Charmed signature of Hindi cinema

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 05 Dec 2017 08:45:04


By Vijay Phanshikar,

THE best -- and the worst -- test of Shashi Kapoor’s sense of dignity came in 1984 when Jennifer (Kendal) Kapoor lay dying. A part of him was just gone, in Destiny’s one swift sweep, leaving the legendary actor all by himself. That may be happening to anybody and everybody, of course, but for Shashi Kapoor, that was one moment from whose weight he could never emerge.

But the best test of his personality also came when Jennifer held his hand forever decades earlier. And what attracted her to him? Ability to converse without words. To a friend, Jennifer said later, in effect, ‘We held hands and sat together for hours without a word spoken. We need not. We understood each other.’

That was the charm Shashi Kapoor had to the silent side of his persona. As an actor of tremendous worth, he was always in limelight. As a human being, there was a certain silence often adding a silver lining to his expressed presence. It was this lining that added a magnetic charm to Shashi Kapoor’s being.

Now that he is no more, those who happened to know him would always remember not his celluloid personality but his silent persona that found charm in good conversation -- with or without words -- in good books, in good company, in good serenity only Nature could offer, and also in the privacy of his home where he nursed his artistic expression in the sanctuary of togetherness with self.
In all these nuances, of course, Jennifer was his constant companion, present physically or away. For, their sense of togetherness was described by some of their friends as unique.

All these reflected richly in Shashi Kapoor’s acting. There is no need to keep talking about his films and the characters he played and the name and money he made for himself. As a member of the Kapoor clan, easily the best known aristocracy of Hindi cinema, all those things might have come to him almost as inheritance. But beyond all that glitter, there was something much more than all that to his personality -- his superbly elevated intellectual ability that placed him above the highest pedestal the Hindi filmdom could offer to anybody. That was his very own earning -- for himself.

Every director who worked with Shashi Kapoor remembered the intellectual sparks that studded their interaction on and off the sets, during the preparations for films, or ideating on unoccupied evenings, or delving deeper into nuances of various characters that were to be played on the screen. But those who worked closely with Shashi Kapoor also remembered how the legendary actor went back over the characters he had already played in various movies. That going back over the old roles was a very special intellectual exercise Shashi Kapoor loved, though he never fussed about it.

All these made an obvious difference to Shashi Kapoor’s personality as an actor or later as director and producer of quality films.
Very frankly, he was not an actor; he was an actor par excellence, in the realm of legend, in the zone of only the very best, in the category of lonesome brilliance.

Shashi Kapoor existed on two levels at one -- plainly commercial cinema, and rich art cinema. And in each of the two categories, his intellectualism was his mainstay. Even as he played those romantic young roles that charmed millions of youngsters, men and women, Shashi Kapoor earned millions of elder fans as well, the amazing maturity he lent to each and any role he played being the main magnetic force. He played some of his life’s best roles in tandem with the likes of Amitabh Bachhan. In every such scenario, Shashi Kapoor left his indelible imprint.

The aplomb he brought to the role, the approbation he won for his rendering of the character, the sense of final permanence he gave to his presence on the screen -- Junoon, Kalyug, for example -- were almost exclusive to Shashi Kapoor.

True, each actor has many of these qualities. But in Shashi Kapoor’s personality these were the specialities that other legendary actors discussed over coffee.

What mattered most in Shashi Kapoor’s personality was his craving for excellence, for the very best without any compromise. His association with the famed Jehangir Art Gallery often produced rich evidence of this craving. Never was he known to have accepted any compromise when many truly good artists approached the Gallery for their shows. He chose only the best, and went out of the way to invite such talent. And the same trait of his personality was visible in all his actions as he ran Prithvi Theatre.

“Look, I am searching for the very best, nothing less. Yes, I recognise young talent as well. If I sense even a seed of excellence, howsoever unexpressed, I would go for that,” he told me one unoccupied evening at Prithvi Theatre. “Afterall, I have my father’s name up there”, he had added, his sense of pride and precaution dripping from his words.
That was quintessential Shashi Kapoor.

That is also the reason -- his craving for excellence -- that did not allow his persona to be shadowed by other members of the illustrious Kapoor clan. Of course, each of them had an aura around the face. Each of them had a special presence on screen as in life. Each added certain value and virtue to the filmdom. Each of them had his own share of controversy and loose talk. And that made each of the Kapoors somebody special, somebody to be watched. Yet, Shashi Kapoor was still different, clearly more inllectual in look and outlook. And that was the way he lived all along.
His charm was tempered by his sense of self-worth. He lived with that sense of utmost dignity, unbending yet accommodating, uncompromising yet in accordance of time’s dictum.

True, later years saw him fall ill beyond words. That made him feel miserable. Yet, honours -- Padmabhushan and Dadasaheb Phalke Award and many more -- lent his work due recognition, too. But those who knew Shashi Kapoor even slightly also knew that his sense of self-worth measured life’s rewards beyond those honours. On that count, Destiny had given him what he deserved.