Shammi Kapoor, tumsa nahin dekha (Obituary)

The man who jived and rock-and-rolled into our hearts is no more. Shammi Kapoor, the swashbuckling actor of the 1950s and 1960s who redefined the image of the traditional hero to become an enduring style legend, died Sunday after battling illness for years. He was 79.

He was the “junglee”, who careened wildly down snowy slopes and straight into the popularity charts, shouting “Yahoo…” That rather undignified, full-throated scream that spawned a thousand imitations – inspiring even Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang – was the turning point in the career of Shammi Kapoor, the second of doyen Prithviraj Kapoor’s three sons.

Brother Raj had already made a mark, the youngest Shashi was to follow and father Prithviraj’s shoes were difficult to fill. So, it was left to Shammi Kapoor to create a separate niche for himself. And he did, putting on dancing shoes that minced, waltzed and twisted like none other before.

Shamsher Raj Kapoor, as he was named at birth, made his debut in 1953 with the seldom remembered “Jeevan Jyoti” but probably realised that he needed an identity different from the reigning trio of the time – Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar.

And so off went the pencil moustache (like brother Raj), and in came the debonair, light-eyed charmer with carelessly ruffled hair and a body that moved like a dream. He made “Tumsa Nahin Dekha” and “Dil Deke Dekho” before the stupendous hit “Junglee” in 1961.

A star was born.

The hits rolled out one after another. “Kashmir Ki Kali”, “Professor”, “An Evening in Paris”, “Teesri Manzil”, “Brahmachari”, “Rajkumar”… The list was long.

The songs were an inalienable part of the persona. Mohammed Rafi was the chosen voice and soon, the star and his songs effortlessly segued into each other to create a lasting legacy.

Shammi, the ever flamboyant, twisted wildly to “Aaja, aaja, mein who pyar tera” with Asha Parekh in “Teesri Manzil”, matched steps with Mumtaz in “Bramhachari” with “Aajkal tere mere pyar ke charche”, wooed a winsome Sharmila Tagore in “An Evening in Paris” with the wild “Aasman se aaya farishta”.

The songs were many, replayed by generations of fans, many of whom had never seen his films, at parties across the country. Those were the parties when Chuck Berry and Elvis and even The Beatles were sidelined to make way for the songs of the inimitable Shammi Kapoor. The retro magic continues to this day.

And the persona of the man had a lot to do with it. The story goes that dance composers would leave him to choreograph his own moves. Remember the abandon of “Tareef karoon kya uski” when Shammi literally gave himself to the music, flailing his hands and legs as he moved skilfully between shikaras in “Kashmir Ki Kali” (leading to a sprain it is learnt)? He was goofy, he was stylish, he was spontaneous – and always so much fun.

Shammi was also the eternal romantic lover who melted the heroine with one intense gaze as he crooned “Ehsaan tera hoga mujh par” in “Junglee” or “Akele, akele, kahaan jaa rahe ho” in “An Evening in Paris”.

Over the years, the girth grew. But somehow the magic came through even then. See “Andaaz” (1971) again for how a rather overweight Shammi romances the much younger Hema Malini to great effect.

In the latter half of his career, Shammi made a rather unsuccessful effort at becoming a filmmaker. He made “Manoranjan” and “Bundalbaaz”, both box office disasters.

Like other stars before him, he also grew into character roles in films like “Vidhaata”, “Zameer” and “Betaab”. One of his last shots was a cameo in Imitiaz Ali’s “Rockstar” with brother Raj Kapoor’s grandson Ranbir Kapoor.

Family was important for him. Shammi was married to the legendary Geeta Bali, who died early during the making of “Teesri Manzil”. The couple had two children, Aditya and Kanchan, who stayed away from the arclights for much of their lives.

He then married Neela Devi, who was a constant presence by his side.

But Shammi Kapoor was not one to fade away like a movie title. In his later years, he became an internet innovator. He maintained a website dedicated to the Kapoor family, and was founder and chairman of the Internet Users Community of India (IUCI). He had a role to play in setting up organisations like the Ethical Hackers Association. And also started an official voice blog “Shammi Kapoor Unplugged”.

That voice has now been silenced. But plays on. Shammi Kapoor, “akele akele kahaan jaa rahe ho…” By Minu Jain