Hindi Cinema’s Other Shammi

Veteran actress Shammi,who returns to the big screen in Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi with yet another comic role,believes in having fun off-screen as well.

Written by PriyankaPereira | Published: June 20, 2012 6:23 am

Buddhi ab aur bhi buddhi ho gayi hai,” says Shammi with a laugh,when talking of her role in Bela Sehgal-directed film Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi. The 83-year-old has just come back after the trial show of her comeback film,in which she plays grandmother to Boman Irani and mother to Daisy Irani. Dressed in a red sleeveless blouse and a printed sari,Shammi has combed back her hair and touched up her face with some blusher and lipstick. “My friends often tell me that I don’t take care of myself. So today,I decided to dress up,” she says with a wink.

The actress,however,doesn’t look too happy with the way she appears on the screen now. “While watching Shirin Farhad,for the first time I saw my hands shivering on the screen. I am wondering if I should stop acting now or if anyone would want to cast me again,” she says. Meanwhile,she has completed another film,untitled as of now,where she plays a black magic practitioner.

Known for her characteristic humour and quick wit,Shammi remained a favourite with filmmakers when it came to goofy and comic roles. She says,“This is probably because behaving in a fun manner came naturally to me. I always like to have fun. Even off-screen,I am always teasing co-actors and laughing out loud with them.” Her character in Shirin Farhad,too,allows her to be in this space. “Boman and Daisy are such amazing actors. An actor can act well only when the other actor reacts well,” she says.

She then recalls how her entry into films was completely by chance. During her growing-up years,both Shammi and her elder sister Mani Rabadi,a well-known fashion designer,worked in toy factories after schooltime to fund their tuition fees. They also did several odd jobs. It was when she was working at a pharmaceutical company that one of their family friends approached her with an acting assignment. “It was in January 1949 that I signed my first film,Ustad Pedro,with Sheikh Mukhtar,Begum Para and Mukri. The film was directed by Tara Harish,” says Shammi,adding,“I remember giving my first shot and being very happy. It was as if I was born to do this.”

Simultaneously,she was signed for singer Mukesh’s film Malhar. This was followed by hits such as Sangdil,Khoj and Baghi. She teamed up with top actors of the times such as Dilip Kumar,Madhubala,Naseem Banu,Pran and Manoj Kumar. “My interaction with them made me more confident of my own craft,” she explains. A comic role she played alongside Johnny Walker in K Asif’s Musafir Khana in 1955 became a superhit,and she was flooded with similar offers.

Unlike other actors of her time who preferred only lead roles,Shammi was open to all kinds of roles. “My friends told me that I am stupid to take up everything that came my way and that I should be more cautious. But I just wanted to act. I was not there to compete with anyone,” she says. Her quest for good roles also made her take up a few vampish,mythological and action roles. “In retrospect,I think,probably that’s the reason why I am only an actor today and not a star,” she says.

Nevertheless,roles never stopped coming Shammi’s way and even during her later years,she was offered good character roles. Somewhere in the ’90s,as good character roles finally began to dry up,Shammi moved to the small screen. She was much appreciated in shows such as Dekh Bhai Dekh,Shriman Shrimati,Kabhi Yeh Kabhi Woh and Filmi Chakkar. “Till recently,I enjoyed doing television but now it has become too hectic. They shoot late into the nights and on every single day,which I cannot manage,” says the veteran actress.

She may have become selective about her acting assignments,but Shammi makes sure that she doesn’t live an isolated life. “I go out with my friends — Asha Parekh,Saira Banu,Sadhana and Helen. We go out for lunches and movies. As long as it is possible,I want to live life to the fullest,” she signs off.

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