Shammi Kapoor – Actor of Songs. Lover of Life

Time flies. Our present disappears even before we can comprehend its colours. In a fleeting moment it becomes a black and white memory of our past. It is only the future that appears  colourful but it never comes! It is said that the nostalgia about the past is a cliché. But then life itself is decaying every passing moment and therefore a cliché. Thoughts of the past haunt us like a black and white classic movie.  In reality, we keep living in the memories of our black and white past. In one such scene from the sixteenth year of my life it is eight 'o' clock in the night. I am eagerly peeping through the window into the living room of a rich home in my native village. There is this black and white television showing Hindi film songs in the Chitrahaar programme. But soon I am getting humiliated and chased away after being accused as my peeping through was an attempt to seduce a girl of the family.

Black and white televisions were the ones that brought the idea that songs are for ‘viewing’ to the far flung villages. The houses that had them sported on their roofs something in white metal looked like the skeleton of a large fish. I could watch the songs through the windows of these houses, of course only if there were no young girls. When crows or other birds sat on these new breed trees called antennae the pictures on the television screen will dance like waves. At such times the owner of the television set, who till then was watching with pride the magical scenes appearing on his priceless possession, will come out with his pot belly ahead of him, look up in irritation at the birds sitting on the antenna tree and chase them away in abusive language.

Even after the birds had been chased away most of the time the pictures on the screen would still be dancing like waves. That is when his abusive attention will turn to me standing by his window like “I knew this will happen when I saw your ugly face”. Then he would climb to the roof in an aggrieved mood to set the antenna right. As he did that it was my duty to give a running commentary on how the pictures appeared on the screen, to get the antenna position right. By the time he finished getting the antenna right and came down to watch the television, Malayalam programme would have ended and some Hindi film song programme like Rangoli would be on. Seeing me watch those old Hindi film songs joyfully, he will be even more infuriated. With the choicest abuses on me and the Hindi songs he will shut down the television and slam the window on my face. But insulting an ardent music lover like me was not all that easy!

By then, I had become more an avid fan of Hindi songs than Malayalam or Tamil songs. I started going to the houses and shops that had television even in the near by villages and managed to watch Rangoli and Chitrahaar without fail. Emson Andrews who was eighteen years older than me became my friend then because he enlightened me with the names of actors who appeared in those songs. He was a daily wage labourer studied only up to seventh but he was my source of information on Hindi films. He would search, beg and borrow old copies of film magazines like Filmfare, Screen, Cine Blitz and Star Dust from somewhere that carried the reportage on Hindi films and read them avidly. He would also lend them for me to read. My very first view of the stars of Hindi films was through those songs I saw on television and what I saw and read in those magazines.

Among those stars I saw, Shammi Kapoor was the one I hated to the core. My first problem was his look. I was accustomed to regard the round face of Prem Nazir the Malayalam film hero as the most handsome feature of an actor. Shammi Kapoor’s long face looked to me more like that of a water melon. His uncombed hair looked unkempt to me. One side of his face looked puffed up and the other side flattened. Lower lip looked full, but the middle of upper lip looked drawn in. For me the only redeeming features of the face shining on the magazine pages were his baby pink complexion like that of a white man and his deep emerald eyes.

Watching his exaggerated body movements and the dancing style he made his own in the song scenes, I felt amused on one hand and ridiculous on the other. His dance movements, as he jumped in the hills, leaped on the trees, dived into the waters, rolled on the ground, shook his head with strange mannerism and lifted his arms with funny involuntary tremors, were appeared to me more like a dancing chimpanzee. But undeniable facts of his songs were that they pulled my mind and the tunes stayed in there undimmed.

It was during my days in Hyderabad where I could watch Hindi television to my heart’s content and I realized that there were no other film actor in India quite like Shammi Kapoor. I was watching all the actors and comparing them with each other. There Shammi Kapoor appeared totally unique to me.  It is not that he could be described as a great actor. His films were made entirely for entertainment. But I have watched most of them many times. In Ferozeguda of Hyderabad there was an open air movie theatre owned by Indian Air Force. Shammi Kapoor’s films were regularly shown there. I watched Teesri Manzil alone at least ten times for all its great songs one better than the other and the visual pleasures of those song scenes.

Shammi Kapoor never shrank from wearing over coloured dresses that other actors dreaded, outlandish footwear or the absurd headwear that hardly sat well on his head. But his admirers were never put off but lapped them up gleefully. They accepted him because that was the image he had created for himself. Rebellion and non-conformity were the very bases of his  image. Shammi Kapoor is the eternal ‘Rebel’ Hero of the Indian Cinema.

