Shashi Kapoor straddled arenas

With the death of veteran theatre and Bollywood actor-producer Shashi Kapoor, who ruled as the romantic screen icon from the mid-60s to the early 80s, an era in India's theatre and cinema history has ended. Immortalising an era of classic cinema, a legend has left us with precious memories. He was one of the earliest actors who boldly ventured internationally. He was also amongst the first Bollywood personalities to support independent theatre and cinema, which were so reliant on state patronage, by establishing Prithvi Theatre and his production house Film Valas. Coming full circle from starting off as a child artiste in theatre and films like Aag (1948) and Awaara (1951), where he played the younger version of his older brother Raj Kapoor's characters, Shashi made his debut as a leading man in 1961 in Yash Chopra's Dharmputra, a film that remains relevant till date with its portrayal of the Partition, communalism and religious bigotry.

His innings in Bollywood coincided with the age of multi-starrers, and he did almost as many of them as he did the solo hero films. The pioneering of them all was Yash Chopra's Waqt (1964) - in which he played the youngest son of a family torn asunder by an earthquake. In the 70s, he was practically in every other film of the day, the reason why Raj Kapoor once called him a "taxi", for operating non-stop. Most of his early popular films were light-hearted romances held by the strength of his charismatic presence. But he was most rooted in theatre, travelling with his father Prithviraj Kapoor's roving troupe Shakepeareana, where he found and fell in love with his wife, English actor Jennifer Kendal. It was with Jennifer that Kapoor established Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai in 1978. The same year, he set up Film Valas, which produced critically acclaimed films such as Junoon (1978), Kalyug (1981), 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981), Vijeta (1982) and Utsav (1984).

He was also the first Bollywood star to act and win acclaim in British and Hollywood movies, including The Householder, Shakespeare Wallah, Bombay Talkie (1970) and Heat and Dust (1982) in which he co-starred with his wife, Siddhartha (1972), Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987), and The Deceivers (1988). His last significant role would be in Muhafiz (In Custody) in 1994, where he played the custodian of tradition and of Urdu. The influence of Jennifer Kendal is often said to be the reason why Kapoor and his kids remained on a tangent from the larger Kapoor clan. Unconventional, not quite courting the mainstream the way others have, despite starting off with Hindi films. Her passing away in 1984 left him broken and distraught and began his own gentle passing into the sunset.  

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