In Bombay, where I reach on Wednesday morning on my first proper visit to the city, I would have liked to look up one person: Shakti Kapoor. I simply love the man, don't ask me why. But it is highly unlikely he would be there.
This morning, my father broke a piece of news to me. He was going through the Bengali paper he subsribes to back home in Kanpur, and his eyes fell on a small black-and-white advertisement for a jatra show. Jatra, the way I can explain it, is the folk theatre of Bengal. The stage usually stands like an island amid the audience, with only one side cordoned off to provide for a crude green room for the artistes. In no other form of theatre, as far as I know, does the audience get to have such a close look at the artistes and their performance. The advertisement for that particular jatra show, which caught my father's attention, boasted of Shakti Kapoor as the lead performer. It even carried a black-and-white picture of a haggard-looking (my father's words) Shakti Kapoor.
So when this Bengali lands in Bombay, Shakti Kapoor would be somewhere in Bengal, possibly in a town like Midnapore, practising his Bengali in order to live up to the expectations of the audience. The lay Bengali, no matter where in Bengal he lives and what he does for a living, is a perfectionist, provided he himself is not expected to be one. So I can only imagine Shakti's ordeal. But I am sure jatra pays him well enough. And am sure he is liking the fact that the Bengali audience, whose benchmark is none other than Satyajit Ray, is accepting him. Otherwise, makers of D-grade films in Bombay are always on the lookout for a 'big name' who can play the pimp or the conman or the comedian.
But Shakti Kapoor speaking Bengali? That too in a jatra where he has to go live in front of a Bengali audience that surrounds him from all three sides? Well, that's almost like spotting prime minister Manmohan Singh in an upscale Delhi pub or catching US president Obama light up a cigarette during a press conference. Too good to miss! Trust me, when I go to Calcutta in the first week of January for a reading of Chai, Chai, I shall track down Shakti Kapoor and watch him perform.
How I love the man! I love his accent, to begin with. I also love the lecherous look on his face, which is always more comic than villainy. But what I like the most about him is the way he gets startled. Did you ever notice that? His eyes suddenly pop out and his mouth falls open every time the hero turns the tables against him. Oh, how I love that look!
Shakti Kapoor, in most of his movies, has either been a cruel villain or a comedian villain, but the thing is, you enjoy even his cruelty because it is all so laughable. I have lost count of the number of times I must have watched Baap Numberi, Beta Dus Numberi. Trust me, the pair of Kadar Khan and Shakti Kapoor have made innumerable unwatchable movies watchable, no matter how great the star cast. They are truly great actors, or so I think.
Did I hear you saying, "Aaaooo!"? If you don't know where "Aaaooo" comes from, you clearly don't know Shakti Kapoor well enough.