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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Shashi Kapoor gone? What a huge loss!

Shashi Kapoor gone? What a huge loss!

Nine years ago, the Pune International Film Festival honoured Shashi Kapoor with a Life-time Achievement Award. He had already suffered a stroke and could only mumble, yet his presence lit up the auditorium. I felt privileged to have contributed his profile to the official brochure of the festival, but a tear ran down my cheek as he was given the award. As the news of his passing away came in an hour ago, I felt deeply distraught. We had worked together in two films (Mr. Romeo and Koi Jeeta Koi Haara) and I had compèred a couple of shows where he was the Chief Guest. During a long break while we were shooting for Mr. Romeo, he took me to the ramshackle canteen of Filmistan Studios and narrated the story of Sidhhartha, the English film he was doing with Simi.

(Shashi on the extreme left, the author on the  extreme right)

There have been few gentlemen in the Mumbai film industry; he was one, for sure. And he had a memory that could only be equalled by say a Hrishikesh Mukherjee. He often asked me why did I not start an acting and broadcasting school of my own, instead of lecturing and conducting workshops all over Mumbai and Pune, and I, in turn, asked him why did he not continue making films as producer, never mind acting. He laughed and replied, “All my films were huge flops. Junoon barely brought back the investment. After shutting shop, I spent more than ten years acting in insignificant films to repay the creditors. Surely, I must be the worst producer in the world…and you want me to get back into production? Have a heart!” We laughed about it. Today, I am crying. He survived some ten years of serious illness and was almost 80 when he died. For Shashi Kapoor, the original boy-hero, 100 would have been early. So much more to remember, so much more to say. For the moment, let me just mourn.

Here is what I wrote for the PIFF brochure, nine years ago.

Actor-producer Shashi Kapoor (born Balbir Raj Kapoor) doesn’t act any more. He doesn’t produce films any more. But his contribution to Indian cinema has been immense and highly praiseworthy. One of the three Kapoor brothers, he belongs to what is popularly called the first family of Hindi filmdom. (The other two brothers being Raj, deceased, and Shamsher ‘Shammi’ Raj Kapoor, still active). Innocent, boy-next-door looks, a rare, sensitive screen persona and a desire to make off-beat, meaningful films, have been the essence of his personality. Born on 18th March 1938 in Kolkata, 70 year-old Shashi Kapoor spent fifty active years in filmdom and acted in over 200 films, before calling it a day, in 1998.

It was in Papa Prithviraj Kapoor’s Prithvi Theatres’ production of the classic Shakuntala that he made his stage debut, aged six. When big brother (Ranbir) Raj Kapoor turned director, he found him the ideal choice to play young Raj in Aag and Awara. Some thirty years later, Raj was to cast him in the lead, opposite Zeenat Aman, in Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Shashi, on his part, paid tribute to the memory of his late father ‘Papajee’, by building an amphitheatre auditorium, and naming it Prithvi Theatre, now managed by his daughter Sanjana, who, along with brothers Karan and Kunal, dabbled in acting, but gave it up soon.

Stage had already become a passion with teenager Shashi. Giving up academic studies, he joined Joseph Kendall’s touring drama troupe Shakespeareana, toured India, Pakistan and Malaysia, and married Kendall’s daughter, Jennifer, in 1958. Twenty years later, Jennifer was to become the moving spirit behind Prithvi Theatre and to play a lovable character in 36 Chowringhee Lane, which Shashi produced and Aparna Sen directed. In the early 60s, the adult Shashi bagged central roles in Dharamputra and Char Diwari, playing intense, emotional characters. In spite of some highly successful films like Jab Jab Phool Khile, Aamne Saamne and Hasina Maan Jayegi, he finally hit big time with films like Sharmeelee, Aa Gale Lag Jaa and Chor Machaye Shor.

Besides several solo hits, Shashi played one of the main roles in the multi-starrers and box-office bonanzas, Waqt, Deewar and Roti Kapda Aur Makaan. If Mafioso Amitabh Bachchan’s under-the-bridge dialogue in Deewar is one of the most memorable in film history, so is the role of his perfect foil, big brother Police Inspector, essayed by Shashi, “Meray paas maā hae.” The chemistry with Amitabh was so palpable that the two appeared together on screen with regularity, over almost two decades. Meanwhile, Shashi kept on producing films directed by creative geniuses like Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad and Govind Nihalani. Accepting the challenge of playing an aging Urdu poet, Shashi turned in a compelling performance in Mohafiz (In Custody). But the passing away of Jennifer in 1984, the recurrent box-office failure of his home productions and the lack of exciting acting offers finally led him to hang up his boots.

With Ismail Merchant and James Ivory’s Merchant-Ivory Productions, Shashi did a string of English films, beginning with The Householder. These inspired him to launch his own production company, Filmvalas, which championed the cause of different, yet aesthetically superior cinema. Junoon got the National Award for Best Film, but his only directorial effort, the Arabian Nights fantasy Ajooba, starring Amitabh Bachchan and nephew Rishi Kapoor, proved a non-starter.

Shashi was one of the first Indian stars to act in British and American productions, like Pretty Polly (A Matter of Innocence), Siddhartha and Sammie and Rosie Get Laid. Seen in the TV mini-series, Gulliver’s Travels, as the Rajah of Laputa, his last two film ventures were Jinnah, in which he was the narrator, and Side Streets, produced by old friend Ismail Merchant, set in New York. Awards have come in the shape of Best Actor (National Award for New Delhi Times), Special Jury Prize (National Award for Mohafiz) and Best Supporting Actor (Filmfare Award for Deewar), but more significant is the undeniable fact that Shashi Kapoor has forever been the darling of the Indian film industry.  

Selected filmography

1948: Aag

1950: Sangram

1951: Awara

1961: Char Diwari, Dharamputra

1962: Mehndi Lagi Mere Haath, Prem Patra

1963: The Householder

1964: Benazir

1965: Jab Jab Phool Khile, Shakespearewallah, Waqt

1966: Pyar Kiye Jaa

1967: Aamne Saamne, Pretty Polly

1968: Hasina Maan Jayegi, Kanya Daan

1969: Jahan Pyar Miley, Pyar Ka Mausam, Raja Saab

1970: Abhinetri, Bombay Talkie

1971: Sharmeelee

1972: Janwar Aur Insaan

1973: Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Mr. Romeo

1974: Chor Machaye Shor, Roti Kapda Aur Makaan

1975: Chori Mera Kaam, Deewar

1976: Aap Beati, Kabhi Kabhie, Koi Jeeta Koi Hara

1977: Doosra Aadmi, Imman Dharam

1978: Junoon, Phaansi, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Siddhartha, Trishul

1979: Gautam Govinda, Kaala Patthar, Suhaag

1980: Do Aur Do Paanch, Kalyug, Shaan

1981: Basera, Kranti, Silsila, 36 Chowringhee Lane

1982: Namak Halal, Sawaal, Vijeta

1983: Heat and Dust

1984: Utsav

1985: Pighalta Aasman

1986: Ilzaam, New Delhi Times

1987: Sammie and Rosie Get Laid

1988: Commando, The Deceivers

1991: Ajooba, Akayla

1993: Mohafiz (In Custody)

1996: Gulliver’s Travels (TV)

1998: Jinnah, Side Streets



About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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