Shashi Kapoor – Memories
I ‘m a very lazy actor. My coming into films was kind of thrust upon me, not something I had wanted to do. Being thrust upon me, I did my duty and I worked. I was on time, very disciplined but did not work Sundays, took six weeks off from work to be with my family. I did upset a lot of producers and directors, including my brother, Mr. Raj Kapoor, when I did Satyam Shivam Sundaram… I refused to work on Sundays, Christmas, New Year, Diwali and Holi. In the Hindi film world, there is no such thing as a holiday. But I got some of the best roles, like the one in Kalyug — which was a very difficult role and film — was thrust upon me. It was a role for Naseeruddin Shah. I came upon it by fluke.
My mum used to call me Fluky because I was unplanned. She had already had four boys (two between Raj ji and Shammi died young), and then my mum and my dad always prayed for a girl. In 1933, my sister Urmilla was born, that was a family and my parents were quite happy. Suddenly, after five years, my mother discovered that she was expecting and it was very embarrassing for her. She tried her best to get rid of me. Of course those were old times and there wasn’t anything like abortion. She used to tell me that she would keep falling off bicycles, down steps, have quinine, but Shashi Kapoor was stubborn. There was a future. So I’m a fluke actor, a fluke star and a fluke person.
Once, I underwent an agonizing operation for a wound at the back, after which the wound is left open for a week and the doctors would scrape it every day. The pain was unbearable. One day, as I cried out with pain, Pappaji showed me a mirror. As I wondered what he was trying to do, he told me: ‘Look at your face and expressions and memorize this because later on, you are not going to remember the extent of the pain. But the expression will help you to perform later.’ Now I remember the pain but not the extent. Surprising how the human mind is a bank of memories — happy and sad.
Whilst driving, Pappaji never adjusted the rear view mirror so that he could view the road and the traffic at the back. He kept it on himself — to look at his face, to admire himself. And he would go at 20 miles an hour, while we urged him to go faster: “come on Pappaji, come on”. But he would drive slowly and be looking at his face. He’d been developing all the time — what expressions could he try, how he could improve… When Rishi was two to three years old, whenever he got hit by his mama, he would go straight in front of the mirror and cry, all the time looking at his expression. And Pappaji bolte the — ‘yeh bahut achcha actor banega’.
The first car I bought was an MG 1949 sports model, a beautiful secondhand car. I remember, I borrowed money from Shammi ji. The second time I wanted a car, it was a very expensive one and again, I had to borrow money from Raj ji and of course I was to pay it back. Not only did I borrow money from Shammi Kapoor but when I was courting Jennifer, the transportation and the conveyance, was organized by Shammiji and Geeta bhabhi. The first time I flew to meet my girlfriend (Jennifer was then my girlfriend), I had to fly because there wasn’t much time, so I asked Shammi to lend me the money. I used to call him Santa Claus. Jennifer had even told Geeta bhabhi about that!
Shammi had an account at Colony Stores at Dadar Circle, where we got everything. Every month, he would get a bill for Rs 400, even though he hadn’t been there! The bill would be signed ‘Shashi Kapoor’. On his birthday, when I gave him a present, he got very emotional. He told everyone, ‘My kid brother, he’s in school and he gives me a present out of his savings. Next month, his secretary, Surinder Kapoor — Anil’s father — showed him the bill!
I used to totally depend on Shammi ji since Raj ji was not available all the time. Raj ji, being 14 years older, was like a father figure. Anytime we (my cousins and sister) felt like going out for a meal, we used to look to Shammi ji. Yaad hai, I wasn’t feeling very happy about my Matric results and he realized that I was in an emotional mess. He took me to Matheran for a holiday. When I was sent to Barnes School in Deolali, it was Shammi ji who came to drop me there. Afterwards, I sent a suicide note: ‘The food is not good. I don’t like it here. If you don’t get me out of here, I’ll commit suicide’. My mother told Shammi to bring me back. Khanaa achcha hona chahiye. Shammiji was very soft with me.
Shammi and I were once travelling to Delhi by road. While passing through a jungle at night, he was seated atop the station wagon with a rifle in his hand. He gave me a 12 bore and said, ‘If you see something, shoot’. We would probably get a pig or a deer to take for our friends in Delhi. When I saw a tiger, instead of shooting it, I asked the driver to stop the car, climbed out and told Shammi to shoot it, saying, ‘I’m too young.’ Needless to add, the tiger had disappeared!
