It was 13th of April 2003 and I was with my childhood hero Shamsher Raj Kapoor - popularly known as Shammi Kapoor. It was my first meeting and I was thrilled. It was not a happy sight for me to see him on a wheel chair - the Junglee, Professor and the Prince of Hindi films - Shammi Kapoor, who made everyone dance on his songs. He was still a hero though - despite his prolonged illness, he was full of zest and life, and then he was the king of internet.
In what was one of his last interviews, we talked about his journey on celluloid, his “rebel star” image and his passion for the internet. On his death anniversary today (14 August), here’s a peek into the mind and heart of Shammi Kapoor.
MK Jha: Did you learn dancing ? Specially your free-style ones ?
SHAMMI KAPOOR: Arre nahin... I learnt myself. In the middle of the night, I used to play records of Rambas, Sambas, Artie Shaw’s Jungle Drums, The Gypsy Love Song, Glenn Miller’s In The Mood ... I will tell you an interesting story.
Once I met Nargis ji. I was in school and she was shooting my brother Raj’s film Barsaat. One day I found her in a pensive mood. She wanted to work in Raj bhai’s next film Awara, but her family was not ready, there were some rumours about them. I told her, keep faith in yourself and God, surely her family would not let go this opportunity as she was on the path of becoming a big star. She told me “If gharwale maan gaye toh I will give you a kiss.”
You know, Barsaat became a big hit and Raj Kapoor started his Awara and Nargis was his heroine. By that time I had finished my school, joined and left college, started working with my father Prithiviraj Kapoor’s drama theatre, company roaming all around the country.
By chance, I met Nargisji again in RK studio. She saw me and said “I remember my promise, but now you are a grown up man, so ask for something else.” I said, “Gramophone.”
And she took me to the HMV shop, bought me a gramophone and so may records of my choices. That time it used to be 78 RPM records and I used to play those records in my room and used to dance in the middle of night. You know the beat, the swing, I used to live every musical moment.
MK Jha: How were your early years in films? Did being the brother of the star Raj Kapoor or son of legendary Prithviraj Kapoor help you ?
SHAMMI KAPOOR: Not exactly... the film industry knew me, I used to know them but no one gave the roles because I was brother or son of stars. In my early filmi years... it was complete disaster, all my films flopped. My first film in 1952, Jeevan Jyoti was a super flop. Another flop was Rail Ka Dibba.
Let me show you on the computer. I have the list of all my flopped films. I used to tell myself that I was a failed junior artist. I was very frustrated because I knew there was something wrong with me.Shammi Kapoor, Actor
Firstly, I had come from theatre and my dialogue delivery, body language... saare theatre wale the and I wanted to dance, sing and you know, enjoy the role. I really had to work on myself while waiting for the right time, right film. It was a very bad phase of my life and I started my career at the age of 20. Then the only film did well at that time was Thokar with Shyama.
I did work with all of them - Madhubala in Rail Ka Dibba, Nutan in Laila Majnu, Nalini Jayant. I acted with Suraiya in Shama Parwana, all good films but it didn’t work out till I did Tumsa Nahi Dekha.
MK Jha: So how did the “right time” happen to you ?
SHAMMI KAPOOR: I don’t know... could be by chance... haan chance ki hi baat thi. Sashadhar Mukherjee was making a film Tumsa Nahi Dekha and his writer-director was Nasir Husain. Later we became very close friends. So Mukherjee Uncle asked Nasir to try me because Dev Anand had walked of the film because the actress Ameeta was a newcomer.
Nasir had some problem with my looks, accent, my thin pencil moustache.
I was told that I would get Rs 4,000 per month and I was very happy. The movie was to be finished in five months but it took eight months. So I was happy that I would get Rs 32,000. But the financier said theek theek laga lo... let’s settle for Rs 20,000.
I went to Mukherjee Uncle. He said, “Don’t worry about money... after this movie, money is going to chase you.”
And you know Tumsa Nahi Dekha was super hit. I really liked the music of OP Nayyar and songs written by Sahir Saheb. I used to play the songs and used to dance on the beats. Even these days whenever I hear these songs, I feel like dancing but can’t... my health doesn’t allow but my mind does. Tumsa Nahin Dekha changed my style and I shaved my moustache, gave myself crew hair cut, wore some jeans, flung my hands around and Yahoo!”
MK Jha: So it was your “Yahoo!” moment ?
