Post-Independence Hindi cinema was divided between the instant greatness of Dilip Kumar, the genius of Raj Kapoor and the uber coolness of Dev Anand. There was hardly any place for someone else to make a mark for himself but nestled somewhere in between the three icons was a man called Shammi Kapoor, the ultimate male icon of the 1960’s.
Shammi Kapoor was so cool that he was perhaps the only actor whose fans were proud to be his fans.
Shamsher Raj Kapoor never had it easy and frankly he never wanted it any other way. Born to the illustrious Prithiviraj Kapoor, Shammi started acting at a time when elder brother Raj was already a great artist by the time he was 24.
Shammi tried to fit into the pre-existing moulds that Hindi cinema operated upon but the first chance he got with Nasir Husain’s Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957), Shammi created a persona that would forever be etched in the annals of Hindi cinema.
Here are a few of the things that were special about Shammi Kapoor, the original rockstar of Hindi cinema!
Forget Ranbir Kapoor who stars in a film called Rock Star for he ain’t a patch on his grand-uncle! The non-conformist that Shammi Kapoor transformed into perhaps always existed within him. Till Tumsa Nahin Dekha he did exactly what everyone else was doing but given half a chance he metamorphosed into the rockstar that we now know him as. Of course, Dev Anand was the first ‘western’ hero of Hindi cinema but Shammi with his Elvis-Presley-meets-James-Dean mode was leagues apart when it came to addressing the youth with his clothes, his swagger or just his mere presence.
It might be the most popular Internet search engine once upon a time but for millions of Indians Yahoo is nothing less than a war cry. The film was Junglee (1961) and the title track was to capture the essence of a man who knew no boundaries and that little phrase ended up defining a generation. With Shammi Kapoor rolling down snow-clad mountains shouting Yahoo without a worry in the world Junglee is one of the fondest films of the 1960’s.
• Dancin’ Queen
Think of the famous Hindi film dances from the golden era and chances are Shammi’s moves would top the list beating the likes of Helen or Bindu. The man invented his own inimitable style of dancing and no one has even come close to matching his coolness. Songs like Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyaar Ke Charche (Brahmachari, 1968), Govinda Aala Re (Bluffmaster, 1963), Badan Pe Sitare (Prince, 1969) and O Haseena Zulfonwali (Teesri Manzil, 1966) amongst many more exude an infectious exuberance. There is no way your feet will be still during a Shammi Kapoor number.
There has never been an actor like Shammi Kapoor who made a singer’s voice his own. Legend has it that when Md. Rafi passed away someone simply told Shammi that he had lost his voice. Shammi would sit with Rafi during the recordings and ask him to sing in a particular manner that would make his crazy on-screen antics come alive. Shammi even made Rafi convince OP Nayyar to change the way Tareef Karoon Kya Usski from Kashmir Ki Kali (1964) would end only to suit his acting. Never has an actor-singer duo been so good together that one doesn’t know where the crooning ended and the acting began.
If Kashmir ever needed an ambassador Shammi Kapoor would be the choice. Between 1958 and 1971 almost every Shammi Kapoor film was shot in Kashmir so much so that many believed that the actor was based out of paradise on earth. There are shikaras even to this day that have a Shammi Kapoor connection. Like the man himself his films too broke the shackles that gripped Hindi films and got away from the studios and into the beautiful locales of Kashmir.
• Teesri Manzil:
With its lilting RD Burman numbers (O Mere Sona, Tumne Mujhe Dekha, Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyar Tera, O Haseena Zulfonwali) and Vijay Anand’s nimble editing and deft direction, Teesri Manzil (1966) is now the very film that pops into one’s mind whenever someone mentions Shammi Kapoor. Usually it’s an actor who fits into a role or a film but Teesri Manzil is a film that fits perfectly into Shammi’s sweet rebel persona. Ironically much like Shammi’s breakthrough film Tumsa Nahin Dekh (1957), this too was passed on by Dev Anand!
True to his yahoo avatar Shammi Kapoor was not only one of the first celebrities but one of the very first people in India who joined the Internet bandwagon. Founder and chairman of Inter Users Community of India (IUCI), Shammi Kapoor was instrumental in setting up many Internet organizations besides running his own website. Towards the end he was a regular on social networking sites like Twitter and Face Book.
No wonder than most of us still believe that yahoo, the internet giant, might just have an Indian connection!
• Goya Ke Chunanche:
In 1974 once Shammi Kapoor had decided not to play the hero anymore he directed a film a called Manoranjan. Based on Irma La Douce, Shammi got Abrar Alvi to write the film and RD Burman scored the music. The story of Ratan, a nave cop new on the beat on a street called Manoranjan Street that is the stomping ground of pimps and soft-hearted prostitutes and his love affair with Nisha, a prostitute he considered nice, was much like the man who directed it: irreverent yet charmingly effervescence.
Even though it didn’t do well at the box-office Manoranjan nevertheless is great fun. And who can forget Goya Ke Chunanche, the lively Zeenat Aman number which was crafted thanks to a non-sense verbal volley between Kishore Kumar and RD Burman.
Shammi Kapoor has left a void that will never be filled… and it’s no point in even thinking of a substitute for there was never anyone who could even remotely come close.