Urdu mehfil celebrates Shashi Kapoor’s birth anniversary with his life, work


A scene from MuhafizA scene from Muhafiz

The stories of Shashi Kapoor's grace, graciousness and generosity are as many as the number of lives he touched - whether for a fleeting moment like one with a young artist in Lucknow, whose paintings Kapoor simply couldn't walk past on his way to a shoot, or for a lifetime, as was the case with his fellow theatrewallahs. This March 18, Kapoor would have turned 80, and to commemorate the occasion, today's edition of the monthly Urdu gathering, Mehfil@ Prithvi, will be all about the iconic actor's life and work through the lesser-known facet of his love for Urdu.

Shashi Kapoor

"We felt it was important to talk about Shashi ji's major contribution to Urdu and Hindi, and in turn to Mumbai, and there couldn't be a better occasion to do this than his birth anniversary," says Salim Arif, veteran theatre personality, critic and organiser of Mehfil@Prithvi. This evening, the theatre's premises will come alive with clips and anecdotes from Kapoor's life and films, with guests who have worked closely with him sharing their memories of Kapoor, the actor and nurturer of art.

Shashi Kapoor

Arif remembers Kapoor as a great lover of Urdu poetry. "When his son Kunal was studying in England, he insisted that he brush up his Urdu. And so, Kunal used to take Urdu lessons from [the late senior actor] Zohra Sehgal sahiba," he adds. "Apart from his fondness for Urdu, I suspect there was one more reason why he wanted me to take those lessons. Zohra ji was going through a rough patch, and being the person of high self-esteem that she was, she would have never taken any financial help. So, this was Dad's way of doing a little something for her, while I also brushed up my Urdu," recalls Kunal, trustee, Prithvi Theatre. He also remembers how Kapoor would prefer to watch channels from Pakistan on TV "to listen to the zabaan and rhythm of the language".

Salim Arif
Salim Arif

This literary and cultural inclination were reflected in the choices Kapoor made at the peak of his career as a film actor. "For his production house [Filmvalas], he could have gone with a Manmohan Desai but he opted for a Shyam Benegal, and we got films like Kalyug and Junoon. Then there was Ismail Merchant's Muhafiz/In Custody, which featured him as an ageing Urdu poet," Arif shares.

The culimation of it all was in the quaint space by the beach in Juhu, which Kapoor transformed with his beloved wife Jennifer Kendal. "After the Chhabildas movement, there was no committed space for Hindustani plays in Mumbai until Prithvi Theatre happened. In fact, it is because of Prithvi that we have stalwarts of cinema coming back to theatre. And for artistes who are not involved with films and television in a big way, a big reason we have stayed on in Mumbai is Prithvi," Arif continues.

He recalls, "I would bump into Shashi ji at Prithvi often, and every time we met, he would beat me to a namaste." Sharing his version of the now-famous cake stories, he says, "After the curtain call of Humsafar, we received a cake from the cafeteria saying, 'Well Done'. Of course, it came from Shashi ji. He was like the generous chhote chacha of a family!"

But what Arif calls the greatest legacy of Kapoor, which has been deftly carried forward by his children, is the sense of ownership the place gives to the theatre fraternity. "We never feel like the Kapoors own it. We are all moral stakeholders of Prithvi."

On: Tonight, 7 pm
At: Prithvi Theatre, Juhu
Call: 26149546

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