Revelling in the song, its emotion, the fine movements of the orchestra, the feelings that the lyrics carry, the message, the rhythm and gelling with it in celebration with complete physicality was what Shammi Kapoor was all about. Silhouette pays a tribute to the original dancing hero of Indian Cinema.
In one of his meetings over coffee with me in Bangalore in the ’80s the legendary ace cinematographer, VK Murthy, had said that it was customary to use chalk marks on the studio floor and even outdoors on the grass for actors to follow so that they remained within the frame and range of the camera during shooting. This was more so when an actor had to shoot a scene while walking or running or had movements while performing a song. Most actors, he explained, would overstep and he would have to call for a re-shoot. The only actor who never overstepped the markings was Shammi Kapoor, especially during his song performances. Murthy said he was prepared for total chaos, keeping in mind those wild song actions associated with Shammi Kapoor, but while on the sets and outdoors in 1968, shooting for Pramod Chakraborty’s Tumse Achha Kaun Hai (released 1969), he was in for a pleasant surprise to see the discipline that Shammi had in following the shooting paraphernalia. It was just amazing as not once did he overstep or go out of the camera frame. He was a thorough pro.
Shammi Kapoor was the original dancing hero in Hindi cinema and he choreographed his dancing steps himself. It was natural for him to move his limbs and all body parts in tune with the music, as is evident in song after song.
It all started while on the sets, shooting for Filmistan’s Hum Sab Chor Hain, directed by IS Johar, in 1956. Earlier, while shooting for the songs of Miss Coca Cola (1955) Geeta Bali had noticed that Shammi would follow the rhythm with his body, flowing naturally. Kedar Kapoor’s 1955 film Miss Coca Cola brought Shammi and Geeta Bali together, resulting in a quick marriage. The popular song composed by OP Nayyar was the Mukesh-Asha duet, Jhuka jhuka ke nigahein milaye jaate hain.
Hum Sab Chor Hain also had music by OP Nayyar and IS Johar was game for whatever Shammi wanted to try by way of choreography. With Geeta Bali going all out to create a new desi Elvis Presley-esque and James Dean-ish image for Shammi, things clicked and paved the way for a full makeover, as we were to witness the very next year in Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957), the film that made Shammi Kapoor The Shammi Kapoor.
O Mr. Banjo ishara to samjho (Hum Sab Chor Hain, 1956) OP Nayyar/ Majrooh Sultanpuri/ Asha and Rafi
Hum Sab Chor Hain also had one of those early song situations where the hero lip syncs a song sung by another actor (as we saw in Padosan much later) and this one had stammering in it too. The song was the Rafi solo, Tere aage bolna dushwar ho gaya, with Ram Avtar singing and Shammi Kapoor enacting it on screen.
Before moving forward, mention must be made of early films that Shammi Kapoor acted in, since he entered the film world in 1953. Within a few days after joining Ruia College, Shammi realised that college education was not for him. He thus joined his father Prithviraj Kapoor’s theatre company, and started with odd jobs including filling in actor spots on stage, be it singing or acting.
The Mahesh Kaul-directed Jeevan Jyoti in 1953, co-starring Chand Usmani and Shashikala, was the debut film of Shammi Kapoor. The only time that Shammi Kapoor lent his voice in a song was in this. In an online talk he said, a not-so-prominent singer was summoned by SD Burman to recite that last line in the song, Tasveerein banti hain, kirnein- si chhanti hain, mere khayalon mein aa. At the recording, that singer did not show up. When Dada Burman heard him humming the song, he said you will do it. Thus Shammi ended up singing that last bit in the Asha song.
Tasveerein banti hain kirnein-si chhanti hain (Jeevan Jyoti, 1953) SD Burman/ Sahir/ Asha and Shammi Kapoor
He was 21 years old. As the buzz went around that Prithviraj’s tall handsome son, brother of Raj Kapoor, was now wanting to act, he got a remarkable large number of films in his first year itself and all of them with established and reputed heroines.