Social problems brought by lack of progress even after ten years of independence, the attendant anger of the youth of the time and their repressed yearnings of love found a channel of release in Shammi Kapoor’s image of rebelliousness and non-conformity. Youth of the time were intoxicated by the energy and frenzy that he created with his strange cries of ‘Yahoo…’, ‘Tally Ho…’, ‘Aiyaiyaa Sookku Sookku…’ and so on. His characters wooed and won lovers at will. His films always concluded on a happy note. What else does a teenager need to be elated!

The extra energy and vigour that Shammi Kapoor portrayed, which was not to be seen in  other heroes of the time was his unique proposition. It was much later that somebody like Jitendra tried to pattern himself after Shammi Kapoor. Shammi created his own exclusive space in Indian film screen with his trade mark springiness of youth and presentation of self as a ‘grand show piece’. ‘His energetic and lively presence in every frame of his films was something which nobody else could achieve’ is the unanimous view of his ardent fans and today’s superstars like Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Ranbir Kapoor.

I once barely escaped from the wrath of my North Indian girlfriend in Hyderabad for remarking that Shammi Kapoor was not all handsome. According to her simply watching him on the screen itself was a great experience. When I showed her a photograph of Prem Nazir once she made fun of my sense of handsomeness by calling both Nazir and me effeminate! Most Hindi film fans are of the opinion that Shammi Kapoor was very handsome. Though I still find it difficult to accept him as handsome, I have to admit that all his 120 films had great songs and that his song scenes combined impossibly creative energy and sense of beauty to drive away all possibilities of boredom.

Alright! Are not the film songs created by composers and lyricists? Are not the song scenes conceived by the directors and choreographers? In this where does an actor figure? We are familiar with many actors who cannot distinguish between music and noise and who are unaccustomed to even bathroom singing, making drowsy efforts of singing their own songs and synchronizing their lips wrongly to it on screen! This is where we need to see how Shammi Kapoor left all other actors languishing far behind him.

I believe that India has not seen a super star actor with Shammi Kapoor’s extraordinary sense and grasp of music. He himself was a great singer. He was duly trained in Hindustani music at a very young age. He had both the interest and concert level singing ability in the various Indian musical forms like Khayal, Ghazal, Dadra, Thumri, Pahadi Dhun, Bhajan and Qawwali. He had the immaculate sense of musicality to explore and listen Western Classical music, Jazz, American pop and Rock & Roll. Popular singer Abhijit had said that he was astonished by the ease and professional competence with which Shammi Kapoor had rendered difficult Ghazals and Qawwalis. Lata Mangeshkar had mentioned that Shammi Kapoor was that rare singer who could easily render all types of songs with elegance.

In the early days of his film career he had even sung one or two of his own songs. But he was very clear in his mind that his songs should be rendered by those with better professional and musical competence than himself. Later when he made intense efforts to evolve as a uniquely different actor, he chose for his role model a singer and not any other actor! It was the King of Rock & Roll Elvis Presley. Shammi Kapoor made constant efforts to be the Indian version of Elvis.

Shammi Kapoor had involved wholeheartedly in the creation of tunes and lyrics of the songs in his films. He himself chose his scores and his lyrics. Even Mohammad Rafi, who became his permanent voice, rendered his songs heeding to his suggestions. Rafi was able to rear a unique rendering style for Shammi Kapoor. That is why Mohammad Rafi’s Shammi Kapoor songs are regarded as a separate genre in Hindi Film Music. His repertoire had everything like the slow dance numbers, the fast dance numbers, love songs that move us and the sad songs that touch our hearts.

Shammi Kapoor would plan his act and dance on his own mental screen even as the song was being recorded. He would get incorporated the cues both in the music and the rendering style to create the opportunities for the expressions, steps and moves that he had vision in his mind. Only those directors, composers, lyricists and singers who could agree to this and coordinate with him could work in his films. But it is a great surprise that all of the most important composers and directors of those days had worked with him!

The famous duo of Shankar and Jaikishan were practically the composers at his court. Jaikishan was his best friend. Still the composer stars of the pantheon of Hindi film music like S.D.Burman, R.D.Burman, O.P.Nayyar, Salil Chowdhury, Sardar Mallick, Roshan, Ghulam Mohammad, Madan Mohan, Khayyam, Ravi, Laxmikant Pyarelal, Kalyanji Anandji et all worked with him. He had introduced the woman composer Usha Khanna in his superhit film Dil De Ke Dekho. Mohammad Rafi is the singer who had more or less sung all his great hit numbers. When Rafi passed away Shammi Kapoor wept inconsolably and said: “My voice is gone. What is the need for songs in my films now?” Now and then singers like Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood and Mukesh had also sung for him. Even Kishore Kumar in his last days had sung a song for him.

