I don’t recall when exactly I became aware of Shashi Kapoor, but like all lingering encounters, I remember the frisson I felt upon witnessing him as the rakish Javed Khan. So smitten was I that in my later feverish imagining, I cast myself as Ruth (played by Nafisa Ali) who is the object of Javed’s desire.
Now that I google the film, I realize it released in 1978, which means I fell for Shashi Kapoor at the tender age of ten. What can I say! I’m sure there are others who were younger when they became fans of the Kapoor with the sexiest smile and risqué head turn.
I watched Shashi Kapoor in many films and somehow, he managed to leave an impression, always: a swinging jiving lover who will sprint his beloved away from under the nose of sasurji (Le jayenge, le jayenge…); the soulful reflective man (Ghungroo ki tarah …); the man whose ardor will melt ice even (Tera much se hai pehle ka nata koi…). There is of course the perennial hit dialogue: Mere paas ma hai.
But what stuck out for me was the man in Kabhi Kabhi who will say in support of his wife, who he realizes loved another man before marriage, that a woman leaves behind everything when she marries and yet the husband will cast doubts upon her. It was dialogues such as these, which gave voice to an opinion rarely heard in Hindi films, which made me love him more. And he clinched it for me on the memory board when he essayed the aging poet Nur in ‘In Custody’ (based on Anita Desai’s brilliant namesake novel.) This was in 1993, Shashi Kapoor was corpulent, I had grown up, and watching the film was such a bittersweet feeling for here was an actor portraying so beautifully a legend who has wasted away that the line between acting and reality blurred.
At the end of ‘In Custody,’ Kapoor’s voice recites this couplet:
Jo ruke to koh-e-garan thay hum, jo chale to jaan se guzar gaye
raah-e-yaar hum nein kadam kadam, tujhe yaadgaar bana diya
Once I was steady as a mountain, but now as I walk I leave all behind
at every step on the road on which I walked, I built you a shrine
From the rake Javed Khan to the effete Nur, Shashi Kapoor traversed a long distance. The joy of watching him never diminished — dimples and fangs gave him a unique un-replicable charm, and a place in all our hearts. And in some cases, a shrine.