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Rakishly good looking actor who became India’s first international star

This was still not the entirety of Shashi Kapoor’s contribution.

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The youngest of the famous Kapoor brothers of Bollywood, he did not have their one defining and enduring cinematic image — Raj’s simple, honest ‘tramp’ in the Charlie Chaplin tradition or Shammi’s Elvis-like jiving, rebellious ‘playboy’ persona.

Shashi Kapoor, however, surpassed both in sheer variety of acting. Be it romantic heroes, ‘common man’ roles, decadent princes, aging poets and even angels, he brought the same charm and intensity to all of them.

Though among his first appearances onscreen were as a young Raj Kapoor in his elder borther’s directorial debut “Aag” and the more acclaimed “Awara”, his first lead role was a Hindu fanatic in Yash Chopra’s bold “Dharmputra” (1961).

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This happened to be one-off as Shashi, with his copybook good looks, rakish smile, infectious charm, toothy grin and languid drawl, was more suitable as a lover-boy who always got the girl. In this avatar, he once even pipped Amitabh Bachchan — in “Kabhie Kabhie”.

He was also famous as a reasonable foil to the smoldering angry man in a number of films and it was in one of these roles where he once spoke the four most iconic and immortal words in Bollywood’s history – “Mere paas Ma hai” in “Deewar”.

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Born on March 18, 1938 in the then Calcutta to Prithviraj Kapoor and Ramsarn ‘Rama’ Devi, Balbir Raj ‘Shashi’ Kapoor not only straddled commercial and ‘art’ cinema, but also became India’s first international star, starring in several acclaimed Ivory-Merchant films among others.

In these he was not only cast in predictable roles — a decadent nawab (“Heat and Dust”), a prince-turned-ascetic (“Siddhartha”) or a devious local notable (in “The Deceivers”, opposite Pierce Brosnan) — but also in more realistic, nuanced ones — a lower middle-class teacher (“The Householder”), a flamboyant Bollywood star (“Bombay Talkies”), a narrator to Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s life (“Jinnah”) and a poet in the twilight of life and reputation (“Muhafiz”/”In Custody”).

But Shashi Kapoor, for all his international prowess, was also a major player in Bollywood with appearances in 148 films between 1945 and 1998, in which he was the sole hero in 61 and a lead hero in 53 multi starrers, supporting actor in 21, did 7 guest appearances and did four roles as a child artiste (including the two RK films).

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These included such evergreen hits such as B.R. Chopra’s “Waqt” (where he again happened to be the youngest brother to flamboyant elder siblings Raj Kumar and Sunil Dutt), “Jab Jab Phool Khile” opposite Nanda, the madcap “Pyar Kiya Jaa” — which happend to be among the funniest movies made in Bollywood, “Haseena Maan Jayegi” opposite Babita, who later became his sister-in-law and mother of Karishma and Kareena, “Fakira”, “Kaala Patthar” — where he held his own against Amitabh and Shatrughan Sinha, “Do Aur Do Paanch”, “Silsila”, “Shaan”, “Namak Halaal” and “New Delhi Times”, where he played a crusading newspaper editor.

Then, there were some grey roles in films like “Roti Kapada Aur Makaan”, “Satyam Shivam Sundaram”, “Kalyug” — a contemporary retelling of the Mahabharata in which his character is named Karan, and is totally like his mythological namesake, including in the manner of death.

This was still not the entirety of Shashi Kapoor’s contribution.

In 1980, he started his own film company, using his Bollywood earnings into making films with the likes of Shyam Bengal and Aparna Sen. These included gems like “36 Chowringee Lane”, which saw his wife, veteran theatre actor Jennifer Kendall as an aging teacher in a changing, oblivious world, “Junoon”, “Vijeta” — a paean to the Indian Air Force — “Utsav” and “Kalyug”.

He also had acclaimed performances in some of them, particularly the 1857 revolt drama “Junoon” where it takes a stern Naseeruddin Shah to remind him of his duty.

His contribution was recognised with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement award in 2010 and the highest accolade — the Dadasahab Phalke Award in 2015.

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In his life too, he played several roles — a member of an already famous film clan, marrying into another performance-inclined family — the Kendalls, but after difficult romance with Jennifer Kendall — India’s first international star, arguably, the most handsome Hindi film actor of that period, a producer who backed some of the best independent movies in India in the 1970s and 1980s, a theatre enthusiast, the family man who did all he could to support his household, even if it meant acting in a few rather terrible (but well-paying) movies, as recent biographer Aseem Chabbra maintains.

A star definitely, he was above all he was an eminently likeable star as all his contemporaries and co-stars attest willingly. And that is ultimately what’s important.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at [email protected])

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Which of Vajpayee’s bequests will the BJP honour?