Deewana Hua Baadal, Yeh Duniya Usiki, Kisi Na Kisi Se (Kashmir Ki Kali), Dil Ke Jharokon Mein, Main Gaoon Tum So Jao, Chakke Pe Chakka, Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyar Ke (Brahmachari), Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyar Tera, Oh Haseena Zulfonwali, Tumne Mujhe Dekha, Deewana Mujhsa Nahin , Oh Mere Sona Re (Teesri Manzil), Gham E Hasti Se ( Vallaha Kya Baat Hai), Is Rang Badalti Duniya Mein, Tum Ne Kisi Ki Jaan Ko, Jaane Walon Zara Hoshiyar (Raajkumar), Baar Baar Dekho (China Town), Ehsaan Tera Hoga Mujh Par, Yahoo, Sukkoo Sukkoo (Junglee), Jawaaniya Yeh Mast Bin Piye, Chupne Wale Saamne Aa, Sar Par Topi Lal, Tumsa Nahin Dekha (Tumsa Nahin Dekha), Dil De Ke Dekho (Dil De Ke Dekho), Yeh Gulbadan, Khuli Palak Mein, Awaaz De Kar (Professor), Jhoomta Mousam Mast Mahina (Ujala), Lal Chhadi Maidan Khadi, Tum Se Accha Kaun Hai, Meri Mohabbath Jawan Rahegi, Badtameez Kaho (Janwar), Savere Wali Gaadi Se (Lat Saheb), Akele Akele Kahan Ja Rahe Ho, Aasman Se Aaya Farishta, Raat Ke Humsafar, An Evening In Paris (An Evening In Paris), Kiss Kis Ko Pyar, Janam Janam Ka Saath Hain (Tum Se Accha Kaun Hain) and countless other Shammi Kapoor songs are evergreen and ever fresh.

While playing instruments like Saxophone, Piano, Drum or Bag Pipe in the song scenes, he took utmost care to learn and play those notes right exactly how a musician plays it. He used to direct his movements while picturising the songs. He certainly needed no choreographers. His movements in group dances never conformed to the movements of the group. Even his movements while dancing with the heroines were different. Shammi Kapoor would concentrate on his body language even as the group and the heroine dance conforming to the beat. He used movements of his head, eyes, lips, hands and the torso in his dances rather than his feet.

He had a way of sliding down the snowed paths of mountains with high pitched shouts like‘Yahoo’ in his love songs. He would romance his heroin wearing only bath robes and hanging from small planes. Anything unusual was par for his course. We would have heard of actors getting injured or even dying in stunt sequences. But Shammi Kapoor was probably the only actor in the world who faced countless accidents during the shoots of love song sequences! ‘My body has no bones unbroken and no parts that were not injured during film shoots. I have often danced with bones in both legs broken. But I was able to bear utmost of pains and hide it well from the cameras’ were his words. Shammi Kapoor attained huge success and great fame not easily but by shedding his own blood and bearing utmost pains.

Shamsher Kapoor alias Shammi Kapoor was born in Bombay in 1931, the second son of Prithviraj Kapoor, the great grand father of the Kapoor clan that has ruled the roost in the Indian film industry for five generations now. Raj Kapoor was his elder brother and Shashi Kapoor the younger one. Not being inclined towards studies, Shammi Kapoor stopped with eleventh standard and became an actor in his father Prithviraj Kapoor’s drama company, the Prithvi Theatres. He entered films in 1952 as a hero following in the footsteps of his brother Raj Kapoor who had by then become a star. The film was Jeevan Jyothi, a Raj Kapoor styled family story. S.D.Burman was the composer. The film was a big flop. 

In the following six years Shammi Kapoor acted in almost twenty films opposite such big  heroines of those years as Suraiya, Madhubala, Nutan, Shyama, Nalini Jaywant and Geeta Bali. He tried all types of plots like family, social, political, mythological, traditional and Arabian themes. He kept changing the composers. But nothing succeeded. Those were the heydays of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand. All that Shammi Kapoor was left with was a bad name that he made futile efforts to become another Raj Kapoor. That most of his films were small budget films and that Thokar (1953) with Sardar Mallik as composer and Taangewaali (1955) with Salil Chowdhury as composer were well spoken of for their songs were the only consolations he had at that critical time.

