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All about Shashi Kapoor

Aseem Chhabra’s biography of the famous actor does justice to its subject

All about Shashi Kapoor

book review

‘Mera Naam Shashi Kapoor Hai’ – that’s how the famous Indian actor used to introduce himself to cast and crew of his films but did you know that Shashi wasn’t his real name. In his biography Shashi Kapoor – The Householder, the Star, writer Aseem Chhabra explains why Balbir Raj Kapoor was known as Shashi, what his father did when he asked him for permission to quit school and what were the finer points that made him the most loveable actor in India and abroad.

According to this biography, Shashi was obsessed with the moon and that is why his mother gave him the name. What she didn’t know at the time was that her son would go on to become a star extraordinaire; a man who is always remembered fondly as the most down-to-earth celebrity in Bollywood.

From this book, we learn about the little details that set him apart from all others. Shashi Kapoor, for instance, was seldom late to movie sets; he always listened to all his directors and went to great lengths to score roles that would have gone to others but his perseverance made the difference.

Chhabra’s book is well-researched, well-written and above all, very easy to read. If you know Shashi Kapoor and have watched several of his films like this scribe, then you will love the way this book moves forward. You will get to know that director Yash Chopra considered Shashi Kapoor his alter ego and that is the reason why they worked together so well, especially between the period of 1975 and 1981.

The book serves as a gentle reminder that though Shashi was the youngest of the three Kapoor sons – the others being Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor – he played a variety of distinguished roles, something his older brothers were unable to accomplish.

Shashi started his career as a young man with a toothy grin and languid drawl but went onto play both romantic and action-driven roles. Plus Shashi has delivered some of the most iconic lines in the colorful and chequered history of Indian cinema. The line ‘Meray Pass Ma Hai’ from Deewar is still remembered – a considerable achievement given the simple fact that Deewar all about Amitabh Bachchan.

Speaking of Amitabh Bachchan, he appeared alongside Shashi Kapoor in a total of 13 films (not counting the super-flop Ajooba where Shashi called the shots but didn’t act) and were known as Shashitabh in the ‘70s. In fact, the book explains how Shashi was labeled Amitabh’s favourite heroine since his features were soft compared to Bachchan’s rugged appearance.

Unlike Big B though, Shashi was popular in the West as star of James Ivory – Ismail Merchant films. From the ‘60s till the ‘90s, the Merchant-Ivory-Shashi trio worked in countless movies and this book sheds a light on that portion of Shashi’s illustrious career as well.

What’s great about this book is that it also shows the lighter side of Shashi’s life and recounts stories that will bring a smile to your face. For example, Shashi once told Yash Chopra “let’s beat him up” after Rishi Kapoor declined to be a part of Kabhie Kabhi. In another instance, the book recalls how Shashi prepped for the lead role of The Householder by getting a haircut to not only look the part but to put the writer at ease who believed Shashi was too handsome for the role in question.

Another memorable anecdote the book recounts is how Kapoor used to sign his pictures for a young girl who lived in his father’s neighbourhood and how the young girl grew up to become Shabana Azmi and went onto star alongside Kapoor in half a dozen films.

Then there the story of the famous incident when both Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor were intoxicated while judging a beauty contest alongside third judge, actress Zeenat Aman who was forced to select the winner since the inebriated stars thought all contestants were beautiful to them.

The book also dives into Kapoor’s career and recounts how in the ‘80s he worked with the future James Bond – Pierce Brosnan who was mesmerized by the star’s perfect English or that he was a wonderful producer but a bad businessman who lost money on most flicks or that the character of Rafi in Sammy & Rosie Get Laid may  have been inspired from our very own Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The book is an eye-opening experience for fans of Shashi Kapoor because of it covers the many facets of his personal and professional life and makes for an engaging experience overall despite missing the fact that Kapoor’s last major international film was Jamil Dehlavi’s Jinnah, which was released in theatres.

Omair Alavi is a freelance journalist and  can be contacted at [email protected] gmail.com


Did you know?

Shashi Kapoor won just one National Award during his career and his signing amount for that award-winning film, New Delhi Times (1986) was Rs. 101.

During the shooting of the period film Junoon, he asked Shabana Azmi to listen to Begum Akhtar instead of The Beatles to get the feel. Shabana’s reply to Kapoor: ‘Begum Akhtar wasn’t around in 1857!’

Director Shakti Samantha asked Shashi to leave the set of Kashmir Ki Kali because his presence (he was there to meet brother Shammi) swept over Sharmila Tagore who couldn’t act as a result.

A villain was bit on his leg during the shooting of a movie. The ‘biter’ was one toddler named Saif Ali Khan who thought that the villain was trying to kill ‘his’ Shashi uncle.

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