Columnist Amitava Nag remembers his fascination with the star during his teenage years and a wanton flirtation with him owing to a quintessentially Bengali upbringing
[G]rowing up in the late seventies and early eighties in a middle-class Bengali family infested with academicians had its own share of mis-fortunes. One for sure was the lack of permission to watch Television. Forget the mugging of TV channels on today’s kids, back then, we had to rely on Mickey Mouse, occasional Kolkata league football match and yes, the Wednesday 8 PM Chitrahar. Rangoli was the other attraction a little later but at 7:30 AM on Sunday mornings it was never within our reach. We never had a TV of our own till the late eighties. In those momentous waits from one half hour Hindi song snippet to the next, sometime I happened to see a jumping man and a bewildering frenzied shout “Yaahooo”. No, I never could take it to my liking, then. But soon the voice became familiar and repetitive – the greatest Hindi playback singer to me, Mohd. Rafi. Rafi’s voice lingered then, and now, with so much pathos, brushes on my beaten soul with tender caress and leaves me wanting more.
I could no longer accept anyone else – except quite a few of Mukesh’s glorious renditions of Raj Kapoor primarily and only a few of the versatile Kishore Kumar. However, following the onscreen charismatic figure used to sway from Raj Kapoor to Dev Anand and even Guru Dutt, till it more or less steadied on that lanky jumping man with breath-taking ‘ruup’. How can a man be so handsome, I asked myself everytime I looked at him! In those pre-teen years of stupidity and innocence, in falling in love and falling apart, Shammi Kapoor with his wild, beastly submission was just what I could never become.
I was growing up in strict Bengaliness, reading Tagore and the other great literary works of geniuses. Hindi cinema was a strict taboo – the only one that we saw as a child was Tapan Sinha’s Safed Hathi. So I had a flirting relationship with Shammi Kapoor – the Wednesday nights or the occasional Sunday mornings. My mates in school had taken onto the towering Amitabh Bachchan by then – reciting his famous lines from Zanjeer to Dewaar and laughing at my rather feminine prescription of the middle Kapoor. In Bengali cinema the options were limited to Uttam Kumar and Soumitra Chatterjee and I was heavily in for the latter. ‘How can you like that joker – who cannot stay still and yet like Soumitra Chatterjee’s Methodist acting and Satyajit Ray’s films?’ asked friends or seniors who took it upon them to “educate” me. I was perplexed as well. Is there any generic disorder in me – that I dreamt of wooing my girl in the lake singing ‘Diwana hua Badal’? It soon became hence, the deep secret which I cherished and refused to open with. Long after I thank myself not to pursue academics to the extent of film schools – so much so that I can atleast confess my impish ga-ga over the “not-so-artistic” aspect of motion pictures. That saved some self pity!
I was amazed to find so many people, friends and acquaintances on Facebook sharing Shammi Kapoor’s famous songs on their pages and walls after his demise. Wasn’t he a star half a century back who was up and packed for good for long? Probably yes. But in grief when there is need to be nostalgic to dig up finer moments and sun lights in one’s life, I find people who were born decades after Shammi Kapoor gave his last box-office hit rake up the unforgettable ‘Dil deke dekho’ or a Teesri Manzil number or even the lyrical Rafi version of ‘Zindagi ek safar’ which soothes the soul so much even now. Does it mean there are certain things which are evergreen as they say? Or, may be classic, testing the sands of time?
I have not watched a Shammi Kapoor movie in ages. Nor do I have any in my possession now that I can embark on a nostalgia trail. But on Youtube I did happen to savour few of the enchanting pieces that are his trademark. The list that started with ‘Chahe koi mujhe Junglee kahe’, went on with ‘Dil deke dekho’, to the inimitable ‘Aaj kal tere mere pyar ke charche’ (with Mumtaz), the stylistic ‘Badan pe sitare’ (with coy Vaijyantimala in Prince), the superlative numbers with a naïve Sharmila Tagore in Kashmir ki Kali and a slightly ripened her in An evening in Paris. To my surprise I noticed some extremely poignant cinematography viz. the ending shot of ‘Yeh Chand Sa Roshan chehra’ where the silhouette of the encircling boats zero in effortlessly on the couple symbolizing convergence of their love both mental and physical; the drama and sexual tension with Sadhna in ‘Dilruba dil pe tu’ from Rajkumar or the love-torn, confused and accommodating partner of Hema Malini in his one of the last films as hero in Andaaz.
Perhaps Shammi Kapoor was an actor with his limitations – he played mostly the affluent and the rich complemented with his marked good looks (unlike Raj Kapoor who preferred playing the pauper), he used to jump all around and dance awkwardly to suit his supposed incapacity to match Helen or the other dancing divas of the time (remember there used to be a lot of facial expressions and body gestures when he paired with them and not necessarily dancing in semblance). But above all, he exuded confidence and warmth which made him so endearing. He was never the biggest superstar – shadowed by the trio (of Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar) in his early career and then swept off by the diminutive dynamite named Rajesh Khanna in the early seventies.
But to those, for whom cinema remains a mystery of light and shade, of larger projection of life with its vagaries, Shammi Kapoor and his histrionics will remain a source of entertaining energy. He forced us to believe that he actually meant ‘Dil use do jo jaan de de’- the Prince who was more than just a hero.