In Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur 2, Faizal Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) laments about being shortchanged in his own home. He uses a metaphor that anyone with an average knowledge of Hindi cinema would chuckle at.
He says he was the Bachchan of the household but has come to realise that he’s turned out to be the Shashi Kapoor. It harks back to the 70s, the angry young man, the avenger and saviour, Bachchan, contrasted with the straight talking, never-straying-from-the-path-of-righteousness Shashi Kapoor.
Peel it further, outside of cinema, it might reveal the machismo that Faizal is going for, insulted by the comparison with the domestic, possibly even effeminate in Faizal’s books, Shashi Kapoor.
Who, if not Shashi Kapoor, was shortchanged in Hindi cinema? Kapoor’s work with Prithvi Theatre, his work in the non-mainstream space and Merchant-Ivory productions is well documented while his popularity and appeal is gleaned more or less from those 70s superhits with other stars, his looks and the songs he had going with them.
The superstar of that era was always Amitabh Bachchan and the romantic star of that age was always going to be Rajesh Khanna. But Kapoor is underrated as both an actor and a romantic star. One of my all time favourite songs is Khilte Hain Gul Yahan from the Shashi Kapoor-Rakhee starrer Sharmeelee. Captain Ajit is serenading a room full of holidaying women but it is not serenading in the strictest sense. Ajit is not one to walk into a room like he owns it.
For the most part, his hands are behind his back and his tools are the music in his lips and his eyes. He sings about the fleeting nature of love and life, about living in the moment and the romantic possibilities the weather holds. He sings, he serves the women tea, he closes the window to protect everyone from the cold, and at the same time, exudes a vulnerability that reassures every woman in the room.
The unique aspect of Kapoor’s life, rare for a celebrity, is that he maintained that dignity on and off-screen. Faizal Khan may have taken the Shashi Kapoor comparison to be a slight to his masculinity, but in the grim real world, grimmer today than anything we’ve seen since the middle of 20th century, it would probably help if more of us realise the value in walking the path of a Shashi Kapoor as opposed to the angry young men of our times.