I know it seems like I’ve done way too many Shashi posts, but he is the only news right now, the biggest news right now. Because in the Hindi film fraternity, a death like this has an impact beyond just grief, there is a process to it that dominates everything for a few days.
There is a certain flow to major deaths in Indian film. First the news spreads. Then every current figure in the film world must post a tribute on twitter or elsewhere, again it would be insulting not to. Then every significant person in the dead person’s professional life must issue a statement, it would be insulting not to.
The more significant people, the ones with the personal connections, they are slower to respond. You will see them arriving at the funeral, looking sincerely devastated, or perhaps not even there as they are too upset to face the cameras. And finally there will be beautiful carefully written eulogies released.
It follows a pattern less like the death of a co-worker and more like a family dealing with a loss. The distant relatives, they feel the need to send in a sympathy card, or flowers, just to show respect. The ones who are a little closer, they may write a heartfelt note, and show up for the wake in person. And of course the closest relatives, they are the ones least heard from, alone in their grief until the first few days have passed.
So, how did this play out for Shashi? One of the first people to tweet a statement was Hrithik Roshan. Because he was less effected. Sure, Hrithik knew Shashi, not just as a fellow actor but even before that, from growing up around film sets. But they had no particularly close connection, never co-starred, no family connections. As a leading member of the film family, Hrithik would have to make a statement, but no need for something longer or more personal:
There were a lot of people like Hrithik. May or may not have met Shashi in person, but felt a connection to him as a fellow film person, and aware that he deserved respect. And for a lot of them, “Shashi Uncle” would have been a vague background presence their whole lives. Not close, but someone they saw at a party when they were 5, maybe came to their house for dinner and to discuss a script when they were 8, congratulated them on their debut when they were a teenager, and so on. For instance, Kajol. Who wrote a lovely message, and also probably knew Shashi since she was 3 years old and he was co-starring with her mother in Juari.
Or Arjun Kapoor, who would have known him from film fraternity gatherings his entire life, and as a (very distant) relation who might occasionally be seen at family weddings and other major events.
Neal Nitin Mukesh, he would be another one. At first I found it a little tacky that this half-forgotten has-been star would try to insert himself in the conversation. But then I remembered that the “Mukesh” in his name stands for his grandfather Mukesh, one of the great playback singers of the golden era, who worked frequently with Shashi. As did his father, fellow great playback singer Nitin Mukesh. Shashi would have been someone in and out of their house, and in and out of their family stories, for most of Neal’s childhood.
Of course there are a few young actors who read more like “well, I know I have to say something, but it doesn’t really mean anything to me and I don’t have much to say”. Like Bhumi Pednakar, who is an outsider in the film fraternity, didn’t grow up with these people. And is new to acting, has worked with many of them and formed her own connections yet.
Or Taapsee Pannu, who has a mostly southern career so far, minimal connections to the Hindi industry. And was refershingly honest in her post.
The one I find really interesting is the Bhatt family. First Alia, who is so very young, she would only have known Shashi from his films and perhaps as that old man who she had met a few times at parties, and from stories from her parents. I believe in the sincerity of her feelings, but it is clearly a less personal loss for her.
And then Alia’s mother, Soni Razdan, who would have known Shashi as a friend, a contemporary who she socialized with.
And then finally Mahesh. Who would have known Shashi for decades as they aged together from happy young men with young families to old men with children who had moved on, who shared heartbreaks and life changes together. They weren’t necessarily best friends, but there is a comradery when you have shared that much for so long.
Mahesh wasn’t the only one who felt a more personal sense of loss. Shabana Azmi’s tweet is heartbreaking in it’s simplicity, and she followed it up with a more personal statement later.
It must have been so strange for Shabanaji, she was in Australia for an Awards show, cut off from the mass of grief that was happening in India. Anupam was at the same show, I wonder if they found a quiet corner and cried together for a bit at some point.
Anil Kapoor also felt the need for something a little more than a tweet. While to his nephew Arjun, Shashi was a nice old man to be respected, for Anil, he was a friend and a mentor and a person in his life and his heart.
And finally Aamir Khan. Who was in an odd position, a leader of the film industry who must make a statement as part of his “responsibilities”, but someone in real life who only had the slightest connection to Shashi. The natural thing would be to make an appearance at the funeral, but he is filming and couldn’t. A statement in the press would seem too much, but a simple tweet would be too little. So he went for a heartfelt message released promptly through twitter.