Rail Ka Dibba with Madhubala, Thokar and Gul Sanobar with Shyama and Laila Majnu with Nutan. He did some 18 flop films before tasting success in 1957 with Tumsa Nahin Dekha. Though he was acting with all the top heroines of that era—Geeta Bali, Nadira, Mala Sinha, Meena Kumari, Nalini Jaywant, and the ones already named above— and with prominent directors (Lekhraj Bhakri, K Amarnath, PN Arora, DD Kashyap, Kedar Kapoor, RC Talwar, and others), the box office kept rejecting him.
In 1954 he did director DD Kashyap’s Shama Parwana with outstanding music by Husnlal-Bhagatram and Suraiya was his heroine. Suraiya is probably the only heroine to have acted as lead performer against Prithviraj Kapoor (Phool, 1945), Raj Kapoor (Dastan, 1950), and then Shammi Kapoor! Some odd record. She was also the heroine to Premnath (Raj Kapoor’s brother-in-law) in Shokhiyan, 1951.
Beqaraar hai koi, aa mere dildaar aa (Shama Parwana, 1954) Husnlal Bhagatram/ Majrooh Sultanpuri/ Suraiya-Rafi.
In a career spanning 59 years, Shammi Kapoor acted in some 94 films. In the 1954 film Ehsaan, he did a secondary role as the son of hero Prithviraj Kapoor. He also has three cameo appearances to his credit with Jabse Tumhe Dekha Hai in 1963, Rocky in 1981 and Naseeb in 1981. Apart from this, he has acted in a Tamil language film (Amaran, 1992) as well as in a Malayalam language film (Sukham Sukhakaram, 1994). The number 94 includes all these.
As a lead actor/hero from 1953 to 1974 he did 55 films. Ramesh Sippy’s Andaz, released in 1971, with Hema Malini and Simi, was his last film as a hero. In 1974 he had a release, Chhote Sarkar, with Sadhana directed by K Shankar, but this film was in the making since 1969 and had a delayed release. In 1974, he appeared in his own directorial venture, Manoranjan, as an older character-actor. Next year, in Ravi Chopra’s Zameer, he acted as father to Saira Banu who had been his heroine in two films.
By the time Ramesh Sippy’s Andaz released in 1971, Rajesh Khanna had already established himself as the new, like-never-before, heartthrob of Hindi cinema. The writing was on the wall. A large chunk of movie goers would wait till Rajesh’s Zindagi ik safar hai suhana played and then just walk out. K Shankar, Bhappi Sonie, Shakti Samanta and Pramod Chakaborty were all hit film makers and when his films with them started to draw flak at the box office, the message was clear. Shammi Kapoor made up his mind to just let go of the glamour and charm of being a hero and move forward doing character roles. Andaz in 1971 with a young Hema and a cameo by Rajesh, remains his last block buster.
This tribute to the most entertaining dancing hero of Hindi films can only be ideally structured around his hero films.
The Early Days
Tumsa Nahin Dekha, 1957, was a tweaked Nasir Hussain story that he had written for Filmistan’s Munimji in 1955, the Dev Anand-Nalini Jaywant starrer directed by Subodh Mukherji. Hussain proceeded to make five more hit films on the same story, with minor alterations. Initially, Nasir Hussain wanted Dev Anand to act in it. But Dev was not too keen on doing it; more so to act opposite a new heroine, Ameeta, who had a played secondary role in his Munimji. On Sashadhar Mukherji’s recommendation, Shammi was roped in.
This was the opportunity and the music that Shammi was waiting to exploit. The James Dean kind of rebel role; with Shammi’s own way of projecting songs where the director was a first-timer and would allow Shammi to do what his heart desired. The heroine was new and would not object to Shammi’s antics or aggressive romance. It was a Shammi Kapoor film all the way. With OP Nayyar’s foot-tapping romantic music, each song from the 1957-film was a hit.
Shammi Kapoor had arrived to be an icon and set trends for all the dancing and singing heroes that Hindi cinema was to witness in the future. His style, movements, dance steps, and enactment of the song were all his very own. He never had any need for a choreographer or a dance director.
