NEW DELHI: Veteran actor Shashi Kapoor died in a hospital in Mumbai on Monday, ending an era of cinema rooted in literature, poetry and history. He is survived in the genre by Dilip Kumar, who is ageing quietly and privately at 95. The end came a day after Kapoor was brought to the hospital with a chest infection, which followed a prolonged bout with indifferent health linked to his wife’s death in 1984.
He was 79, and reportedly appeared in just one movie — In Custody — after his British actor wife Jennifer Kendal succumbed to cancer. They are survived by daughter Sanjana Kapoor, who looks after Prithvi Theatre, a family heirloom in Mumbai, and sons Kunal and Karan.
As a movie actor whose first love was theatre, Kapoor was closer to his father Prithviraj Kapoor, who pioneered acting in both fields in Bombay, while his two older brothers Raj and Shammi Kapoor made a mark on celluloid as legendary actors and directors.
Erudite and avowedly secular, Shashi Kapoor began his formal career in 1961, after a stint as a child artiste plying the young Raj Kapoor in Awara and Aag. His first film in the lead role remains Indian cinema’s most candid look at the communal backdrop to the partition of India, and was so close to the absurdly bitter reality that it has not been courageously discussed.
In Dharamputra, made by B.R. Chopra, Shashi Kapoor played the role of the son of two Muslim lovers who could not get married and the child had to be, therefore, raised as a Hindu by the mother’s close family friends. The child grows into a young man full of passionate if misplaced idealism associated with rightwing Hindu nationalists. In fact, he is shown as an archetypal votary of the thinking linked with Hindu Mahashabha or the RSS. The twist in the narrative comes when he begins to hate his actual parents, who had meanwhile got married, for being Muslims. He of course discovers his true identity in the end, which made for a story that boldly and without excessive rhetoric spoke of human ironies that would have interested Manto.
Kapoor joined his father in law’s company of British stage actors who performed Shakespeare’s plays in different towns of India.
The story of this doomed venture was portrayed with feeling in Shakespearewallah, one of Kapoor’s early associations with the Merchant-Ivory duo.
Kapoor’s bonding with Shyam Benegal produced perhaps his most remarkable film as actor-producer in the 1857 love story of Junoon. Kapoor’s portrayal of a lovelorn Pathan rebel who is hopelessly smitten by the daughter of a British officer won him critical applause, and the movie several awards. The film starred Ismat Chughtai in her solitary appearance as the girl’s Muslim granny.
Shashi Kapoor also starred in Jinnah, a 1998 Pakistani biopic about the nation’s founder. He was given an unusual role of a heavenly guide who puts questions to the Quaid about his life.
In his more popular avatar Shashi Kapoor romanced a range of heroines but his screen affair with Nanda in a couple of romantic blockbusters remains among his more memorable roles.
Classy and charming, imbued with good looks and intellect Shashi Kapoor did several films in multi-starrer productions including Amitabh Bachchan, and one with Dilip Kumar too.
Director Shyam Benegal described him as God’s good man. “He was God’s good man and a beautiful human being beyond anything else,” Benegal, who worked with the late actor in Kalyug and Junoon, told Press Trust of India.
“I just received the news that Shashi Kapoor ji has passed away. I am really saddened. He was a good human being. My heartfelt condolences,” tweeted singer Lata Mangeshkar.
Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2017