This Kapoor icon's irresistible charm will live on in his fans' hearts.

Haantho me tera aanchal, Aaya ke bahar aayi…. Shammi Kapoor romancing a young, dimpled Sharmila Tagore on a shikara on the Dal Lake in Shakti Samanta's Kashmir Ki Kali. As he closes his eyes, shakes his head, jumps, jerks, twists and lip-syncs Mohammed Rafi's lilting number Deewana hua badal, thousands of young women across India, in the 1960s, searched, mostly in vain, for such romancing skills in their beaus.

In the same movie, a dapper and sizzling Shammi wooing his heroine in the misty environs of the Kashmir valley to another Rafi-Asha immortal number Isharo isharo mei dil lenewale, bata yeh hunar tune seekha kaha se. Thousands of young men tried to ape his inimitable style as more women swooned to this Kapoor khandaan hero's charm.

As Shammi Kapoor bid goodbye to millions of his fans on Sunday at 79, the single most important facet of his heydays in Hindi films that I recalled was his fantastic ability to render love songs on screen. The wild, the untamed, the spontaneous, came through in fast-paced songs such as Aaja aaja mei hoon pyar tera, Allah, Allah, inkaar tera, as he beseeched a coy Asha Parekh to join him on the stage in Teesri Manzil. And of course, who can forget the uninhibited, boundless energy and passion… the flamboyance… of the wild lover that he brought on screen in that famous Junglee number Yahoo, Chhahey koi mujhe junglee kahey? Or that mesmerising number Mere yaar, shabba khair (good night, my love) as he romanced Saira Bano in her debut film? Donning a Kashmiri woollen cap and twirling a stylish scarf around his neck, he effortlessly pranced around beds of colourful flowers, gracefully bestowing aadabs upon his lady love.

Thank you YouTube, for the opportunity to revisit the Shammi magic.

The unfettered, uninhibited lover, who was at his best in comic roles — buffoonery, dancing, jiving, fooling around pretty damsels, came absolutely naturally to him — could also convey the yearning and pain of the forlorn, dejected lover. Of course such a facet/phase of the lover simply had to be present in chunks of almost every Hindi movie those days. So in the same Junglee he enacts very convincingly the contrite, heartbroken lover, trying to convince his love that he has not lied or cheated her… and this is captured beautifully in another Rafi number Ehsaan tera hoga mujh par, where the eyes brim with tears and the lover beseeches his sweetheart to forgive him.

Flamboyant, energetic

His flamboyance, energy and verve were amply evident in his on-screen persona. But in real life too he didn't set much store by rules or formality. His heroines have described how he put them at ease when they were novices and he a veteran.

Along with his energy, Shammi's generosity of heart and spirit will be remembered the most. A well-established actor of stellar lineage — with Prithviraj Kapoor as father and the legendary, path-breaking Raj Kapoor, and the stunningly handsome Shashi Kapoor (he was my favourite) as brothers — he was never reluctant to do films with new actresses. In Kashmir Ki Kali the very talented Sharmila Tagore made her debut, and in Junglee the not-so-talented Saira Bano was cast opposite this veteran. Both films were huge hits and both actresses have acknowledged how he helped them break into the industry.

In her tribute to Shammi, with whom she did two hugely popular films, Kashmir Ki Kali as well as An Evening in Paris, Sharmila Tagore recalled how she was “stiff as a cardboard” while doing the songs, but he “taught me so much about music and rhythm”. Recalling his boundless energy, she said that in some shots in both the films, Shammi would do something that was totally outside the script and not rehearsed, and take her completely by surprise. What really touched her was a recent call from her ailing co-star on a visit to Switzerland. Many scenes in An Evening in Paris were shot there and he told her how he was thinking of those moments.

Saira Bano said she couldn't accept the fact that he was no more. “He was so full of life that even when he was ill and on a wheelchair one felt he would spring out of it any moment…. he was as bubbly as champagne”.