Sar par topi laal, haath mein resham ka roomal (Tumsa Nahin Dekha,1957) OP Nayyar/ Majrooh Sultanpuri/ Asha-Rafi and chorus
In 1958 his hit film was Mujrim with Ragini, the heroine from the south, directed by OP Ralhan for producer FC Mehra (a cousin) and had music by OP Nayyar again. But next year saw two major hits: Nasir Hussain’s repeat story, Dil Deke Dekho, with debutante heroine Asha Parekh and debutante music director Usha Khanna.
The second one was FC Mehra’s Ujala directed by Naresh Sehgal with Mala Sinha as his heroine. This was his first association with music directors Shankar-Jaikishan and they formed a team that was to deliver multiple hits. Shankar-Jaikishan provided music for 22 of Shammi Kapoor-starrers. A distant second was OP Nayyar with 6 films. He did 9 films that had music by RD Burman but only one (Teesri Manzil) where he was the lead actor.
In the 55 films he was hero in, he had 32 different heroines, 22 different music directors and 37 directors.
With his Ujala heroine, Mala Sinha he acted in three films, Dil Tera Diwana, 1962 and earlier in Rangeen Raatein, 1956. This 1956-film was a Kidar Sharma film shot in Shimla. Kidar Sharma was the director who had introduced Geeta Bali to the industry (Neki Aur Badi, 1949). Now, Geeta and Shammi were a much-in-love couple and as such Geeta requested Kidar to let her come along. Kidar had no role for her in his film, but she tagged along anyway. As an impromptu thought Kidar Sharma gave the role of a page boy—a mundu—to Geeta Bali with a thick cap and moustache and even a song, Main ik shola. Surely, the couple were granted their heart’s desire!
They got married on 24 August, 1956 with his close buddy, Hari Walia, as sole witness at one of the Banganga Temples on Napean Sea Road.
Other heroines he did 3 films with, were:
The maximum number of films he did with any heroine were four. Asha Parekh and Sadhana share the honours.
Jhoomta mausam mast mahina (Ujala,1959) Shankar-Jaikishan/ Hasrat Jaipuri/ Lata-Manna Dey
All his other heroines had either a share of two films each or only one. Actress Shyama who did two films with Shammi as his heroine (Thokar and Gul Sanobar, both 1953) and one later in a bhabhi role (Janwar, 1965) says in his biography Shammi Kapoor – The Game Changer (Om Books), written by Rauf Ahmed, that his romantic scenes were out-of-routine aggressive, naughty and bold, even embarrassing as the entire unit would be watching.
Sadhana and Sharmila Tagore are quoted as saying that Shammi Kapoor was a lot of fun on the sets. He was extremely caring and protective. One needed to know how to interact with him and play along, accept that he was an impromptu natural actor and put him at ease.
Produced and directed by Bibhuti Mitra in 1960, Basant had music by OP Nayyar. The film had 14 songs and 11 of them were Asha-Rafi duets. Nutan, Johnny Walker, Minoo Mumtaz, Kammo and Cuckoo all had songs to sing. Nutan was the kind of girl that Shammi was drawn to. She was sensitive, aware and erudite and yet seductively feminine. In Shammi Kapoor – The Game Changer, he admits that Nutan and he had a sort of calf love going on between them since their 1954 film, Laila Majnu. Shammi signed on Basant primarily to be with Nutan again and also it was the first time that he got paid the handsome amount of rupees one lakh for a film. This number is an early stylized Shammi Kapoor-swagger that belonged to him and him only. Long shots for him to let him display the body swings and close shots for Nutan’s emoting. A melodious romantic Nayyar song that Shammi adds char-chand to was:
Chori chori ik ishara ho gaya hai (Basant,1960) OP Nayyar/ Qamar Jallalabadi/ Asha-Rafi.
It was a tough challenge in the ’50s to crack through, break the inviolable cordon and establish oneself at the populist Hindi film box office scene where the big three lead actors had a firm and tight hold. These were Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar. Shammi Kapoor was neither an actor of finesse like Balraj Sahni nor a producer-director who could make his movies and bring forth his talent like Guru Dutt; as such all his efforts to showcase his good looks with routine acting flopped in film after film from 1953 to 1957. The image shift and a total makeover was a life saver for him. He also adapted a true professional approach in his dealings with producers and directors: be punctual, do not interfere and yet, accommodate.
