Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor: The ‘hit’ pair

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Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan, seen here in Suhaag, was a popular pair in the 1970s and 1980s. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan formed a team that was like some guarantee of a hit. In fact, this team was as popular then as Amitabh’s with his heroines—Rekha, Raakhee, Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman. Even Shashi Kapoor could not ‘guarantee’ a success with his most frequent and popular combinations with heroines as much as he could with Amitabh for company!

However, had some kind of a jinx not been there, the two would have been seen together even earlier! So before they became a hit pair, the two were destined not to appear together in two films—the 1970 Bombay Talkie and the 1971 Anand!

Bombay Talkie was among the English films Shashi often did alongside his Hindi movies. And over here, Amitabh was to do a tiny role as a junior artiste—he was a struggling actor then. When Shashi saw his work in the sequence that was shot, he cajoled the actor not to waste his talent in such ‘roles’ and persuaded his director-cum-close friend James Ivory to delete his portion!

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It is well-known that Shashi Kapoor was filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s first choice for the title-role of Anand, a story inspired by the director’s friendship with Shashi’s elder brother Raj Kapoor, to whom the film was dedicated. Amitabh Bachchan played the Bengali doctor, who represented Hrishi-da in the film. The widespread reason for Shashi not doing the film was said to be his secretary acting pricey.  But singer Nitin Mukesh, then Hrishi-da’s assistant director, revealed that a peak-time Rajesh Khanna approached the filmmaker and offered to work free!

The Shashi-Amitabh story would not be complete without mentioning the 1979 Ahsaas, a teenybopper love story that saw both of them in one film in separate cameos, and finally, the film in which they were to come together but did not—Utsav. As originally planned by producer Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan was to play the role later essayed by Shashi himself, while Kamal Haasan was tipped to play the role done by Shekhar Suman!

The hit pair

Beginning with Roti Kapada Aur Makaan in 1974, when they were not really cast in a direct connection, the pair really came into their own with Deewaar, in which they were morally pitted against each other as cop and criminal respectively. Then came Kabhi Kabhie as the pivotal rival lovers, Trishul as half-brothers and Suhaag and Shaan as siblings. There was also seen in Do Aur Do Paanch as con-men competing with each other and in the blockbuster Namak Halaal.

The three films that did not do well were Imaan Dharam (1977), Kaala Patthar (1979) which did not recover its investment and Silsila (1981), which saw Shashi do a cameo as Amitabh’s brother who dies in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. And Amitabh has to marry his pregnant girlfriend.

The two were also seen in Akayla (1991), wherein Shashi, now overweight and having shifted to character roles, was Amitabh’s boss as a cop. In the same year, Shashi made his directorial debut with his production, Ajooba, an Indo-Russian co-production, in which Amitabh headed the cast but Shashi remained behind the screen.

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