With those copybook good looks and that rakish smile, he was the stuff of teen crushes that evolved into wistful nostalgia as the years rolled by. Shashi Kapoor, 79, when he passed away in Mumbai after a prolonged illness, will be remembered for his many commercial films, his commitment to quality cinema when he turned filmmaker but also as the man who embodied ageless elegance. “He was god’s good man.
He was such a beautiful human being beyond anything else,” director Shyam Benegal, who worked with the late actor in “Kalyug” and “Junoon”, said. Shashi Kapoor was also effortlessly charming, whether at 25 when he was dancing around trees or at 65 when age and the famous Kapoor weight had slowed him down. The fame was destined, the legacy of quiet dignity the result of retaining a certain humility despite a lifetime under the harsh arclights. He was born an unprepossessing Balbirraj on March 18, 1938 in what was then Calcutta to Rama Devi and Prithviraj Kapoor, the son of a legendary actor who went on to complete the famed Kapoor trinity with his older brothers Raj and Shammi. The tryst with cinema started in 1961 with Yash Chopra’s “Dharmputra”. The next two-and-half decades saw a dizzying line-up of films, some good, like “Kabhi Kabhie” and “New Delhi Times”, others like “Fakira” and “Ghar Ek Mandir” eminently forgettable, even embarrassing. But Shashi Kapoor was not just a star, one more in an ensemble cast in the multi-starrers that were the vogue in the 1980s or another face in a brain dead Bollywood melodrama. He straddled two worlds with his partnership with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant resulting in films like “The Householder”, “Shakespearewallah” and “Heat and Dust” early in his career. The real turnaround came in 1980 when he started his own company Film Vala, diverting some of the money he had made in Bollywood into making films with the likes of Benegal and Aparna Sen. The partnership resulted in gems like “36 Chowringhee Lane”, which saw his wife, veteran theatre actor Jennifer Kendal, as an aging teacher in a changing world, “Junoon”, “Vijeta”, “Utsav” and “Kalyug”. Shashi Kapoor himself acted in several of these films – his roles as an obsessive suitor in “Junoon” set in 1857, as the brooding husband and father in “Vijeta” and as the suave, conflicted Karan in “Kalyug”, a modern-day adaptation of the Mahabharata, see the actor deliver some of his career’s finest performances. But Shashi Kapoor was more than just an actor, an inheritor of the Kapoor family legacy of showbiz and style or a filmmaker with undeniable class.
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