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee

It cannot be gainsaid that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as it is run today, will find it difficult to live up to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s legacy of moderation.

From this aspect, his death has come at an inconvenient time for the party because there will be constant reminders during the run-up to the four state assembly elections this winter about Vajpayee’s gentleness, which was his foremost political talent.

This will be particularly relevant in the matter of rhetoric which has tended to become increasingly acerbic in recent times. The chances of the speeches becoming more venomous are all the greater when the BJP’s prospects are not supposed to be all that bright in the key states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, as a poll survey has predicted.

Therefore, as caustic comparisons are made between aristocratic lineage and the humble background of a worker — naamdar and kaamdar — Vajpayee’s more temperate oratory may be recalled.

It was Vajpayee’s moderation which enabled him to hold together for more than three years from 1999 to 2002 a mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) of as many as 24 parties, the likes of which had never been seen before and is unlikely to be seen in the future.

The achievement will appear all the more remarkable at a time when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre is fraying at the edges with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) having walked out while the Shiv Sena is forever engaged in verbal onslaughts against the BJP and the Akali Dal is patently uneasy.

What is more, doubts are being expressed as to whether the BJP will be able to form a coalition at the Centre if it fails to secure a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha in 2019 because Modi is seemingly temperamentally averse to act in tandem with others. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s restiveness is a reminder of this proclivity at the NDA’s highest levels.

If Vajpayee’s accommodativeness cannot be seen in the BJP today, neither is its ability to push ahead with the economic reforms as during the former Prime Minister’s reign when several PSUs such as Modern Foods, Balco and Hindustan Zinc were disinvested. In contrast, the present government has not been able to find a buyer for the perennially sick Air India.

However, the most crucial of Vajpayee’s legacies is the peace which prevailed in his time till the Gujarat riots of 2002, which paved the way for his defeat two years later as he ruefully conceded.

Before the riots, however, there was nothing like the present near-anarchic scenes which have made the Supreme Court bemoan the prevailing mobocracy as the “new normal” and the Centre to consider enacting a law to stop lynchings.

It would be a mistake, however, to claim that Vajpayee did no wrong. The targeting of Tehelka and Outlook magazines beause of their embarrassing disclosures about the unsavoury goings-on in high places is a reminder that no government — not even Vajpayee’s — can be tolerant of a genuinely free press.

It is an unworthy legacy going back to Rajiv Gandhi’s abortive attempt to muzzle the media with his proposed Publication of Objectionable Materials Act in the wake of the Bofors howitzer scam, not to mention his mother’s draconian Emergency rule.

But, for Vajpayee, it was an uncharacteristic misstep in the misuse of the Enforcement Directorate and other government agencies, which has largely been forgotten. What is remembered instead is the fact that of all the saffron leaders, he was the only one who had the Nehruvian vision of the “idea” of a multicultural India.

It was this broad outlook which made Vajpayee urge the Jan Sangh in 1960 to open its doors to “all Indian citizens irrespective of creed or sects”. Noting that at least formally, the party is opposd to politics being linked with religion, he said that “in the partition of the country, we have already had a grim experience of the consequences of mingling politics with religion”.

Not surprisingly, Vajpayee was not a favourite of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) despite the swayamsevak tag that he wore all his life, which is why one of the RSS chiefs of his time, K.S. Sudarshan, wanted his as well as L.K. Advani’s ouster from positions of power by calling for a generational change in the BJP.

Incidentally, Sudarshan was believed to have prevailed upon Vajpayee on the eve of the ministry-making in 1998 not to make Jaswant Singh the finance minister since he was not a true-blue (true-saffron) Sanghi.

Now that a generational change has taken place in the BJP, it has to be seen how many of Vajpayee’s inheritances are honoured and how many disregarded.

If his moderation does not gell with the party’s aggressive pro-Hindu line, which made observers say that Vajpayee was the right man in the wrong party, the BJP can at least acknowledge his adulation of Jawaharal Nehru (whom the party likes to dislike at present) as Bharat Mata’s “favourite prince”. As Vajpayee’s accolade to Nehru showed, not all naamdars are to be shunned.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected] )

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Kofi Annan, global statesman, architect of UN development goals

He rose to become the head of UN peacekeeping operations in 1993 and a under Secretary-General in 1994.

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Kofi Annan

United Nations, Aug 18 (IANS) Kofi Annan, the gentle global statesman who died on Saturday, led the world body for two terms during which brought focus to development as the foundation of peace and security.

During his tenure from January 1997 to December 2006 as Secretary General, he steered the UN in making development a top priority, even as he guided it through through several crises, among them the heightened post 9/11 terrorist threats, the Afghan and Iraq wars, the Balkan conflicts which saw the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II, and the liberation of East Timor.

