When Saif bit a villain's leg to 'save' Shashi Kapoor!

71SaifAliKhan Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan

Saif Ali Khan, when he was just two years old, bit a villain who was attacking Shashi Kapoor in a scene during the shooting of "Paap Aur Punya" thinking his 'Shashi uncle' was in huge danger.

This and several other snippets related to veteran actor find mention in a book "Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, The Star", written by Aseem Chhabra and published by Rupa Publications.

The author quotes Sharmila Tagore as telling him: "Shashi and I were in Jaipur for 'Paap Aur Punya'.

My son, Saif, who was just two years old, was with me, as were Shashi's wife and kids. The Kapoors would take my son around, and Shashi, I imagine, spent time playing with him - because soon, Saif grew quite attached to 'Shashi Uncle'.

"One day, Shashi happened to be shooting a scene where a villain put a noose around his neck, while he yanked at the rope and struggled quite desperately. Suddenly, the villain, who was in complete command of the scene, screamed! Unknown to him, Saif had crawled up and bitten him on the leg! You see, Saif thought that his Shashi Uncle was being beaten up, was in huge danger, and nobody was helping him. He had to act! Shashi Uncle was really his favourite."

Shashi was born on March 18, 1938 at Calcutta. He was given the name Balbir Raj - in keeping with the Kapoor family tradition of adopting the word 'Raj' (or 'king') in its many variations.

"But Balbir's mother, Ramsarni Kapoor, was less than happy with the name. She began calling her son Shashi - or moonbeam - since her little boy was obsessed with the moon, spending long hours watching it," the author says.

There is another nugget featuring Shashi and Sharmila in the book.

"Shashi's unannounced visit to the sets of 'Kashmir Ki Kali' unnerved 18-year-old Sharmila. 'We were shooting the song 'Isharon Isharon Main Dil Lenewale', and I said to myself, 'Oh my god! This is Shashi Kapoor. And I couldn't work," the author says, adding director Shakti Samanta finally asked Shashi to leave.

Chhabra says the early works of the 1960s and 1970s established Shashi as a star of Hindi cinema, and then, several key films formed a part of his legacy.

"There is no actual count of how many movies he acted in. Many - such as 'Sammy and Rosie Get Laid', 'Jinnah' and 'Side Streets' - never got theatre releases in India, and a few - such as 'Siddhartha' and 'Heat and Dust' - have been forgotten today.

But the landmark films - 'Deewaar', 'Kabhi Kabhie', 'Junoon', 'Kalyug', and even one of his first works, 'Dharmputra' - are still part of Hindi film history, and are definitely worth revisiting, if only to find the terrific, nuanced actor lurking inside that very attractive man!" he says.

According to co-actor in eight films Shabana Azmi, Shashi's good looks went against him. "Because the first impression was that of a strikingly attractive man, people would forget what a fine actor he was!"

The book also says that on Sundays, the Kapoors of Napean Sea Road would take a family trip to Prithvi Jhonpra - Prithviraj Kapoor's residence in the Janki Kutir area of Juhu. Prithviraj's neighbour was the poet Kaifi Azmi, Shabana's father.

Shabana was a crazy fan of Shashi. "When I was around 12 or 13, I would save all my pocket money to buy his black and white photographs every week from a vendor near my school at Grant Road. I'd shyly give Shashi the photograph when he'd come over and he would autograph it for me," the book quotes her as saying.

Under Shashi's guidance, Shabana, for the first time, learnt the brass tacks of mainstream cinema. While shooting for "Fakira" in Kashmir, Shabana - a gold medallist in acting from Poona's Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) - struggled to look at light reflectors.

Shashi then taught her how to watch the reflectors. "He made me stare and stare, until I got used to it," she says, while describing the process as pure 'torture'.

Then, Shashi taught her about top lighting, which, under the wrong circumstances, can make an actor's eyes disappear and give her a ghost-like appearance. "He told me, if you have to shoot with a top light, you have to tilt your face upwards, so that there is less of a shadow," Shabana says.

The 1970s phase of Shashi's career must also be acknowledged because it witnessed the birth of a phenomenon that came to be known as Shashitabh - Shashi and Amitabh would become one of the most successful two-hero combinations in Indian cinematic history.

When asked how did the pairing come to be, Amitabh says, "I have no idea why producers and directors chose us as a team. I guess we looked like brothers and the success of some of the films we did add to the strength of the pairing."

Shashi and Amitabh acted together in 14 films - including, strangely enough, as twins in Manmohan Desai's "Suhaag" and Shashi soon came to be referred to as Amitabh's favourite heroine.

The book also says how Raj Kapoor used to call his brother 'taxi'. Raj Kapoor used the word 'taxi' to describe his brother when he was desperately trying to get dates from Shashi for "Satyam Shivam Sundaram".

While actors were queuing up to play the lead role in the film, Raj strongly felt only Shashi could play his younger self in this somewhat autobiographical tale. So he looked at his brother's schedule and coolly appropriated all the dates he had given other filmmakers. His frenetic lifestyle, which made a car his semi-permanent address, led to the nickname, 'taxi', the book says.

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