The tributes to Shashi Kapoor refuse to stop rolling in – a testament of the actor-producer’s singular legacy and the love and warmth he generated in the people with whom he collaborated.
Kapoor, who died on December 4, appeared in two films written by filmmaker and screenwriter Sagar Sarhadi: Kabhie Kabhie (1976) and Silsila (1981). Kapoor later helped Sarhadi make his movie Bazaar (1982) by loaning him shooting equipment. In an interview, Sarhadi pays tribute to the man he calls the “benevolent king”.
I started off as an Urdu writer, but lack of money in literature forced me to write for films. When I was about to embark on my film career, scriptwriter Mahender Chander, brother of illustrious Urdu writer Krishan Chander, warned me not to venture into Bollywood. “Everybody will force you to make changes in your story, right from the assistant directors to all small and big actors,” he said.
However, I was fortunate to work with a director like Yash Chopra, who supported me wholeheartedly. A few top actors tried to persuade me to alter their dialogue, but I never gave in to please them. However, one actor who never tried to get his role enhanced was Shashi Kapoor. He acted in two films I wrote: Kabhie Kabhie and Silsila. Whenever I remember him, it’s with words like grace, warmth and friendship. Unlike many other successful actors, he never threw any tantrums or behaved in a way that put him above the others. It was very heartening to see an actor of his stature cracking jokes and inquiring after the welfare of all those who came in contact with him – right from the spot boys to the make-up artists.
Sometime in the early 1980s, one of his close friends suggested that they make a film on a certain subject and recommended my name for writing the script. Shashi instantly gave me Rs 20,000 to start working on the story at his farm in Pune. I must have been halfway through when I learnt that Shashi’s friend had inexplicably disbanded the project.
Feeling disheartened, I went to Shashi and fished out the advance money from my bag. “Sagar, what are you doing?” he said, looking at me surprised. “Don’t insult me by returning the money. Even if the project has been shelved, you have laboured on it for over a month. You deserve it.”
Mind you, Rs 20,000 was a princely sum in the ’80s. It could get you a decent flat in Bombay back then.
It would be an understatement to say that Shashi was devoted to theatre and making good cinema. He was utterly consumed with these twin passions throughout his life. It is telling that while other actors were investing their money in real estate and the stock market, Shashi was investing in theatre, where one could only lose money. He was also aware about how good films help us understand our world better. Without bothering about box office returns, he went on to produce classics such as Junoon, Kalyug, Vijeta, Utsav, and 36 Chowringee Lane.
In 1981, when I conceived the idea of Bazaar, I didn’t have the money to make the film. Yashji helped me get the raw stock, but I didn’t have the shooting equipment. So I approached Shashi Kapoor and requested him to provide it to me on credit. Partly because of my old association with him and partly because I was associated with theatre, Shashi had a special fondness for me. Flashing his trademark lopsided smile and gesturing with his right hand, he said to me, “Le jao, le jao. Paisa ho to de dena aur nahin ho to bhi koi baat nahin.” Take the money, return it only if you can.
Shashi was generous, like a benevolent king. I doubt if he even told anyone about how he came to my rescue. Had it not been for him, I wonder if I would have succeeded in making Bazaar.
(As told to Aditya Sharma.)