In 2001, he and the UN received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Current Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his tribute called “Kofi Annan a guiding force for good”.

“He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem-solving and a path to a better world,” he added.

Kofi Annan Manmohan Singh

The late UN Secretary-Geneeral Kofi Annan meet former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 in New Delhi. (Photo: UN/IANS)

Annan was outspoken at times, but always maintained dignity and upheld the best traditions of diplomacy, leaving the way open for consensus.

The Ghanian diplomat was 80 when he died, surrounded by his Swedish wife Nane, and his children — Ama, Kojo and Nina — the Kofi Annan Foundation said.

The Millenial Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by world leaders at their 2000 Summit under his leadership continue to inspire the UN as it works with renewed efforts like the current Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Kofi Annan’s significant contribution to the MDGs will always be remembered.”

During his 2005 visit to India, Annan said in New Delhi: “Development is the subject of the first and longest chapter in the report, which maps out a detailed and practical strategy for reaching the MDGs by 2015.”

Annan also advocated Security Council reform, a goal dear to India. He said during the visit that while the reform should be reached by consensus, the lack of consensus should not become an excuse for postponing action.

Among his other accomplishments as the UN head, were starting reforms of the UN bureaucracy and structure, setting up of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council.

His worst days as Secretary General, he later recounted, was the powerlessness to do anything about the US-led Iraq War in 2003 that sparked a catastrophe in the Middle East that the region was yet to recover from.

More recently Annan led an effort to resolve the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, heading a commission at the invitation of the government there to propose an internationally accepted framework for the return of refugees, and a Syrian peace effort at the request of the Arab League.

Kofi Annan, global statesman

The late UN Secretary-Geneeral Kofi Annan, along with his wife Nane meet South African freedom struggle leader Nelson Mandela in New Delhi in 2001. (Photo: UN/IANS)

He served as the chairman of the group of statespeople founded by South African leader Nelson Mandela, which was known as “The Elders”, and sought to play an international role in promoting peace and democracy through moral authority and persuasion.

Annan is the only one of the seven secretaries-general from Sub-Saharan Africa, a continent that has become central to the UN’s missions of peacekeeping and development.

He made two official visits to India in 2001 and 2005, when he met the spectrum of political leaders in the government and in opposition, as well as development experts.

New Delhi set up the a supercomputing and technology development faciity in Ghana in 2003 and named it in his honour as the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in Information Communications Technology. It was inaugurated by the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Annan began his international civil servant career as a budget officer for the World Health Organisation in 1962. Along the way, he worked for the UN High Commission for Refugees and as a UN Assistant Secretary-General holding key portfolios of security and administration.

He rose to become the head of UN peacekeeping operations in 1993 and a under Secretary-General in 1994.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee: The Gentle Colossus

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Atal Behari Vajpayee

In passing away of Atal Behari Vajpayee, India lost its one of the tallest leader and a statesman. He was a democrat and nationalist to the core apart from being an orator par excellence and a poet. Vajpayee was for BJP what Pandit Nehru was for the Indian National Congress. Vajpayee’s only sin was that he moulded the early BJP as a secular and a socialist legatee of the Janata party which came into existence in 1977 to oppose Mrs Indira Gandhi.

He had also opposed the Ram Mandir movement and it was Advani who was the RSS’s first choice for Prime Minister for the 1996 elections. But it was Advani who in November 1995 in Bombay announced Vajpayee as the prime ministerial candidate – to the astonishment of those present on the stage. It also took RSS by surprise but from then on, Vajpayee never turned back becoming Prime Minister in 1996, 1998, and in 1999 – while Advani withdrew to being his deputy.

The close friends and family members used to call him “Baap ji” and the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once addressed him as the “Bhishm Pitamah” of Indian politics. Vajpayee was a gentle colossus among the contemporary politicians and there were few among Indian leaders who attained the respect which he did. Journalists and newsmen all over the world do without salutations in addressing a politician but Vajpayee Ji was an exception and “Ji” became an integral part of his name.

“This young man would one day become the Prime Minister of India” said Pandit Nehru about Vajpayee. Nehru’s prophecy did come true decades later in 1996 when Vajpayee occupied the coveted post. Vajpayee was elected 11 times for Loksabha and twice for the Rajya Sabha and remained a Member of Parliament for 47 years.

In 1977, he became the External Affairs Minister under Morarji Desai and when he entered the office of Ministry of External Affairs in the South Block, he found the usual portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru missing from its spot in the ministerial chamber, removed in an excess of zeal by functionaries to please the new rulers. Though a lifelong critic of Congress, he wanted it back on its original spot. That was the persona of Vajpayee – a great heartedness as he embraced even those with whom he disagreed.

