With his flamboyant and carefree style of dancing and singing, Shammi Kapoor, as filmmaker and fan Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra puts it, “invented the modern Bollywood hero.” Buffoonish, impulsive, madcap and rebellious, he was an unashamed OTT and proudly so. For many Shammi buffs, his most cherished memories are located in his songs. His musical legacy, as he teamed up with Mohammed Rafi, Shankar-Jaikishan, O.P Nayyar and R.D Burman, has become a part of his legend.
On the Yahoo star’s birth anniversary today, we get his wife Neela Devi, director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehta and biographer Rauf Ahmed to share their favourite Shammi Kapoor song.
Neela Devi, late Shammi Kapoor’s wife
Favourite song: “Tum mujhe yun bhula na paoge” — Pagla Kahin Ka (1970)
“As a nine-year-old, I had become a fan of my husband when I first saw him on stage in Bhavnagar. Shammi Kapoor used to perform with his father Prithviraj Kapoor. Those days, he acted in plays like Deewar, Ahuti and Pathan. The first thing that struck me about him was his singing. As I think about him, so many songs come to mind — from Kashmir Ki Kali, from Junglee I can think of “Din saara guzara,” Dil Deke Dekho, Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Laila Majnu and Basant had great music. It’s difficult to pick but one of my most favourite songs at the moment is “Tum mujhe yun bhula na paoge” because he used to sing that a lot. Whenever we had a fight or I was angry with him, he would sing this song and my heart melted. I couldn’t remain angry with him for too long. Whenever he sang, I forgot everything. He sang beautifully and that’s because he had learnt classical singing for six-seven years in childhood. He kept singing right till the end. Even when he was in ICU battling with death, he was humming and singing. He considered Mohammed Rafi as his musical soulmate. They understood each other. Rafisaab used to sing that way for him. Shammiji attended all recordings and give Rafisaab cues and they worked like a dream team.
The last couple of years he was very fond of singing “Aaoge jab tum oh saajna” from Jab We Met. Even today I cry when that song plays. I remember Imtiaz Ali and Ranbir Kapoor used to come to our place and sit at his feet. They kept coming for two, three days until he said ‘yes’ to act in Rockstar. He was unwell, but he agreed because of the love and respect that Imtiaz and Ranbir gave him. Rockstar was his last film. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see it. Ranbir just came and said, ‘Dadu, you have to do it.’ He couldn’t say ‘no’ to him. Ranbir had a very special relationship with him. Ranbir would go to the sets of Prem Granth and as a little kid, he used to crawl up to Shammi and sing in his ear. He had a little extra affection for Ranbir.
Shammiji was a loving man. I was happy being a simple housewife and to be under his shadow. I come from a very conservative family. Shammi was a star and was married to Geeta Bali. I kept her like my conscience because one day I had to answer her about how I took care of her children and Shammiji. I always knew that she would be the first lady in his life and that I will get second billing. I was ready for it.”
Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, filmmaker
Favourite song: “Yeh chand sa roshan chehra” — Kashmir Ki Kali (1964)
“I never imagined that anybody on a shikara in Kashmir could pull it off. But Shammi Kapoor used that space so well. How big can a shikara be? Maximum five feet wide? The use of that one space in which he kept jumping up and down and created something so startlingly unique. Obviously, there are more famous dances of his in Teesri Manzil and other films where he had the whole floor and background dancers, but I find “Yeh chand sa roshan chehra” so extraordinary in its imagination. In Fanney Khan (Mehra was one of its producers), we have used Shammiji’s song “Badan pe sitare”. It was our ode to the star we all loved. When director Atul Manjrekar told me about it, I was not just excited but thrilled. My generation grew up on Shammi Kapoor. We have grown up watching and emulating him. If you were to divide Hindi cinema post Independence, you can draw a line with Shammi Kapoor. Before him, the hero never danced. In the era of KL Saigal, Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, you will never find them dancing, except the occasional “Yeh desh hai veer jawanon ka”. Shammi invented the dancing hero. Before him, only the heroine danced. The hero never did. I remember while researching for my documentary Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, I came across a very interesting fact. When India got independence, there was a cinema of hope. But soon, the whole illusion started breaking. There was drought in Maharashtra, Bengal famine, there were three wars, an open border with Pakistan and we lost to China, the five-year plan was failing and there was unemployment. The whole country was going through a low phase. So, we gave birth to the cinema of escapism. That’s where dreams got manufactured. Shammi Kapoor was right at the forefront of it.
During the documentary, I was blessed to have spent two days with him. He passed away soon afterwards, this being one of his last taped interviews. He was on wheelchair. But whenever we spoke about music and dancing, his eyes used to light up. It seemed like he would almost spring up from the wheelchair and start dancing. He told me a very interesting thing during our chat. In the beginning, his career was going nowhere and he kept churning out flops. Nargis had gifted him a red gramophone on which he got exposed to Western music. Inspired by it, he started dancing and that’s when his image changed and he became a superstar. And he’s still singing and dancing – in our hearts.”
Rauf Ahmed, author, Shammi Kapoor: The Game Changer
Favourite song: “Ehsaan tera hoga mujhpar” — Junglee (1961)
“This is an interesting song in Shammi Kapoor’s musical journey. We think of him as a hero who broke the mould with his flamboyance and the way he jumped and danced and sang, almost to the point of going berserk. “Ehsaan tera hoga mujhpar” is none of that. Shammi is not doing what he usually does, descending from helicopter or sliding down snow, screaming ‘Yahoo’ which became his favourite chant. He’s in a serious mode and yet, there’s all the style and swagger you expect of him. The song has a lot of close-ups and you can see Shammi is expressing through his eyes and facial movements. He was dismissed as a ‘freak’ when he started doing all the Elvis Presley stuff but today, when we look back, we know that it was Shammi who redefined the Hindi film hero and his song-and-dance gave birth to ‘musical romance.’ Music, for him, was an expression of joy. He had a great flair for it and he sat for all his musical sittings. Mohammed Rafi, who was his voice, brought in an extra something whenever he was on playback for Shammi. Rafisaab always stood by Shammi — once against the maestro O.P Nayyar to get Shammi have his say in Kashmir Ki Kali’s “Yeh chand sa roshan chehra”. Shammi wanted the main lines of the mukhda “Tareef karun kya uski” repeated in the end as the hero falls off into the lake. But Nayyar was unrelenting. That’s when Rafisaab backed him. Shammi’s love for music goes back to his younger days. His mother had dabbled in classical singing and whenever she skipped her training session, Raj Kapoor would attend on her behalf and when Raj was busy the baton was passed over to Shammi. He once told me, “The sound of any music evoked in me a strong urge to dance.”
It was Nargis, incidentally, who was inadvertently responsible for introducing him to Western music, which would later be a turning point in his life. As a young boy, Shammi used to drop in to Raj Kapoor’s sets. Once, he saw Nargis crying. She wanted to act in Raj’s next film, Awaara. But her family was against it. Shammi assured her that he would pray for her to get this role. In return, she promised to ‘kiss’ him. Time rolled by. She did get cast in Awaara and one day, saw an all-grown-up Shammi on the sets rushing towards her to get the promised kiss. “You are a big boy. No way am I going to kiss you,” she said, pushing him away. “Anything but a kiss.” Shammi, in exchange, demanded a gramophone player. She drove him in her Riley’s sports model car straight to an HMV shop in Fort and asked him to select a gramophone of his choice and whatever records he wished. Every evening, Shammi would dance to the tune of that red gramophone on the terrace. He never forgot to thank Nargis for a gift that changed his life.”
(Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai)