& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Shashi Kapoor

Shashi Kapoor in Utsav

Shashi Kapoor was one of the most underrated actors of his time. He was always restrained and preferred to underplay rather than go over the top in his performances, as most of his contemporaries did.

I want to talk about just two scenes where he held his own when pitted against actors who were considered superior.

The first is, of course, from Deewar (1975, director: Yash Chopra). In the scene which has become one of the five most memorable scenes in the history of Hindi cinema (Mera paas Ma hai),  Shashi Kapoor is subdued and calm as opposed to Amitabh Bachchan’s fire and brimstone persona.  In the 1970s, when Amitabh Bachchan was a colossus, Shashi Kapoor held his own in the scene and in the film.

The scene in Deewar was written for Vijay, the character Amitabh Bachchan enacts, and it showcased his versatility – the tall, imposing personality, his swanky, foreign car, his black shirt and grey suit, his hands in the jacket’s pockets, and the rich baritone with which he berates his younger brother Ravi for his obduracy and obstinacy in persisting with a principled way of life even though it has only ensured penury.

The audience loved the scene more because of the muted but emphatic manner in which Shashi Kapoor conveys his disappointment with his brother’s criminality through his expressive eyes, and modulating his soft voice. 

The other one is from Junoon (1979, director: Shyam Benegal). The film has Shashi Kapoor playing the character of Javed, a Pathan, who is an esteemed member of the local Muslim aristocracy in a small town in the then United Provinces, during the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857.

His younger brother Sarfaraz, played by Naseeruddin Shah, is the firebrand revolutionary who is part of the mutinous cavalry battling the English soldiers across the Indo-Gangetic plains.

Javed is besotted with a young English girl (Nafisa Ali, in her first film), and holds her family captive in his haveli, much to the annoyance of the younger brother, who berates him to join the armed struggle to overthrow the English forces. Shabana Azmi plays the neglected wife.

Shashi Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah have two memorable scenes together. The first is at the beginning when Sarfaraz urges Javed to join him in the armed struggle, and Javed displays utter cynicism towards the cause as well as the people leading the rebellion.

(watch from 2.42)

The second scene is when Sarfaraz returns from the battle, wounded and bruised, and angrily pounces upon Javed’s pet pigeons and flinging them out from their pigeonholes. Javed just pulls him away wordlessly.

Shashi Kapoor shows the shocked disbelief and the despondency of the rebellion’s defeat in Delhi with his eyes, without uttering a word.

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