Shammi Kapoor: The Original Candy-floss King



By Sujoy Dhar


Shammi Kapoor, who was born as Shamsher Raj Kapoor on Oct 21, 1931, has often be referred to as the Indian Elvis Presley for his rock and roll jigs in the films. And by some strange coincidence his death came on a day (Aug 14) which is only two days away from Aug 16, the death anniversary of Presley. 

But it was not frenetic dancing alone that made him so popular. It was the candy floss contents and stylized mounting of his films and the powerhouse package of dancing, exotic locales and romatic escapades that made him a timeless phenomenon. Not to forget his ability to act and make every filmy sequence so convincing.  

While candy floss became a rage in Bollywood once again in the past decade, Shammi Kapoor films of the 1960s had entertainment values that could hardly be matched by the recent filmmakers with all their technical marvels.

He regaled audience like none other in Hindi cinema. He truly transported them to An Evening in Paris and took them on a roller coaster climb to the Teesri Manzil  of a Bollywood entertainer that could not be scaled by any star or filmmaker in the succeeding decades. 

Shammi Kapoor, who began his career in the 1950 hailing from the first family of the Indian cinema (the Kapoors),  was the original entertainer of Hindi Cinema. 

Kapoor was the second son of film and theatre legend Prithviraj Kapoor. He was between the elder and legendary Raj Kapoor and younger Shashi Kapoor, another handsome actor with a smile that launched many movies. 

Born in Mumbai, Shammi was raised in Kolkata during the heydays of New Theatres Studios with which Prithviraj was deeply associated. 

After spending early childhood in Kolkata, Shammi went to St. Joseph's Convent (Wadala) and Don Bosco School and later New Era School in Mumbai.

Shammi made his first appearance in a Bollywood movie in 1953 with Jeevan Jyoti. And he went on to act in over 100 films, with many roaring hits for their songs, dance, mounting and thriller elements.  When Hindi cinema switched over to colour, he was the leading star of the films with lavish sets, picturesque locales in Kashmir and often abroad. 

His rich oeuvre of works included  Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Dil Deke Dekho, Junglee, Dil Tera Diwana, Professor, China Town, Rajkumar, Kashmir Ki Kali, Janwar, Teesri Manzil, An Evening in Paris, Bramhachari. He was the lead hero of Saira Banu in the superhit Junglee, but had no complex in playing her father in Zameer in the mid 1970s when Saira had starred opposite Amitabh Bachchan in the film. 

Shammi, true to his films, was never a man of misdirected, over-sized egos and notions. He remained king size with all him humility. 

He received the Filmfare Best Actor Award in 1968 for his acting in Brahmachari and Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor for Vidhaata in 1982.

In a recent interview to IBNS-TWF, Shammi said : "The most wonderful thing about the films of my times was the innocence. Those were happy movies…hero meets heroine, chases her, used to sing 7-8 songs for fasao-ing (impressing) her, then last mein Pranji ki tarah ek villain bhi aa jayenge."

 "I belong to the era when films were simple, they didn’t tax your brains; at least, my films were not thought-provoking, they were hardcore entertainers."

And who can forget the many magical moments of his film. Whether is romancing an estranged Asha Parekh in Teesri Manzil or chasing on helicopter the bikini clad Sharmila Tagore, he created movie magic with every act. 

Recalling his helicopter shot in  An Evening in Paris, Shammi in one of his interviews to IBNS-TWF recalled: "That was one of the scariest experiences of my life. While the song aasmaan se aaya farishta was being recorded, I had a brainwave. I suggested to Shakki (Shakti Samanta) why don’t we shoot this song from a helicopter so that it brought out the meaning of the song. It was just a joke; I forgot all about it.

"Then comes this telephone call from Shakki informing me that we were shooting that song with me hanging out from a helicopter! He had hired a helicopter and its pilot for shooting in Beirut. I was so scared that my skin stood out in goose bumps."

