To deliver dialogues such as “Tere muh mein keede, tere muh mein dhool” and appear endearing on screen, an actor needs to be spirited and charming. Veteran actor Shammi, who as Chhoti Nani made this dialogue a popular catchline in the ’90s on the television comedy show Dekh Bhai Dekh, was all these and more. Shammi’s passing away at the age of 89 at her Juhu home in Mumbai on Tuesday, made several industry stalwarts including Amitabh Bachchan, Farah Khan and Boman Irani share their grief on social media. Later in the day, actors Asha Parekh, Farida Jalal and Annu Kapoor attended her funeral. Khan and Irani, her co-actors from the 2013 film Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi, were also present there to pay their last respect.
Born as Nargis Rabadi in 1931 in a Parsi family, she was know by her screen name ‘Shammi’ and was fondly called ‘Shammi Aunty’. She was the sister of costume designer Mani Rabadi and entered the industry by accident. In 1951, Shammi debuted as one of the lead actors of Malhar. The film didn’t do well commercially even though she got noticed. Soon after, she was cast along with Dilip Kumar and Madhubala in Sangdil (1952).
Though in the following years, lead roles dried up for her, Shammi established herself as a prominent supporting actor with her affable personality and zany humour. She went on to act in over 200 movies and television shows in her career spanning six decades. Prominent among them are Purab Aur Pachhim (1970), The Burning Train (1980), Hum (1991), Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin (1991), Khuda Gawah (1991) and Coolie No 1 (1995). She explored the television space with shows such as Dekh Bhai Dekh, Zabaan Sambhal Ke, Shrimaan Shrimati and Filmi Chakkar.
Bela Sehgal, director of Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi, says, “It was great fun to work with her. She always came to the set well prepared and even improvised her scenes. She was full of beans.” Shammi was known for her joviality on and off screen. Annu Kapoor, who used to meet her at social occasions, said, “Shammi Aunty was a very positive person in spite of suffering several setbacks in her personal and professional life. She always smiled.”
Shammi’s marriage with filmmaker Sultan Ahmed was short-lived and ended within seven years. According to Kapoor, one of her biggest professional setbacks was when Pighalta Aasman (1985), a movie produced by her, tanked at the box office. She even had to take up the direct’s baton following differences with its director Esmayeel Shroff. “Support for Shammi Aunty came from Shashi Kapoor, the movie’s lead actor, who did not charge any money,” says Kapoor.
Calling her a “dear friend”, Bachchan in his tweet wrote: “Prayers and fond remembrances for Shammi Aunty … so dear to us as family…” Politician Priya Dutt tweeted: “Shammi, aunty to me and a great actor of yesteryears passed away today. She was my mother’s (Nargis Dutt’s) dear friend and someone we all loved very much…her laughter and contagious smile rock the heavens…”