[I have been busy putting finishing touches to my next book "The Mine", releasing next January. Hence the long hiatus. Sincere thanks to all who inquired.]
I have always been a fan of Shakti Kapoor. One of the reasons for my admiration has obviously been his career-defining performance as the Vitamin Sex-amped, ambigosexual, killed-in-a-ladies-bathroom-by-Prabhuji-through-cutting-off-of-male-organ Chutiya in one of the most influential Hindi movies of the last century, Kanti Shah’s “Gunda”. But even before I came across this life-altering celluloid classic, I had been keenly following Shakti’s acting career, marveling at his histrionic abilities.
His “Atak gya atak gya” sympathetic portrayal of stammerers in “Satte pe Satta”. His serial-confessional performance in “Tohfa” where he would periodically jump in front of the camera,say ”Yeh kaam maine kiya hai” and hop out like a twisted grasshoper . His essaying of a gay policeman in “Mast Kalandar” (Dekh Raja mujhe koi ganda cheez ka koi chaska naheen hai. Na sharaab da. Na juye da. Na daulat da. Aur na kisi ladki da.). His role as Raja-babu’s “Yeh ka hai. Ye naada hai” friend Nandu-tumhara-bondu. His tour d’force as Batuknath “Chota sa pyara se nanha sa” Lallan Prasad Maalpaani in Chaalbaaz. The paidaaishi chor Crimemaster Gogo of “Andaaz Apna Apna”, the most dangerous thief outside the UPA government.
Shakti Kapoor, I have always felt, has shown originality, in a way few in Bollywood have done. Truly it can be said, if “Reading Lolita in Tehran” elevated a group of women above the pain of their existences in Iran, watching Shakti going “Lolitaaaaaa in India” was as liberating an experience for an entire generation of Indians.
As the nineties became the twenty-first century and with it Bollywood plunged itself into a sea of a new-found internationalism, fundamental transformations were wrought in its basic fabric, one of them being the extinction of the traditional villain. Naturally, Shakti Kapoor found himself shunted out, like muslin weavers after the incursion of cheap cloth from Manchester. He took refuge in alternative Bollywood, where he still sparkled from time to time playing a scheming fashion-photographer or did bit-parts in mainstream movies like the person who bites Anil Kapoor (so convincing is his method acting that Anil Kapoor had to get a tetanus shot). But it was obvious that his career as an A-lister had all but ended. Till his recent appearance as the “sole male member” in Big Boss 5, through which he has, once again, re-claimed his place in the limelight, a place he is born for.
Unfortunately though, and this never ceases to shock and disturb me, is the disrespect that is heaped upon this man, in the media and in the digital social sphere e.g. Twitter. Say that you are supporting Shakti Kapoor and be prepared to face an assault from rolling-eye-ladies, who shall in essence imply that being a Shakti Kapoor fan is tantamount to supporting rape and molestation. And joining voices with them will be men—-after all dissing Shakti has become the first step for those who want to show themselves to be “sensitive” (the second being to claim that the personal journeys of the characters in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara were fascinating).
What’s Shakti’s crime? Let’s see. He has played the role of rapist and molester in a few of his movies. Okay maybe more than a few. But how does it make him a criminal—by that logic Arun Govil and Nitish Bharadwaj should be Gods. The worst that can be said about Shakti is that he has been typecast playing a specific type of role—–but which actor in Bollywood has not been? And it’s not that Shakti Kapoor wrote the story or the script, he was merely given a part to execute and it is a testament to his immersion in character that so many years later, his portrayals still engender such strong emotions, misguided and misdirected though they be.
In Hindi movies, and this was even more pronounced in the last century, the appearance had to be kept up, solely for the sake of our culture, that love between man and woman is a heavenly bond between incorporeal entities. This sanitized bubble-wrapped abomination of reality was in sharp contrast to what the paying public wanted, namely the show of skin. The essential hypocrisy of Hindi movies in the 80s and the 90s was that they pandered to exactly those instincts that were criminalized in the narrative—-namely lust. Shakti and people like Ranjeet and Gulshan Grover were the solutions to the conundrum of “How do we give the audience what they want while maintaining the safed chadar of propriety?”. With the heroine being unable to voluntarily expose and the hero unable to articulate his physical desires, villains like Shakti Kapoor became the vicarious projection of the desires of the sweaty masses onto the screen. In that way, Shakti was a collective toy for the masses and it is tragic that the same crowd that welded him for their own ends, would then end up spitting in his face. He had held a mirror to the Indian audience and what they saw was not pretty. So instead of slashing at their own faces with a razor, which is what they should have done, they took the comforting option of breaking the mirror and stomping on the shards.