Recalled Shammi: "I had to down two glasses of brandy on the morning of the shoot to keep my spirits up. But when I was high up on the air, hanging precariously off the helicopter, I could not hear the song I was supposed to lip sync to. Shakki solved the problem. He looked up at me and sang out the lines and I followed his lip movements for the lip-sync."

"The song is still a big hit among listeners but no one knows the inside story. I jumped 200 feet from the helicopter right into the sea with no bones broken."

Most of Shammi's films had the late Mohammad Rafi as the playback singer with the soulful and joyful numbers featuring the actor on the screen striking an instant chord with the audience. "Rafisaab was my voice…after his death, I lost my voice…I cried like hell," he would recall. 

Shammi would always request Rafi to sing the songs with the nuances that he would  portray on the screen. 

"He used to happily oblige. And after the recording, when I listened to the songs, I wondered how could he sing exactly the way I wished him to! "

Shammi Kapoor is synonymous with dance in Indian cinema and he was called the Elvis Presley of India. But interestingly, Shammi never never learnt how to dance or even  had a dance master. 

"When I was 18-19 years old, I  joined a dancing school in Dadar to learn Tango. They used to charge Rs 20 for an hour. After spending Rs 100, I realized that I hadn’t learnt anything. But I always gave expressions as required to my songs," he said.

While he was often linked to his heroines (Mumtaz had confessed her huge crush for Shammi and their relationship after his first wife Geeta's death ended in a fiasco), the actor himself had found his lady love in the iconic Geeta Bali, his first wife who died in 1965 of small pox, when Shammi was shooting for another timeless Bollywood entertainer- Teesri Manzil. 

"I will never forget Teesri Manzil…it was during the shooting of the film, I suffered the saddest moment of my life…I lost my wife  in 1965. I was shattered, but had to continue shooting. She was there before Teesri Manzil’s shooting started…she was very happy that I was offered the film. She said she wants to see my contribution in the film.  I could not digest that fact that she was no longer there," Shammi later recalled to IBNS.

Shammi Kapoor had met Geeta Bali in 1955 while shooting of the film ‘Rangeen Raaten’ where Geeta Bali was playing a cameo. True to Bollywood film style, they had kept their relationship a secret to parents because Geeta was a year older and they later married in a temple and informed their parents.  

They had a son, Aditya Raj Kapoor, a year later and in 1961, their daughter Kanchan was born. 
 
Shammi remarried in 1969. His second wife Neela Devi Gohil was from the Royal Family of Bhavnagar in Gujarat.  

While Andaz opposite Hema Malini in 1971  was one of his last hits as a hero, he switched over to character roles and playing father. By the 1970s, the dancing hero of the 1960s had put on enough weight to play the father of Saira Banu in Zameer in 1975. 

Shammi was active to the last day of his life and known for his penchant for gizmos and Internet. 

He told in an interview: "I discovered Internet before you got Internet in India. You got in 1995…VSNL. I took it up as a hobby. I am on Apple and they gave us a website called eWorld. The British telecom gave us a line through VSNL, even though VSNL was not available at that time (1994). That was an eye-opener…something completely new. And by the time Internet came to India, we were already first-marchers…already sab kuch dekh liya tha."

Shammi Kapoor was the founder and chairman of Internet Users Community of India (IUCI). He had also played a major role in setting up internet organizations like the Ethical Hackers Association.  

Shammi was also synonymous with the word Yahoo for his passionate utterances of the word in his many film, especially Junglee. So when  Yahoo opened its office in Mumbai, he was a special guest of its co-founder Jerry Yang and the song was played for him at the function.

Till his last, Shammi Kapoor remained the orginal dream peddlar of Indian cinema and society- always ahead of his time or rather blazing the trail with either the frenetic cry of Yahoo or serenading heroines from the helicopter or invading the cyberspace decades before Bollywood learnt to tweet. 

(With inputs of IBNS-TWF interviews by Sreya Basu and Shoma A. Chatterji) 


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