Shashi Kapoor And Jennifer Kendal: A Shakespearean Love Saga
To love, and to lose, is the natural order of life. But to love like Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal is not for the faint-hearted. Young and hopelessly drunk in love, the couple went from being flat broke to famous, won a dismissive father over, and stayed true to their marriage vows from beyond the grave. Today, as we inch closer to the Day of Love, let us take a leaf out of history pages and dare to smile in admiration of a pair that defied every societal norm that existed in their time... This is a story straight out of a Shakespearean tragedy in ways more than one.
Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal: A Shakespearean Love Saga
Devastatingly handsome, with his heart in a tight grip in the palm of a woman's hand, is an apt description of the first Greek God of India—Shashi Kapoor. At 18, he was besotted with a white girl in a polka-dotted dress in an all-brown country, and by 20, he was married to her. If their love was set in today's time of Instagram love notes and Threads quotes, they would be the perfect embodiment of the viral caption: "7 billion people in the world, and somehow I met you."
Jennifer Kendal was an English woman, who was in India by fluke, with her father Geoffrey Kendal's traveling theater group Shakespeareana (partly the reason behind the header, you see). She crossed paths with the boy with deep dimples at the now-famous Royal Opera House in Mumbai, and by lunch the following afternoon, the two dreamy theater artists were in each other's hearts. And, it turns out, for eternity.
As is with most love stories, especially of the epic kind, theirs had a villain, too: Geoffrey Kendal disapproved of the man and was critical of his thick Indian accent. Doomed by passionate love, the Kapoor scion and Jennifer were determined to get his blessings for months on end until they were not. A rebel in a stern parent's den, Jennifer left her father's theater group and the two tried to make art like young, talented, and foolishly-in-love artists often do: set out on their own without a back-up plan. Down to their last penny and disillusioned with the ways of the cruel world, Shashi Kapoor rang up his brother Raj Kapoor one day seeking help, thereby exposing the romance to his side of the family.
"They were under-slept and underfed and my father would tell me how they would be tormented by hunger while strolling down the streets - both my parents trying to decide if they could get half a paratha," the couple's daughter, Sanjana, told Aseem Chhabra as quoted in Shashi Kapoor's biography.
Frankly, it is not how the couple met and where they fell in love—there are contradicting accounts on that front, too—that makes their devotion to one another heroic. Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal's love story did not have a traditional ending in the conventional sense, and yet, their unfinished love was an afterthought that served as fuel to the surviving partner and, in a way, an entire generation of hopeless romantics. But, then again, nothing about the couple was conventional.
If Imtiaz Ali had been an active filmmaker in Shashi Kapoor's golden era of Bollywood, the actor would have been the inspiration for his Bible for heartbroken lovers, Rockstar (2011). After losing Jennifer to colon cancer in 1984, a much-in-demand Shashi Kapoor never remarried. As Simi Garewal mentioned somewhere, he did not look like his real self since losing the love of his life. It was again her death that let gloom and despair gate-pass where once happiness dwelled, and he was visibly drowning in sorrow—in the end, Shashi Kapoor could do what his great-nephew Ranbir Kapoor couldn't in Rockstar; he wept.
In this love saga, you not only have two lovers who fell hard too young too fast, but you also see the meteoric rise of two gorgeous actors, at the height of their careers, who went through hell, and back, and someone managed to weather every storm with one another and never without. Shashi Kapoor, at any age, could have let another woman in—the actor once had a fan waiting for him at the trunk of their car till they were physically removed from near his residence—but he knew what his heart wanted all too well. And a crazed fan wasn't one.
The couple, now long gone, broke many protocols to become one—of race, age (he was younger), culture, and manmade boundaries—and while some of us may be too spoilt for choices, we can, at the very least, appreciate what they had.
The Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal tale is that phase in a teenager's life when cupid strikes for the very first time and they want the lover to be their forever one and only—picket fence and all—but most of them grow out of it when reality hits. These two didn't.