In 1960, he started a fruitful and rewarding partnership with director Shakti Samanta through the FC Mehra production of Singapore, co-starring Padmini. Samanta was already a hit director with films like Howrah Bridge, Inspector, Detective etc. behind him. The crime thriller genre of the film suited Samanta and Mehra thought it best to let him handle the project. The film with Shankar-Jaikishan’s music was a hit.
In a one-on-one talk with this writer, Shakti Samanta had said among all his films that were known for excellent music content, his personal favourite was Kashmir Ki Kali, 1964. That was his third outing with Shammi. The music of Kashmir Ki Kali was by OP Nayyar. This was the sixth and last film Nayyar did with Shammi and each song was a super hit. Sharmila Tagore was introduced to Hindi cinema via this film with Pran in the role of a classic villain.
Taareef karun kya uski jisne tumhein banaya (Kashmir ki Kali, 1964) OP Nayyar/ Shamsul Huda Bihari/ Rafi
We will come back to Shakti Samanta a little later as mention must be made of that game-changer that hit the Hindi screen in colour, screaming Yahoo! from the top of the snow laden mountains. The 1961 hit production, Junglee, was by Subodh Mukherji and introduced Saira Banu to films. In a peculiar coincidence, Subodh Mukherji wanted Dev to be his hero here too and the film was titled, Mr. Hitler. Dev and Subodh had done three super hits earlier, Munimji, Paying Guest and Love Marriage. Well, things did not work out and again on Sashadhar Mukherji’s recommendation, Shammi got the role and it became a golden jubilee hit.
Dev Anand in an interview with writer Rauf Ahmed says, “Though people used to often remark that Shammi Kapoor thrived on the roles I had left, I must say in all honesty, that Shammi had given those roles (in Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Junglee and Teesri Manzil) a new dimension and raised them to a new level. I wouldn’t have been able to do them the way he did.”
Shankar-Jaikishan scored the hit music of Junglee. Remember, other than the title song, the hit parade included Aiy yai ya suku suku (Rafi and chorus), Ehsaan tera hoga mujh par (a tandem by Rafi and Lata), Din saara guzara tore angana (a Rafi and Lata duet), Ja ja ja mere bachpan (Lata). With Saira, he did one more film, the Manmohan Desai-directed, Bluff Master in 1963, till he turned to doing senior roles and then did a role as her father in Zameer in 1975. Shammi, in 1975 was only 44 years old.
This was the only film Shammi Kapoor did with Subodh Mukherji. Starting his career as a director with the hit, Munimji (1955), Subodh Mukherji directed hits such as Love Marriage (1959), April Fool (1964), Saaz Aur Awaaz (1966), Abhinetri (1970) and produced some more hits like Shagird and Sharmilee.
Junglee gave room to Shammi Kapoor to expand upon his style, swagger and rebellious individuality, a never-before in Hindi cinema. The urban romantic monopoly that Dev Anand identified with was now shared by a boisterous, vibrant Shammi Kapoor yelling Yahoo and Suku suku at the top of his voice with no inhibitions. His moves to the music were all his own, never in need of a choreographer, as if his entire physique was moving with the beat and rhythm, gelling with each musical and vocal song note. This was unique to Indian cinema and many actors were to follow suit in later years.
Yahoo! Chahe koi mujhe junglee kahe (Junglee, 1961) Shankar-Jaikishan/ Shailendra/ Rafi
FC Mehra (Fakir Chand) was a cousin. He established the banner, Eagle Films, and produced 18 films from 1958 to 1988. As a producer he did the maximum number of films that Shammi did with any one producer.
