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Shashi Kapoor: Adonis of Hindi cinema, actor with global appeal

Shashi Kapoor, whose crooked teeth, devastating good looks and urbane charm made generations of women swoon; whose celluloid partnership with Amitabh Bachchan caused serpentine queues before movie halls for films such as 'Deewar', 'Kabhi Kabhie', 'Trishul' and many more; who produced the finest in meaningful alternative cinema, built the iconic Prithvi Theatre and was among India's first crossover stars, passed away in Mumbai's Kokilaben Ambani Hospital on Monday around 5.20pm.

"He had a kidney problem. He was on dialysis for several years," his nephew, actor Randhir Kapoor, told PTI. He was 79. Shashi was the youngest of the three Kapoor brothers - Raj and Shammi being the others - in what's regarded as Bollywood's family No 1. Now all three are gone. An era is over. Raj created the golden hearted tramp; songs such as 'Awara hoon' and 'Mera joota hai Japani' became global anthems. Shammi's primeval yell, 'Yahoo!' altered the idea of romantic ardour in Bollywood. Shashi's screen persona wasn't clearly defined like his brothers. But his imprint on India's performing arts runs deeper. He produced classics such as 'Junoon', 'Kalyug', '36 Chowringee Lane' and 'Utsav', all directly or subliminally rooted in literature. 'Junoon' was based on Ruskin Bond's long story, 'A Flight of Pigeons'. 'Utsav' was a modern celluloid avatar of ancient Indian playwright Sudraka's 'Mrichakatika'. The protagonist of '36 Chowringee Lane' quotes Shakespeare. 'Kalyug' was inspired by the Mahabharat. These movies will stand the test of time but equally vital was Shashi's love for theatre -- where he found the other great love of his life, Jennifer Kendal. One of Shashi's great dreams was to build a place for performing arts. The dream became a reality when the Prithvi Theatres building was readied in 1978. In the seasons that followed, the centre gave a major boost to quality Hindi theatre in Mumbai. The Kolkata-born actor began his career as a child artiste. He was named Balbir Raj but became Shashi Kapoor when he graduated to doing lead parts. Everybody noticed him as the young right-winger in Yash Chopra's Dharmputra (1961) but major box-office success eluded him till he played the naive and sentimental shikarawala in the romantic drama, 'Jab Jab Phool Khile' (1965) in which he serenaded Nanda with the classic Kalyanji-Anandji composition, 'Ek tha gul aur ek thi bulbul'. Around the same time, he worked in indie films like 'The Householder' (1963), 'Shakespeare-Wallah' (1965) and 'Bombay Talkie' (1970) by the not-yet-famous Merchant-Ivory duo. Shashi also had the lead part in the British movie, 'A Matter of Innocence'. His scene with an unclad Simi Garewal in Conrad Rooks's 'Siddhartha' became a major talking point. Later, he also had notable parts in 'Heat and Dust' (Merchant-Ivory, again) and Pierce Brosnan's 'The Deceivers', both British Raj flicks. In that sense, he was the only Bollywood hero of his time who became a familiar face aboard. It was a different story back home. Despite the occasional box-office smash such as 'Sharmeelee' (1971), his career was more troughs than crests. The surprise success of 'Chor Machaye Shor' (1974), still remembered for the wedding band favourite, 'Le jayenge le jayenge dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge', hauled him out of the abyss.

When the multi-starrer era came, Shashi adroitly blended with the mood of the times. He didn't have Amitabh Bachchan's felicity with fists but he positioned himself as a smart and cool romantic-action hero which made him a vital ingredient in big-budget films. The male-bonding pair combined to create superhits such as 'Deewar', 'Trishul', 'Suhaag', 'Kabhi Kabhie' and 'Namak Halaal'. Not many remember that it was Shashi, playing the just and ethical inspector, who spoke the iconic dialogue - "Mere paas maa hai" - in Deewar though it was Bachchan, with the more flamboyant part of the angry rebellious dockworker, who embossed himself in popular imagination. Few also remember that Shashi claimed a Filmfare Award for the Best Supporting Actor in 'Deewar'. Years later, Shashi got the National Award for playing the role of an upright journalist in 'New Delhi Times' (1986). In his solo career, Shashi delivered a clutch of hits in the 1970s, notably 'Fakira', 'Chori Mera Kaam' and 'Satyam Shivam Sundaram'. During this period, he also signed films left, right and centre. The buzz went that he had signed 100 movies. The actor worked sometimes in three shifts. Unable to get the dates from his own brother for the film, 'Satyam Shivam Sundaram', Raj Kapoor once compared him to "a taxi". The film went on to become one of his biggest solo hits.

In 1978, Shashi had 12 releases. The reason why he broke his back working in so many Bollywood commercial films was primarily to finance his dream: producing meaningful movies and constructing a theatre which his father, Prithivraj, always wanted. Long before he received the Dada Saheb Phalke award in 2015 -- his father and brother Raj have also received India's highest film award -- Shashi had fulfilled both his dreams.

Kapoor's last memorable performance was as an ailing poet past his prime in the Ismail Merchant film In Custody. The character from an Anita Desai novel, was a poignant reminder of the actor's own mortality.

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In Video: Legendary actor Shashi Kapoor passes away


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