Once the tweets are over, the longer tributes start coming out, coworkers and friends giving statements or posting comments. All of them were consistent in their message, Shashi was the greatest gentleman they ever worked with. And at the same time, a consummate professional who demanded the most from his co-stars. Here is Raakhee talking about him:
I was petrified of working with him, just as much as I was petrified of working with Pran or K.N. Singh. No, seriously. I was in awe of Shashi Kapoor. Whatever I’ve learnt about self-discipline and punctuality came from him only. During our first film Sharmilee, he would reach the location in Malad for a 7 am shift much before me although I stayed much closer to Malad. The director Sameer Ganguly was very soft-spoken. So Shashiji did all the dada-giri during shooting. One day he came to me and warned me, ‘Raakhee, if you don’t reach at 7 am your bags would be packed and you’d be sent back to Bengal.’ I got so scared that I came on time after that. I’d reach the location even before the sweepers.
I’ve never met a more cultured man. If we were on the airport he would pick up the vanity case and other luggage of any lady he came across. If there was a crowd at a shooting he would clear it for me to feel comfortable. These qualities I’ve never encountered in any of my heroes.
Hema Malini and her memories:
I was travelling when Shashi Kapoor passed away. Suddenly I land and I am bombarded by a million messages and calls asking me about my thoughts on his passing away. Arrey baba, that was so long ago. Give me time to collect my thoughts. Shashiji and I didn’t do that many films together. I did Abhinetri with him when I had just started my career. We had a wonderful time shooting for that film. I remember the song ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa… Gaa Re Mere Sang Mere Saathiya’ where my character had to teach Shashiji to sing and dance….It was hilarious. Because he was far more experienced than me. The interesting thing was I did my debut film (Sapnon Ka Saudagar) with Shashiji’s brother Raj Kapoor Saab and now there I was, working with Shashiji. Later I also did a film, Andaz, with Shammi Kapoorji. So I’ve worked with all three brothers who were very different from one another.
Shashiji was very urbane sophisticated and westernized. During Abhinetri he put me at ease with his pranks and jokes. He was always full of fun and yet never discourteous. I never felt I was working with an established actor. We went on to do Naach Uthe Sansarand Jahan Pyar Miley with Shashiji. Though they were good films none of these clicked. And producers were reluctant to cast us together, until Trishul where Yash Chopraji cast us together again. We met with the same warmth even after so many years. Shashiji was a class apart. He knew how to treat a lady. When I worked with him I was sure of being comfortable on the sets. I wish I had done more films with him.
Oh my God! Is Shashiji really gone? I did some of my most enjoyable and unforgettable films with him. But before that, I remember when I was studying at the St Joseph’s Convent. Shashiji came with his wife to perform a play in our school. All of us schoolgirls were in a swoon. He was devastatingly handsome. Later he lived down the same road as me. And we’d bump into one another. I think the first film that we worked on together was Roti Kapada Aur Makaan. It was a very important film for me. And Shashiji was a terrific co-star in what was a very complex role for me with shades of grey. The film was a big hit. But the one that we had most fun with was Chori Mera Kaam a few years later. It was a comedy and we improvised like crazy almost every scene was filled with dialogues that we thought up on the spot. Shashiji was a veteran of comic timing. I was new to comedy. But because he was so supportive I could pull it off. That was what defined Shashiji’s attitude: a sense of ongoing generosity towards his co-stars.
After Chori Mera Kaam we did what was perhaps our most talked-about film, I am talking about Raj Kapoor’s Satyam Shivum Sunderam. My God! What an uproar that film created. Shooting the film was not easy. I remember Raj Saab kept calling Shashiji a ‘taxi’. He meant the number of films that Shashiji was doing at that time. Rajji very firmly told Shashiji he didn’t want the ‘taxi’. He wanted Shashiji’s full attention. Both of us had to be fully focused on this one film. Every gesture every nuance every movement of Shashiji and I were done by Raaj Saab. He would tell us where to stand, how to walk, how to sit ….everything. We were mere puppets. The approach to our roles in Satyam Shivum Sunderam was quite the opposite to what we did in Chori Mere Kaam. I remember Shashiji was shy about taking off his shirt under the waterfall in Satyam Shivum Sunderam when we were shooting the song ‘Yashomati Maiya’. He didn’t think he had the physique to pull it off. I did several other films with Shashiji like Deewangee and Heeralal Pannalal. It was always fun to shoot with him. He was gracious and warm, courteous and gentlemanly. I last met him at the Prithvi Theatres when he was honoured for receiving the Dada Phalke award. Though he was unwell I could see the look of warm recognition in his eyes. He held my hand warmly and I knew he remembered all the wonderful times we had shared while shooting.
