Epitome of energy

Print edition : September 09, 2011

Shammi Kapoor. He lived like a prince and went like a king. - VIVEK BENDRE

Actor Shammi Kapoor (1931-2011) remains unparalleled for his exuberance and style.

SHAMMI KAPOOR epitomised what every teenager today would like to be. This is how Ameen Sayani, the famous radio broadcaster, described the vivacious actor Shamsher (Shammi) Raj Kapoor. Such was his onscreen and off-screen appeal that he easily became the romantic icon.

A look at Shammi's career graph will make one wonder as to how he was able to achieve this larger-than-life stature, for he had more than a dozen flop films in the early phase of his career. The films he acted in between 1953 and 1957, such as Jeevan Jyoti, Rail Ka Dibba, Laila Majnu, Thokar and Ladki, did not provide any impetus to his career. Though most of these films had good stories and good actors, their screenplays were shoddy.

But Shammi knew how to struggle and survive. Despite flops, he kept on doing one or the other thing; for instance, he would work in theatre, go out for hunting, read and learn music, says Lekh Tandon, his childhood friend and a senior, who cast him in Professor and Prince.

It was Nasir Hussain's Tumsa Nahi Dekha with O.P. Nayyar's music that made Shammi a star overnight. Just before the film was released Shammi had bought a second-hand car and celebrated the film's success by driving his friends around in it. The following year, Nasir Hussain cast Shammi in Dil Deke Dekho opposite debutante Aasha Parekh. The film gave Shammi an identity of his own. Until 1969, Shammi was associated with one hit film or the other. Junglee with Saira Bano, Jaanwar with Rajshree, Shakti Samanta's Kashmir ki Kali and Evening in Paris with Sharmila Tagore, films that were made in exotic locations and had hugely popular songs, made the audience forget the several mediocre films he did between these hits. He went on to set a standard in Hindi films that has remained unparalleled for its exuberance, energy and style.

His last film as hero was Andaaz (1971) opposite Hema Malini. Eleven years later, by now looking older and having gained a lot of weight, Shammi again made news with Subhash Ghai's Vidhata in which he shared frame with stalwarts such as Dilip Kumar, Raajkumar and Sanjeev Kumar and yet managed to win the Filmfare award for the best supporting actor.

Shammi's last film, Rockstar, in which he has been cast along with his brother Raj Kapoor's grandson Ranbir Kapoor, is slated for release in September.

In an industry known for cut-throat competition, Shammi did not have any enemies. The thick attendance at his funeral shows how amazingly popular he was in the film industry, Sharmila Tagore says.

What made Shammi so popular?

The entire film fraternity agrees that he exuded warmth and this endeared him to his colleagues in Bollywood. Anyone who knew Shammi felt an immediate sense of bonding towards him. Subhash Ghai, close to half his age, assesses this aspect of his personality beautifully. He says nostalgically: I made Hero and Vidhata with him in the early 1980s. But ever since, he has always kept in touch with me. I find this particularly heart-warming as most actors today don't even acknowledge our presence in their lives after the films in which we worked are over. They don't keep in touch at all. But Shammiji would keep me abreast of every new thing he did in his life. For instance, when he was back from the shooting of Rockstar recently, he narrated each and every shot he did with the enthusiasm of a child telling his mother about his first day in school. He said to me, I felt so excited to face the camera again. I was afraid I would have forgotten my acting skills. But I could do it you know'. I could see that he didn't let the child in him die.

Shammi Kapoor and Saira Bano in a scene from "Junglee".-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Others Shammi did not keep in regular touch with were also equally touched by his warmth and grieved his loss. As Ameen Sayani said, Though I didn't know Shammi very well, in the few meetings we had, he impressed me immeasurably with his charismatic personality. He was an actor who could cause a glacier to melt with his thunderous Yahoo' and simultaneously woo his lady love with his gentleness singing Ahsan tera hoga mujh par. But he was also a responsible husband, a caring father and a warm friend. This warmth made me attend his funeral. Though I had to walk almost half a mile to reach the shamshan ghat' I managed to walk that distance despite my terrible spine problem. I felt the energy that he epitomised had sort of rubbed off on me too. I was taken aback on seeing Shashi Kapoor [Shammi's younger brother] on a wheel chair; he looked totally dejected.

