Shammi Kapoor Rock Star To Rocking Star
“Maybe, and really maybe,” was the expected tentative, non-committal response to the report of his acquiescence to film maker Imtiaz Ali’s request for a special guest appearance in his next, Rock Star with Ranbir Kapoor in the lead. “My health raises the big question mark. I would have loved to do it. Ranbir is just superb, he is a great actor. Talented, handsome, a wonderful dancer. But let’s see,” said Shammi Kapoor, the self-taught rocking star of Hindi cinema in the fifties and the sixties. His last fleeting appearance, as an unnamed producer was in a non-descript Hindi flick, Bhola in Bollywood. However, his last decent release was Kareeb more than a decade ago, though he was also visible in a couple of otherwise non-starrers, including Dev Anand’s Censor in 2001. “Dev made me look like a glorified joker,” he confessed, controlling his trademark laughter.
Going back in time, Shammi Kapoor who was seen only for a fleeting moment during a dance sequence (after a string of flops) in Awaara, does not have a single (unlike both his peers and contemporaries) unreleased starrer till date. And he has acted in 140 films, including 62 as the hero. “I succumbed to Dev’s persuasion, didn’t even hear the role. I owed him a debt.” His moment came after 21 successive flops, and he latched onto it when Dev Anand walked out of Tumsa Nahin Dekha after a few scenes and title song picturisation because of bad vibes with the financier, Tolaram Jalan, and his muse, Ameeta. The film became a golden jubilee hit, and there was, indeed, no looking back for a new-look Shammi Kapoor. He went on to be called the “Rebel Star”, redefining stardom in mainstream Hindi cinema.
The pencil moustache gave way to a clean shaven face, and the haircut-and-style gave the until then flop hero a brand new look. That done the actor and director, Nasir Husain (father of producer Mansoor Khan, and uncle of Aamir Khan) (for whom it was a debut film as a director) spent several months working on the look and presentation. Formal shirts and coats were replaced with leather jackets and T-shirts. The portions shot in colour not only enhanced the appeal but also emphasised Kapoor’s deep blue eyes that contributed to his subsequent success.
The theme is aptly summed up in the ever-fresh title song Yun to hum ne lakh haseen dekhe hai, tumsa nahin dekha one of Mohammed Rafi’s career’s biggest hits. After writing successful films like Paying Guest and Munimji the writer in this Nasir Husain film came out with his own kind of lost and found formula. A story that he went on to invent and reinvent successfully with different permutations and combinations in subsequent years, notably in dil dekhe dekho, jab pyar kisse hota hai, phir wahi dil laya hoon, apart from certain hit scenes and situations which were repeated in his other hits.
Unlike many others, Shammi Kapoor did not shy away from acknowledging: “It is true the film was designed for Dev as he had already done two films with Filmistan namely Munimji and Paying Guest (both written by Nasir Husain). Even the title song tumsa nahin dekha was recorded with him as the hero and it was written by Sahir Ludhianvi. But for whatever reasons Dev turned down the movie. Sahir left it too and the rest of the songs were penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri. Now you would ask, “If Dev had starred in that film what of Shammi Kapoor?”
“Perhaps I would have landed the job of the manager of some tea estate in Assam, riding a horse with a whip in hand and a flask of scotch in my hip pocket. That is what I had promised Geeta (wife Geeta Bali) if I did not make it as an actor. Remarkable, she had said yes. I must thank Dev for this was not the only film that he turned down that became a sort of milestone in my career. Another such had been Teesri Manzil which too he had left after the first schedule. I never tried to find out why?”
By the time Teesri Manzil (1966), Shammi Kapoor had become a huge star. In the decade, 1959 (Dil Deke Dekho) and 1969 (Prince) he starred in 17 films of which 11 were super-duper hits. As a character actor, his best known films are: Andaaz (1971), Zameer (1975), Shalimar (1978), Professor Pyarelal (1981), Vidhata with Dilip Kumar and Sanjeev Kumar (1982), Betaab and Hero (1983), Ajooba, directed by Shashi Kapoor (1991) and Prem Rog (1994). He also tried his hands at direction twice with disastrous results, Manoranjan (1974) based on Irma la duce and Bundalbaaz (1977), and wisely gave up wielding the megaphone.
Although, the three brothers went on to become major stars, they never worked together, or even in combination though Shammi has acted with nephews, Randhir and Rishi in a handful of RK Films, notably Biwi-o-Biwi, Prem Rog, Henna. And now the possibility of working with grand-nephew and current heart-throb, Ranbir. “Honestly, believe me I would love to work with Ranbir, but for my health.” When egged on, and confronted with stories of Imtiaz’s plans to shoot with him during the breaks in bouts of hospitalisation for undergoing dialysis thrice a week (the veteran star suffers from acute kidney failure, necessitating blood transfusion), he heaved a sigh, and said, “Well, nothing has been finalised yet. At the moment it is maybe, and really maybe. Given my state of health, and circumstances, we are still working on the possibilities.” The way things are being planned out, the director hopes to wrap up the former rollicking star’s work in seven days flat.
What Shammi Kapoor’s role will be, considering Ranbir is the star of Rockstar, can be anybody’s guess, and the extent to which his aging legs can take the burden of his large frame. Time alone will tell. Rock, Shammi, rock, till you have the boots on, and bring alive the magic once again.
By Suresh Kohli