What a lovely thoughtful courteous and kind person. Shashi Kapoor was a thorough gentleman. Not just me, he looked after all his heroines so beautifully. I think I did four films with him. Out of these, two films Nasir Husain’s Pyar Ka Mausam and Mohan Sehgal’s Kanyadan are remembered to this day…I remember during the shooting of Kanyadan in Kulu, I strayed into the wilderness with some of the crew. Shashiji came looking for us. He was so upset that we had wandered away. ‘Anything could’ve happened because there are bears roaming in the area,’ he said. I’ve seldom come across a more caring and chivalrous hero. I had the privilege of working with both Shammi and Shashi Kapoor. They both were unique, so different from one another. And they both had a great sense of rhythm.
I remember his absolutely out-of-this-world sense of rhythm in the song ‘Ni Sultana Re Pyar Ka Mausam Aaya’ ….Girls just swooned when Shashiji danced.
Shabana Azmi (I know it’s long, but it’s worth reading)
My mother Shaukat Kaifi speaks of Prithviji’s compassionate nature in almost hagiographic terms and Shashi was truly his father’s son. The number of people he helped financially and quietly, his concern for the wellbeing of those who worked with him, his generosity, were aspects of his personality he kept hidden from public view. In fact he could be rough and scathing even. He never said a kind word to me always ribbing me…but behind my back I would learn that he praised my work and would often say that he was proud of me. He taught me many things… How to avoid top light because it was so unflattering. I used to find it excruciating to face the harsh reflectors and in outdoor scenes my expression was inevitably the same… whether it was a romantic scene or emotional or comic… my eyes would be crinkle up… Like a strict teacher he would force me to face the reflectors till tears rolled down my cheeks. “Film Institute mein Gold medal toh mil gaya yeh nahi sikhaya ke aankhein khuli nahi rahin tto expression kaise dikhega?” he would holler. And finally I did get trained to face the reflectors.
During the shooting of Junoon he would scold me for listening to the Beatles between shots. “Why don’t you listen to Begum Akhtar instead? Shaukatji se kuch tto seekha hota!” My mother was known to get into her character hours before a performance and would surround herself with stimuli that would help her inhabit the world of the character she was playing. I would make a face and reluctantly switch off the Beatles to put on Begum Akhtar.. I never admitted to him that it did help…
I used to complain that he only scolded, bullied or made fun of me. But in a crisis, he was rock solid. In ’86 I had taken up the cause of slum dwellers in Colaba whose homes had been demolished to make way for an MLA hostel. We knocked on several doors, demanding alternate housing for them, before Anand Patwardhan and I, along with three slum dwellers, went on a hunger strike.
No actor had gone on a hunger strike before and our fraternity was confused about whether to express support for me. On the fifth day, my blood pressure started falling and my mother was worried. Shashi Kapoor turned up wanting to know our demands. He left soon after and went straight to the Chief Minister, Shankarrao Chavan, telling him that the film industry had always supported the government in a crisis and now it was the Government’s responsibility to reciprocate. The Chief Minister must not let the demands of one of its members go unheard. The CM summoned the Housing Minister who came back with Shashiji to the Colaba footpath where we were, conceding alternative land for the slum dwellers and urged us to end the hunger strike with a glass of juice.
I was on stage, about to thank Shashi Kapoor for negotiating the deal for us, when I saw him step away from the media glare, slip away into an alley and disappear…“I had nothing to do with it .. It’s their victory “He said firmly before driving away. The fact is that I don’t know how much longer we would have had to continue with the strike had Shashiji not intervened ..but he didn’t want any accolades and never spoke about it, ever. That’s the kind of person he was..
He came across as so decent, cultured and kind on screen because he was the same in real life. It’s not difficult to be courteous to people who are your social equals. But Shashi was good to everyone. On the sets he’d remember the names of every single individual from actors to spot boys. This was extremely gratifying to those sections of workers on the sets who were used to be ignored by stars. Shashi didn’t fraternize so liberally for effect. He was a genuinely generous man.”
There’s something else that threaded through these memories, his remarkable unusual devotion to his wife, and hers for him. In an industry where divorce is almost unheard of, and power couples are common, they were still something special, a bond that demanded acknowledgement. Here is Raakhee:
Of course he loved my cooking. Whenever the lunch dabba filled with green salad would go back home untouched his wife Jenniferji would call me to ask if her husband was shooting with me.
