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04 December 2017

The Final Curtain

18.03.1938 –  04.12.2017
This was not the post I intended to write. Actually, I had no intention of posting anything at all. With a spotty internet connection, and a very crowded itinerary, the blog was going to be neglected for a fortnight anyway. However, I couldn't let this occasion pass without acknowledgement. Five years ago, I wrote an article on Shashi Kapoor saying I didn’t want to ‘remember’ him after he died; I would much rather commemorate his life. And I did. But now, another era has ended with the demise of yet another much-loved actor of the golden age. Perhaps I will review one of his films later, but for now, a quick but sincerely meant tribute.

My memories of my childhood and youth are dappled with his crooked smile, those dimpled cheeks, that innate charm. The dashing young army captain romancing a beautiful Raakhee in Sharmilee,  the upright police officer of Deewar, the rigid fundamentalist of Dharmaputra, the happy-go-lucky con man of Do aur Do Panch, the conflicted husband and rigid father in Vijeta, the loyalist torn apart by warring factions in Kalyug, the honest, fearless journalist in New Delhi Times... I hated him in some films and adored him in others.

For all that he was an indispensable part of commercial Hindi cinema, it would be minimising Shashi Kapoor's contribution to good cinema if we reduced him only to the flashy, charming hero. For he was one of the few commercial actors who continually worked in independent cinema, putting his money into funding not just the cinema that he believed in, but also in furthering his father’s dream of a flourishing theatre industry in the country.

Prithvi Theatres and Film Valas (Shashi Kapoor's production house) were established to further his twin passions of theatre and cinema. Prithvi Theatres flourished, providing both patronage and platform to several fledgling artistes. So also Film Valas, whose productions backed several directors, both debutant and experienced – Aparna Sen, Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad, Govind Nihalani. Despite his considerable contributions to both theatre and film, Shashi Kapoor was only awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2011, and the Dada Saheb Phalke Award in 2015. It seemed too little, too late. 

Personally too, the death of his beloved wife, Jennifer, had left him bereft and it appeared that he had let life pass him by. His last few years must have been a sore trial - wheelchair-bound, not speaking much (or not able to), dependent… my husband and I saw him when we met Banno at Prithvi a few years ago. S didn’t recognise him as Shashi Kapoor, so changed was his appearance. There were many people coming up to him, wanting to talk to him, take selfies with him. As frail as he was, he still smiled patiently at them. Banno and I tried hard not to stare while we explained to S that yes, he was Shashi Kapoor.  

Perhaps we should have approached him as well. Perhaps we should have grabbed the opportunity to speak to him. However, as S pointed out, the man was clearly not in the best of health. His hands shook when he folded them in greeting. He smiled, but the effort seemed too much for him then. Why put him through that? Let's do him the courtesy of leaving him alone. So we did. Looking back, I'm fiercely glad we did not intrude. 

Now I feel I’m losing my childhood and my youth – with each death, another link to both is irrevocably broken. Shashi Kapoor's death has left a distinct void. ‘Taxi’ Kapoor has finally hung up his keys, and another glorious chapter has come to an end. Having seen him, frail and brittle, however, I can only hope he’s at peace now, back to being his suave charming self, and enjoying his reunion with his beloved wife, his brothers and his friends. But, as long as people are interested in the annals of Indian cinema, Shashi Kapoor will never be forgotten. 

Here’s to you, Mr Kapoor. You will be sorely missed.

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