Shammi Kapoor was in love with Geeta Bali, a popular heroine of the time. Geeta Bali came from a poor family background and became a film actress overcoming many difficulties.  Shammi Kapoor had a secret wedding with her fearing the opposition of his family as she had acted with both his father and elder brother. Geeta Bali was then a top star. Shammi Kapoor was a failed hero. After the birth of their first child, Geeta Bali completely left acting and took to shaping the acting career of her husband. It was during this time that they strategized with utmost care on song selection, following Elvis Presley, reconstructing a unique hero image and selecting only very beautiful debutante actresses opposite him avoiding popular actresses. This strategy paid off immediately. Tumsa Nahin Dekha released in 1957 was a huge success.

From there on, Shammi’s film career zoomed up from one success to greater success. It went on like Ujala, Singapore, Preet Na Jaane Reet…. His first colour film Junglee was released in 1961. With this, Shammi Kapoor ascended the throne of a Superstar he had crafted for himself. The same year his daughter was born. He became a serial success with a procession of hits like China Town, Raath Ke Rahi, Dil Tera Deewana, Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya, Kashmir Ki Kali, Bluff Master, Janwar, Rajkumar and so on. A string of star heroines of future were introduced through these films. The prominent names that come to mind are Asha Parekh, Ameeta, Saira Banu and Sharmila Tagore. And then in 1965 even as the shooting of Teesri Manzil was progressing, came the shock of the sudden death of Geeta Bali due to small pox.

Unable to bear the loss of his loved wife, Shammi Kapoor shut himself up in his home in isolation for months. Finally he decided to complete Teesri Manzil and then leave the film world. But the film turned out to be one of the biggest hits of his career. He continued acting and films like Budtameez, An Evening in Paris, Tum Se Acha Kaun Hai, Jawan Mohabbath, Pagla Kahin Ka, Andaz and Brahmachari were followed. He won the Filmfare award for Best Actor in 1968 for Brahmachari. At about this time he wedded Neela Devi of Bhavnagar royal family. Neela Devi was an ardent fan of both Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali. She brought up their children as her own. For this reason she decided not to have a biological child of her own!

Shammi Kapoor began putting on excess weight because of the after effects of medicines and pain killers that he took after all those accidents during shootings. His drinking habit added to it. He could not control his weight problem with all his valiant efforts. It came to pass that he could no more act as the hero of a film. He shifted to doing character roles. He acted the roles of fathers to his former heroines and even as the father of male protagonists much older than him! He won the Filmfare Award for the best male actor in a supporting role in 1982. In 1995 he won the Filmfare award for Lifetime Achievement. He kept on acting in support roles that came now and then. He appeared for well over a year in an important role in the very successful television serial ‘Chattan'. He directed two flopped films. He even ran a failed film magazine for some time.

It is said that the name Yahoo on the internet was taken up from his trademark ‘Yahoo’ cry! Shammi Kapoor, who was a great aficionado of internet and computer from the day they came to India. He was the President of Indian Internet Users Association for over twenty years. Designing web sites and browsing the net were his favourite pastimes. Greatly interested in books, he was supposed to have read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged with thousand plus pages in 38 hours flat without putting it down.

Shammi Kapoor was connoisseur of luxury cars that were not easily available in India and loved driving them around for hours at a stretch. But at the same time he never hesitated to travel in cycle rickshaws even. He enjoyed meeting his fans and never found them a bother. He interacted openly with everyone and people came away impressed with his candour and humility. He never acted in real life and lived with a transparent honesty. He had many Indian and foreign girl friends even though his wife was his life. He had definite opinions on the distinctions between love, lust and friendship as different human emotions. He loved his drink and was partial to good Scotch whisky. Shammi Kapoor celebrated discerning drinking and eating.

Shammi Kapoor lost both his kidneys to dysfunction when he was seventy. He never lost his zest for life even as he progressed from dialysis twice a month to thrice a week. He had been practically living in the nursing home three days a week for the last seven years of his life. Even then his sunny outlook was that he had four days a week to celebrate his life. This was the philosophy and attitude that informed his entire life.

To the last he lived his life busy as a bee with his own channel on YouTube, net life and car drives. On 7th August 2011 he was seized by a worst bout of breathing trouble and was admitted to a hospital where he breathed his last after seven days of struggle. His body was consigned to flames on the Indian Independence Day at Banganga Crematorium, quite close to the temple where he had secretly married Geeta Bali. Both the President of India and the Prime Minister while conveying their condolences stated themselves as Shammi Kapoor’s big fans. A man who celebrated life, music and even his failures and pains by living colourfully for seventy nine years had at last become a black and white classic of past. I see him looking in through the peep window of my memories with a broad smile on his lips as he sings: Tum Mujhe Yun Bhulaa Na Paoge.....
You will never be able to forget me
You will never be able to hold it from humming with me
When you hear my songs...