Shashi Kapoor: The Man With the Crooked Smile Who Made Everything Better

Bollywood

Shashi Kapoor: The Man With the Crooked Smile Who Made Everything Better

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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ho’s your favourite Kapoor? I’ve been asked that question a million times, and while most people struggle to answer (and for good reason), my response has been the same for over three decades now – Shashi Kapoor. Even a year after he left us, it always was and will be Shashi, the first man I truly fell in love with, and one of the only two actors whose demise made me feel as if a part of me was lost.

On a terrible day, watching a Shashi Kapoor film is like therapy. Sometimes, even a song is enough: One viewing of “Bekhudi mein sanam” is enough to pull me out of any bad mood that I may be in.

If my parents are to be believed, I’d happily clap along to “Ek tha gul aur ek thi bulbul” from Jab Jab Phool Khile, even before I could string proper sentences together. It might have been because my nickname is Bulbul and I was just happy to hear someone sing it. As I grew older, I constantly watched the song, and before I knew it, I was crushing on the adorable boy with deep dimples and a smile so charming with teeth so crooked, that they could melt the coldest hearts.

You know that feeling you get when you see someone you like? The slightly sweaty palms, flushed cheeks, borderline shortness of breath, and a racing heart? That is exactly what I experience whenever I see Shashi onscreen, even after all these years. Over the years, I pieced together my perfect man from snippets and bits of Shashi’s film characters – and my husband now has very large shoes to fit in.

Those who knew the man said that a part of him died with his wife, something that isn’t difficult to believe when you see interviews of him talking of her as someone still alive and thriving.

Obviously, Shashi Kapoor’s good looks played a massive part in contributing to this picture of #HusbandGoals: Right from the practical and fiercely independent Vijay Kumar in Waqt to Kabhi Kabhie’s die-hard romantic Vijay Khanna; from the police officer with a romantic heart in Suhaag to the morally questionable and slightly shallow engineer in Satyam Shivam Sundaram.

But perhaps the finest example of how Shashi Kapoor could lift a film with his mere presence is Ijaazat, where he only has a short, but brilliant, cameo. We are treated to a mature and very understanding man who has no qualms about the fact that his wife will probably always love her ex husband. And while I admit that some actions of Amar Kumar in Kanyadaan were questionable, and he doesn’t really qualify as husband material, I am forever willing to overlook that because of the songs: “Likhe jo khat tujhe” and “Meri zindagi mein aate” are tied for the top spot, along with the most Shashi song ever, which everyone knows is “Tum bin jaaun kahan” (Pyar Ka Mausam).

As I grew older and read more, I realised that Shashi seemed, by all public accounts, an ideal real-life husband too – or at least far better than the other Kapoors proved to be, and despite the open rumours of his alcoholism. He married the English actress Jennifer Kendal at the young age of 20; she was older and the match was not easily accepted. The marriage didn’t even last very long, because in 1984, she died from colon cancer. Those who knew the man said that a part of him died with his wife, something that isn’t difficult to believe when you see subsequent interviews of him where he talks of her as someone still alive and thriving. He never remarried.

No wonder that his onscreen romantic persona resembled his life so closely and made young girls like me – three generations apart – fall irrevocably in love with them.

On this day, last year, I remember following the news very closely, hoping against hope that Shashi Kapoor would return safe from his latest bout in hospital. That didn’t happen. It’s now been a year to his death. So today, I’ll again be watching “Likhe jo khat tujhe” (Kanyadaan) on loop. That crooked smile might be gone – but it still makes everything better.

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