The star of numerous Merchant-Ivory films, Indian actor Shashi Kapoor has died after a prolonged illness. He was 79. He was admitted to a hospital in Mumbai on Sunday with a chest infection and died on Monday (Dec 4).

Shashi was one of the few Indian actors who straddled the cinemas of India and the West. He was the youngest son of actor Prithviraj Kapoor.

Shashi Kapoor in Jab Jab Phool Khile. Photo: YouTube

After appearing as a child actor in Raj Kapoor’s Aag (1948) and Awaara, Shashi debuted as a leading man in 1961 in Yash Chopra’s Dharmputra. His association with the James Ivory-Ismail Merchant team began in 1963 with The Householder and continued with Shakespeare-Wallah (1965), Bombay Talkie (1970) and In Custody (1994), which was also his last major film role.

His numerous successes in Hindi-language films in the early part of his career include Waqt, Jab Jab Phool Khile, Haseena Maan Jayegi, Pyar Ka Mausam, and Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973).

Shashi also formed an enormously successful on-screen partnership with superstar Amitabh Bachchan, with whom he acted in blockbusters including Deewar (1975), Kabhi Kabhie (1976), Trishul (1978) and Namak Halaal (1982).

It is reported that Amitabh, 75, spent some time with Shashi’s family in the last hours before his passing.

On his blog, Amitabh wrote of his meeting with Shashi for the first time and the friendship he struck with the late actor.

The post begins thus: “Standing elegantly without a care in the world, I saw him standing by a Mercedes sports car, a convertible, a smart trimmed beard and moustache, adorning involuntarily, the face of this incredibly handsome man. It was a picture that filled almost an entire page of a magazine. Shashi Kapoor … son of Prithviraj Kapoor, younger brother to Raj Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor, making a debut in a forthcoming film, is what the caption read … And I said to myself, as very uncertain thoughts raced through my mind of wanting to become a film actor, that, with men like him around, I stood no chance at all…”

In 1979, Shashi, via his Film-Valas production outfit, began producing acclaimed arthouse films, beginning with Junoon and followed by Kalyug, 36 Chowringhee Lane, Vijeta, and Utsav. In 1991, he directed Ajooba, starring Amitabh.

Shashi married British actress Jennifer Kendal. In 1978 they set up Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre, which remains India’s leading theatre venue. Kendal died in 1984. They are survived by their daughter, Sanjana, and sons Kunal and Karan, all of whom have had acting stints. – Agencies

Shashi Kapoor and Indrani Mukherjee in the Yash Chopra-helmed Dharmputra. Photo: YouTube