Starting with Mujrim in 1958 (directed by OP Ralhan, music by OP Nayyar), they did the following films together:
Madhosh hawa, matwali fiza sansar suhana lagta hai (Rafi), Nazar mein shole ada mein bijli janabe–aali main sadke jaawan (Rafi), Muqabala humse na karo, muqabala humse na karo (Rafi, Asha, Lata) were all hits. The top favourite was this iconic Rafi solo, on screen with confused Vyjyanthimala and a lecherous Ajit:
Badan pe sitare lapete huye, O jaan-e-tamanna kidhar jaa rahi ho (Prince, 1969) Shankar Jaikishan/ Hasrat Jaipuri/ Rafi
Mehra also produced the Shammi Kapoor-directed Manoranjan in 1974.
Lekh Tandon’s 1962 hit Professor was a story by Abrar Alvi that he had written for Guru Dutt in the mid-’50s. Guru Dutt started the film with Waheeda Rehman and Kishore Kumar in the lead. He shot one reel and submitted it to the censor board for review. It was outrightly rejected as the board found it too bold and immoral to show a man romancing the young heroine and his aunt at the same time. A few years later with minor alterations to the script, Alvi gave it to Tandon who made a super hit with Shammi and Kalpana as his heroine.
Main chali main chali, peechhe peechhe jahan (Professor, 1962) Shankar-Jaikishan/ Hasrat Jaipuri/ Rafi-Lata
Shakti Samanta remains the director he did the maximum number of films with, 6 in all. In one of his interviews Samanta was quoted saying, if he had his way he would have never signed any other hero for any of his films other than Shammi Kapoor, but, unfortunately, Shammi kept adding inches to his waist line and it became impossible to cast him as a lead actor. In his illustrious career of approximately 35 years, Shakti Samanta directed 31 films in Hindi, 5 in Bangla and produced 6 more that were not directed by him. A statement of that nature from a director of his level is itself a great compliment for Shammi Kapoor.
The films they did together were:
Aasman se aaya farishta pyar ka sabak sikhlane from An Evening In Paris, directed by Shakti Samanta was recorded while Shammi was abroad. Usually, he would be at the recordings and add a bit to the song-effect with Rafi delivering in tandem. On his return, he threw a tantrum that the song must be re-recorded. Samanta asked him to listen to the song once and if he did not like it they would re-record. Shammi was speechless when he heard it! Rafi had got in almost every little nuance Shammi had imagined – almost as if Rafi pictured Shammi throwing one limb here and an arm flinging there and the neck swooning and all that! It was a unique god-sent chemistry shared by these two.
Shammi had Talat playback a few songs in his earlier films. He had Mukesh sing two songs for him and there was a song in Bluff Master by Hemant Kumar too (Ae dil ab kahin le jaa). Manna Dey gave a hit in Ujala on Shammi. But Rafi-Shammi was the killer combo. Rafi sang as early as 1954 in Shama Parwana for Shammi but it was again the OP Nayyar Tumsa Nahin Dekha songs that established them as an immortal pair. They gave hits until Shammi was the romantic lead and hero. Remember in Ramesh Sippy film Andaz (1971) the Kishore number, Zindagi ik safar hai suhana, was filmed on Rajesh Khanna (in a guest appearance). All other songs on Shammi were by Rafi, Dil usse do jo jaan dede, and Hain na bolo bolo, became hits.
The movie-goer has the Shammi of An Evening In Paris etched in mind. The memory of his absolutely stunning performance in this song, wearing a bathrobe and sitting on the rescue leach of the helicopter singing this song, loudly and boldly announcing his arrival in love, jumping on to a boat and carrying on the smooth song delivery. He even slips on the wet floor, naturally, and manages it with elan carrying on the song. He was an original. Only he could carry a song of such energy the way he did.
Aasman se aaya farishta pyar ka sabak (An Evening In Paris, 1967) Shankar-Jaikishan/ Hasrat Jaipuri/ Rafi-Sharmila Tagore
The directors who did three films each with Shammi were:
Lekh Tandon, Manmohan Desai and Naresh Sehgal directed two films each for Shammi. The only director to do 4 films with Shammi Kapoor was Bhappi Sonie.
All his films had music by Shankar-Jaikishan. Shammi Kapoor received the Filmfare Best Actor award for Brahmachari, the only Best Actor Award in his career. The other Filmfare Award was in 1982 as the Best Supporting Actor for Vidhata (he was pitted against Dilip Kumar and Sanjeev Kumar in this film).
