Here is a gem from Simi Garewal, explaining how Shashi Kapoor taught her the mechanics of a kiss, and put her at ease during their sex scenes, while shooting Conrad Rooks' Siddhartha, in Aseem Chhabra's wonderful book, Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star. "I can't tell you how nervous I was before these (nude) scenes," Simi says.
But Shashi Kapoor told her, 'Don't be shy, Simi. You are beautiful,' and helped her loosen up. "Shashi explained to me how one should keep the angle of one's face for a screen kiss… 'Limited pressure, so it doesn't distort the face.'"
Aseem Chhabra's Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star
The book by Chhabra — a New York-based journalist and Festival Director of the New York Indian Film Festival — is full of nuggets like this. Well researched and written, you would not immediately realise that he has not met Shashi Kapoor for the book. By the time the book was planned, Mr Kapoor, once a devastatingly good looking star, was struggling dementia. But the skill of both the writer and editor Dharini Bhaskar are evident, as the book flows seamlessly, with quotes from myriad sources, including books, interviews with film industrywallahs and journalists.
Stylishly designed, with a foreword by Karan Johar and superb photographs, it is a handsome volume published by Rupa (R395, hardcover). I always feel admiration with a twinge of envy when fellow journalists become authors: although I have written for and edited 14 books, I have not yet got round to writing one of my own, and hope to redeem that soon. Disclaimer: I got to know Chhabra as a friend while we covered film festivals together, particularly the Berlin and Toronto film festivals.
The book tackles various aspects of Shashi Kapoor's life — how he dropped out of school at the age of 15 to join his father Prithviraj Kapoor's Prithvi Theatres full time, became a popular star whom co-stars and fans alike swooned over in romantic films like Jab Jab Phool Khile, and later as the moral hero of films like Deewaar; how he switched effortlessly from Bollywood's masala offerings to suave roles in international film productions; how he produced many arthouse films despite running into debt, and came a full circle by creating Prithvi Theatre in Juhu, that continues to fuel theatre creativity.
Chhabra writes of how easily Kapoor transitioned from Bollywood masala movies: "In 1982, he acted in the hit comedy Namak Halaal with Amitabh Bachchan. The next year, Shashi appeared in James Ivory's critically acclaimed Heat and Dust, which was in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Earlier, in 1978, he produced and played the lead in the National Award-winning Junoon. Months later, he appeared in Subhash Ghai's Gautam Govinda."
Mr Kapoor's international films include Merchant-Ivory's The Householder, Shakespeare Wallah, Bombay Talkie and In Custody. What stays with you is Kapoor as an artist, who gave back to the industry that nurtured him, even if it meant incurring losses. Also, he always treated everyone on the set equally. Pamela Chopra, wife of the late Yash Chopra, recalls in the book, "He would shake hands with (technicians) and say, 'Mera naam Shashi Kapoor hai', and have tea in their company." Today's actors can take cues from his life, as he sits at Prithvi Theatre, under that great peepal tree with the fluttering leaves, silently giving joy — he's a little bit like the tree himself.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.