I remember looking for a house. Jennifer was touring with Shakespeareana, I was touring with Prithvi Theatres and, we were both in Bombay. So I took the opportunity to run around looking for a place and found a beautiful flat at Altamount Road. I was definite about it being in town as Jennifer had an uncle living in town and I felt that she should be near someone from her family. Plus, she liked swimming and Breach Candy Pool is here. So were the schools we were thinking of and the maternity hospital. That’s the reason I didn’t go into the suburbs like Raj ji and Shammi did. I also wanted to be away from the usual Hindi film crowd. Not that I was conceited. Many times I was mistaken to be snooty. I wasn’t nor was I arrogant. When the landlady of the building asked about my profession and I said actor, she replied: ‘We don’t give flats to actors, we don’t trust them’. So I approached a very good friend of mine, a famous industrialist, who gave the landlady his own cheque for the whole year. And he said that before the year ended, he would give another cheque. That’s how I came to stay at Olympus Apartments in a beautiful two bedroom flat, enough for Jennifer, me and Kunal. When Karan was born in 1962, it was still enough. Then as they started growing up, Jennifer said we must move to a bigger place. By that time I was doing well, so we moved here (Atlas Apartments).
After finishing school in the ’50s, I joined Prithvi Theatres where I played the juvenile leads earlier played by my brothers. I met Jennifer when I had been loaned by my father to Shakespeareana. We toured Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong. Jennifer played multi-parts and looked after the props, etc., and I played juvenile leads. When Prithvi Theatres closed down and Shakespeareana moved back to England, I was married and had my first child, Kunal. I had to do something to support my wife and child. My wife and I were used to living in a simple way but even the basic necessities were going to cost some. So I overtly succumbed to films to make enough for a decent, simple living. I was also conscious of the fact that I had married a foreign lady and should provide her with the bare necessities of life, which might be more expensive than those of the average Indian woman.
When I signed my first film, I had been given the script and dialogues earlier. As in theatre, I memorized my lines and went earlier than the allotted time to the Centre Studio in Tardeo. The director chucked out the dialogues given to me and decided on a fresh idea. I now had reservations of being compared to my brothers. I may not come up to the mark and when they realized I am not able to deliver, they would mock me. When I arrived at the studio the next time, I discovered that I had been replaced by a wicked young actor — never mind who! The film didn’t do well.
My break came with Char Diwari opposite Nanda, directed by Kishan Chopra. I enjoyed doing the film but it didn’t run. But I have always been grateful to her for accepting a newcomer. That was the time when big stars would not act with newcomers and no female star would act with one, except Nanda.
I didn’t have any preconceptions about film acting and just took it as it came. I was aware of the fact that my father was a big star and his name was resounding after MughalE-Azam. I was also conscious that my family was very big in movies. But in no way did this determine that I had to do this or that. What was definite was that I had to make enough money for my wife, children and me.
I didn’t enjoy working for the first few months since the whole system was alien to me. Theatre is a different world altogether. I had had a bit of experience as a child actor in the studios. Plus, I worked as a direction apprentice in a couple of films, so that was good. Then I realized that one can’t demand realism in Hindi films. They are made about a world that doesn’t exist.
Then came Merchant-Ivory Productions in 1962, when I did Householder, which I enjoyed very much. We had the usual problems of finance, overshooting, and over budget but what we were doing was very satisfying. We were making a good commercial picture. I enjoyed working with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant in spite of Leela Naidu’s tantrums. She’s still good and very beautiful.
Initially, I was called a jinxed actor by the film Press. I remember the day after Char Diwari flopped, I had to return the money to AVM Studios because they had cancelled me from a film they had signed me for and paid me money. I was very, very unhappy and hurt and went to Raj ji. He assured me, ‘This is only the beginning son. You’re going to have this type of heartbreak all along. So don’t pay attention to failures and don’t pay much attention to successes’.
My father too used to always say, ‘When you have a success, go and stand in front of a mirror and ask yourself, do you deserve it? And if you have a failure, do the same thing. Never take these things seriously, just carry on working’.
