New Delhi | The success of ‘The Householder’ as a stepping stone for Shashi Kapoor’s foray into international cinema has a lot to do with the legendary Satyajit Ray, who not only loaned to the film’s makers his genius cameraman but also suggested music and editing for it, says a new book.
Released in 1963, ‘The Householder’ is a black and white comedy-drama featuring Shashi in his first English film. The film was directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant with the duo forming the famous Merchant-Ivory Productions.
If ‘The Householder’ is considered luckydespite confronting a spate of monetary challenges – it is on account of the unexpected intercession of the legendary filmmaker, Satyajit Ray. James met Satyajit during a visit to Calcutta; it so happened that the Bengali master had seen a short film of his and had liked it.
Satyajit introduced James and Ismail to his cinematographer, Subrata Mitra; he loaned them this genius of a cameraman, who went on to shoot ‘The Householder’, giving it its pristine look with stunning black-and-white montages, says the recently released ‘Shashi Kapoor – the Householder, the Star’, written by Aseem Chhabra.
In addition, Ray stepped in for ‘The Householder’s’ music production – enlisting the help of Ali Akbar Khan, the sitar maestro – and even re-edited the film with his editor, Dulal Dutta, when James and Ismail showed him a rough cut.
James recounts how this came to be in an interview with the novelist, Amitav Ghosh. After ‘The Householder’ was edited, it still seemed very unwieldy, not very nicely done… I asked [Ray] if I could bring the film to show him. He said sure come on. So Ismail and I climbed on the train we took the Hindi version of it, all those cans, there must have been twenty-four cans or something.
We went from Bombay to Calcutta with all that film. He saw it and liked it he thought there was something there to work with. I asked him whether he could give us any suggestions about the cutting and he said, yes.
He would re-cut it, but he didn’t want me to interfere while he was doing that. He said let me have a go at it, I’ll do it my way, you can be in the editing room if you want to be, when we’re all done you can change it if you want to, that’s your business, but let me do what I want to do.
So then he and his editor Dulal Dutt[a] re-cut the film. They took about four days, and gave it a new shape. It was he [Ray] who suggested that it go into a flashback form, says the Rupa Publications’ book, the maiden biography on Shashi Kapoor.
‘The Householder’ was distributed by Columbia Pictures and it opened in October 1963 at the Guild Theatre in New York City. The film, however, tanked money-wise but managed to open the gateway to the Western Cinema for Shashi, who went on to work in several foreign films.
In another uncanny resemblance with ‘The Householder’, Ray was a presence for Shashi’s another crossover film Shakespeare Wallah with his cinematographer, Subrata Mitra, shooting the film and the master craftsman composing the original score.
Released in 1965, Shakespeare Wallah projects the desolate lives of travelling British actors who desperately try to keep Shakespeare alive in an independent, fast-changing India. The film, starring Shashi in the lead won the best actress award for Madhur Jaffery at the 15th Berlin International Film Festival.
Another instance of Ray’s confidence in Shashi came up years later when he suggested actress Aparna Sen to approach the Hindi superstar, who had by then also donned the hat of a producer backing art house films, with her script of 36, Chowringhee Lane, which as a film released in 1981.
Script in hand, Aparna approached a few potential producers. ‘Sex? Violence? What are you trying to sell?’ they (producers) would ask me,’ Aparna says. ‘And I would answer, ‘A small human tale.’ This comeback was of little interest to most producers, notes the book.
Finally, at the end of her tether, Aparna shared her script with her mentor, Satyajit, who took a couple of months to get back. His response was reassuring – he liked what he read – and he told Aparna she ought to make the film. When the actress mentioned the difficulties she was facing while seeking producers, Satyajit suggested that she approach Shashi Kapoor, since he had just produced ‘Junoon’.
‘In fact, he told me, he had a gut feeling that Shashi would take this on,’ Aparna says, according to the book. Shashi, who had by the 1970s and 1980s emerged as the only other backer of art-house Hindi cinema the other being the government itself, produced the film which went to win critical acclaim and even won a BAFTA nomination for best actress for Jeniffer Kendal Kapoor, Shashi’s wife, who played the protagonist in it.
The film, which failed to fare well at the box office, fetched Aparna the National Award for Best Director. The 216-page book traces Shashi’s journey from a humble boy who chose to quit school at the age of 15 to join theatre full time to become the busiest star in Hindi films and also became among the first ones to work in British and American productions.
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