Shashi Kapoor was certainly one of most watchable Bollywood actors of his times- pure grace and handsome to the core. Personally I had one great memory of this star, one of the lifetime, which I never had with anybody else. It was of watching him on the sets of a film. His passing away yesterday took me back to that incident four decades back.
It was summer of 1977 and I was in Kashmir with the family, my first trip to the paradise. I was quite young that time. Forty years have passed since than but I still remember it very well. We stayed in Srinagar, courtesy my uncle who was the commanding officer of the Army unit at that time. We had gone to Sonmarg, Khilanmarg and Pahalgam. Those were peaceful times in the valley. And it was during one of these excursions that we had a chance encounter with shooting of the Hindi feature film ‘Atithee’ (अतिथि). Film’s script or storyline had nothing to do with Kashmir, but as it was a trend during those days to shoot at exotic locations, hence Kashmir used to get fair chance of few shots in every other film. So, there was this scene being shot in the film.
Scene was between Shashi Kapoor and Shabana Azmi, the lead pair of the film. Being guest of the Commanding Officer of the Srinagar, we got the chance to watch the shoot closely. Actually this particular incident was so itched in my memory that I always remembered that particular dialogue which was being filmed- Shabana’s character says to the Shashi Kapoor’s character, “जब से मैंने फ्रॉक छोड़कर साड़ी पहनना शुरू किया है, तब से हर आदमी मुझसे अकेले में ही मिलना चाहता है” (..ever since I have stopped wearing a frock and started wearing sarees, every man wants to meet me in alone). It was all retakes and retakes for those couple of dialogues between these two. There were so many retakes that I forgot the count even. However fantastic a dialogue might seem on the screen, watching so many retakes on a shoot is rather irritating. But than, a director needs a perfect shot. It was a chance close encounter, first one with a star of his calibre… encounters that we cared least about when I entered into mainstream journalism, more than a decade later after that event.
Film ‘Atithee’ released in July 1978 in theatres, but I got to see it more than a decade later when it was telecasted on Doordarshan. I was so anxious to watch that particular scene on the screen and was really quite happy after that. Film wasn’t that big commercial hit as was his other films around the same time. Actually 1978 was one of the most extraordinary year of Shashi Kapoor’s career because his as many as 12 films were released that year, most in a calendar year in his entire career including much acclaimed Satyam Shivam Sundaram and Trishul.
Shashi Kapoor was so different in that movie (Atithee) than his usual self- in somewhat pencil moustache and a different hairstyle. That’s what I always loved about Shashi Kapoor, although being a romantic, handsome mainstream hero, he dared to be different.
He crossed boundaries like none of his contemporary greats tried to do. For all his superhit films, Shashi Kapoor’s bigger contribution is perhaps the way he gave life to Prithvi Theatre; the way he produced films like 36 Chowringhee Lane, Junoon and Utsav, and certainly the way he chose to act in films like Muhafiz, New Delhi Times, Siddhartha and the Shakespeare Wallah. He was also one of the earliest mainstream top stars to act in a TV mini series- Kissa Kathmandu Ka in 1986, where he played the character of popular Bengali fictional detective Feluda.
He was undoubtedly one of the first international stars of Hindi cinema… and indeed my first introduction to the world of cinema, as I don’t remember even seeing any film before that incident. Surprising!!!