Rahul da Cunha: RIP Shashi Uncle

Updated: 10 December, 2017 08:20 IST | Rahul Da Cunha | Mumbai

So, the genial Shashi Kapoor passed away - obviously, my initial reaction was 'is this 'fake news'? I mean, Dilip Kumar has 'died' numerous times

Rahul da CunhaSo, the genial Shashi Kapoor passed away - obviously, my initial reaction was 'is this 'fake news'? I mean, Dilip Kumar has 'died' numerous times. Even Shashiji was 'killed' off a couple of years ago, till his poor son Kunal had to reassure everyone that 'Dad was alive and well!" Sadly, this time it was real. Our first true cross-over actor had indeed crossed over to the next life. But, as usual even in their tributes, modern media managed its share of bloopers. BBC's was justified, perhaps in their ignorance. They announced his death with a video clip of an Amitabh Bachchan–Rishi Kapoor film. Chalo, you could say, foreign channel hai, perhaps they don't know better. Plus at least it's within the family. (Though a young Rishi looks nothing like a young Shashi.)

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

But, the crowning glory was an Indian TV channel, one of 200, eager to BREAK the news of the actor's death - ran a photograph of Shashi Kapoor's face while the blurb read - REMEMBERING SHASHI THAROOR. Kapoorsaab would've laughed and Tharoorji saw the lighter side, reassuring everyone on Twitter that he was indeed alive. (Other politicians, who I don't wish to name, would've had the offices of the TV channel destroyed for this faux pas.) So, obviously in my twisted mind, I immediately saw a film scene, starring the two Shashis as long lost brothers, confronting each other under a bridge in the night.

The following dialogue transpires between the two - Shashi Tharoor: Mere paas politics hai, mere paas Literary Festivals hai, mere paas Thiruvanthapuram hai, Congress hai, Rahul hai, Sonia hai, tumhare paas kya hai? Shashi Kapoor: Mere paas Prithvi Theatre hai. Prithvi Theatre. That beautiful little black box, that compact 200-seater, in Juhu. Home to Mumbai's experimental theatre movement. Home to hundreds of struggling actors. An early sanctuary for many performers, who have graced both parallel, indie and mainstream cinema. To all of us who've performed on that wooden half hexagonal sized stage, there was a certain nervous moment - the third bell would ring, signalling that the show was about to start, and Shashi Uncle, even till quite recently, would be helped to his special chair in the auditorium.

He was candid in his critiques, never holding back his opinions. The year was 2004, we'd just opened a play of mine called Pune Highway. Set in a seedy motel room, just off the Bombay-Pune Expressway, it was the story of three young Mumbaikars caught in a crisis. (You can imagine, dear reader, the colourful language that I'd added to the writing). Post the show, the manager whispered to me, 'Shashiji, would like to have a word with you." I met the great man in the famous Prithvi cafe. 'Rahul," he said, a small smile dancing on his lips, "You have used some 'choice words' in your play, huh?"

"Yes Shashi Uncle, that's how young people talk these days." "I must say, your style of playwriting is very different from Girish Karnad. Karo karo." Goodbye, Shakespearewallah. Goodbye, Householder. Goodbye, Siddhartha. Goodbye, sir. Your theatre will always be lit. Your stage will never be dark.

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62@gmail.com

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First Published: 10 December, 2017 06:14 IST

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