Shashi ‘Taxi’ Kapoor
He had done nine films as a child artiste before he got first of the disastrous adult breaks as the leading man in BR Chopra’s Dharamputra (1961) directed by the debutant Yash Chopra. They subsequently worked together in blockbusters like Waqt, Deewar, Trishul, Silsila and Kabhi Kabhie. By now he had also rechristened himself from Balbir Raj to Shashi soon after nicknamed ‘Shasha’ by brother Shammi, and ‘Taxi’ by eldest brother Raj Kapoor when the former was acting in RK’s expensive misadventure, Satyam Shivam Sundaram because he was shooting for seven films in a day, simultaneously, and signing films at (jokingly) traffic signals. His name appeared in the 2011 Republic Day roll of honour for Padma awards that he deserved much earlier, and not now braving multiple ailments, and fighting for life. Born March 18, 1938, Shashi Kapoor acted in more than 100 films (as leading man, second hero, and character actor) before eventually hanging in the towel after Muhafiz (1994), his first appearance after a gap of seven years.
In his eventful career, he also produced seven films (winning two Filmfare Best film awards for Junoon (80), and Kalyug (82), and was thrice nominated for the supporting actor award for Deewar (75), Kabhi Kabhie (77), and Namak Halaal (83). He received the Filmfare Life Time Achievement in 2010 on a wheel chair. Shashi Kapoor had also won two national awards: for Best Actor in New Delhi Times (66), and Special Jury Award for Muhafiz (84). His first came in the form of Jab Jab Phool Khile opposite Nanda, which opened doors for more crass commercials before he really hit the jackpot with Chor Machaye Shor after which there was no looking back for a while. It was also around this time when rumours or otherwise of his involvement with Shabana Azmi made news. They worked together in the hit, Fakira (76).
It was around this time in the early eighties that he turned to production and produced some quality films with art house directors like Shyam Benegal and Aparna Sen, who made 36 Chowringhee Lane with wife Jennifer in the lead. He had married her earlier after a whirlwind romance in Calcutta while acting in Shakespeareana’s stage productions. With these and other productions like Vijeta (in which he gave break to son Kunal as a hero) tanking at the box office, he indulged in a less-make and more-break Utsav with Rekha dressed in gold. It was doomed to disaster, and as if to add fuel to fire the disciplining effect on him, wife Jennifer succumbed to cancer. And all hell broke loose. Shashi literally turned wild, and indulged in the infamous Kapoor’s passion for the bottle. He now started to put on weight and took to Vodka like fish to water, and continues to be subservient to the intoxicant.
But to his credit, he did try to pull himself up once in the late eighties, return to production. He wanted Raj Kapoor to direct this Indo-Russian co-production but the showman politely showed him the door, as he confessed later. He hadn’t forgotten the younger sibling the inconvenience caused during the making of Satyam Shivam Sundaram in which he had cast him thanks to family pressure. Otherwise he had committed the role to the then reigning superstar, Rajesh Khanna. He was then ill-advised to wield the megaphone himself. Everyone he approached for the period-fantasy, Ajooba. Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Shammi Kapoor, Sonam willingly came on board to help him out of the mess.
But Ajooba turned out to be one of the biggest box-office disasters of all time. Fate that smiled on him once and now distanced itself considerably. His equilibrium destroyed, he fell into an open manhole just outside the residential complex Atlas Apartment, where he lived and had to be admitted to Breach Candy hospital to resurrect fractured bones.
During his short but eventful career, Shashi Kapoor appeared in a number of British and American films, especially under Merchant Ivory Productions: The Householder (63), Shakespeare Wallah (65), Bombay Talkie (70), Heat and Dust (82), besides Pretty Polly (67), Siddhartha (72) opposite Simi Garewal and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (87). His last Hindi film as hero was Ilzaam (86). He co-starred with Amitabh Bachchan in as many as eight films. Shashi’s biggest regret was not doing Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj ke Khiladi. The filmmaker left the actor literally gasping for breath, when despite an earlier promise Ray felt he would be a total miscast in the role of the nawab.
In her brilliant autobiography White Cargo, sister-in-law and co-star Felicity Kendal, describes Shashi Kapoor as “…funny and glamourous, the most flirtatious man I had ever met. He combined flattering and bullying with such attractive skill that he was almost irresistible. He was too thin, but it made his huge eyes, fringed with thick long lashes, seems even more beguiling. His flashing white teeth and wicked dimple were used to get his own way with both men and women, and the swagger of success was with him long before he became the number one Bollywood superstar.” Unfortunately, this stardom was too short lived, and the smile disappeared from his handsome visage much before the autumn in his life set in.
Madhu Jain in her book, The Kapoors describes her last meeting with the ‘gentleman’ Kapoor in a different time zone and situation when he would retire “to his bedroom by 9:30. It is his time, usually for reading. Books pile up on his bedside table. Shashi Kapoor has an eclectic taste they wary from Gulzar’s short stories, which have been translated from Urdu into English, to books on cinema and theatre…” But those disciplined days and nights have now been diminished to the opposite. It is Vodka time from noon to post-lunch siesta time, and again after sunset all by himself—total retreat. Sad, but destined that way, perhaps. It is time, one supposes, for another Kapoor to move into darkness.
By Suresh Kohli