Prince Charming of Bollywood Shashi Kapoor fades out

One of Bollywood’s best actors and producers Shashi Kapoor died of prolonged illness in Mumbai at 79. He was admitted to a private hospital with chest infection on Sunday and he passed away on Monday evening. He is survived by daughter Sanjana Kapoor and sons Kunal and Karan.

Sashi belonged to a family of actors who contributed much to Bollywood for generations starting with his father Prithviraj Kapoor and brothers Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor. Sashi started his career as a child actor in Aag (1948) and made his debut in a leading role in Dharmputra (1961) and went on to play major roles in over 100 Hindi films. He used to work for so many hours in the sets that his brother Shammi used to call him “taxi”.

Besides being a great actor, Sashi was the “handsomest star ever”. Women used to go to cinemas just to see how he romances with their favourite actresses like Sadhana, Tanuja, Rakhee, Nanda, Sharmila Tagore, Waheeda Rehman and Zeenat Aman. In the lilting 60s and early 70s, people loved romance and songs and Sashi was the Prince Charming of that golden era.

Then came the angry young hero with the release of the crime drama Deewar (1975) in which Sashi played an inspector and Amitab Bachchan essayed the role of a smuggler. Sashi’s dialogue in the film– “Mere paas maa hai” (I have mother’s support) — during a tense scene with screen-sibling Bachchan became so famous that it was a selling point for companies making bags, coffee mugs and cushion covers. After Deewar, people wanted more such films depicting crime and violence and heroes fighting gangsters and solving crimes. It was an unpleasant role for a talented actor like Sashi who was passionate about acting whether it was films or plays.

The change in role for him came when he started his own company Filmvala in 1980 with the money he made in Bollywood. He wanted to make meaningful cinema and teamed with directors Shyam Benegal and Aparna Sen. The meeting of their minds resulted in classics like 36 Chowringhee Lane, in which Sashi’s wife, veteran theatre actor Jennifer Kendal, played an ageing teacher in a changing world.

Other gems like Junoon, Vijeta, Utsav and Kalyug followed. Shashi’s roles as an obsessive suitor in Junoon set in 1857, as the brooding husband and father in Vijeta and as the indecisive Karan in Kalyug, won him accolades.

Sashi was one of the first Indian artistes who consistently acted in British and American films. He became known to the outside world for his performances in films like Shakespeare-wallah, The Householder and Heat and Dust.

He was honoured with Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2011. In 2015, he was bestowed the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, India’s highest honour in cinema which his father and brother Raj had won earlier.

He played a pivotal role in the theatre movement along with his wife.  They established the Prithvi Theatre in November 1978 in Mumbai. Jennifer died of cancer in 1984. He remained loyal to his wife all through and her departure was a big blow from which he never completely recovered.

Sashi did not sign many films after that. His health began to fail. When he was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke award in 2015, he was too weak to travel to New Delhi to receive it. Federal minister Arun Jaitley came in person to Sashi’s Mumbai home to honour him.

Sashi was a passionate actor, a kind, generous humble and helpful human being and a devoted husband and father. He treated his film crew like his own family.

Sashi is gone but his smiling face will remain etched in our memory.