Super actor he was not. Neither was he a superstar of Hindi cinema. Yet, Shammi Kapoor holds a very special place in the hearts of many a follower of Hindi cinema. Silhouette Editor Amitava Nag looks back at him with fond remembrances, an actor with an infectious energy.
Growing up in the late seventies and early eighties in a middle-class Bengali family infested with academicians had its own share of misfortunes. One for sure was the lack of permission to watch television. Forget the mugging of TV channels on today’s kids, back then, we had to rely on Mickey Mouse, occasional Kolkata league football match and yes, the Wednesday 8 PM Chitrahar. Rangoli was the other attraction a little later but at 7:30 AM on Sunday mornings it was never within our reach. We didn’t have a TV of our own till the late eighties. In those momentous waits from one half hour programme of Hindi song snippets to the next, sometime I happened to see a jumping man and a bewildered frenzied shout “Yahhooo”. No, I didn’t take it to my liking initially. But soon the voice became familiar and repetitive, that of the greatest Hindi playback singer to me – Mohd. Rafi. Rafi’s voice lingered then, and now, with so much pathos, brushes on my beaten soul with tender caress and leaves me wanting for more, even today. I could no longer accept anyone else – except quite a few of Mukesh’s glorious renditions of Raj Kapoor primarily, a handful of the mellifluous Hemant Kumar and only a few of the otherwise versatile Kishore Kumar. However, my love and faith for the hero swayed from Raj Kapoor to Dev Anand and even Guru Dutt, till it more or less steadied on that lanky jumping man with a breath-taking ‘ruup’. How can a man be so shamelessly handsome, I asked myself every time I looked at him. In those pre-teen/teen age of stupidity and innocence, in falling in love and falling apart, Shammi Kapoor with his wild, beastly submission was just what I could never become.
I was growing up in strict Bengaliness, reading Tagore and the other great literary works of geniuses. Hindi cinema was a strict taboo officially, the only film that we saw in a theatre as a child was Tapan Sinha’s Safed Hathi. So I had a flirting relationship with Shammi Kapoor – the Wednesday nights or the occasional Sunday mornings. My mates in school had taken onto the towering Amitabh Bachchan by then – reciting his famous lines from Zanjeer to Deewar and laughing at my rather feminine prescription of the middle Kapoor. In Bengali cinema the options were limited to Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee and I was heavily in for the latter in those days. Much later I was fortunate enough to discover and fathom the versatile actor in Uttam Kumar, not merely a matinee idol. “How can you like that joker – who cannot stay still and yet like Soumitra Chatterjee’s Methodist acting and Satyajit Ray’s films?”, asked friends or seniors who took it upon them to ‘educate’ me. The timidity in me would take over then and my liking for Kapoor remained a deep secret which I cherished and refused to open up with. Looking back now I thank myself not to pursue academics to the corridors of restrictive film schools, I can at least confess my impish ga-ga over the ‘not-so-artistic’ aspects of motion pictures. That saved some self-pity and abomination too!
I was amazed to find so many people, friends and acquaintances on Facebook sharing Shammi Kapoor’s famous songs on their pages and walls after his demise. Wasn’t he a star half a century back who is done with and packed up for good, for long? Probably yes. But in grief when there is need to be nostalgic to dig up finer moments and sunlight in one’s life I find people who were born decades after Shammi Kapoor gave his last box-office hit rake up the unforgettable Dil Dekhe Dekho or a Teesri Manzil number or even the lyrical Rafi version of Zindagi ek safar which soothes the soul so much even now. Does it mean there are certain things which are evergreen as they say? Or, may be classic, testing the sands of time?
I have not watched a Shammi Kapoor movie in ages. Nor do I have any in my possession now that I can embark on a nostalgia trail. But googling in YouTube I did happen to savour few of the enchanting pieces that are trademark his. The list that started with Chahe koi mujhe Junglee kahe, went on with Dil Dekhe Dekho, to the inimitable Aaj kal tere mere pyar (with Mumtaz), the stylistic Badan pe sitare (with coy Vjyanthimala with a redoubtable wig in Prince), the superlative numbers with a naïve Sharmila Tagore in Kashmir ki Kali and a slightly ripened her in An Evening in Paris. To my surprise I realized few extremely poignant cinematography viz. the ending shot of Yeh chand sa roshan chehra where the silhouette of the encircling boats zeroing effortlessly on the couple symbolizing convergence of their love both mental and physical, the drama and sexual tension with Sadhana in Dilruba dil pe tu from Rajkumar or the love-torn, confused and accommodating partner in Hema Malini (again in an agonizingly painstaking wig) in his one of the last films as hero in Andaaz.
Perhaps Shammi Kapoor was an actor with his limitations – he played mostly the affluent and the rich supplemented with his marked good looks (his elder brother Raj Kapoor treaded an opposite trail and mostly preferred playing the pauper). He used to jump all around and dance awkwardly to suit his supposed incapacity to match Helen or the other dancing divas of the time (remember there used to be a lot of facial expressions and body gestures when he paired with them and not necessarily dancing in semblance). But not those limitations galore, above all, he exudes confidence and warmth which made him so endearing. He was never the biggest superstar – shadowed by the trio (of Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar) in his early career and then swept off by the diminutive dynamite named Rajesh Khanna in the early seventies.
But to those, for whom cinema remains a mystery of light and shade, of larger projection of life with its vagaries, Shammi Kapoor and his histrionics will remain a source of entertaining energy. He forced us to believe that he actually meant Dil usey do jo jaan de de – the Prince who was more than just a hero.
(A slightly different version of the article was published in the now-defunct Dearcinema magazine as a tribute after Shammi Kapoor’s demise in August, 2011)
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