Shashi Kapoor passes away: Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal speak about the revered actor

Bollywood icon and blockbuster hero Shashi Kapoor was much more than just “Mere Paas Maa Hai”. A recent image...

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Bollywood icon and blockbuster hero Shashi Kapoor was much more than just “Mere Paas Maa Hai”.


A recent image of Shashi Kapoor. AFP

While he was a huge commercial star, he was the only one in the clan of actors at the time, to take the lead in championing alternative and art-house cinema. He straddled the two worlds with his partnership with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant resulting in films like The HouseholderShakespearewallah and Heat and Dust, quite early in his career.

Born into the distinguished Kapoor family, the Deewar actor chose to walk a different path than his famous brothers, Raj and Shammi Kapoor, and carved a niche for himself. He charmed into people’s heart not just with his good looks and dashing personality, but also with his wit, humble nature, discipline and compassion.

Some industry stalwarts and his co-stars remember the suave and ever so classy gentleman they knew.

Govind Nihalani

(Nihalani directed Shashi Kapoor in latter’s production Vijeta. Nihalani was also the cinematographer for Kapoorstarrer, Junoon and Kalyug, both directed by Shyam Benegal)

Everybody knows everything about Shashi Kapoor. But I would like to point out one thing: he was perhaps one of the earliest superstars who looked at — what you called at that the time — the new wave cinema. When everybody was busy elsewhere, Shashi was doing movies like Householder, and he continued making films in that genre. I worked with him as a director and also as cinematographer for films that Mr Shyam Benegal directed for him (Junoon and Kalyug). Establishing Prithvi theatre along with his wife Jennifer Kendall was one of his greatest achievements besides his lovely performances in commercial blockbusters.  Today, Prithvi is known as a cultural icon, not just in Mumbai, but in entire India. He put his own funds and created an institution which is like a mecca for actors, writers and everybody connected with theatre and cinema. I am glad that his children, Sanjana and Kunal have kept the legacy alive.

Poonam Dhillon

(Shashi Kapoor was Dhillon’s co-star in her debut film Trishul)

Shashiji was somebody who everybody loved. He hasn’t been well for a long time but I didn’t know it was life threatening. He was one of the nicest actors and co-actor one could ask for. He was chilled out, a non-negative person and a cool dude in real sense. He was a thorough gentleman. He was my co-star in my debut film, Trishul. After that I did Sawaal followed by Baseraa and Bepannah in which he played my romantic interest. It didn’t matter what role you were playing with him, he would always spread happiness. I met him just few months ago at Prithvi Theatre. He was on a wheel chair, in a different kind of a zone but I did feel that naughty Shashi Kapoor stayed inside him. Physically he was frail, but he still had that little spark.

What strikes me about him is that when he turned filmmaker, he chose a different genre and didn’t opt for the kind of films that he acted in. That shows there was an intense filmmaker within a dancing, singing star. Then, he was genuinely respectful and women-empowering man. He was one of the first producers who gave a female actress her break as a director – Aparna Sen for 36 Chowringhee Lane. That was so many years ago. What he gave to Mumbai, to theatre lovers with Prithivi Theatre, will remain eternal. That will make him immortal. He was one of the few who was able to fulfil his dream.

During his acting days, when his wife Jennifer was alive, he was so disciplined in his food habits. I would see him eating boiled eggs and tandoori chicken. He wanted to maintain his figure, weight. He was conscious about it because the Kapoors had the tendency of putting on weight.  He was also known for his work discipline and was extremely punctual. He came in the era when there were double and triple shifts and  he used to joke about it saying —  ‘We actors are like taxis, meter down karo aur chal pado’. He was witty to another level. I will always remember that naughty, boyish twinkle in his eyes.

Shyam Benegal

(Benegal directed Kapoor in critically acclaimed films like Junoon 1978) and Kalyug (1981). Kapoor had also produced these films.

Shashi was the best producer I have worked with till date. He was god’s good man. He was such a beautiful human being beyond anything else. He was a very dedicated man. While shooting Junoon, one day, someone was smoking a cigarette on the set. And he was livid with that person. He couldn’t believe that someone could disrespect their work space in such a way. For him, work has always been worship, and one had to respect that while working with him. Kapoor was more popular than his other contemporaries, as he had a keen interest in both theatre and films. He was as passionate about theatres as he was about films. He was probably the only Bollywood star who was famous in African countries like Morocco.

Moushumi Chatterjee

(The actress worked with Kapoor in films like SwayamarGhar Ek MandirKrodhiGautam Govinda and Anari)

I had known Shashiji since the early ’70s. When my debut film Balika Badhu was selected for few Filmfare awards, he was there to welcome me at the event. The Kapoors used to treat me like their family and I would call him Shashi Uncle. Then I bagged films opposite him, and while we were shooting a romantic song for Anari, he told me not to call him ‘Uncle’. He wanted me to call him either ‘Shashiji’ or ‘Shashi Baba’ “because everybody’s hearing, my fans are all around and I am the hero”. I started calling him Shashiji.

But I learnt a lot from him especially about giving and earning respect. He stopped me from addressing others as ‘Tum’ and he also stopped me from getting over friendly with people. He would tell me, ‘’People can misunderstand. Address people as ‘Aap’ and keep a distance from people while talking to them. Nobody gives you respect, you have to demand and command it.”  He was also very protective towards me. Recently, I met him in Mahabaleshwar. He knew I was coming and he was there at the gate to welcome me.

Subhash Ghai:

I worked with Shashi in two moviesI directed him for Gautam Govinda and Krodhi in the late 70s and learnt about work ethics, discipline, time management and compassion. He was humble to the lowest rank person and above all his love and passion for good cinema  and theatre development in India was noteworthy. He was an inspiring institute in himself.

Prem Chopra

I did about two dozen films with Shashi, some of them being TrishulKaala PatharKranti. He was a handsome personality, jovial and good chap who would make atmosphere lovely. He would never let others feel that he was the hero and others were the lesser mortal. He was very amiable to everyone. I had dedicated one separate chapter to him in my autobiography that was released three years back.


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