The Other Side of Shashi Kapoor….
By – Ali Peter John
They called him Shashi baba, even whether they were big star, junior artists or dancers everyone loved him, like they never loved any other star. His smile they said could kill. According to a survey, he was ranked among the most handsome and charming young man in the 70s. He made a very big name for himself when on the advice of his wife Jennifer , he started producing what were called art films or parallel cinema which gave many young artists from the FTII and the NSD jobs in different fields of film making. He was honoured with the Padmashri and Padmabhushan and the Dada Sahab Phalke Award, but beyond this image, there was an entirely naughty, mischievous and even bitchy Shashi Kapoor. I present to you evidence to prove that he was…
I first came to know the other side of Shashi Kapoor when he arranged for me to take a flight to Junagadh in Gujarat where he was shooting two films in one day, Hira aur Moti in the morning shift and Aahuti in the afternoon shift. The first were to be the last film of Vijay Bhatt, the uncle of Mahesh Bhatt who had made Ram Rajya, the only film seen by Mahatma Gandhi and had Shabana Azmi as his heroine and the second was directed by Ashok Bhushan. Who was the brother in law and former chief assistant of Manoj Kumar. It was going to be my first ever flight and I was all excited and to add to my excitement, Shashi told me how I would see beautiful faries on the flight who would be called hawai sundaries, but were only air hostesses. My taking a flight was a very big event in my village and there was a procession that took me to the Santacruz airport, after all, I was the first boy from the village to fly in an aeroplane. I reached the aircraft and the first woman I saw was a very dark and very plump woman standing with her hands folded in a namaste. I asked my friend who she was and he told me that she was one of the air hostesses on the flight. The first thought that came to my mind were to send a volley of good abuses ( can there be bad abuses ? ) to Shashi baba for hoodwinking me for making a fool out of me. The sight,sorry to say grew uglier as I saw the other air hostesses. There behaviour and attitude had put me off completely and I didn’t dare to have a second look at them.
I reached the Junagadh airport and was surprised to see Shashi Kapoor waiting to welcome me even though he was shooting in shifts and what added insult to my injury was when the first thing Shashi asked me was ” How did you like the beautiful faries ?” That was the first time I had a taste of the other side of Shashi Kapoor. He made me more uncomfortable when he kept coming to wherever I was to ask me if my stay was comfortable. How could I tell him the truth that the producers had put me up in a dirty hotel where even the towers were dirty and I had bugs for company all night ? I told him this only when I was leaving for Bombay and I learnt that he had played havoc with the producers by ruining there dates and time for their crime of putting me up at a bad hotel.
We soon became very good friends and he once invited me to meet his school time friend, Ismail Merchant. He had a PRO called Gopal Pandey whose job it was to arrange the press for him. That evening there was no other journalist except me and he called his PRO and told him, ” Jao jao Gopal Pandey, bahar se logon ko bula ke leke aao, bolo nashta bahut accha hai, yehi toh karte ho na tum? ” I had seen another image of the other Shashi.
My office had arranged for a special musical night featuring the legendary actress Nutan who had taken to singing on stage after she saw that good work was not coming her way. Shashi agreed to come, but made me wait for the whole day as he said he couldn’t leave his “rozi roti ” to waste his time listening to ” a singer who was only acting as a singer”. I was again trapped between two big stars,Shashi Baba and Nutan who I and many others like Amitabh Bachchan had great admiration for.
We reached the Shanmukhananda Auditorium where the show was to be held. We were sitting in the front row and Nutan started singing. He gave me a tight pinch and asked me, “Do you call this singing ? ” I didn’t know what to say as he clapped vigorously after the first two songs she sang. When she started her third song, Shashi said, ” This is beyond all my tolerance, this is excuciatingly painful. Why can’t she just retire and stay at home ? ” A little before the interval, Shashi was called on stage to felicitate Nutan and say a few words about her. I was looking at him and he was looking at me and the way he praised Nutan as the voice specially sent by God to bring joy into our hearts and how she had made a mistake by taking to acting and that she would have made it as a very big competition for Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle if she had made singing her career. The interval was over and he literally pulled me outside the auditorium and said , “Ali ke bacche, dusri baar agar tune mujhe aise koi function mein phasaya, tujhe bahut maarunga.” After saying this, he was the same old Shashi Baba and said he would have loved to have a couple of drinks , but he had to report for the shooting of Prakash Mehra which he had left incomplete. Shashi could be at his bitchy best especially when it came to women like, there is the famous story of his stalking Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi and asking them, ” Arre tum ladkiyon Ko aaj kal kya hogaya hai, tum log nahate Kyun nahin aur tum log itne gande kapde Kyun pehente ho ?”