Smitten by Madhubala

Shammi was candid enough to admit in innumerable interviews and meetings that he was entirely consumed by Madhubala's charm and beauty and how she was his first love. Let us rewind to 1952, when he was a “tall, lanky, thin young man”, all of 21, and having worked in theatre, came confidently to Hindi cinema with little nervousness or awe. But, when the self-assured young man beheld Madhubala, his heroine for Rail ka Dibba, “all the confidence, condescension and ease went sailing out of Shammi Kapoor,” says Khatija Akbar in her book The Story of Madhubala.

“It was impossible for him to take his eyes off her. Rapt and lost, Shammi did not know what had hit him. He became flustered. ‘I was very nervous working with her, so nervous that I'd forget my dialogue. When I looked at her, I was lost. I was tongue tied. Yes, she had that effect on me. She knew it too, she could see it, and she helped me gradually. In no time at all, I was in love. I said it then and I still maintain that I have never seen a more beautiful woman; such perfection of face, form and skin, she was almost ethereal.”

Very soon, he was madly in love with her, and “proposing marriage to her; I remember going home and crying to my mother: ‘I must marry her.'” But it was the conservative period of 1952; and his mother responded predictably: “Have you taken leave of your senses. She is a Muslim.”

At that time, of course, Madhubala was in love with Dilip Kumar, but was very fond of Shammi in her own way, which Shammi defined as “motherly”! Anyway, unable to marry Madhubala, he soon fell in love with Gita Bali and married her.

Romantic to the core

Small wonder then that Shammi could enact/emote romantic scenes with such aplomb. Take, for instance, the two lovely films of Nasir Husain, Tumsa Nahi Dekha (1957) and Dil Deke Dekho, (1959); in the latter a very young Asha Parekh made her debut and the film was released on her 17th birthday! The chemistry between the two kicked in instantly. Whether it is the title song Dil deke dekho, Bade hei dil ke kaley or Bolo bolo kuch tau bolo, the screen does sizzle. All the songs rock, but my favourite from that movie is Hum aur tum aur yeh sama, kya nasha nasha sa hei (You and me and this magic moment, the intoxication is complete). Aided by the very effective black-and-white photography and Rafi's heart-stirring voice, Shammi recreates on the screen the longing, yearning, aching of the besotted lover. And the understated manner in which the hero expresses desire is nasha-nasha sa hei indeed! Mind you, Shammi was not really known for understating anything!

Nasir Husain brought the two together again in Teesri Manzil and the fun, frolic, masti and yearning of the sizzling couple is driven home through songs such as O mere sona re, O hasina zulfowali and Tumne mujhe dekha

His successful films later were Brahmachari and Andaz, and one fun-filled, memorable role he played in later years was in his directorial venture Manoranjan (1974), the Hindi remake of the Hollywood romantic comedy Irma La Douce. While Sanjeev Kumar and Zeenat Aman were the lead couple, Shammi played the delightful role played by Lou Jacobi in the Hollywood original.

Effervescence frozen for all time

“I can't take it anymore,” Shammi said to Jaya Bachchan a couple of days before his death, wrote Amitabh Bachchan on his blog. As he drove to Shammiji's house after getting the news of his death, “a million memories” came crowding in.

He describes Shammi's ‘Blue Haven' as a “cozy, warm and welcoming apartment, where we had spent many wonderful evenings and nights with him and his effervescence.

And there as I walk past his still pale figure embalmed and kept in a freeze container, you almost feel as though he would spring out of it and with his feisty elan invite you over to dine with him…

‘I want to ride a Rolls Royce', he would often say. And when I offered to send him mine to keep and drive at will, he would resist it. ‘Let me come out of the hospital then we shall both go for a drive in it', he had excitedly told me. We never could get that ride together,” adds the Big B, who was very close to Shammi.

Well, bidding goodbye to the romantic, charismatic hero of yesteryear, tens of thousands of Shammi Kapoor's fans would like to say: Aasan hei jana mehfil se, kaise jaaongey nikal kar dil se… mere yaar, shabba khair (It's easy to depart from a congregation, but how will you depart from the heart… goodnight, dear one).

(This article was published on August 18, 2011)
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