Shashi Kapoor's 5 leading ladies speak on his birth anniversary

On Shashi Kapoor's birth anniversary, his co-actors and veteran heroines of Bollywood remember their favourite films starring him

Shashi Kapoor's 5 leading ladies speak on his birth anniversary

Subhash K Jha

Shabana Azmi (Junoon, Fakira, Chor Sipahee, Hira Aur Patthar, Atithee): “I believe the skies opened up and it rained in Mumbai.. as though grieving on behalf of all of us...his countless fans, admirers and colleagues...When I last met him in the ICU in hospital I knew I wouldn't be seeing him again. He was a pale shadow of his former self...only the long lashes curled up and thick remained...He was born to his mother after her child-rearing years and she was embarrassed to find herself pregnant. She tried all kinds of herbal concoctions to drop the child but he was determined to be born. Prithviraj Kapoor would say. “ Shashiraj mere naqshe qadam par chalega “ And he was right...Shashiji inherited a love for theatre from Papaji and would often say that he would have probably never joined films had Prithvi Theatre not closed down and if Shakespearewallahs had not moved to London.. But he also inherited Prithviji’s humanity and compassion. My mother Shaukat Kaifi speaks of Prithviji’s compassionate nature in almost hagiographic terms and Shashi was truly his father’s son. The number of people he helped financially and quietly, his concern for the well being of those who worked with him, his generosity, were aspects of his personality he kept hidden from public view. In fact, he could be rough and scathing even...He never said a kind word to me always ribbing me ..but behind my back, I would learn that he praised my work and would often say that he was proud of me. He taught me many things...How to avoid top light because it was so unflattering. I used to find it excruciating to face the harsh reflectors and in outdoor scenes, my expression was inevitably the same...whether it was a romantic scene or emotional or comic .. my eyes would be crinkle up...Like a strict teacher he would force me to face the reflectors till tears rolled down my cheeks. “ Film Institute mein Gold medal toh mil gaya yeh nahi sikhaya ke aankhein khuli nahi rahin toh expression kaise dikhega?” he would holler. And finally, I did get trained to face the reflectors.

During the shooting of Junoon, he would scold me for listening to the Beatles between shots. “ Why don't you listen to Begum Akhtar instead? Shaukatji se kuch tto seekha hota!” My mother was known to get into her character hours before a performance and would surround herself with stimuli that would help her inhabit the world of the character she was playing...I would make a face and reluctantly switch off the Beatles to put on Begum Akhtar...I never admitted to him that it did help...I used to complain that he only scolded, bullied or made fun of me. But in a crisis, he was rock solid. In '86 I had taken up the cause of slum dwellers in Colaba whose homes had been demolished to make way for an MLA hostel. We knocked on several doors, demanding alternate housing for them, before Anand Patwardhan and I, along with three slum dwellers, went on a hunger strike. No actor had gone on a hunger strike before and our fraternity was confused about whether to express support for me. On the fifth day, my blood pressure started falling and my mother was worried. Shashi Kapoor turned up wanting to know our demands. He left soon after and went straight to the Chief Minister, Shankarrao Chavan, telling him that the film industry had always supported the government in a crisis and now it was the Government’s responsibility to reciprocate. The Chief Minister must not let the demands of one of its members go unheard. The CM summoned the Housing Minister who came back with Shashiji to the Colaba footpath where we were, conceding alternative land for the slum dwellers and urged us to end the hunger strike with a glass of juice. I was on stage, about to thank Shashi Kapoor for negotiating the deal for us when I saw him step away from the media glare, slip away into an alley and disappear...“I had nothing to do with it…It's their victory”, he said firmly before driving away. The fact is that I don't know how much longer we would have had to continue with the strike had Shashiji not intervened ..but he didn't want any accolades and never spoke about it, ever. That's the kind of person he was...Was? I'm referring to him in the past tense ..but we will never really lose him because in death, his spirit, trapped in a frail body has been set free and will surround us like the air we breathe...”

Zeenat Aman (Chori Mera Kaam, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Vakil Babu, Pakhandee, Roti Kapada Aur Makaan): “I did some of my most enjoyable and unforgettable films with him. But before that, I remember when I was studying at the St Joseph’s Convent. Shashiji came with his wife to perform a play in our school. All of us schoolgirls were in a swoon. He was devastatingly handsome. Later he lived down the same road as me…And we’d bump into one another. I think the first film that we worked on together was Roti Kapada Aur Makaan. It was a very important film for me. And Shashiji was a terrific co-star in what was a very complex role for me with shades of grey. The film was a big hit. But the one that we had the most fun with was Chori Mera Kaam a few years later. It was a comedy and we improvised like crazy almost every scene was filled with dialogues that we thought up on the spot. Shashiji was a veteran of comic timing. I was new to comedy. But because he was so supportive I could pull it off. That was what defined Shashiji’s attitude: a sense of ongoing generosity towards his costars. After Chori Mera Kaam we did what was perhaps our most talked-about film, I am talking about Raj Kapoor’s Satyam Shivam Sundaram. My God! What an uproar that film created. Shooting the film was not easy. I remember Raj Saab kept calling Shashiji a ‘taxi’.He meant the number of films that Shashiji was doing at that time. Rajji very firmly told Shashiji he didn’t want the ‘taxi’. He wanted Shashiji’s full attention. Both of us had to be fully focused on this one film. Every gesture every nuance every movement of Shashiji and I were done by Raaj Saab. He would tell us where to stand, how to walk, how to sit ….everything.We were mere puppets. The approach to our roles in Satyam Shivam Sundaram was quite the opposite to what we did in Chori Mere Kaam. I remember Shashiji was shy about taking off his shirt under the waterfall in Satyam Shivam Sundaram when were shooting the song Yashomati maiya. He didn’t think he had the physique to pull it off. I did several other films with Shashiji like Deewangee and Heeralal Pannalal. It was always fun to shoot with him. He was gracious and warm, courteous and gentlemanly. I last met him at the Prithvi Theatres when he was honoured for receiving the Dada Phalke award. Though he was unwell I could see the look of warm recognition in his eyes. He held my hand warmly and I knew he remembered all the wonderful times we had shared while shooting.”

