Last year when we placed an order for the film Bhakt Dhruv (1947), we were amused to see the name Shashi Kapoor in the cast list of this mythological film. We checked online and found this title listed with films like Sharmilee (1971) and Deewaar (1975) in the same filmography on various sites like IMDB. However when we received the film’s VCD, the little boy on the cover looked nothing like the youngest son of actor Prithviraj Kapoor we had seen in films like Aag (1948) and Awaara (1951). Curious, we started watching the film and soon realized that this indeed was a different child actor. He won us over with his demure and subtle performance. In quick succession we happened to watch Shaheed (1948) where he played young Dilip Kumar and Samadhi (1950) where he played the youngest brother of actors Shyam & Ashok Kumar.
Our curiosity about this actor was increasing; every time we saw the song “Prabhu Apni Jhalak Dikhao” we would wonder if we will ever know about this boy. After searching for long we came across his profile on Cineplot where he was identified as Shashi Kapoor (Senior) and seemed to have his accurate filmography. Fortunately this June, Shashi Kapoor ji came forward to acknowledge Cineplot for listing his filmography correctly when someone brought the site to his notice. To our joy he agreed to communicate with us and share his journey. This post is an essence of our email exchanges with him.
Kapoor Family in 1971 (left to right) : Fateh Chand Kapoor (father), two friends, Shashi Kapoor, Ravi Kapoor (brother), Kushalia Kapoor (mother), friend, Geeta Kapoor (sister-in-law), (in front) two nieces & nephew
The Journey Thus Far
Shashi ji was born to Kushalia and Fateh Chand Kapoor on 7th September, 1934 in the then Bombay. His full name is Shashi Chand Kapoor (शशिचंद कपूर). His father was a film producer who made four films with Laxmidas Anand – Sawaal (1943), Lady Doctor (1944), Krishna Leela (1946) and Faisla (1947). His elder brother Ravi Kapoor (Ravi Chand Kapoor) was a celebrated story & screenplay writer and the legendary singer, Mahendra Kapoor was his cousin. Currently well known brothers Siddharth Roy Kapur (CEO, UTV Motion Pictures), Kunaal Roy Kapur (Actor / Director) and Aditya Roy Kapur (Actor) are grandchildren of his maternal aunt.
His film career started in 1943 on the sets of Lady Doctor (1944) and continued till his last release Bhagwat Mahima (1955). After completing graduation in 1955, he gave up acting for his love for Mathematics and lure of teaching. He then completed M. Sc. (1957) and LL.B. (1963) from Bombay University. During this time, he worked as lecturer in Wilson College, Bombay (1958), State Bank of India (1958-61) and lecturer in Kirti College, Bombay (1961-63). He moved to Michigan, United States in 1963 and joined Michigan State University to undertake doctoral work in Mathematics. He worked as Teaching/Graduate Assistant in Michigan State University (1963-67) while completing his Ph.D. Mathematics (1967). He took US Citizenship in 1976. From 1967 to 1996, he worked as a faculty member in Western Michigan University (WMU) and retired as professor emeritus in January, 1997.
Today, Shashi ji is leading a peaceful retired life at his US residence. He says he is satisfied with the acting career he had, he has no regrets for leaving it for his first love, Mathematics. He has enjoyed every minute of the 37 years he spent in teaching the subject.
In 1943, Fateh Chand ji’s film Lady Doctor (1944) was under production and Shashi ji would often visit the sets to see the shoot. One day they were filming a hotel scene when they fell short of people. Since Shashi ji was already on the set, he was readied to play a few seconds cameo and thus made his first screen appearance at the age of 9. Later the artist-supplier mentioned that Sohrab Modi was looking for a young boy to play a small part with Mehtab in his next film. After an interview with Sohrab ji, he got his first speaking role in Parakh (1944).
His film career had now taken off; Producers and Artist-Suppliers started approaching him with roles. He and his parents would go through the details before accepting any part. For him acting in movies was a hobby and to keep up with different requirements for roles, he did basic training in fencing, horse riding, dancing, etc. In his decade long film career, Shashi ji worked in 21 films with some of the best talents in the industry then, on and off screen.