Shashi was a completely changed man after his wife Jennifer died. He had taken to drinking vodka all through the day and night and had put on so much wait that he had to stop travelling in his favourite Mercedes and had to travel in an Ambassador with only one seat in the entire car, all for himself. He was once caught drinking vodka outside the Prithvi theatre build by him under the instructions of Jennifer and his daughter Sanjana came up and picked up the bottle and smashed it on the floor and told him, ” don’t you know this is a theatre and is a place of worship for us and should be for you too as it has been built with your money and has been named after your father. This is the last warning I am giving you or … “. Shashi couldn’t take the shocking behaviour of Sanjana and went into his office and brought out another bottle of vodka and said, ” Ab dekhte hain kaun Shashi Kapoor Ko rokta hai peene se ?” The incident left such a powerful impact on him that at one stage he even wanted to sell off the entire property on which Prithvi Theatre stood,but it was the beggings and pleading of lovers of theatre that made him give up his idea.
There was a time before he had put on weight when he uses to shoot for seven films in a day and used to literally run from one set to another and had time only to change his shirts. He wanted to work with his brother, Raj Kapoor, but his brother said he worked with actors and not with taxi’s which he said Shashi had become. Shashi was so keen to work with Raj Kapoor that he cut down on all his minor assignments which he did only for making money and Raj Kapoor wrote a special script to accommodate him and that is how Shashi Kapoor had last played the younger version of Raj Kapoor in Awaara got his first leading role in Raj Kapoor’s Satyam Shivam Sundaram.
Shashi was living at his sprawling Atlas Apartments on Malabar hill when he had put on weight and could not even sit or stand. His only activity was to take the children of his son, Kunal to school. It was during one of these walks that he fell into an open manhole and broke all his bones. He was at the Breach Candy Hospital for more than six months. There were many visitors, but one of them was Devyani Chaubal ( Devi) who used to write nasty things about him. When she approached shashi, he smiled and said, ” Devi, how will you screw me now , I am already screwed all over “.
All the films he made under his own banner, especially films like 36, Chowringhee Lane, Kalyug, Junoon, Vijeta and above all Utsav flopped at the box office and he was completely devastated. In one of his talks with me, he said something which I have never forgotten, he said, inn saale daariwaalon me ek gareeb Shashi Kapoor ko barbaad kar diya.
That was in a way a prediction he had made for himself. He decided to direct his first indo-soviet film called Ajooba with his friend Amitabh Bachchan, nephew Rishi kapoor, brother Shammi Kapoor, Zeenat Aman and Amrish Puri. This film too was a disaster and the only ambition Shashi had was to direct a film with his all time great favourite, Dilip Kumar . He had even worked on half of the script based on the fightback of a retired police officer against the underworld. He kept looking for writers to write a good second half and the climax, but no writer could satisfy him and when he showed first signs of falling a victim to Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons, he had to shift to Prithvi Jhopda, which was once the cottage of his father Prithviraj Kapoor and he had turned it into his office for his company Filmwallahs.
In its place had come up a multi storeyed building called Prithvi Apartments in which he lived all alone with two caretakers. His only time out was in the evening where he used to be brought down in a wheelchair and there was an old violinist who volunteered to play for him as long as he sat in the compound of Prithvi Theatre. He couldn’t recognise anyone. On one occasion when I went upto him and screamed my name into his ears, he seemed to have recognised me and made some sounds and slowly folded his hands and then made a sign to his care takers to take him up.
His Dada Saheb Phalke Award was presented to him by the late Union minister Mr. Arun Jaitley. The entire industry was present and so was the entire Kapoor family, but he was not aware of anything that was happening around him.
A few weeks later he died after going in and out of hospitals several times. His body had shrunk to the size of a recruit boy and that mischievous and charming face had lost all its charm. Life chose Shashi Kapoor as an example for other’s to let them know how cruel and nasty it could be even to a Shashi Baba.
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