The God of Film Releases has a wicked and dark sense of humour. Kenneth Brannagh’s Cinderella, which introduces us to a new Prince Charming, could have released on any Friday, but it’s releasing this week, just days after Shashi Kapoor’s birthday. You can almost hear cackling, evil laughter in the background because how better to make a girl rue the 21st century than by showing her what her generation is too late for: a man who was the living embodiment of Prince Charming, Shashi Kapoor.
Born in Calcutta — because that’s how things used to roll back in the early 20th century. Good things came from the Paris of the East. Now it can boast of Mamata Banerjee, which goes to show just how bad things have got for women at the very least — Shashi was one of the Kapoor trinity that kept Indian pulses fluttering for a good 40-odd years. First, there was Raj Kapoor, who really knew how to do that smouldering gaze thing (just Google “Raj Kapoor Nargis” if you want a reminder). Then there was Shammi Kapoor, who had the face of a Greek god and a flamboyance that made you forget that he had the body of a Punjabi dude who loves food and doesn’t exercise much. And then, there was Shashi Kapoor.
Shammi and Shashi fans argue about who was better looking, but that’s the sort of luxury you indulge in when you have two heart-stoppingly attractive men in the industry. We now have zer— never mind. Let’s not be buzzkills. The point is, while both brothers were very easy on the eye, it was Shashi Kapoor who really brought the romance home. It’s one of life’s great ironies that in his time, Kapoor was largely underrated because he was considered too much of a pretty face in a time that was looking for rougher heroes, like Amitabh Bachchan who buried his posh pedigree under sweat, sideburns and bad dance moves to play working class heroes. Perhaps it was an age that wanted new stars that spoke of middle class India, rather than someone from a dynasty, like Kapoor. Still, during this song from Kabhie Kabhie, a lot of people must have thought Rakhee’s insane to be thinking of Bachchan when Kapoor is nuzzling her neck.
Literally fair and handsome, Kapoor had no chance of looking like the guy-next-door. Not with those eyes or that smile.
Unless you were at Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre, that is. Then he just might be the guy next to you. For years, Kapoor has been a regular at the theatre his father had started and which his children have valiantly run in face of financial despair. Even when confined to a wheelchair, Kapoor would come to Prithvi and either watch a play or enjoy the crowd milling around outside the hall. There are people who have come to Prithvi only to say hello to Kapoor and they’ve found him accessible, polite and charming. He is, as one fan put it, “the complete package of looks and good manners, complete with the bonus of having a brain”.
Over the course of his career, Kapoor acted in 160 films, give or take the few he did as a child artiste (usually Kapoor as a boy played the kiddie version of his elder brother Raj on screen). A lot of these films were critically-acclaimed, like Jab Jab Phool Khile, Kalyug, Junoon and Muhafiz. Audiences loved him because aside from his acting skills and good looks, he had something that has practically disappeared from Bollywood since Kapoor’s time: chemistry with a co-star.
Off screen, Kapoor was a one-woman man and his heart belonged to actress Jennifer Kendal, whom he’d met when he was just 18 years old. They got married two years later and they stayed together for more than 30 years, until cancer claimed Jennifer. Off screen, Kapoor spun the romantic web with a number of actresses and gave generations of women an ideal Prince Charming. With Nanda, Rakhee and Sharmila Tagore, Kapoor had a series of hit films, all of which had a love story that made us sigh wistfully, irrespective of gender.
He didn’t have a six-pack, he didn’t have a stylist and yes, his characters did questionable things in his movies from time to time, but Kapoor was, and remains, our Prince Charming. Happy Birthday, Shashi Kapoor. Thank you for the fairy tales.