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I always had a soft spot for Shashi Kapoor, I remember his eyelashes: Sharmila Tagore

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Shashi Kapoor, the luminous, talented, dimpled and twinkle-eyed charmer of Indian cinema, died at the age of 79 after a prolonged period of immobility and fragile health. Apart from, he also promoted cross over cinema and set up one of the most enduring institutions in Mumbai called Prithvi Theatre. He was the recipient of Padma Bhushan and Dadasahab Phalke award.

Sharmila Tagore and Shashi Kapoor were a popular on-screen couple. In this excerpt from a book by Aseem Chhabra titled ‘Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star’, Tagore recalls some memorable moments.

Tagore remembers the first time she met Shashi Kapoor— when he dropped by the sets of Shakti Samanta’s Kashmir Ki Kali. Shashi had come to see his brother, Shammi Kapoor, who was playing a lead role in the film. ‘Jennifer (Kendal Kapoor) and Shashi had seen Apur Sansar and had liked my performance,’ Sharmila tells me. ‘I had seen Shashi in Prem Patra. And I was in love with him! Bahut handsome tha usme. (He was very handsome in it.) All I remember is that he was blind in the film. And that, while Sadhana folded saris in one scene, Shashi sat in a chair looking gorgeous.’

Shashi’s unannounced visit to the sets of Kashmir Ki Kali unnerved eighteen-year-old Sharmila. ‘We were shooting the song “Isharon Isharon Main Dil Lenewale”, and I said to myself, “Oh my god! This is Shashi Kapoor.” And I couldn’t work. Shakti finally asked him to leave.’

By the time Waqt was finalized, Sharmila, slightly older and more experienced, was a lot more comfortable with the young actor. Besides, the demands of the box office required a Sharmila– Shashi romantic pairing. ‘When Waqt came by, we happened to get the attention of the younger generation,’ Sharmila says. ‘Most certainly we filled a need and we did this successfully. There’s a scene where we sing on a boat—“Din Hai Bahar Ke”—and everything, right down to my clothes, came to be appreciated.’

Shashi and Sharmila became symbols of a young couple in love—akin to Rishi Kapoor–Neetu Singh a decade later—and the pairing became a norm not only in Yash Chopra multi-starrers but also across several other movies. Sharmila and Shashi, consequently, would appear together in ten films, including Aamne Saamne, Suhana Safar, Aa Gale Lag Jaa and the National Award-winning New Delhi Times.

The two not only became popular co-stars, but also actors who grew together, taking cues from one another. Sharmila says, ‘Shashi would constantly tease me because I would argue a lot with the directors on the sets. Each time, he’d remind me to get on with it—don’t bicker, just do it! This is what I’ve learnt from him. When you are doing a film for money or to help a friend out, be clear about the motives and then finish what needs to be done. When you come to the set, and are aware of the limitations of the script or the director, don’t expect pigs to fly.’

Sharmila also came to appreciate Shashi’s work ethic. ‘He always listened to his director and always came to the sets on time,’ Sharmila says, hinting at the fact that she stopped accepting films with the raging heart-throb of the late 1960s, Rajesh Khanna, because of the actor’s tardy behaviour. ‘And, of course, second to arrive would be Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan.’

Most of all, Sharmila recalls Shashi’s sparkling sense of humour through good times and bad. She says, ‘We were shooting Suhana Safar, and there was a scene where I was supposed to drive downhill, and Shashi was to jump out of the way. But something went wrong—I just could not control the clutch and brake and sped into a culvert. While the poor light man holding a reflector fell, Shashi remained unscathed. Later, he quipped, “Do that again, and Jennifer will come to you with three children and say she doesn’t have money for milk!” He could always joke, and yet remain cordial and respectful.’

Over the years, Shashi’s family and Sharmila’s—their respective spouses and children—grew close. It helped that both households lived in South Bombay, away from the noise and glamour of the Hindi film industry. It also helped that Shashi and Sharmila, over years of filmmaking, had developed a bond that was warm, even mischievous. Sharmila says, ‘By the time I met Tiger (her future husband and cricketer, the nawab of Pataudi) I had cultivated the habit of saying, at once, “alvida” and “khuda hafiz”. And Shashi would tease me by saying, “Half is his and half is mine!” I always had a soft spot for Shashi. I remember his eyelashes.’

This is an edited excerpt from ‘Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star by Aseem Chhabra’. Excerpted with permission from Rupa Publications.

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  1. Shashiji’s so called hard core commercial movies (movies seem to be better called so rather than just projects) give a clear feeling that such movies were for him just a means of livelihood. Not that he ignored the genre. Just that,acting in those couldn’t appease his artiste’s self. And the movies that he believed in,contain the acting that’s international in approach vis-à-vis Shakespeare Walla, A Matter of Innocence(Pretty Polly), Bombay Talkies, Junoon, Kalyug, Vijeta, Heat And Dust, New Delhi Times, Muhafiz In Custody and a few more. He was ‘The Bombay Star’ of his times in those days who walked very consciously away from ‘Starry’ stylized acting. It was unbelievably tough in India where ‘stylized starry acting’ was and still is considered to be the pinnacle of good acting( may we remember Dev Sahab to Rajesh Khanna to Amitabh Bachchan to present day Shah Rukh Khan). He was a pioneering natural acting ‘Star’ having the un-common combination of devastating looks and lady-killing metaphysical brains. Love You Shashiji. May all big stars be like you.

  2. Shashi Kapoor began his career as a lead actor in the movie “Dharmaputra” in 1961. However, he started acting in when he was just 3 years of age in late 1940’s. In the year 2015 he was awarded Dhadhasaheb Phalke award for his achievements in Hindi cinema. He was a true legend.

  3. More than an actor, he was a great producer; Junoon, Vijeta and Kalyug among others are examples of his commitment to good cinema. RIP Shashi Kapoor.

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