Brahmachari (and, to some extent, Prince) are arguably his last films where songs were hits and remain popular to date. Aaj kal tere mere pyar ke charche (Suman-Rafi), Main gaaun tum so jao (Rafi), Chakke pe chakka (Rafi, chorus) and this fine Shammi-Rafi beauty:
Dil ke jharokhe mein tujhko bitha kar (Brahmachari, 1968) Shankar-Jaikishan/ Hasrat Jaipuri/ Rafi and chorus
In a very peculiar coincidence, Shammi Kapoor acted in 4 films with his real-life father as the reel life father as well, Prithviraj Kapoor.
One-of-a-kind record in Hindi cinema.
He did three cameo roles in his lifetime. Rocky and Naseeb, both in 1981, and the most remarkable one was in 1963 for director Kedar Kapoor’s film, Jab Se Tumhein Dekha Hai. Geeta Bali was the heroine and music was by Dattaram. He was roped in to enact a qawwali, and that too, with brother, Shashi Kapoor and Shyama, Kumkum, Bhagwan and Om Prakash. It became a major draw at the box office. Kedar Kapoor had earlier directed Shammi in Miss Coca Cola in 1955. One must observe the chemistry that the brothers Shammi and Shashi share in this qawwali, probably the only song they have performed together on screen:
Tumhein husn deke Khuda ne sitamgar banaya (Jab Se Tumhein Dhekha Hai,1963) Dattaram/ Anand Bakshi/ Lata-Asha-Rafi-Manna and chorus.
Revelling in the song, its emotion, the fine movements of the orchestra, the feelings that the lyrics carry, the message, the rhythm and gelling with it in celebration with complete physicality was what Shammi Kapoor was all about. In some of his films, even though they were light-hearted romantic films and easy to perform roles, he did show his acting capabilities. That he was not just a light-footed entertainer was revealed convincingly.
Sharmila Tagore is quoted as saying in Shammi Kapoor – The Game Changer, “I can look back and say that there has been nobody like Shammi Kapoor. His sense of music, his sense of rhythm, his comic timing and his unique performing style were just amazing. They made him stand apart. He was an original. Whatever he had done decades ago, the youngsters are doing now.”
The 1968 Best Actor Award for Brahmachari came while competing with actors such as Sanjeev Kumar (Anokhi Raat), Dilip Kumar (Aadmi and Sunghursh), Dev Anand (Duniya), Dharmendra (Izzat), Shashi Kapoor (Haseena Maan Jayegi), Raj Kumar (Neelkamal and Vaasna), Rajendra Kumar (Saathi) and others. The challenge was tough. One thing that stands out in his films is his skill at dialogue delivery. Notice how he emotes and modulates his voice, diction and pronunciation that stand clear and above the rest of the cast. That was his natural style.
Another role that he stands out in and which remains a part of favourite mass memory is that of drummer Rocky aka the romantic Sona from Vijay Anand’s Teesri Manzil, 1966. While the film was being shot, Geeta Bali his beloved wife, died of smallpox. It was, understandably, a massive set back for Shammi Kapoor. As was reported in trade papers in those days, Nasir Hussain (the producer) had kept the set erect for three months waiting for Shammi to gain his composure and return to shoot. Vijay Anand had personally met him a few times to pacify and make him return to the studio. It is reported that it was this set erect in Mehboob Studio that was in waiting and this the song that was filmed on his return to face the camera after Geeta’s demise: Tumne mujhe dekha, ho kar meherbaan. Truly an all-time popular song with a sterling performance by Shammi Kapoor under one of the most admired directors of the time.
Tumne mujhe dekha, ho kar meherbaan (Teesri Manzil,1966) RD Burman/ Majrooh Sultanpuri/ Rafi
To the entire generation that grew up watching Hindi films in late ’50s and through the ’60s Shammi Kapoor, with his simple basic uncomplicated entertainment cinema replete with evergreen songs and dances, would always have that special place in our lives. Some 70 to 80 superb songs could be listed in a tribute like this with each one more hummable than the other.
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