SHAMMI KAPOOR: It took a long time in creating that image... and “Yahoo” didn’t come overnight! I was very happy with that macho style.. so the third time when I got opportunity, I made a song out of it. It became Yahoo and Junglee.
MK Jha:Oh yes, how can one forget Junglee. Even today, young generations say, Yahoo!... in fact, almost everyone on Yahoo India ?
SHAMMI KAPOOR: Nice of Yahoo Company. In fact they called me when they opened their office in Mumbai to inaugurate and played the Yahoo song. The Founder told me how he loved my song even though he didn’t understand Hindi. I am a computer man...love computer! My love for the computer started in 1987 when people here were only talking about it and it slowly turned into my all-time obsession. I got hooked on to internet in 1995. Later along with few others, I formed the Internet users Club of India to help and make people aware. Ab toh mere paas yahi kaam hai.
MK Jha: I was talking about your “Yahoo!” moment in Junglee...
SHAMMI KAPOOR: I told you, after the success of Tum Sa Nahin Dekha, I said Yahoo!, not loudly, but while the Junglee songs were being written, on this particular song and sequence, I suggested Yahoo to Shankar-Jaikishan and they lapped it up. The movie was super super hit. Ove night I was “labelled” as a The Rebel Star. But let me tell you, it took a long time to create that image. I was very happy that the “macho” style - chase girls with four to five songs, girl agrees, villain shows up and then after a few fights, hero gets the girl!
MK Jha: Ameeta also became star. I believe you are the only star who has worked with so many newcomers and all of them became stars?
SHAMMI KAPOOR: I would not be shy about this. I have worked with maximum numbers of debutant heroines: Sharmila Tagore (Kashmir Ki Kali), Saira Banu (Junglee), Asha Parekh (Dil Deke Dekho), Mala Sinha and many others. In 60s and 70s, they were ruling the industry. I also worked with top female stars when I was no one...like Nutan, Geeta Bali and others.
MK Jha: And you married Geeta Bali.
I did three films with Geeta - Coffee House, Coca Cola and Mohar. We really liked each other and fell in love. She was star and I was a nobody, yet she believed in me. I kept proposing to her and after three years, in 1955, we got married, here at Bandra at 4 O’ clock in the morning. Saat phere maare, then she took out a lipstick from her purse and gave it me. “Meri maang mein daal dijiye,” she said and that’s what I did. It was beautiful. She was a very strong support for me. After her death, I became so reckless and lonely. Then Neela came into my life and I became normal.
MK Jha: How many films did you do for Nasir Husain ?
SHAMMI KAPOOR: Not many... guess four... Tumasa Nahin Dekha and Dil Deke Dekho were Filmalaya but he started his own production and we were together for Teesri Manzil. Again I got the chance because Dev Anand refused Teesri Manzil. This was the second time when Dev Anand refused and I got a call. Later I met Dev Anand and I thanked him for walking out these two films.
MK Jha: Your two hits Kashmir Ki Kali and An Evening In Paris were both made by Shakti Samanta and starred Sharmila Tagore.
SHAMMI KAPOOR: Kashmir Ki Kali was Sharmila Tagore’s first film. She was nervous but I told her to just be natural. I will do all free-wheeling styles but don’t get shocked... let your natural expressions come out. There was this song Ye Chand Sa Roshan Chehra... on a shikara on Dal Lake, and that was a small boat. In the last sequence, nachte nachaate I lost my balance. So I thought, instead for retake, make it natural and fell into the lake. I got a twisted ankle.
MK Jha: You did the same stunt in An Evening In Paris in the helicopter scene.
SHAMMI KAPOOR: Earlier this helicopter was not supposed to be there. It was Shakti Samanta’s idea. He watched one movie in Paris and got the idea. An Evening In Paris was shot in Paris, Switzerland, Niagara Falls and Beirut.
MK Jha: Two songs were picturised there ?
SHAMMI KAPOOR: Yes. When Shakti told me about the helicopter scene... you know the song Aasmaan Se Aaya Farishta... I was up in the air in my bathrobe, hanging from a helicopter and singing, yelling and down, Sharmila was on a boat. In the middle of the song, I had to come down to the boat. It was risky and Shakti suggested for a stunt man, but I said I would do it myself.
MK Jha: Thank God you were shooting in Beirut in the 60s, today you can not think of it.
