When I got letters from Shashi Kapoor – Past Perfect

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Shashi Kapoor in Shakespearewallah

Shashi Kapoor in ‘Shakespearewallah’

 

Shashi Kapoor – A Fan Remembers…

The passing of Shashi Kapoor has robbed the world of one of the most delightful smiles in the world, one of the most loved faces in the Hindi film industry. There may have been more dashing heroes, more powerful muscle-bound anti-heroes, more adept dancers but for his teenage fans he will always be the ‘Ingle Mingle Heartthrob’ a moniker given to him because of his toothy smile which only added to his adorable persona.
I should know because I was one of those starstruck teenage fans.

Actually there was a whole posse of us and we all lived in Delhi. Cinema was our religion and Odeon, Plaza and Regal Cinemas were our second homes. A movie every week was mandatory and some weekends we even caught  a morning show and an evening show. Tickets were booked in advance for every new movie that opened and the anticipation built over the entire week of school and homework.

Shashi Kapoor in ‘Jab Jab Phool Khile’

Our other passion was writing fan letters to the reigning stars. Our favorite was Shashi Kapoor and surprisingly, he would always respond. He had impeccable manners and he was always warm and kind.

I wrote to Shashi and was overjoyed when he replied. It was not a form letter or one written by a secretary – but a lovely friendly letter written in a strong handwriting in black ink on white stationary.  It was the most exciting thing to get back from school and find a letter waiting on the mantelpiece! One letter led to another until I had at least four or five of them. My close buddy also corresponded with Shashi and, always friendly and non-assuming, he would always reply. The two of us, along with an older sister and a younger sister, decided to form a Shashi Kapoor Fan Club. Like bold, crazy fans we even went around Connaught Place once, inviting women shoppers to join our club.  I think we were quite unconventional for that time and followed our own drummer.

When we heard Shashi Kapoor was coming to Delhi to shoot for that first Merchant-Ivory film ‘The Householder’ we swung into action. We created banners and posters – I recall we had even stuck a Japanese paper fan on to the large banner which read ‘Shashi Kapoor Fan Club’. As we got close to the house on Prithviraj Road where Ismail Merchant and James Ivory were shooting the movie, we got out of our  car and walked down the road holding aloft our banners, with a few more friends joining us.  Cars,  phut-phuts and cycles whizzed by and people wondered what we were up to. The only fans most people at that time knew about were electric fans!

Shashi Kapoor & Leela Naidu in ‘The Househholder’

Shashi Kapoor and Leela Naidu in The Householder

Shashi Kapoor and Leela Naidu in The Householder

 

 

Shashi met us at the gates, clad in the white kurta pajama and black bandhgala jacket which was his attire in this movie about a young teacher, and yes, the wonderful famous smile lit up the day for us, more than the hot, hot Delhi sun! We had taken a bouquet of flowers for Jennifer, his wife and she accepted them smilingly. We stayed there for a while chatting with them before he had to go back to shooting. I recall being quite tongue-tied and just happy to see his face.  This was before I become a journalist else I would have had my little tape-recorder out and an entre to see the shooting!

Looking back, I marvel at how innocent we all were – we were just so thrilled to see our stars and did not feel any greed to have pictures taken with them. This was before the Me Me Era, the age of entitlement where fans feel it’s their birth-right to bombard the stars to pose with them.  This was also before the age of social media, and there was no hunger for selfies since cell phones didn’t exist!

It was all quite charming and old-fashioned. We still wrote letters on writing paper with a fountain pen and treated our correspondence like jewels. In fact I used to keep all my letters from the stars and my autograph book in a leather jewelry lock box given to me by my father who was a jeweler.

That was the only time I actually met Shashi Kapoor, though we knew everything about his life, his family and his movies.  The little Shashi Kapoor Fan Club kept seeing him on the big screen in darkened auditoriums and any film with Shashi meant we just had to see it.

Shashi Kapoor – Family Pictures

And then we all grew up and went out of the darkened cinema halls into the big world. In the 70’s I got married and moved to Hong Kong, Zaire in Africa and finally America. It was goodbye to Shashi on the big screen and now I caught him mostly on videos when and where I could find them, in foreign lands. Indian movies were not that known and there would only be a rare screening at a theater.  We were able to get our hands on masala movies on video in Hong Kong and in Kinshasa as there were some Indian families there and also Ismailis from Canada and Kenya.  Stars like Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna helped us to make new friends in new countries as we all shared a love for Hindi films and music.

