The Rebel Star
He was everything other heroes were not, neither of his era nor the ones who came after him. One who comes anywhere close to him is, perhaps, Shah Rukh Khan. He gave a totally new face, new dimension way back in the late fifties and the mid-sixties. Here was a hero who was not only flamboyant, demonstrated aggressive love, exuded raw passion and sex appeal. He was also someone who would sit sulking in a corner shedding tears, but someone who will fight against all odds and win not only the woman, but the world as well. And all this began with the first ‘yahoo’ cry in his turn-over blockbuster, Tumsa Nahin Dekha. The ecstatic ‘yahoo’ cry repeated descending the snow-slopes in Kashmir while wooing his new heroine, Saira Bano in Junglee. Not many would also know that it was script writer Prayag Raj, and neither Shammi nor Mohammed Rafi who mouthed the word.
He had no formal dance training, the swiftness with which he uses steps, his whole body forming a rhythmic pattern, his dancing provided yet another shade to performance, something only Govinda could emulate, though in his brief stint nephew Rajiv Kapoor did try to reinvent the Shammi Kapoor style of dancing. Also, unlike many of his contemporaries, and later day stars, he happily indulged in other vocations, including reading, singing (hunting in younger years) and computers. He was the first. Bollywood celebrity who created a website called ‘Kapoor Family’ at a time when others ran away from the dreaded machine. Saira Bano, who had her first break with him as the leading man in Junglee, said at his demise: “At the time when Dilip sahab, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand ruled the industry, it was Shammi Kapoor who carved a niche for himself with his unique dance moves. He used to say he didn’t know how to dance but he would just listen to the music and feel it. He was the only ‘dancing hero’ at that time.”
When once asked who he was most at ease with while dancing, he simply said: “Helen, she was the only one who could anticipate and match me step by step while others fumbled.” No producer had to deploy the services of a choreographer because he composed his own steps during song picturisation. He was unpredictable. One of his regular directors, Shakti Samant, would leave the job to him and the cinematographer in such situations. So much so while wooing Sharmila Tagore in her first film, Kashmir ki Kali he got so carried away riding a shikara that he fell into the famous Dal Lake. He was spontaneity personified. Even his boldness had no parallels. During the shooting of An Evening in Paris he hung onto a helicopter lip-syncing Aasmaan se aaya farishta pyar ka sabak sikhlane to heroine Shamila Tagore water-skiing down below. It was mainly due to this spontaneity that he damaged his knee cartilages while astride an elephant in Prince.
He Made his debut in Mahesh Kaul’s Jeevan Jyoti (1953). Before that he was seen only for a fleeting moment during a dance sequence in brother Raj Kapoor’s Awaara. Shammi Kapoor acted in altogether 140 films, including 62 as a hero (after 21 successive flop or break even films opposite Nutan, Mala Sinha, Geeta Bali, Suraiya, amongst others) till Brahmachari (69) after which he graduated to doing character roles. His last release was the non-descript Bhola in Bollywood as an un-named producer. He will now also be, posthumously seen in Imitaz Ali’s Rockstar with his grand-nephew Ranbir essaying the title role, the highlight of which is supposed to be a jugalbandi sequence with Shammi on a shehnai and the younger star on a guitar.
Shammi Kapoor’s breakthrough film was Tumsa Nahin Dekha opposite new comer Ameeta. The Raj Kapoorish pencil-thin 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 grey-green 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. Once asked what he would have gone with all those flops to his name, he said matter-of-factly: “It is true the film was designed for Dev Anand. Even the title song was recorded with him as the hero and it was written by Sahir Ludhanvi. 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 picture what of Shammi Kapoor?’ Perhaps I would have landed the jo b 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 if I did not make it as an actor. Remarkable, she had said yes.”
A similar thing happened nearly a decade later when Dev Anand once again walked out of a Nasir Husain movie, though it was being directed by his brother Vijay Anand. In desperation he again called Kapoor who this time insisted that the producer-director get a letter from Anand before he would consider doling him out. “Instead of a letter Dev just called up and asked me to go ahead. The film was one of the biggest blockbuster crime thrillers in the history of Hindi cinema.”
By the time Teesri Manzil (1966), Shammi Kapoor had become a huge star. In the decade, Dil Deke Dekho (1959) and Prince (1969), 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), Prem Rog (1994) and technically even Henna where he was the narrator. He also tried his hands at direction twice with disastrous results, Manoranjan based on Irma la duce (1974) and Bundalbaaz (1977), and wisely gave up wielding the megaphone.
His elegantly ground floor apartment ‘Blue Heaven’ in the posh Malabar Hills had become his sole retreat when not visiting the hospital for dialysis thrice a week, thanks to the loss of both kidneys years ago. We were not great friends, but we interacted freely. Good bye the Rebel Star. Tum (Hum) hamme yoon bhula na paaoge.
By Suresh Kohli