It is rare in Bollywood, rife as it is with ego hassles, intense rivalries and cut-throat politics, that nobody has one word to say against Shashi Kapoor.
On Sunday, when the Dadasaheb Phakle Award for Lifetime Achievement was conferred on him by Union Minister of Finance, Corporate Affairs and Information & Broadcasting, Arun Jaitley, the intimate and well-organised ceremony at Prithvi Theatre was suffused by love and warmth.
Members of the Kapoor family, some directors, a handful of his co-stars and many from the theatre community attended the event, and it was wonderful to see the respect, affection and admiration he commands, even though he retired from the movies years ago and does not socialise with industry folk. He refused to attend awards functions and turned down other offers for lifetime achievement trophies.
He always preferred to sit in his favourite seat at his beloved Prithvi café and interact casually with people who came to watch plays. The regulars were used to his presence, and they would greet him and go on, but it would be amusing to see a first timer or out-of-towner see a star like him this close. He smiled, shook hands and let him take pictures with him. Even now, when he is wheel-chair bound and unable to speak much, that sunshine smile and kindly expression remain intact.
Journalists who covered the film beat when he was at his peak, would vouch for his pleasant and considerate behavior, a total contrast to some of his swollen-headed, tantrum-throwing contemporaries. His directors were impressed by his professionalism—even in the days when he did multiple shifts and was called “taxi” by his brother Raj Kapoor; his co-stars loved him, and, of course, audiences flipped for his impossibly good looks that often overshadowed his talent.
He could have coasted along on his stardom, but he wanted to make the kind of films he wanted to see, and produced a series of artistic films—36 Chowringhee Lane, Junoon, Vijeta, Kalyug, Utsav, and directed Ajooba,that were acclaimed but duds at the box-office. Nobody heard him complain of his huge financial losses, all praised his generosity as a producer.
Apart from his rich and varied filmography, his greatest contribution to the city remains Prithvi Theatre, that he and his wife Jennifer built as a tribute to Prithviraj Kapoor, who was passionate about theatre to the end. If it weren’t for Prithvi Theatre, Mumbai’s cultural life would have been much poorer, and half of today’s thriving theatre groups would perhaps not even have existed. An award can honour and recognise contribution to cinema, but sadly, there are no trophies given for being a great human being.