didn’t gnaw at Shashi being a rival, you joined hands in appreciation as he came on the screen and made coy albeit sincere moves to floor his heroines. Shashi Kapoor was that Rolls Royce that allowed a commoner to enjoy its joy-ride. He was the most opulent of all jewels; pristine, bright, shining but never out of reach of the masses.
You felt he was a palace of great reverence whose doors were open to one and all.
He set great standards in acting- if you consider movies like Junoon, Waqt, Deewar and smilingly found his looks border, in fact outweigh his authentic, immersive portrayals.
The mind is still to come to terms that Shashi Kapoor isn’t there amidst us. Even as in his lean years, he was but a frail reflection of the immensely charming figure he cut in those halcyon days. One is glad to note through an extensive body of work- Dharamputra, Deewar, Junoon, Shaan, Jab Jab Phool Khile- we have amidst us a jovial presence that can be referred to on a particularly grim day marred by dullness.
There are myriad stylisations of Shashi Kapoor, each better than the preceding cinematic imagery. But which Kapoor would you hail as most overpowering: the grieving Raja in Jab Jab Phool Khile who sings “Yahan Main Ajnabi Hoon”, the captain Ajit Kapoor who sang O Meri Sharmeeli, that Ravi Verma who states compellingly, “Mere Paas Maa Hai” in Deewar or the charming Prem who sings “Waada Karo Nahin Chhodogi Mera Saath” in Aa Gale Lag Jaa? Shashi was unique and endearing in each part he decorated with panache yet never compromising on artistic sincerity.
There have been few actors who were as liked as they were respected. Even fewer who were regarded for their immensely genteel mannerisms.
The science with Shashi Kapoor was fairly simple. You could put him in a room stamped by grimness and it would turn into a beaming pool of laughter and smiles. The outpouring of grief that continues on Kapoor’s demise- who would’ve turned 80 today- pays homage to a soul whose company was enjoyed by everyone, amplifying a rare distinction of success for an actor who didn’t have to his last day on earth, an enemy or critic. You sought pleasure in his company. He didn’t absorb the darkness and hype that downed so many others who attainted fame. Perhaps it’s no irony he played the soul-searching Siddhartha to great critical acclaim.
And perhaps his happy go lucky spirit conveyed the great essence we fail to practice in life; that it is to be lived each day at a time.
His incandescence was relatable to both cinema-frequenting youngsters in India and those who study filmmaking in expansive academies in the west; akin to a fragrance that binds both- a magnificent rose in Kashmir and a tulip peaking in the winters of Netherlands.
Whether you hang a black and white portrait of Kapoor on your wall or enshrine a coloured postcard from his heydays in a notebook, Shashi’s bright simplicity would reaffirm belief that there was once this royal era where men ruled minus egos and tantrums, without the morbidity of plastic shenanigans but with something as earthy and well-meaning as a glorious smile. That is why we must not shed tears for Shashi ‘Baba’ and instead remember him through his quintessential, paradise-like smile.