When I arrived in New York in the 80’s there were a few theaters which showed Bollywood movies and a growing sub-continental population with a hunger for these films.  In New York I was introduced to Shashi Kapoor’s international films through the Merchant-Ivory films and actually got to know Ismail Merchant and interview him several times. I recall going to the premiere of ‘In Custody’ in which Shashi Had a very different role.  And now just recently it all came full-circle in New York when I  watched his second movie made with Merchant-Ivory – Shakespeare Wallah’. His co-star Madhur Jaffrey was there to recount the tales of the production. It would have been wonderful to have Shashi there too but he was in his 70’s and ailing.

My friend Aseem Chhabra is the author of ‘Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star in which he talks about this superstar’s most important contributions. This detailed, indepth book should be required reading for anyone who wants to know everything about Shashi, from his life growing up in the famous Kapoor family to his early films; his love story with Jennifer Kendal which continued after he lost her to cancer; the legacy he created with her in the theater arts;  the films in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and his growth as a producer and maker of quality films. For diehard fans there’s even the complete list of films through the decades, including his international films. And many readers will be surprised to learn that his very first appearance was as a child actor in his big brother Raj Kapoor’s film Awaara (1951) which starred Raj Kapoor, Nargis and his father Prithviraj Kapoor.

Shashi Kapoor & Madhur Jaffrey in Shakespearewallah

Shashi Kapoor & Madhur Jaffrey in Shakespearewallah

 

Shashi has played romantic heroes and sometimes cads – but for me, he will always be the young, vulnerable struggler who wears his heart on his sleeve – be it Prem in ‘The Householder’, or Raja, the simple boatman in ‘Jab Jab Phool Khile’. He was always the man with his moral compass intact, no matter what the circumstances were.

The dimpled romantic with his idealistic eyes and joyful smile brings back the magic of my childhood and teen years, when life was simple, sweet and uncomplicated,  when the biggest dilemma in life was which movie to go to and where to eat ‘chaat’ afterwards. Life was comfortable but often routine and boring and there were no foreign trips, exciting getaways or high dramas. It was all about school and studies and a few months up in the hills of Mussoorie to escape the heat of summer.  Cinema thus became the magic ticket to a wonderland of excitement and beautiful people – and Shashi Kapoor was the icing on the cake.

We have all grown older and time is rushing by. Shashi Kapoor was 79 and in poor health when he died. He is now in a better place where he is forever young and glorious and always happy.

We, his fans, will miss him but the one consolation in this loss is the power of technology. Thanks to it, Shashi Kapoor will always be timeless. At the click of a button, he’s there on the screen – always young, always handsome and always humming a romantic ditty.

For fans like me, he will always be the icing on the cake…

Farewell to Shashi Kapoor…

Related Article:
Shakespearewallah Comes to New York

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About Author

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. [email protected] & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

13 Comments

  1. Deepak Sethi via Facebook

    Great hero, a loving husband and a gentleman. I have attended plays with my father at Royal Opera House in Bombay and met all of Prithvi children there. Shashi also was a member of Shivaji Park Swim Club that I went too. And about 4 yrs ago was seeing a play at Prithvi Theater – which I visit every time I am in Bombay – I turned around and there was Shashi in a wheelchair. Went up and greeted him. Was sad to see him in that state but then life is a journey and he had a good life . RIP Shashi!

  2. Lavina, what a great article and tribute to Shashi Kapoor. You took us down memory lane in New Delhi watching films and all those movie halls. Shashi Kapoor made his own mark in the Film industry and we all enjoyed his movies. RIP Shashi Kapoor.

  3. Suman Gollamudi Nanduru via Facebook on

    Suman Gollamudi Nanduru via Facebook

    Such sweet memories! Thanks for sharing

  4. Narender G Reddy via Facebook on

    Narender G Reddy via Facebook

    Shashi Kapoor was one of my all time favorite actors. He was an around actor with out any ego. He could make you smile with his childish antics as well as he could make you cry with his delivery of emotional dialogues in movies like Deewar. May his soul RIP.

  5. Hamel Vyas via Facebook on

    Hamel Vyas via Facebook
    Wow Lavina! I enjoyed reading this. He was extremely talented and I️ have great memories watching his movies on VHS back in the day with my parents growing up!

  6. Nikki Chawla via Facebook on

    Nikki Chawla via Facebook

    He was truly one of a kind. My parents told me a lot about his life.

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