I remember asking my mother when I was a ten-year old boy: “Mom! Who is your favourite actor?” and she answered unflinchingly “Shashi Kapoor”. I could almost sense a sly smile as she uttered his name. It was almost like she had betrayed my father by uttering that handsome actor’s face (of course I would know it later as to how insanely crazy she was when it came to him). I did not understand then about a young woman’s desire when it came to her favourite actor and let it pass. I was ten after all.
After almost two decades and two years, I got the opportunity to read the biography of that very actor by Aseem Chhabra titled, “Shashi Kapoor – The Householder, the Star” and it all fell into place. Why was my mother crazy about him? Why did his films matter so much to her? Why would she insist of even watching all Merchant-Ivory productions in which he acted and they weren’t even mainstream movies, which my family would gorge on?
At the same time, some of the family members for the life of them couldn’t understand that how could a man play a role in movies such as Deewar, Trishul etc and still continue to work in “art films” (they used to call them that) such as Junoon, Kalyug, etc. It is perhaps for this versatility of roles and acting skills, Shashi Kapoor was the go-to-guy. Maybe that is why because he was so busy during the shoot of Satyam Shivam Sundaram, that Raj Kapoor dubbed him “Taxi”. All said and done, it was these anecdotes and more you should read what Aseem has written about the star.
I mean more than anything I have always been a fan of Merchant-Ivory productions – I have almost watched all their films and then while I was watching their movies growing-up, I would be jubilant that here was a face I could recognize and how come this Indian actor spoke such great English – he of course was Shashi Kapoor and then slowly, but surely, I fell in love with my mother’s favourite actor.
To know that it was his production house that produced movies such as 36 Chowringhee Lane, Utsav (well I know most people think this movie makes no sense at all, but personally I love it), Kalyug and Junoon, I fell in love with the book even more. What I love about the book is Aseem’s attempt to make readers and film-goers world over not only meet Shashi Kapoor the actor, but also the man behind the actor and the movies. His life is spoken about throughout but very nonchalantly – almost as though it is there for you to see, but only if you try reading between the lines. At times, Aseem even gives it away on a platter to the reader.
“Shashi Kapoor – the Householder, the Star” is a book about the generous spirit of the man – as a human being, actor and producer. It was Shashi Kapoor who was the first so-called “crossover” actor and also among the first who took to stage the way he did and created an institution called Prithvi Theatre which still runs strong in Mumbai.
I love the book. I love its nuances – the way Aseem has researched it and the amount of time it took him to give shape and form to it. It is almost no one else could have written about the actor but Aseem. There is so much empathy when he speaks of Jennifer and the effect she had on Shashi’s life – both as a professional and his wife. I think as a person who loves Bollywood and everything about it (well almost everything about it), this book was not only a revealer of sorts but also refreshing – it is about a man that not much is spoken or written about (not at least now) and I loved the way it is structured and written. If you are a Bollywood aficionado and even if you aren’t, you must read this book only because Shashi Kapoor deserves to be known the way Aseem wants you to know him.