Even journalists were privy to the warmth Shammi showered on his co-stars. Bhawna Somaaya, the editor of G magazine, recalls the genuine affection he had for Aasha Parekh with whom he had done only five films in his entire career.

We were doing a special feature on special filmi pair for which I had taken Shammi Kapoor to Aasha Parekh's home. I was surprised to see the genuine bond he shared with her. He treated her like a buddy. Though they had done only five films together, their relationship lasted five decades. It is so unheard of in today's film world. They went down memory lane like great pals. It was during this interview that I got to know that during Aasha's first film with Shammi, Tum Sa Nahin Dekha, she, being a trained Bharatanatyam and Kathak dancer, was finding it difficult to dance in filmi style with him. It saddened her. So Shammi bailed her out saying, While you dance you just look at me, imitate me and then see'. That's how we see an impish Aasha in songs like aa aa jaa and Shammi in full swing.

Sharmila Tagore also recalls how Shammi called her up from Paris and Switzerland sometime ago reminding her of the scenes they shot together in those locales. We had not been meeting regularly but it was so nice of him to have called from those locations and take me back to those beautiful days. Such gestures matter so much in keeping relationships alive, she says overwhelmed by emotions.

Saira Bano felt rather intimidated by him in her debut film Junglee and rejected 10 or 12 offers to act with him later. During the shooting of the song Din sara guzara tore angna Saira was not getting the emotions right owing to the medium and the presence of so many people on the sets (Nishat Bagh in Kashmir). Shammi was getting impatient, so he scolded me publicly. I was reduced to tears, but it made me determined to work it out. I did, but after the film was over, I teased Shammi saying I would act with him only after I have learnt acting. Incidentally, after Bluff Master in 1974, a decade later we worked together in Zameer in which he played my father. However, it [her decision to reject offers to work with Shammi] never affected his relationship with her husband Dilip Kumar.

With Sharmila Tagore in "Kashmir ki Kali".-

They were the best of friends. Whenever they met, they would chat in chaste, aristocratic Peshwari Punjabi. We were always present in each others' high and low moments, says Saira.

Wary of Dilip Kumar's health, Saira did not break the news of Shammi's death to him. I am afraid he won't be able to take it. I have switched off the television and am trying to hide it from him as long as I can, she says worriedly.

Technology and tunes

Shammi's penchant for technology and music made his colleagues admire him. In 1993, when Shammi had no films on hand, he kept himself busy learning the latest technology. He called Subhash Ghai home and showed the Internet and his command over the new mode of communication. I can also listen to Pakistani songs from here. It helps me spend my time, he told Ghai.

Adds Bhawna Somaaya: He had made a small cubicle for himself in his drawing room. In the early 1990s when we didn't even hear of the Internet, he was well-versed in the use of e-mails and was even connecting with hackers. That's why when we launched G magazine's Internet edition we made him the chief guest.

Shammi learnt to play the tabla from Shankar-Jaikishan, his favourite music director duo. He could even sing. Ye duniya usi ki, zaman usi ka was among his favourite songs, and he could hum the song perfectly.

Good looks

Shammi's impressive personality and good looks made him the centre of attraction. Recalling Shammi's admission to New Era School on Hughes Road in Bombay (now Mumbai), Ameen Sayani says: Shammi was a year older than I. When I was in New Era School, one day we heard that the son of Prithviraj Kapoor was to be admitted to the school. As soon as he came, there was a wave of excitement. Students would sneak a peek at this fair, extremely good-looking boy with blue eyes and a touch of gold in his hair. He was handsome and quite tall for an eight-year-old. Many of us have silently prayed to God to grant us at least half of the good looks he had. He was taken out of the school within a year. The reason I guess was that though New Era was a wonderfully nationalistic school at higher levels, in its lower classes it was predominantly Gujarati.

Shammi died of renal failure in Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai on August 14. Many people in the industry agree that they would not like to remember a lively person like him as a victim of illness. He lived his life 70 mm. Film-maker Mahesh Bhatt says Shammi should be celebrated, not mourned. Somaaya concludes: He lived like a prince and went like a king.

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