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Shashi Kapoor: The last in the First Family of Indian Cinema

Regular attendance at cinema halls was once one of the most wide-spread forms of entertainment in Nigerian cities in the years before the 1980s expired. Though there was a heavy presence of Western films, the majority of the films shown in the cinema halls particularly across the Northern parts of the country, where I was born and raised, were mainly Indian films. Cinema halls flourished in Maiduguri, Jos, Zaria, Kaduna and Kano. 

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Shashi Kapoor, who died last week at the age of 79, was one of the heroes in the Indian films of that bygone era whose death marked another milestone in the depletion of the ranks of those actors whose talents gave us immense entertainment. In the recent years many icons of the golden age of Indian films have been lost. Sunil Dutt died in 2005, Dev Anand in 2011, Strongman Dara Singh in 2012, Regular bad man, Pran, in 2013, Vinod Khanna 2017, including the really big ones Rajesh Khanna who died in 2012 and Shashi’s elder brother, Shammi Kapoor who died in 2011, and interestingly at 79,the same age that Shashi died.

 Shashi Kapoor was the third and last among the sons of Prithviraj Kapoor, the patriarch who gave the world of Indian films generations of highly talented actors that came to dominate the industry in the 1950s, 60s and70s. It is in regard to this dominance that they came to be known as the First Family of Indian Cinema. There is probably no family involved in film-making in India that has had such a pervasive influence in the industry than the Kapoor dynasty. Their fourth generation typified by Ranbir Kapoor (born 1982) is still making waves in the industry. Their influence now is said to span almost eighty years of film-making in India from the 1920s to the present. 

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You could try to comprehend the extent of this influence when you realize that the Indian film industry is the largest in the world both in terms of production output and number of people employed, outflanking both the Hollywood and the Chinese film industries. The Kapoor dynasty, great actors and filmmakers have been known to have stuck their names on the screens of Indian Cinema ever since the first son of the family, Raj Kapoor made his acting debut in 1935 at the age 10. The father Prithviraj, who was born at the turn of the last Century, grew up at a time when the film industry was just arriving in India. Prithviraj was born in 1906 and the first full length motion picture, Raja Harishchandra, made by the legendary film-maker Dadasaheb Phalke, was shown in1913. 

Prithvraj started his acting career in the silent films of the era while also performing on the stage in the theatre. He later left the films to concentrate on the theatre. He formed his own travelling theatre with mainly members of his burgeoning family. It was only when the fortunes of the travelling theatres declined in the 1930s that he returned to the cinema. By then his first son Raj Kapoor had already become established in the cinema industry with films such as Chori Chori, Awaara, Shree 420 and Sangam. The films he made were so famous that he earned the sobriquet of The Greatest Showman of Indian Cinema. Though he died 30 years ago he is still regarded today as probably the greatest and the most influential actor and film maker in the history of Hindi cinema. 

His younger brother Shammi Kapoor joined the industry as soon as he got into his teens. Most of us who became regular cinema goers in the 1960s would probably be more acquainted with Shammi Kapoor who gave us such unforgettably delightful films such as Janwar, An Evening in Paris, Junglee, Teesri Manzil, Kashmir Ki Kali, Dil Deko Dekho, Brahmachari, Professor, Raj Kumar and Tumsah Nahi Deka. It is a pity that he had weight problems and in an industry where looks were paramount, he had to retire early.

Shashi Kapoor like his brothers started acting right from childhood in the early 1940s. As he was part of the family Prithvi Theatre he acted in productions directed by his father. He became a child actor in the cinema under the tutelage of his brother Raj and he even appeared together with him in films such as Sangam and Awaara. Shashi began appearing as a leading man in films as from the early 1960s and became immensely popular like his brothers. Altogether throughout the 50s and 60s, the three brothers and the father appearing regularly in films that they mostly produced enabled them to dominate the industry completely. 

Shashi Kapoor himself was said to have made over 100 films and with some of the most beautiful stars of the times, Mala Sinha, Sadhana, Nanda, Asha Parekh, Shamila Tagore and Hema Malini. 

I recall watching Waqt where Shashi appeared with Balraj Sahni one of my favourite actors. I also watched Amne Samne, Pyar Ka Mausam, Kanyadaan, Patanga and Roti Kapada Aur Makan among many others. A film he featured as a supporting actor Kabhi Kabhie would probably be one of last Indian film I watched in the cinema in the mid-1970s. Thereafter the cinema-going culture was severely destabilized in Nigeria by the emergence of video machines which allowed watching productions within the comfort of one’s home. 

Nevertheless Indian film actors of that era and the films they produced had an enduring influence on modern Nigerian films. This is more evident in the Hausa language films. Whenever I watch films produced from Kano/Kaduna axis I clearly see the enactment of the motions of Shashi Kapoor and the like. Many productions particularly the soyayya (love story) films are heavily indebted to the golden era of the Indian cinema. You could see it in the entire production; the story line, the dialogue, the mannerisms, and the ubiquitous songs and dances. It is a positive influence as it has created a whole industry for us that is growing daily in bounds.

 

Re: The House of infamy 

M Gambo I have to disagree with you on the decision of Borno State Government to turn the house of late Mohammed Yusuf into a museum. One can’t pin-point what will constitute the artefacts, etc., that will be housed there. Rabeh’s fort in Dikwa is markedly different from Yusuf’s mere house; it was important enough historically for the three colonial powers that battled him to leave it standing – they seemed to have a greater appreciation of history, else the British would have razed all the great wall of Kano. They were content with the breach their artillery made at Kofar Nasarawa. In fact they encouraged the preservation of some parts of the 1000 years wall. 

Yusuf’s house has no such pedigree to warrant its preservation. Places of infamy are usually destroyed in order not to make them hallowed grounds. It is seen in the destruction of Maitatsine’s house in Kano and in wiping-off from the face of the earth the village of Satiru near Sokoto from where a fiery preacher, Mallam Dan Makaho raised the flag of Jihad against the nascent colonial rule in 1906 – in addition to the land being cursed by the reigning Sultan.

There must be other ways whereby the evils of the Yusuf’s extremism could be taught to the coming generations.

Thank you

M T Usman   

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