Their closeness was a thing of beauty, of togetherness and then nothing. Twenty eight years must take some adjusting to. "But." says Shashi Kapoor, as he reviews life 13 years after wife Jennifer's passing away, "I sense her presence often. And the house, and everything in it, is just as it was when she was alive." How did the orient meet the occident in this case? Both Shashi and Jennifer were theatre people and it was their love for theatre that brought them together. Those were the days when the Prithvi Theatre, under Prithviraj Kapoor, was a thriving group. On the other hand, you had the Shakespeareana under Geoffrey Kendall, which had its own standing. Both the groups happened to be performing in Calcutta at the time in 1956. Shashi. The youngest son of Prithviraj Kapoor and younger brother of Raj and Shammi Kapoor, was then 18 and doing the dual roles of actor and assistant stage manager at Prithvi Theatre. And then one day, while a performance was on at the Empire theatre, Shashi was peering through the corner of the curtain to check out the audience reaction. "My glance fell on this fabulous looking girl who looked Russian." Shashi remembers. "Her face glowed pink. I tried to find out who she was and learnt that she was part of another theatre group -- one from the U.K. called Shakespearna, and since our contract had been extended they were at a loose end till we vacated the theatre. because they, too, were scheduled to perform there. I saw her in the theatre again the next day, and I couldn't stop thinking about her. So one day, I persuaded a cousin of mine to go with me to their hotel which was close by. I was so shy that I would never have been able to venture out on my own. I'd never had an affair and the only girls we were conversant with were from our own family. When we reached the hotel, she was there having dinner with her family. I was introduced to her father and we chatted a while, but she refused to even look up from her meal and I left without having exchanged a single word with her. I was very dejected. But the next day, she came for our play again and later came backstage and invited me for her play to be performed at a city college. You can imagine how I felt. I went. This was my first experience of watching Shakespeare on stage. I did not quite understand the language, Pucca English, but remember how lovely Jennifer looked in the role of Miranda in the play 'The Tempest'."
Shashi and Jennifer had obviously touched a chord in each other's hearts: but did not know how to make that first meaningful move. Shashi was too young and too inexperienced, and Jennifer too shy, suffering from the usual constraints a girl faces in such a situation. Says Shashi. "I was a real coward. It took me ages to even hold her hand. " Seems a little strange to hear the very suave, very charming Shashi Kapoor, who can today charm anything remotely female, saying this. But, I guess, everyone has to start somewhere. One day, he and Jennifer were to go to see a film. Shashi, who had, by then, been spending every free moment with Jennifer picked her up to go to the.theatre. Those days he earned a very small salary and travelled by local train. It was in the crowded train compartment, when the train suddenly jerked and he caught hold of Jennifer's hand to steady her. It had finally happened. But the problem was, as Shashi says, "I did not know how to let go of her hand after that"
During those courtship days I could only afford to take her to small vegetarian restaurants where a 'puri-bhaji' would cost four annas' and the height of luxury was a slap-up meal at Gordons for the princely sum of Rs. two or Rs. 2.50 The courtship would have continued indefinitely. as Shashl could not nerve himself to make a declaration of any kind. Then one day elder brother Shammi Kapoor took him to task and told him to bring Jennifer home to meet the parents. " But I chickened out because I thought I'd be thrashed." Shashi laughs."So I compromised and took Jennifer to Shammiji's place instead and Geeta Bhabhi promptly fell in love with her. A true romantic herself, she'd loan us her car and a little money to go out for a meal and a drive". Fed up of her sweetheart's delaying tactics, Jennifer, finally told Shashi. "You've known me for so long and never even made a pass at me. And I'm so much in love with you. That did it. Shashi spoke to his brother about Jennifer, who agreed in turn to speak to his father:. His parents, though not exactly overjoyed at the prospect of a British 'bahu', decided to give them a chance. provided they proved it was not puppy love. But Jennifer's father. the actor Geoffrey Kendall. was a different kettle of fish altogether. He was far from pleased. because, Jennifer, for him, was not only his daughter. she was also his heroine and manager of his company and he obviously didn't like the idea of losing her.
He told them in no unequivocal terms that they would have to wait for two years. Shashi started touring with the Shokespeareana Company because they were In need of a male juvenile lead. In 1958, when he asked Kendal once again for his daughter's hand he was refused. But this time Jennifer would have none of it. She put her foot down and told Shashi. "I'm mature and I want to marry you, let my father keep on refusing." So Jennifer and Shashi came to Bombay and were married in the traditional Indian style in July. 1958. The Kendalls did not attend the wedding.
Being a few years older than him, she was so protective of him and looked after him so well. that she became an indispensable part of Shashi's existence. For instance. Shashl, like a true blue Kapoor, loved to eat and drink. But it was Jennifer who'd monitor his diet and make sure he looked and kept fit enough to continue successfully in his career as a film star.
This woman who meant everything to Shashi, had no secrets from her husband. Except one. She tried to hide the fact that she had got cancer as long as possible from him and continued working for their labour of love at the Prithvi Theatre in Bombay. But, after a long and painful battle, Jennifer succumbed on September 7. 1984.
Shashi with a faraway look In his eyes says, "Everybody loved Jennifer. She was friends with everybody and everybody she came in contact with, loved her. I've always had my share of enemies, but Jennifer only had friends." And in this admission lies Shashi Kapoor's acknowledgment of that loving. giving person that was Jennifer Kapoor.
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