This was a hard one! I was torn between Shashiji and Vinod Sir until the last minute. But I think Shashi edges Vinod out by a hair. And, I am sorry, but Om Puri didn’t even make it to consideration for me. (this doesn’t mean voting is closed! You can put your own pick in the comments on this post here)
Om Puri (so far) has been leading in the comments. But the thing about Om is, he didn’t leave much of a legacy. A legacy of great performances, certainly. But he didn’t have the Most Famous TV Ad of All Time, or nurture the parallel cinema scene into being. And he also didn’t leave that much of a personal gap. People worked with him and respected him, but there wasn’t that wrenching personal grief that we saw with the others.
(Most Famous TV Ad Ever)
I get to pick the death I want to define 2017 however I want of course, just as you can pick however you want (and post your choice in a comment here!) and what I decided to look for most of all is a death that inspired people to reflect and try to be better and value what they have. And I don’t see that as much with Om Puri, or Vinod Khanna, or anyone else, as I do with Shashiji.
After Shashi’s death, a common theme was people talking about his virtues, what they most appreciated about him and, by inference, will miss most. And we can also infer, what they most wished they themselves, or others they knew, possessed. His supportive passionate but always positive presence on film sets, his unshakable gentlemanliness, his ability to move between the art world and the mainstream and give equal passion to both, and most of all his remarkable devotion to his wife.
What might Shashi inspire in others as they look at what his life, and death, meant? He might inspire stars to be more aggressive and dedicated in mentoring their co-stars. They might inspire the men of the film industry to remember what it means to be a gentleman, to always support and protect the women around them. He might inspire directors, writers, producers, and actors to dedicate themselves to pursuing both artistic achievement and commercial success, to trying to find a balance between the two. And of course, talking of Shashi might inspire every husband to go home and tell his wife he loves her.
I look at death as a beginning, not an end. Not in a religious sense (or a Vampire sense), but because every death is an opportunity for change in those remaining. There are all the people who worked with Shashi, his friends and fellow artists, who are inspired to greater heights by reflecting on all he accomplished. There is the greater world, reminded of a great soul they have forgotten about and what all he had done and inspired to try to do something similar. Heck, there’s me! Finally watching Junoon because of Shashi’s death!
And there’s also the Kapoor family. However you might feel about it, the Kapoor family is the Royal Family of Hindi film. And Shashi was their head. The last remaining member of the second generation, Prithviraj’s son and Raj Kapoor’s baby brother. Him being gone means the family is officially in the hands of the next generation. It’s been unofficially the case for a while, but now it is suddenly real. Shashi’s children will inherit the Prithvi theater, and Raj’s will inherit RK Studios, and from now on when there is a major film event, it will be Randhir Kapoor, Raj’s oldest son, who represents the family. Not Shashi.
It’s a reminder of the change that is going to happen in all our families eventually. That last remaining tie with the oldest generation will snap, and a new generation will suddenly become the oldest. Rishi and Randhir, the carefree playboys of the 1970s, that is now the oldest generation of Kapoors. We have to readjust our thinking, young people of the 70s are now the “elders”, young people of the 90s are now the hardworking solid middle generation, and it is the “millennial” generation that are the new promising young professionals.
(These are now the respected elders)
And also, finally, Shashi was in Deewar. And Kabhi Kabhi. And Awara. And Shakespeare Wallah. And Junoon. And Bombay Talkies. Om Puri, Vinod Khanna, whoever else I have forgotten, they all have great filmographies. But they can’t compete with that list.