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Shammi Kapoor,India’s Elvis,dies

Kapoor was considered lucky for the heroines who debuted with him.

The voice on the other side of the telephone was faint,but it was unmistakably Shammi Kapoor. “I’m slightly breathless,my dear. Give me a few days to recover and then you can come over and we can talk,” he said.

He would never refuse a meeting. While three days of the week were reserved for his dialysis,the remaining four days were for the world — his world — the internet,sports channels,family,friends,food and of course,films. Like in his films,he lived life full throttle.

On screen,he would hang from a helicopter with one hand,romp in the snow and yodel a ‘yahoo’,make a shikara look like a love boat,sing a song about a lal chadi,and serenade his leading ladies — all very convincingly,such was his inherent style.

The West had its Elvis,we had our Shammi Kapoor.

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For his penchant for doing the new and creating his own space in an era dominated by Raj Kapoor,Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar,he was tagged as the ‘Rebel Star’. Prithviraj Kapoor’s second son started his career in some forgetable films but after Nasir Hussain’s Tumsa Nahin Dekha released in 1957,he never looked back. Hussain’s subsequent films like Dil Deke Dekho (1959) and Teesri Manzil (1966) gave Kapoor ample scope to break out and chart his own style.

In an earlier conversation,Kapoor acknowleged Hussain’s contribution to his career. “Tumsa Nahin Dekha was my first big hit. Nasir helped me create my style. The hands-out,flamboyant,westernised Shammi Kapoor was created by him,” he said.

This then became his image in all his films. His collaboration with Shakti Samanta,Bhappi Sonie and Subodh Mukherjee led to Chinatown,Kashmir Ki Kali,An Evening In Paris,Janwar,Brahamchari and Junglee.


Kapoor was considered lucky for the heroines who debuted with him — Asha Parekh,Saira Banu,Sharmila Tagore,Ameeta and Kalpana.

Musically inclined,he became the first actor to start the trend of rehearsing during song recordings. While his innumerable hits with Shankar Jaikishen and O P Nayyar are legendary,he’s also known as the man whose approval gave us R D Burman.

The story goes that Hussain wanted to create a new sound for Teesri Manzil bearing in mind Kapoor’s reputation as a dancing star. He was keen to try out R D Burman,but he told the then upcoming music director that Kapoor would have the final word. Years later,Kapoor recalled,“Nasir wanted me to hear this new boy Pancham’s music which I readily agreed to. That boy was bursting with ideas. He knew his trumpet,bongo and percussion.” And so Bollywood got rock ‘n’ roll with numbers like O haseena zulfon wali and Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera.


Kapoor never needed a choreographer. In his teens,he had enrolled for Tango classes,but in a week’s time he realised that dance was not something anyone could teach him. “You just had to enjoy the music,the rhythm and follow the words. I would give expressions according to the words,” he would often say.

Every song held a story for Kapoor. While shooting for O haseena zulfon wali,he got the news that his then wife,Geeta Bali,had taken seriously ill after a bout of smallpox. She didn’t recover and Kapoor was desolate after her death. Three months later,he went on the sets and was asked to shoot the romantic number,Tumne mujhe dekha. “It was tough but Nasir and Goldie (Vijay Anand) gave me strength. Teesri Manzil will always be special because Geeta was very happy that Nasir and I were back together. That one was truly for her,” he recalled later.

It is impossible to chart Shammi Kapoor’s career without mentioning Mohd Rafi,who saved his best songs for his favourite actor. Kapoor was travelling when a man came to him and told him,“Shammiji,aapki aawaz chali gayi.” Kapoor could not understand what he meant,but soon got the news that Rafi had died.

Kapoor was always eager to break new ground. He knews his gizmos and was very technology friendly. Besides being the first president of the Internet Society of India,he was active on twitter and facebook. Many believed he owned the portal yahoo,and he liked to let them believe so.

One of his greatest loves was to travel and his family took him to Paris,wheelchair in tow,because he loved the city. He recently went to Dubai and tweeted,“Dubai was beautiful despite the wheelchair.”


One of his last tweets was poignant,in true Shammi Kapoor style,“Thank you all for your good wishes and great concern about my health. Whatsoever happens jaane se pehle khuda hafiz keh ke jaunga.”

He always had the last word.

First published on: 15-08-2011 at 02:21:14 am
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