Mumbai: Those of us growing up in the 1980s with Doordarshan discovered Shammi Kapoor the hero through the Sunday evening film. Dil Deke Dekho, Junglee, Professor, Teesri Manzil—there he was, the T-shirt and jacket-sporting man with an amusing swagger behind the hit Mohammad Rafi songs that have played at some point in every Indian household ever since the 1960s. He made courtship funny and flamboyant, unlike Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor or Dev Anand whose romances were the stuff of many emotions.
Photograph by: Hemant Padalkar/Hindustan Times
Shamsher Raj Kapoor or Shammi, son of Prithviraj Kapoor and brother of Raj Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor, was irreverent. You don’t associate Shammi with heartbreak; his infectious, happy energy appealed to both children and adults. Women swooned over his playful eyes and cocky, Presley-esque cheek. Indeed, even in Rafi’s mellifluous voice, a lot of his most memorable songs wouldn’t have made sense without Kapoor. Ehsaan tera hoga mujh par, Dil deke dekho, Deewana hua badal, Yahoo, Yeh chand sa roshan chehra, Tumne pukara aur hum chale aaye, Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera, Akele akele kahan jaa rahe ho… they seemed to be tailor-made for Shammi.
Kapoor, 79, died on Sunday at Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital after a week of acute illness. Although he retired from public life long ago, he never went away. He spent time at home connecting with the world through the Internet; at an advancing age, he took to the Web easily and later became the founder-chairman of the Internet Users of India in the early 1990s, a voluntary body of people interested in the Internet and interacting with each?other to optimize its use. He often engaged with contemporary films and interacted with his colleagues despite degenerating health.
He was born in 1931 and grew up working at his father’s Prithvi Theatre. His celluloid debut in 1953, Jeevan Jyoti, was a disaster—and so were a few other films that followed, in which he worked with leading heroines of the time such as Madhubala, Suraiya and Geeta Bali. But in 1957, Nasir Hussain’s Tumsa Nahin Dekha, relaunched him in a new avatar—clean-shaven, cropped hair, ready to swing. It was the movie that helped him come out of the shadows of his brother Raj Kapoor and the reigning stars of the age. Many new heroines were introduced in Shammi Kapoor’s films, including Saira Banu, Asha Parekh and Sharmila Tagore, who were to become legendary leading ladies of Hindi cinema.
Unique appeal: Shammi Kapoor and Mumtaz in a still from the 1968 release Brahmachari, a film for which Kapoor got his first Filmfare Award for best actor. Kapoor died Sunday morning of kidney failure at Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital. Photograph by: Hindustan Times
Kapoor later married Geeta Bali—who died of a sudden illness in 1965—at the peak of his stardom. A few years after Bali’s death, he married Neela Devi, but by the late 1960s, his best had passed.
Shammi Kapoor, in a strictly narrow sense, was Hindi cinema’s first slick, city hero—an antithesis of the flower children of the 1960s; and yet a symbol of liberation for Indian youth of that age. In many of his films, he is the hero who returns from studying abroad and falls helplessly in love with an Indian girl. He embodied the Westernized hero, the man who had fun wooing the girl, and did not give up till he got her. His easy, electric charm appealed to all sections of society, making him a superstar in the true sense.
Shammi Kapoor’s death leaves a vacuum in the Kapoor clan. More importantly, it reminds us of the unique magic possible only in Indian cinema, when great music and romance come together.