So I returned the Rs 5000 (a lot of money for 1961) to AVM. That was a film with Sadhana. I had two films with her. One film they didn’t cancel me for was Bimal Roy’s Prempatra. I was very indebted to Mr Roy. I enjoyed working with him — a fine director and a fine technician. Another film which I did with Bimalda, Benazir was a great experience for me. It had giants in it like Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari and Nirupa Roy.
During the end of the ’60s (’69-’70), INO a lot of films which I thought would do well, didn’t. Abhinetri, Jahan Pyar Mile with Hema Malini, and Bombay Talkie with Jennifer. I thought that maybe my first 10 years were my last 10 years and that I wouldn’t be able to make it. I remember not having enough work and I would just go to the Merchant-Ivory office, which Ismail very kindly let me use. I would just go and sit there the whole day, day dreaming, wanting to know what was happening with my life, my career. Then came Subodh Mukherji’s second film. Though Abhinetri, the first film I did with Subodhda, didn’t run and I never thought I’d be asked to do another film. That used to be the norm of the film companies. Somehow or other, the first few films with Hema didn’t run. Maybe the audience didn’t like me opposite Hema, they preferred Dharmendra.
B.R. Films too offered me Waqt, despite the debacle of Dharamputra. Also, I got to do Subodh Mukerjee’s Sharmilee, directed by Sameer Ganguli. It had excellent music by S.D. Burman and Raakhee was, I think, in her prime. She was beautiful enough to dazzle. She hadn’t been bitten by the star bug at that time, she was very new, very normal, very nice to work with. She became the opposite of that after a few years. Now I don’t know, I haven’t met her in years. Sharmilee was a big success, and that kind of brought me back into the embrace of the Hindi film industry.
Later, Prakash Mehra, who was then an assistant director (I had met him a couple of times), came to me out of the blue with a script. He was very honest saying I wasn’t the first man approached, as he had done the rounds of the entire film industry. And all the heroes had turned it down. I told him that if I liked the script I would do it. I again had no fixations, that I had to do this or that to be a star. I never took it seriously. Jennifer and I would always giggle at all these nonsensical films. So I heard the script, it clicked immediately and Haseena Man Jayegi was a big success.
The entire Kapoor family got a I shock in ’72, — though we knew what was going to happen. The entire family was stunned and numbed by the sudden departure of our parents — Prithviraj Kapoor and Rama Prithviraj Kapoor. They died within a span of 16 days. It shook us all but also made us more mature. Suddenly, R.K. Films which had been having a bad time after …Joker, started to do well. Everyone in the family started doing well. Shammi ji was passing through that period of a hero to zero, Andaz was the last film and he was out of work. I was just getting out of that bad period. Then I got into films like Chor Machaye Shor, a big success, as also Fakira, Deewar, Kabhi Kabhie, and Trishul.
Jennifer and I formed a company called Filmvalas, which wanted to make meaningful films for the average audience. Whilst making Utsav my wife became very ill, this was in the ’80s. Before that time I had done Heat and Dust, which was a worldwide success and it took us to the Cannes Film Festival. It was there that I discovered my wife was not well. Because for the first time at a film festival- my wife and I always saw about four to five films a day — I realised that she would not see more than one film a day. She would tire very easily. When we had her checked up we found that she was seriously ill. So even though Utsav was ready for release (we had completed it in about 11 months time), I wasn’t able to look after it as I was busy with Jennifer’s illness. On September 7, 1984 she passed away. The amazing thing is, she passed away at her favorite time — breakfast time. The only meal she enjoyed was breakfast and it was 10 minutes past eight. Sanjana was there beside her. I had been with her the night before. Strange thing is, September 7, was my father-in-law’s birthday and he was very excited he was going to see his daughter.
Subhash Ghai once said, ‘Shashi Kapoor is like a potato. Usko by itself khaana chahiye, to kha sakhte hain. Usko kisike saath dal do — chicken ke saath, mutton ke saath — uske saath bhi chalega. You can do all these things with that aloo, so also with Shashi Kapoor’. He was, of course, referring to the films I had made — multistarrers, solo hero, two heros. I suppose I am a flukie aloo. (Shashi Kapoor interviewed by Priya Warrier in 1995).