One of the positives about the new Bollywood is that some of the hypocrisy (not all) about sexuality is gone. For instance, Emran Hashmi has no compunction in reaching for the bodice of his lady love within the first ten minutes of “Murder 2″ and no one thinks any the worse for either of them. It is not a co-incidence that these more open depictions of human intimacy have been accompanied by the vanishing of the de-rigeur “rape scene” of the 80s and 90s movies. To put it simply, it is no longer a plot device that is needed. And one may thank Shakti’s emphatic performances for the change. No doubt the revulsion his acts unleashed forced this lasting, positive transformation.
Unfortunately all of what I just said wont change any hearts about Shakti just as all the American aid in the world won’t change Pakistani opinion about USA. Why? Because he is perceived as sleazy in real life, as someone who has strayed outside the compact of marriage. Remember that sting operation? Remember that offer of a role in exchange for favors? What kind of a decent man would do that?
Not to justify the casting couch or to take names, but if every power-broker that tried to use the power of their position to get women “to compromise” were to be shown the same level of opprobrium, then there would be lynch mobs out for many people in Bollywood. However none of these worthies has ever gotten the treatment that has been meted out to Shakti. In an interview to BBC, Shakti Kapoor talked about persecution of the type that, if it was anyone else, should have gotten Amnesty International involved. After the casting couch tapes broke, people came in front of his house shouting “Shakti Kapoor you are a bad person, Shakti Kapoor you are the worst person” . Such was their vitriol that the poor man felt that if he had been outside there would have been “two thousand pieces of Shakti Kapoor all scattered on the road and they would have been carrying one bit of Shakti Kapoor to their house as souvenir” [Link] And if that has not been enough public humiliation, when Shakti went to receive the Tepa Samman, women’s organizations garlanded him with a black cloth and slapped him and then he had ink poured on him in Nagpur.
Legendary heroes have two wives, legendary heroines become second wives (first marriage still valid), leading man has child out of wedlock, married mainstream director gets a court ruling against him in a sexual harassment case, and leading chocolate-faced hero and youth icon confesses to cheating on his girlfriend. I can go on and on but you get the point—– all kinds of peccadilloes take place and no one responsible for these have their reputations dragged through the mud as Shakti Kapoor does.
The character Joey Tribbiani of “Friends” makes no secret of the fact that he objectifies women, sleeps around, forgets their names, looks a girl lasciviously up and down while crudely saying “How you doin?”. Yet ask women what they think and they will say, without fail, that they find Joey/Matt Le Blanc dreamily sexy. But let Shakti do even a bit of what Joey does, let him roll the word Balmaaaaaaa round his tongue and watch the sandals and ink-pots come out.
The ultimate hypocrisy? In the season premiere of Big Boss 5, the hosts humiliate Shakti Kapoor by not interacting with him, the only contestant to be singled out. The hosts are two of the biggest matinee idols in Bollywood with millions of adoring women fans. Let’s look at them a bit closely. Between them, the hosts have illegally possessed arms, killed endangered species, been accused of running over pavement dwellers and done serious jail time. And none of them can be considered to have been paragons of “virtue”. Yet they are the heroes. And then there is the villain, a man with no criminal record, who has never collaborated with terrorists or put a poor living being in the crosshairs of his gun. What is his lot? Being made the target of scorn and abuse. Pathetic.
So if you have ever curled up in bed wondering why the world has different standards for you than it has for others, if you have felt discriminated against in life and in love, then I urge you to stand with me in support of Shakti, a true victim of societal hypocrisy, as he goes for the big Big Boss prize.
As he once famously said in “Dalaal”, “Kutta…kutta hoon main, jawaniyon ko soongta hoon”. Well every dog has his day. And Shakti’s might just be here.