Publisher: Rupa Publications
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Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star is a biography of the gentleman actor of Indian cinema, the voice of one of the most iconic lines ever spoken:”Mere pass Maa hain.” Buy Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star here.
Biographies are tricky. They need to be well-researched, delving into all facets of a public personality, they need to be objective while also being a celebration of the person being written about. Does Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star deliver?
The Good Stuff
Shashi Kapoor’s personality is a lovable one, so reading about him is an enjoyable proceeding. Suave, soft-spoken, a Punjabi actor who spoke good enough English to be admired by his co-actor Pierce Brosnan, Shashi Kapoor is an interesting personality and one who deserves greater attention than he has received so far, especially considering an oft-forgotten fact – this is a Bollywood actor who also acted in Western cinema long before Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra did, and he did it without the benefit of the globalised, social-media-fuelled fandom that these actors enjoy.
The book, then, is workmanlike, going through the paces – early life, struggles in the beginning with flop following flop, then success as a romantic hero, success in Merchant-Ivory productions that got him recognition (positive and not-so-positive) amongst Western film critics and audiences, success as Amitabh Bachchan’s brother/friend, failure as a producer. It was the last-mentioned that intrigued me the most – Shashi Kapoor was a director’s producer, interested in the craft of filmmaking, the director’s vision and unmindful of the costs, a producer of films ahead of their times, but unfortunately he was a terrible businessman and didn’t market his films – Utsav, Kalyug, Vijeta, 36 Chowringhee Lane – as well as he might have.
There are delicious anecdotes in there – like Italian siren Gina Lollobrigida being smitten by the smooth-faced hero, or the actor singing (in a terrible voice) along with a Venetian gondolier while Simi Garewal giggled in the background. Perhaps Hanif Kureishi’s description of Shashi Kapoor: “He was an intelligent man… he couldn’t have played the same part over and over in Indian cinema” is the best way to encapsulate the actor.
And it’s also what made me feel disappointed with the book.
What Could Have Been Better
I didn’t feel as if the book really gave me any real insight into the person it was about. What drove him to pick the projects he did, as a producer? What did he feel about his co-stars – Nanda (admittedly a favourite), Sharmila Tagore, Amitabh Bachchan? Basically, this book is too little too late. While it has a few comments – and some remarkably honest ones – by his children and other members of the Kapoor Khandaan and the rest of the film fraternity, the lack of first-person quotes from the actor himself and more of his contemporaries, while understandable, handicaps the book. It is a story half-told, as it were.
Well, a quick search revealed no other published biography, so Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star is your only choice – and it’s a reasonably good one – breezy, always interesting. Buy Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star here. If you’re just looking for a Bollywood biography, I’d recommend Helen: Life and Times of an H-Bomb instead. (Coincidentally, this book features no interviews or quotes from its subject either, yet it captures her essence perfectly.) Also check out The Prithviwallahs if you’re interested in more about the the Kapoor Khandaan’s contribution to theatre – in Shashi Kapoor’s words.