His most favorite directors were Shantikumar Dave (credited as Shanti Kumar) and Ramesh Saigal. Shashi ji remembers them very fondly as wonderful gentlemen and great people to work with. He worked with them in three films each – Bhakt Dhruv (1947), Bhakt Gopal Bhaiya (1948) & Maha Pooja (1954) were directed by Shanti Kumar and Renuka (1947), Shaheed (1948) & Samadhi (1950) were directed by Ramesh Saigal.
Shanti Bhai often told him that he should become a character actor like Chandramohan (Watal) (played his father in Shaheed (1948)), but that was not meant to be. By the time he turned 18, Shashi ji started moving away from films having chosen a different career path. After 1952, he did very few films like Maha Pooja (1954), Parvati Vivah (1954) and Bhagwat Mahima (1955) where he had small guest roles. He mainly participated in these films as a mark of respect to the producers and directors of his past films. It took a while for the word to spread that he had given up acting and offers continued to come even after he left for US.
Being Bhakt Dhruv
Just like Satyajeet Puri is Bhakt Prahlad, Vishnupant Pagnis is Sant Tukaram, Arun Govil is Shri Ram to us; similarly Shashi ji is our Bhakt Dhruv. Whenever there is a mention of this bal-bhakt, we can only see him singing “Prabhu Apni Jhalak Dikhao” to Lord Vishnu. Bhakt Dhruv (1947) is a Prakash Pictures production; produced by brothers Vijay Bhatt & Shankar Bhatt (of Ram Rajya (1943) fame), directed by Shanti Kumar, music by Shankar Rao Vyas and lyrics by Pt. Indra & Pt. Moti.
Shashi ji says this was a fun project as shoots felt like play time. The offer came from Prakash Pictures and after a few interviews he was chosen for his first leading role. He did not feel much difference between this mythological role or otherwise and got used to the costumes very quickly. Shanti Bhai and his assistants would make the cast aware of the daily activity schedule; while much was routine, they were very careful in scenes that would be tedious like – being submerged in water up to the nose, sliding along pulleys and wires from one end to the other or the scene involving live snakes including the one around his neck. The other cast members like Jeevan, Mridula, Shanta Rin, Leela Mishra and Laxman (who played his brother Uttam) were a great company, like family on the sets.
One of the most memorable (our favourite) sequences of the film is where actor Shri Bhagwan ji appears as Bhagwan Vishnu in front of Dhruv as he sings “Prabhu Apni Jhalak Dikhao” (sung by Mohantara Talpade). It is interesting to know that this sequence had no computer generated shenanigans; everything was shot in real time using lighting angles, shielding the actor with cut-outs, etc. It took time but the end result was visually very effective. During our initial interaction we realised that Shashi ji had not seen any of his own films in decades, so we shared a youtube link of this song. On being asked how it felt, he said – “How did it feel? Strange, like who is that kid?“
Shashi ji shared some interesting trivia. In Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani (1946) he played Pandurang Kotnis, younger brother of the famous Dr Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis (Dr. DS Kotnis) and a few years later acted in his wife Kamla Kotnis‘ production Sati Ahilya (1949) in a cameo as Shri Ram. He still finds it amusing that he got an opportunity to work with a man he once played onscreen. Kamla ji used to do his makeup herself. He says lead and character actors were just phenomenal then, in spite of success they remained simple human beings, never looking down on the small actors. Meeting icons like the man with a booming, sharp and crystal clear voice, Sohrab Modi, the perfectionist V. Shantaram, the ever so gentle Dadamoni (Ashok Kumar), the beautiful Kanan Devi, the very humble Dilip Kumar, among others are part of his cherished memories.
Shashi ji comes across as a sweet, polite and patient person. From his pictures it can be seen that he exudes a certain calmness and serenity. Someone who is at peace with what life had to offer and the choices he made to reach where he is now. Today we admire him even more. We are thankful Shashi ji agreed to traverse down the memory lane with us. Its been a pleasure to know him and a wish fulfilled. Today on his Birthday we wish him Good Health, Peace and Happiness.
Found a new poster/booklet scan for Bhakt Dhruv (1947) thanks to Priya Lakshmi. We just had to include it here.
– Maitri Manthan
* We would like to thank Cineplot without whom interaction with Shashi Kapoor ji would not have been possible.
* The information provided in this blog is to the best of our knowledge, if any discrepancies are found please let us know. Thank you.