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Birthday special: Sharmila Tagore’s close friendship with co-star Shashi Kapoor

On her 72nd birthday today (8 December), a closer look at the shared rapport between Tagore and her frequent co-star of ten films, Shashi Kapoor.

Sonal Pandya

Before acting with Shashi Kapoor for the first time in Yash Chopra’s familial multi-starrer Waqt (1965), actress Sharmila Tagore first encountered the star on the sets of Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), directed by Shakti Samanta. In her Hindi film debut, the eighteen-year-old Sharmila was acting opposite Shashi’s elder brother Shammi. Of course, she made her film debut five years earlier in Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar (1959).

Tagore recounted the episode in Aseem Chhabra’s book, Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star. “We were shooting the song ‘Isharon Isharon Mein Dil Lenewale’, and I said to myself, “Oh my god! This is Shashi Kapoor.” And I couldn’t work. Shakti finally asked him to leave.” His presence flustered the young actress then, but the two of them went on to become friends and work in 10 films in three decades.

After their popular pairing in Waqt, Kapoor and Tagore were seen again Aamne Samne (1967), Suhana Safar (1970), and Aa Gale Lag Jaa (1973). Chhabra made an interesting comparison that the two stars made a smooth transition between commercial and art cinema. Kapoor easily acted in the international films of Merchant-Ivory productions and appeared in iconic Hindi films like Sharmeelee (1971) and Deewaar (1975).

Similarly, Tagore worked in the cinema of Satyajit Ray with Devi (1960) and Nayak (1966), alongside Hindi film hits like An Evening in Paris (1967) and Daag (1973). The older actor helped out Tagore as they worked together more and more. Tagore admired his work ethic on sets, noting that he always came on time, like another co-star Amitabh Bachchan. She explained Kapoor’s advice to her in Chhabra’s book stating, “Shashi would constantly tease me because I would argue a lot with the directors on the sets. Each time, he’d remind me to get on with it — don’t bicker, just do it! This is what I’ve learnt from him. When you are doing a film for money or to help a friend out, be clear about the motives and then finish what needs to be done. When you come to the set and are aware of the limitations of the script or the director, don’t expect pigs to fly.”

The two came back to film New Delhi Times (1986), the National Award-winning directed by Ramesh Sharma. They played Vikas and Nisha Pande, a couple — he is a journalist and she a lawyer, who supports her husband during an expose into the corruption of the media. Their only other film after this was Kranthi Kumar’s Swati (1986).