Noted film journalist and critic, New York based, Aseem Chhabra, decided to write the unofficial sketch of Shashi Kapoor in neatly dissected sections in his first book: Shashi Kapoor-The Householder, the Star, Rupa Publications. Fully aware that he had to piece together the actor’s life with a little…ok, a lot of help from friends and family, he ‘never sought to do an interview with the ageing actor, knowing his medical condition.
|Shashi Kapoor the Householder, The star- Rupa Publishing House
He talks of his love for Shashi in the introduction with a prophetic spotting of the actor at Taj Mansingh Hotel, on his wedding day. Graduating to writing fan mail when in school in Delhi and also receiving return postcards that he graphically remembers,‘…perhaps in colour – black-and-white photographs touched up with ink. ‘A later spotting of the actor at the Prithvi Cafe, ‘talking to a couple of people’, wasn’t enough for the author to grab a chat with the celebrated actor, as he thought it would be imprudent to do so unless it was to ‘approach them (film stars) only if my job as a film journalist demands it’.
Aseem’s fascination with the actor stemmed from an interest in Shashi’s vast expanse of filmography- from the blockbusters- Deewar, Kabhi Kabhie, Kalyug etcetera, but more importantly to the ground-breaking cinema that established him as an international star, a nuanced actor of In Custody, Heat and Dust, Junoon, including the one’s that never got theatre release in India- Sammie and Rosie Get Laid. Jinnah and Side Streets.
The three Amazon reader review on this 196 pager -all inclusive of a foreword by Karan Johar, Introduction acknowledgment and of course reams of research details, mandated by missing first person accounts of the subject of the biography- state a balanced opinion of liking the book for what it has to offer and wanting more details on the untouched aspects of the actor’s life.
Anil Dharkar, a long term friend of the actor in his feature on the Mumbai launch of the book, explains why Shashi didn’t give a nod to a book on himself because ‘If I tell the truth, people will get hurt; and if I am not telling the truth, what’s the point!’ Rightly put, as we see what a thorough gentleman and a good samaritan Shashi (Sometimes against his own good too!) is in the book that is neatly divided into chapters that talk of him as a father, producer, actor and a global star.
Heavily researched, which is tabulated, post each chapter, the book is a breeze to read, especially if you’re a Kapoor follower. I personally had to ration the read so as not to finish it too fast! The victory of the book lies in the fact that it manages to excavate little known facts about the self-effacing actor- like how the actor was ‘petrified of his parents, timid and self conscious of his English’ and how Geeta Bali helped him out during his courtship years with Jennifer. Or how Sanjana thought Ajooba was a suicidal wish during its filming stage. Or how at a time when Shashi was doing multiple films together, he would have to reminded of the story on the set.
Another plus to the book is a collection of rare pictures, most of them unseen previously, sourced amongst other places, from the priceless archives of Merchant-Ivory Productions. The writer has painstakingly secured interviews with friends and family and gotten out as much as he could, on all aspects of the man- father, husband, actor, producer and director. With this book, the actor gets his long overdue due (that’s a new coinage?) that of being recognised as the first crossover Hindi cinema actor. In a freewheeling chat with me the author, Aseem Chhabra talks about missing out on a first person interview with the subject, and on what his next one could be!
|Aseem , me and Shashi!
On the man Shashi Kapoor- householder or the star?
I write in the book too that there are many Shashis. Yes he was a dedicated father and a husband, who would get up early to match timings with the children’s and also give quality time to the family- with very few friends from Indian cinema industry being allowed at home. (that was also monitored by Jennifer). In his early acting years, he could have been under the shadow of the tall figure that his father was, his illustrious brothers and also to an extent as a family man. But I feel he did come into his own especially with his later years films be it as an ageing, failing poet, Noor in In Custody, as Rafi in a movie that never got an India release- Sammie and Rosie Get Laid (It’s off YouTube also, I’m told) ) So he is a nuanced actor who also did movies to, really, sustain his family and some of them were crap- agreed, and that’s why they don’t find a mention in the book. But surely he was a star, the first real International star from India, who got raving reviews on his performances form some of the world’s best critics.
Did you feel Shashi’s voice missing in the book?
So I never approached him for an interview, by the time I decided to write the book, he was ill and in no state to give an interview. Having said that, I was fortunate to be able to get first hand accounts from all stakeholders-family, friends, colleagues and subordinates. From Sanjana, Kunal in the family (Not Karan Kapoor, though the author did contact him, also he mentions that he would have liked to interview Ramesh Sippy and Javed Akhtar too but time constraints on both sides didn’t help the cause!) to a long time friend and confidante Anil Dharkar, to extended family Rishi Kapoor and co-actors like Shabana Azmi an Sharmila Tagore amongst many others. All of them were candid in sharing their insight and also critical of the actor wherever required. (Aside: Amongst other biographies, the author recommends Rajesh Khanna’s and of course Madhu Jain’s definitive book on the Kapoor clan)
Read the book to find out snippets on Shashi’s rare diet cheat code with friends and of how he admonished Shabana on the sets of Junoon.
What difference did you find between writing a column and a book?
Sense of discipline! I am used to writing about 2000-3000 words at a stretch, but with a book you’ve got to keep at it and of course the background research though we had a fantastic team at the publishing house too! But I am not complaining, I am happy doing that!
Do you think he was a better human being than an actor?
Hmm… he was both I think. There are those famous Donga parties the he hosted for all, including the spot boys on the sets an how he would be a non-interfering producer and also end up losing money oftentimes. At the same time, notwithstanding the run-of-the-mill movies he churned out, which rightly haven’t found a mention in the book, he was a theatre actor at heart and a nuanced, gifted one at that! There were successful partnerships and long standing friendships that stemmed out of those – The famous Amitabh-Shashi duo for one. So he was a good human being as well as a good actor.
Your next book?
(laughs) I am not saying anything… Ok.. What/Who could it be on? (I persist)
A book on Simi (Garewal) would be a great read!
There…We leave it at that!
The book is set to be launched in New York on 12 July sponsored by the Indo American Arts council (IAAC) and the South Asian Journalists Association at Indo American Arts Council.
Note to the Reader: There are these binaries that the author deals with in the book-Shashi the Husband-Father, Producer-Director and of course, The Householder (play on the movie) and the Star! Read the book if you are a Kapoor but more importantly, a Hindi Cinema lover- but know that you will find the book leaving you wanting more, as it should! I of course wish you the best in your journey as reader of books on Indian Cinema and its parts!
Aseem Chhabra is a film journalist, freelance writer and film festival programmer in New York City. He has been published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Outlook, Mumbai Mirror, Rediff.com; has a regular column in The Hindu; and has been a commentator on Indian cinema and popular culture on NPR, CNN, BBC, as also ABC’s Good Morning America, Associated Press and Reuters.
Aseem is the festival director of the New York Indian Film Festival and the Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival in Pittsburgh. He is also the voice of Shadow Puppet#1 in director Nina Paley’s award-winning animated film, Sita Sings the Blues. Aseem is from Delhi, lives in New York, and visits India often.