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Pro-India; anti-Indira: (From left) Jagjivan Ram, Morarji Desai, Ashok Mehta, Chandrasekhar and Atal Bihari Vajpayee | Pramod Pushkarna. “

According to a popular legend, once Henry Kissinger asked Chou-en-Lai in 1972 what he thought of the impact of French Revolution on Western civilization. Apparently, Chou thought about it for a minute and then turned to Kissinger and said: “It is too soon to tell.” Something like that could well be said about the legacy of Vajpayee, India’s first BJP Prime Minister and also the first non Congress leader to complete a full tenure.

He had the distinction of being the first head of nation to address the United Nations in Hindi. He ran a coalition Govt of 24 parties in one of the most chaotic times in the country and provided not just stable but very efficient governance. His coalition partners in ideology were as diverse as chalk and cheese but it was to his credit that he kept his flock together despite extreme provocations.

When Jayalalitha pulled the carpet under his feet, he refused to opt for the customary horse trading and lost the confidence motion by just 1 vote. He took integrity and probity to a level which was unheard of in the Indian politics. He was also the best performing parliamentarian for over 5 decades and was a true Bharat Ratna on all counts.

His stewardship of economic reform and his skilled management of unruly coalition made his 6 year tenure as a Prime Minister a memorable one. But more than these accomplishments, Vajpayee should be remembered for the way in which he achieved them. Judged on most parameters, Vajpayee was a great Prime Minister.

He continued the policies of economic liberalisation initiated by Narsimha Rao and as a result economy flourished during his reign. He took the historic trip to Lahore by Bus to break the ice with Pakistan but unfortunately it was followed by their usual betrayal in the form of Kargil war. His summit with President Musharraf at Agra also ended in a fiasco but Vajpayee improved India’s relations with US, Russia, China and most of other important nations.

He was a great consensus-builder and worked closely with the opposition, avoided political invectives and endeavoured to bring all Indians and not just Hindus to bring them together in harmony. After the Pokhran-II nuclear test of May 1998 and the victory in Kargil, India began to be taken seriously as an emerging Asian power. It was under Prime Minister Vajpayee that the old hyphenation of India-Pakistan ended and a new one like India-China emerged on the global scene.

Vajpayee’s legacy remains in doubt as people forget that for all his charisma, he began his career as a hard-core Sanghi and made his reputation in the great Hindi debates of the Sixties, demanding that all of India should embrace Hindi, his mother tongue.

Vajpayee only began to mellow in the Seventies when experience convinced him that there is no place for divisive politics in India. From then on, he lost interest in the agitation for Hindi language and more significantly also moved away from the hardliner Hindus-first politics of Jan Sangh. By doing this, he alienated most of his old colleagues and earned the ire of the RSS.

After the BJP was almost wiped out during Congress landslide victory of 1984, the RSS looked around for alternatives and it found one in Vajpayee’s old lieutenant LK Advani, who abandoned the liberal approach that he too had once espoused, and pushed the concept of RSS. Advani undertook a Rath yatra through most of North India in an effort to whip up the communal tensions and weaponise Hinduism.

Vajpayee had no option but to distance himself altogether from his protege Advani’s movement. But when the BJP seemed like it had a chance of finally coming to power, the RSS also conceded that it was only Vajpayee who could attract the potential allies.

We think of Vajpayee as a strong Prime minister but that was only because he always remained calm and composed and seldom let the tensions show. RSS continued to push its own agenda and was not happy with Vajpayee’s politics and propped up Advani as a rival power centre. The allies in coalition Govt were difficult to handle but somehow, Vajpayee made it all seem easy.

From then on, the BJP should have continued as a centre-right party as even Advani suddenly turned into a liberal and visited Pakistan to sing paeans in support of MA Jinnah. But that was not to be and the BJP went back to her Hindu-centric ideology that Advani had once espoused much to the delight of RSS. Only, this time around, the shift to a muscular Hindutva was so extreme that even a hardliner like Advani began to seem like a lily-livered secularist in comparison.

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Lal Krishan Advani lays a flower wreath at the mausoleum of Mohammed Ali Jinnah

From BJP’s point of view, Vajpayee’s greatest achievement was that he took a party that had once been a political pariah, brought it into the mainstream and acceptable to the electorates.

In many ways, it is as if the Vajpayee Prime minister ship with its consensus-building and taking everyone in confidence never happened. Sometimes it seems that the BJP moved directly from the destruction of the Babri Masjid to the dominance of the ideology that celebrated the demolition. So, it will be pertinent to say, Vajpayee was a great Prime Minister. But what will India remember as his legacy? As Chou-en-Lai might have said, “It’s too soon to tell”.

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