SHAMMI KAPOOR: I know but that time Beirut was like Paris... auraten tight pants, shorts mein ghoomti thi, night pubs thhe, cabaret and belly dances hote thhe.
MK Jha: I was told that you were apprehensive about the new composer RD Burman in Teesri Manzil.
SHAMMI KAPOOR: Yes. By that time, I had worked OP Nayyar, Shankar Jaikishan... both my favourite. They knew my style.
It was Nasir who was keen on Pancham (RD Burman). He told me first listen to him and if you don’t like, then we will call Shankar Jaikishan. I called Jaikishan and we listened to two-three tunes by Pancham. I was very impressed and so was Jaikishan. He said, “Chalega nahin daudega.”
I must tell that Goldie (Vijay Anand, director of Teesri Manzil) was a very fine director and very intelligent and it clicked and we were at the same wave length. And he did it a great job with me in Teesri Manzil. RD used such long percussions, western in Indian songs for the first time.
MK Jha: You told me right from your first film Jeevan Jyoti, Mohammad Rafi was your singing voice... right ?
SHAMMI KAPOOR: Absolutely... almost all my songs are in Rafi’s voice. Few are sung by Manna Dey, but it’s Rafi who knew me very well. Whether it’s Junglee or Teesri Manzil or Professor or China Town or Kashmir Ki kali or An Evening In Paris, Prince, Rajkumar... it’s Rafi singing for me.
During rehearsals of Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyar Tera... (Teesri Manzil), Rafi wanted to see how I am going to do it on the screen. I did a few latkas and jhatkas. He said ok.
MK Jha: So you used to get involved with the songs ?
SHAMMI KAPOOR: I was very, very closely involved in my songs. Whatever you have seen on screen, they are my own work because I put everything into it from inception of a song, situation of the scene, and going to the music director.
MK Jha: Talking about your dancing, everyone says that you were inspired by Elvis Presley.
I have seen many songs and movies of Elvis... he has a great, fabulous style. But it’s not true that I copied his style.
SHAMMI KAPOOR: It is not correct. In America, Elvis was probably Shammi Kapoor of... (laughs)... ok... that was Aamir Khan who said somewhere on stage that Elvis should be called Shammi Kapoor (of US)... my God!
MK Jha: So when did you decide to switch to direction?
SHAMMI KAPOOR: Andaz was more or less my last film which I did in 1969. By that time I started putting on weight, both of my knees cracked so many times during shoots, and I could not control my weight and was unable to dance. So I thought let me try my hand in direction also. Mera shauq tha aur Manoranjan ne mera shauq poora kiya. Uske baad Bundlebaaz banayee bachchon ke liye, lekin bachche hall ke andar aaye nahin film dekhne ke liye. Rajesh Khanna was also out.
MK Jha: Your father, your elder brother, your younger brother, your nephews and nieces are all great stars. Didn’t the Kapoors think about making a movie with all of you?
Once BR Chopra had come to meet Raj Kapoor. He was making Waqt and wanted my father and all us three brothers but Raj Kapoor did not agree. He told Chopra Sahib that whenever this happens, it would be under the RK banner.
MK Jha: Despite all the hits, popular songs, critics never considered you as a great actor.
SHAMMI KAPOOR: What can I do? When I got my first Filmfare Award for Brahmachari, someone said I got it because of dancing. What nonsense! But I really never cared. I have been an entertainer and I believe I did an excellent job.
MK Jha: Exactly... one last question. When you look back...
SHAMMI KAPOOR: It’s been a wonderful journey. God has been very very kind. I am these days a hospital-ridden guy. Three days in a week I spend in the hospital for dialysis.. both my kidneys are gone and despite that I am having great fun.
Jab tak gaadi chalti hai, dhakke maar kar chalayenge... lekin chalayenge zaroor. Khuda hamesha meharbaan raha hai... woh song tha... Tumne Mujhe Dekha Ho kar Meharbaan, Jhuk Gayee Ye Zameen, Tham Gaya Aasmaan...
I wanted to ask many more questions but he was visibly tired. So we came out of his house and I did a loud - Yahoo!. My Hero had and even now continues to inspire me with his positivity, energy and love for life. Shammi Kapoor passed away on August 14, 2011.
(Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha is a broadcast journalist with over 25 years of experience. He worked for Newstrack and AajTak (TV Today) and IBN7 (TV18 Group). He has two passions News and Hindi music. He can be reached on twitter @mrityunjoykjha )
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 14 August, 2017.)