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Shammi Kapoor  and Asha Parekh in a still from ‘Dil Deke Dekho’
Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh in a still from ‘Dil Deke Dekho’

Shammi Kapoor and the rise of the dancing hero

How Shammi Kapoor and Nasir Husain popularized the idea of the male lead who dancesan excerpt from a new book on the director

Before Tumsa Nahin Dekha, the Hindi film hero seldom danced. How could he, for the weight of the entire world was on his shoulders. On the rare occasion that he did, like Raj Kapoor in ‘Mud mud ke na dekh’ or in ‘Dil ka haal suney dilwaala’ in Shree 420, his actions were characterized by a kind of rhythmic one-two, one-two movement that responded to the beat of the song. For a large part, the actor’s movements went into enacting the meanings of the lyrics, much like a mime artist, but mostly with his hands coming into prominence. Dilip Kumar did something similar in ‘Udey jab jab zulfein teri’ from Naya Daur. Besides making his entry in the song, clapping and hopping on one leg, his movements in the song are largely restricted to him performing with his hands.

Dev Anand was possibly the most limited of the three. Whether in his teasing, romantic songs in Munimji and Paying Guest, or in his lighter but philosophical songs from his earlier films like ‘Mere labon pe dekho aaj bhi taraaney hain’ (Baazi), ‘Chaahey koi khush ho chaahey gaaliyaan hazaar de’ (Taxi Driver) or ‘Oonche sur mein gaaye ja’ (House No.44), Anand relied solely on his facial expressions and the inimitable way in which he moved his head to enact most of these songs. As author Jerry Pinto pointed out, “With Dev Anand what you had was a loose-limbed lope." Even much later, in the 1960s and 1970s, it is difficult to think of a Dev Anand song as a ‘dance’ number.

Moreover, there were hardly any situations where these men were allowed to dance with complete abandon. The few exceptions to this were Raj Kapoor exuding a manic energy in ‘Main hoon ek khalaasi’ in Sargam where he goes absolutely nuts by the end of the song. He flails his arms and smacks himself repeatedly on the head, with the recklessness of a man who has let go of himself completely. Dilip Kumar, too, in Naya Daur, feeding off the energy of the bhangra dancers in the latter half of ‘Yeh desh hai veer jawaano ka’, exhibits this kind of uninhibitedness.

But such instances were few and far between. Instead, it is the image of Dilip Kumar confined to his bed, singing ‘Seeney mein sulagtey hain armaan’ to Madhubala in Tarana (1951) while tucked in a blanket, a bandage on his forehead, that is the archetype for a song sequence involving a hero for most of the 1950s. Inanimate, constrained and brooding. Kaushik Bhaumik, based on these visuals, opined, ‘The musical culture of the 1950s is very different to the musical culture of the 1960s. The 1950s is very much within the old, theatrical, operatic tradition of music. Music is static. It’s coming from a static source. Someone is standing, singing. It’s completely operatic in that sense.’

Music, Masti, Modernity: The Cinema Of Nasir Husain: HarperCollins, 402 pages, Rs599.
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Music, Masti, Modernity: The Cinema Of Nasir Husain: HarperCollins, 402 pages, Rs599.

The final song in Tumsa Nahin Dekha, ‘Sar par topi laal’, made a dramatic departure. Early in the song, after Shankar has sung his half of the mukhda, ‘Gorey gorey gaal, gaal pe uljhey uljhey baal, ho tera kya kehna’, he claps along with the junior male artistes for a few seconds, showing a joviality that matches the beat of the song. But then as the song heads into a climax, Shankar hits another gear. He bursts into a series of onomatopoeic sounds, in tandem with his frenetic movements. He is shown dancing on one leg, going back and forth with the male artistes, matching them step for step all the while. He shouts out ‘oh sad ke, oh beliyaa’ and flits across the frame. The sheer abandon that characterizes this forty-second-long frenetic finish, helmed very much by Shammi (Ameeta also does her bit), was missing in the hero of the time.

This was not a one-off. In Husain’s very next film, Dil Deke Dekho (1959), Shammi dances his way through most of the film. Shammi’s entire frame features prominently in the songs ‘Megha re bole’, ‘Do ekum do’, ‘Pyaar ho toh keh do yes’ and ‘Yaar chulbula hai’, differentiating him from other mainstream heroes. For these heroes, the camera would generally limit itself to the upper half of their anatomy, mid-shots to close-ups, given their penchant for enacting song sequences with facial expressions. But Shammi, with his feline grace and innate sense of rhythm, was shown in long-shots more regularly through the course of a song. This is not to say that Shammi conformed to any conventional dance forms when he performed in these songs. In fact, he even claimed not knowing how to dance but his energy, verve and rhythm in these sequences (and in later films) were unmatched and very different from the norm.

‘Yaar chulbula hai’, interestingly, is very similar in its placement in the film and picturization to ‘Sar par topi laal’. Both numbers are the last song sequences in their respective films. Both songs signify the coming together of the protagonists, after the extended wooing has played out and all misunderstandings have been cleared. Both songs are shot outdoors, with local male and female artistes shown alongside the hero and the heroine. Both songs have a frenetic finish, where the hero dances unfettered and uninhibited.

Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins, from Music, Masti, Modernity: The Cinema Of Nasir Husain by Akshay Manwani.

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