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When Shashi Kapoor was almost cast in Bimal Roy’s Bandini

On his 79th birthday, a look back at how the Jab Jab Phool Khile actor almost landed a role in the National Award-winning Bandini, directed by Bimal Roy.

Shashi Kapoor in Prem Patra (1962)/Dharmendra in Bandini (1963).

Sonal Pandya

The two contemporaries, Shashi Kapoor and Dharmendra, both began their careers struggling to get leading man roles. According to Dharmendra, he, Shashi and Manoj Kumar used to sit at a bench in Filmistan Studios waiting for their big break. The young actors suffered many indignities during their struggling days before making it big.

Despite being the son of Prithviraj Kapoor and the brother of Raj and Shammi Kapoor, Shashi found that he had to go and knock on several doors before landing his first role as an adult. He had acted as a child artiste in his brother Raj’s films, Aag (1948), Sangram (1950) and Awaara (1951), often playing the younger version of his characters.

In Aseem Chhabra’s book on Kapoor, 'Shashi Kapoor: The Householder, the Star', the author writes that filmmaker Yash Chopra first spotted Shashi at the popular South Mumbai restaurant, Gaylord’s, where most aspiring actors were known to hang out. Impressed by the young man, Chopra invited him to stop by his elder brother BR Chopra’s office at Kardar Studios. There, he shared the story of Dharmputra with Shashi, signing him on as his lead actor eventually.

However, the National Award-winning film did not guarantee more film roles. He still had to make the studio rounds to get noticed by other filmmakers. One such meeting was with Bimal Roy at Mohan Studios. Roy’s assistants, Gulzar, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Bhattacharya, were waiting outside his office. He also noticed Dharmendra there, a fellow contender for the same role, perhaps.

It turned out that Bimal Roy was in pre-production on two films, Prem Patra (1962) and Bandini (1963) and the two actors were in the running for both of them. But Dharmendra and Shashi needn’t have worried. Roy wanted to work with them both and cast Shashi in Prem Patra and Dharmendra in Bandini.

Shashi Kapoor, at the nascent stages of his film career, did not put up much of an argument on which film he would be cast in. But it is intriguing to think what would have happened had Roy cast him in Bandini as the sensitive prison doctor Devendra. In Prem Patra, Shashi played Dr Arun, a young medical student who goes abroad to study. There, he carries out epistolary love affair with Kavita (Sadhana) who is posing as his fiancée, Tara (Seema Deo).

Dharmendra and Nutan in Bandini (1963)

Bandini (1963) was only Dharmendra’s seventh film while Prem Patra was Kapoor’s fourth film after he became a hero. While Bandini went on to become a milestone film in Bimal Roy’s career, Prem Patra became a forgotten love story of mistaken identities and the lost art of love letters. The two actors too went on to have wildly different careers as Dharmendra's image grew from romantic hero to macho man, while Shashi Kapoor also became known as an actor-producer of parallel cinema films like Junoon (1979) and 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981).