Forever the thorough gentleman, Shashi Kapoor’s interaction with the press was impeccable. Polite, well-behaved and utterly dignified, he never lost his cool in print (there was no internet back then.) But there was one time that Shashi Kapoor lost his cool and lashed out in print. And that was when his dear beloved wife Jennifer Kapoor did not win the National award for her extraordinary performance in Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane. Instead, it was Rekha who won for Umrao Jaan.
Strangely, Shashi Kapoor lashed out at arthouse actress Smita Patil rather than Rekha when one would assume that the latter would be in the firing line. But Shashi chose to vent his ire on Smita Patil who had won awards and was known for her realistic performances. Apparently, he made some unsavoury comments against the dusky actress. Explains a source who knew the details of the story, “Even when he was angry and upset, Shashi remembered to be kind to his friends. And Rekha was a dear friend. She had played the lead in three of Shashi’s most prestigious productions Vijeta, Kalyug and Utsav. So Shashi didn’t want to attack Rekha personally. Instead he made his point and deflected his anger to unnamed actresses who he felt ‘got national awards for soaping their armpits.”
It was a comment that Shashi regretted later though luckily, he hadn’t named Smita. But everyone knew it was Smita for it was she who won the National award for a movie called Chakra in which she was seen bathing under a street-side watertap. Some years ago when this topic was brought up with Rekha she said, “Shashi had every right to be upset. Jenniferji deserved the award much more than me. I didn’t even know what I was doing in Umrao Jaan.”
Shashi could take solace in the fact that many great performers and performances didn’t win any National award. They didn’t honour Dilip Kumar for Ganga Jumna or Devdas. Nor did they honour Rajesh Khanna for Anand or Amar Prem. Even Mr. Bachchan’s really great performances in Deewaar and Saudagar went unacknowledged.