When a very young Saif Ali Khan bit a man to save Shashi Kapoor’s life

Sharmila, his frequent co-star and friend, adds: ‘Not just fellow actors and producers—if you talk to technicians, you will learn that Shashi had their support. He would shake hands with them, say “Mera naam Shashi Kapoor hai” (“My name is Shashi Kapoor”) and have tea in their company.’ Neetu Singh Kapoor, who is married to Rishi Kapoor, and starred opposite Shashi in Deewaar, among other films, echoes this sentiment: ‘I remember what a gentleman he was on the sets of that film. He would talk to the make-up man, his kid, with everybody. So human and so down to earth.’

Ramesh Talwar, who was the chief assistant director for a number of Yash Chopra films, remembers this aspect of Shashi’s personality shining through while shooting Kabhi Kabhie in Kashmir. He says, ‘Shashi would often host donga (Kashmiri boat) parties. He would hire two boats and people were free to sit wherever they liked. The crew often felt awkward mingling with the stars, but Shashi encouraged people to float from one boat to the next.’

Kunal says that such inclusiveness was a function of his dad’s upbringing. ‘My father strongly believed in his father’s romantic, socialistic ideas. He never stepped on people’s toes. He never axed an actor. He never played politics to get a role. He was not competitive. In fact, he was a victim and lost many roles in films because other actors strode in.’

Not surprisingly, Shashi developed a reputation as an eminently likeable star. In fact, when I speak to Sharmila, I realize that this impression cut across not only the industry’s pecking order, but also age groups! Sharmila tells me: ‘Shashi and I were in Jaipur for Paap Aur Punya. My son, Saif (Ali Khan, now an actor), 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.’ What’s rare is that the star didn’t even have to work hard to get into the little boy’s good books. ‘Shashi was just a very likeable guy,’ Sharmila smiles. ‘It came to him naturally. He didn’t need to pretend.’

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