And he had the most amazing marriage. His wife Jennifer Kapoor was just the most perfect wife I had ever seen. She looked after her husband and after all of us when we were shooting together. I think Shashiji lost his will to look after himself after his wife passed away.
He had been ailing … somewhere he had let himself go after the passing away of his dear wife Jennifer …
And finally, what comes up in these memories, the difficulty of seeing him in recent years, how ill he was. That, to me, is the biggest testament to the depth of these bonds, it wasn’t just a matter of wanting to be photographed with him or burnish their own stardom with his name, it was a true love that made it truly hurt to see him so much a shadow of his former self. Raakhee:
The last time I met Shashiji was at a Ganpati festival in Pune. I didn’t want to see him the way he had become in his final years.
It was sad to see him suffer so much in his final years. He was on dialysis, just like his brother Shammiji before him. I had gone to see him in hospital a few years ago with my friends Waheeda Rehman and Nanda. The last time I met him was when he got the Dada Phalke Sahib award. He had become so frail. To see my hero who out-danced me in Pyar Ka Mausam on a wheelchair was heart-breaking. Shashi Kapoor was the last of my heroes. Now they are all gone.
I had visited him on occasion in Hospital during some of the times he had been hospitalised earlier … but I never went to see him again … I would never have … I never ever wanted to see this beautiful friend and ‘samdhi’ in the state I saw him in hospital…
…. and I did not today, when they informed me that he had gone …
When I last met him in the ICU in hospital I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him again. He was a pale shadow of his former self .. only the long lashes curled up and thick remained….
With the statements and tweets, we have the “real” visions as well, the faces of people who made the journey to the funeral. Shahrukh, who looks sad, but not as sad as at some of the funerals he attends. He is there to present a proper vision and do his duty in his place as one of the top 3 stars. But he isn’t visibly trying to hold back tears. Still conscious enough to assist a more affected mourner (I think that is Zoya Akhtar, who would have grown up with “Shashi Uncle”)
Then there’s Ranbir, who is holding an umbrella for Saif Ali Khan. Which is exactly what a grandnephew should do at his great uncle’s funeral. Help in the other relatives, host people, take responsibility and let the older more affected relatives grieve on their own. Also, I can’t help having visions of the “must always respect the sister’s husband” concept with the way he is taking care of Saif. Ranbir also looks sincerely wrecked by grief, real circles under his eyes.
This old photo has been making the rounds, and it seems like it caught such a lovely moment between them, a reminder that this family is 3 things, an important public symbol, an important leader in the film industry, and also just a family.
Speaking of looking sincerely wrecked, it kind of feels like Sanjay and Anil here are holding each other up, both of them equally devastated. Anil is the one that stands out for me, Sanjay has such a sad life that he often looks like this in public photos. But Anil, he is always so energetic and smiley and happy! And for once he looks like the 50 year old man he is in reality.
And here’s the “out of town” relatives. The Jain boys, who were raised in Delhi outside of the family film circle in Bombay. A sign of how the ties of film can sometimes be stronger than the ties of blood. Frankly the Jain boys look a heck of a lot upset by the death of their uncle than Anil and Sanjay looked by the death of their friend and fellow actor.
Salman has so far not made a statement, but he doesn’t need to, his father went to the funeral in order to mourn an old friend, that is enough of a statement for the Khan family and their emotions at this loss. Salman can make a statement later.
As you would expect, Shashi’s own sons are the ones must affected, Kunal and Karan here barely holding together.
Similarly upset, their cousins Randhir and Rishi. Randhir must be feeling quite a bit of pressure. As the oldest son of the oldest son, it is up to him now to keep up the family, the inheritor of the head of the family position. Rishi took a last minute flight in from Delhi to make it in time for the funeral, there as second in command to Randhir.
And then there’s Amitabh and Abhishek. I kind of wonder if Abhishek is there as literal support. Amitabh looks upset enough that there might be a risk of him falling over, or injuring himself. His statement on Shashi was a bit incomprehensible too, felt more like snatches of thoughts that couldn’t quite put themselves together yet.
Of course Amitabh is always the grand finale to any event, the biggest thing that could happen. But there is one more final note to these occasions of public mourning. Amul Butter, the Bombay dairy company that is famous for their film based ads, always does a tribute. They did one for Raj Kapoor, the oldest brother:
And for Shammi Kapoor, the funloving middle one:
And now for Shashi, the baby of the family: