From Sharmila Tagore and Asha Parekh to Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman, Mumtaz, Shabana Azmi and of course Raakhee Gulzar with whom Shashi Kapoor did the maximum number of films, the demise of the veteran actor has left his heroines shattered.
Shabana who is in Sydney is too grieved to speak on the actor whom she names among the biggest influences in her life along with Shashi’s wife Jennifer Kendal, filmmaker Shyam Benegal and her parents Kaifi and Shaukat Azmi.
“He was the most handsome man I’ve ever come across,” says Shabana.
Raakhee Gulzar wept as she recalled all the meals she cooked on outdoor locations with Shashi during their spectacularly successful stints for “Sharmilee”, “Kabhi Kabhie”, and a slew of films some of them like “Trishna” and “Jaanwar Aur Insaan” forgotten today.
Hema Malini remembers Shashi as a through gentleman. “When he did ‘Abhinetri’ with me I was new and he was established. Still he didn’t mind doing a film that revolved around my character.”
Shashi Kapoor was Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s “Anand” after Kishore Kumar said no. But when the reigning superstar Rajesh Khanna showed an interest in playing “Anand”, Shashi was shown the door.
Khanna and Kapoor didn’t work together for many years when Raj Khosla cast them together in “Prem Kahani” as the two men in Mumtaz’s life.
One of his top heroines told me, “I’d recommend Shashiji for many films. But producers would refuse saying he was a flop actor. As blunt as that. Flop actor,they said. I was appalled by the crassness of it. But there was little I could do about it.”
In the 1970s Shashi did come into his own with solo hits like “Chor Machaye Shor”, “Chori Mera Kaam” and “Fakira”. But he chose to play the second lead in Amitabh Bachchan starrers. That finished off his career as a leading man in commercial films.
Sharmila Tagore for some strange reason blanks out her stupendously successful pairing with Rajesh Khanna and focuses on her resoundingly flop combination with Shashi Kapoor.
She once told me. “I really enjoyed working with Shashi. He had a wonderful sense of humour and he was an exceptional husband. We did many films together after our successful pairing in ‘Waqt’. I enjoyed ‘Aa Gale Lag Jaa’, ‘Paap Aur Punya’, ‘Anari’, ‘Suhana Safar’… His work as an actor and then as a producer of important off-mainstream cinema makes him unique.”
“He was the first Indian actor to work abroad, and that too with an eminent director like James Ivory. Together they did exemplary work. Shashi worked really hard to achieve what he did as an actor and producer. He was an exceptionally softspoken co-star and also a very considerate team player on the sets. He was very kind to all the technicians. He generated tremendous goodwill in cinema and theatre. He was an extraordinarily versatile artiste.”
Actress Shabana Azmi who did “Fakira” with Shashi Kapoor said: “He has been a trailblazer in so many ways. He was the first Indian actor to work in Hollywood. He was the first mainstream actor who when he turned producer did so with artistic cinema like ’36 Chowringhee Lane’ and ‘Junoon’.”
Shashi would often joke that since all the films he produced bombed at the box office, he had no choice but to do any and every film offered to him. Hence his brother Raj Kapoor’s jibe about Shashi being a taxi on hire didn’t stick.