From actors Naseeruddin Shah, Anil Kapoor, Om Puri and Irrfan Khan to actresses Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra, it’s fashionable for Bollywood stars to cross over to Hollywood. After making a mark at home, these actors have transitioned successfully to Hollywood films and won accolades for their performances. Anil Kapoor in Slumdog Millionaire, Irrfan Khan in Inferno and Priyanka Chopra in Quantico have managed to break regional stereotypes and established their presence in world cinema. However, decades before these actors successfully transitioned from Bollywood to international projects, legendary actor Shashi Kapoor pioneered the crossover movement. While he is remembered for his memorable performances in over 250 Hindi films, the actor’s work in Indo-Western productions paved the way for today’s actors and actresses.
With his theatre background, clear English diction and charming looks, Shashi Kapoor was the natural choice for many crossover films. It’s no surprise that his love affair with English productions began around the same time he fell in love with British actress Jennifer Kendel. Shashi travelled extensively with Shakespeareana, the travelling theatre company founded by Jennifer’s parents before marrying her in 1958. The actor had to move to Hindi cinema to support his family but found a way to return to English theatre productions with his wife Jennifer. But it was Shashi Kapoor’s partnership with British filmmakers James Ivory and Ismail Merchant that catapulted him on the international stage.
As early as 1963, Merchant and Ivory cast Shashi Kapoor in The Householder opposite Leela Naidu. What followed was a legendary partnership that spanned decades and produced gems like Shakespeare Wallah, Bombay Talkie, Heat and Dust, The Deceivers and Side Streets. One of Shashi Kapoor’s last films In Custody, where be played an ageing Urdu poet was also directed by Ismail Merchant. The actor was recently remembered at the 90th Academy Awards for his outstanding contribution to world cinema.