Rakhee Gulzar: “I was in awe of Shashi Kapoor. Whatever I’ve learnt about self-discipline and punctuality came from him only. During our first film Sharmilee, he would reach the location in Malad for a 7 am shift much before me although I stayed much closer to Malad. The director Sameer Ganguly was very softspoken. So Shashiji did all the dada-giri during the shooting. One day he came to me and warned me, "Raakhee, if you don’t reach at 7 am your bags would be packed and you’d be sent back to Bengal." I got so scared that I came on time after that. I’d reach the location even before the sweepers. I’ve never met a more cultured man. If we were on the airport he would pick up the vanity case and other luggage of any lady he came across. If there was a crowd at shooting he would clear it for me to feel comfortable. These qualities I’ve never encountered in any of my heroes. Of course, he loved my cooking. Whenever the lunch dabba filled with green salad would go back home untouched his wife Jenniferji would call me to ask if her husband was shooting with me. I can’t remember how many films I did with Shashiji. For that matter, I don’t know how many films I’ve acted in. The last time I met Shashiji was at a Ganpati festival in Pune. I didn't want to see him the way he had become in his final years.”

Sharmila Tagore: “I don’t think I enjoyed working with any co-star as much as I did with Shashi Kapoor…His death has still not sunk in. Even as I’ve been busy with various things during the past few days, my mind has been going back to all the wonderful times I shared with Shashi. While I shared only a professional rapport with my other co-stars with Shashi I also socialized. We did meet over dinner and drinks. And it was always a pleasure to meet Shashi and his really wonderful wife Jennifer. They complemented each other perfectly. Seeing Shashi and Jennifer together was so gratifying. I don’t think Shashi ever got over her death. It broke him and turned him reckless about his life. He became suicidal. It was sad to see him let himself go…I still remember how handsome he was. My God! He was the most handsome man I had seen. When I met him for the first time, it was when he visited the location of my first Hindi film Kashmir Ki Kali. We were shooting the song Isharon isharon mein with Shashi’s brother Shammi. I couldn’t concentrate on my romantic poses with Shammi. The director Shakti Samanta had to ask Shashi to leave. The funny thing was, before I could confess I was a fan Shashi started telling me he was a fan of my work, having seen me in Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar. That charm completely won women over. Over the years we became close friends. We got a lot of opportunities to work and spend time together as most of our films were shot outside Mumbai over a lengthy period of time. I remember we were all together for My Love in Nairobi. Likewise my other films with Shashi which were shot in places as far-flung as Rajasthan and Canada (Door Desh was shot in Canada). I remember we were shooting Paap Aur Punya in Rajasthan. Shashi’s children and my son Saif were all there. Saif who is very small became very fond of his Shashi uncle. In a sequence where Shashi was being hung by a noose by the villain Saif unknown to the camera and crew toddled up to the villain and bit him for hurting his favourite Shashi Uncle. I guess Shashi’s charms worked with the young and old alike. We did a lot of films together, some of them like the New Delhi Times, Aamne Samne and Aa Gale Lag Jaa were good, some really awful. Not too many of them worked at the box office. Which is a pity. Because among all my co-stars it’s Shashi I enjoyed working with the most.”

Asha Parekh: “What a lovely thoughtful courteous and kind person! Shashi Kapoor was a thorough gentleman. Not just me, he looked after all his heroines so beautifully. I think I did four films with him. Out of these, two films Nasir Husain’s Pyar Ka Mausam and Mohan Sehgal’s Kanyadan are remembered to this day…I remember during the shooting of Kanyadan in Kulu, I strayed into the wilderness with some of the crew. Shashiji came looking for us. He was so upset that we had wandered away. "Anything could’ve happened because there are bears roaming in the area," he said. I’ve seldom come across a more caring and chivalrous hero. I had the privilege of working with both Shammi and Shashi Kapoor. They both were unique, so different from one another. And they both had a great sense of rhythm. I remember his absolutely out-of-this-world sense of rhythm in the song Ni sultana re pyar ka mausam aaya...Girls just swooned when Shashiji danced. And he had the most amazing marriage. His wife Jennifer Kapoor was just the most perfect wife I had ever seen. She looked after her husband and after all of us when we were shooting together. I think Shashiji lost his will to look after himself after his wife passed away. It was sad to see him suffer so much in his final years. He was on dialysis, just like his brother Shammiji before him. I had gone to see him in hospital a few years ago with my friends Waheeda Rehman and Nanda. The last time I met him was when he got the Dada Phalke Sahib award. He had become so frail. To see my hero who out-danced me in Pyar Ka Mausam on a wheelchair was heartbreaking. Shashi Kapoor was the last of my heroes. Now they are all gone.”

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