The brat, the charmer, the contrarian… these are some of the reasons why we struggle to fit Shammi Kapoor into the typeface of the Kapoor family. Unkindly billed once as a Raj Kapoor clone, it took him 19 films to be identified as the Shammi rather than just another Kapoor. His common-sense and home-grown intelligence made him sculpture a screen image that blended elements of the unapologetic live-it-up, braced with mad max enthusiasm in all fields of life.
This honest transparency between Shammi the person and Shammi Kapoor the actor made his audience comfortable. They could relax to his torso-corkscrewing, knee-plaiting, rubber-necking, floor gyrating movements that he created and patented. And oh! Those blue eyes set deep into those near-Grecian features, a six feet frame with a white complexion tinged with a pinkish pallor (Indians were always “racists”, you see), topped with a “wild, wild charm” (as Sharmila Tagore defined him) would set something aflame within the women.
Highlights of the Biography
Rauf Ahmed in his biography Shammi Kapoor – The Game Changer paints a vivid picture of the actor, the man, the highs, the lows, the tragedies, the injuries, the relationships, the classiness and recklessness that bookmarked his life.
The book’s core narrative is made up of stories and some interviews, at times startlingly outspoken ones, of many personalities who were connected with Shammi personally or professionally. Unlike other journalist-authors, Ahmed desists from alluding only to Kapoor’s “comfort zone” in the industry. He, when needed, approaches the subject with an outsider’s view thereby lending the story-telling an all-round 360-degree credibility.
It talks about Shammi’s musical sensibilities, his schoolboy days, his romances, his made-in-heaven but tragic marriage with Geeta Bali, his associations with peers, composers,singers, the unbridled rise to stardom, the changing milieu in late-1960s when he was usurped by (ironically) another game-changer… and how he aged gracefully post his marriage with Neila Devi, and, in the last lap of his life, how he embraced the Internet and the inevitable alike. In addition to Ahmed’s personal interviews, this book also sources from the print media (mostly Filmfare). The internet too seems to be referred to, albeit sparingly, case in point being Movie Mahal, a series of stories by Nasreen Munni Kabir for BBC.
Thanks to the Kapoor Family
It appears that Ahmed had the buy-in of the Kapoor family, both direct and extended, is as much, this work can be classified as the “authorised biography”, something thatAhmed could have actually claimed if he wished to. An authorised biography, by design, limits a writer’s freedom to wander beyond the ramparts of stories deemed politically correct, reducing them to veiled hagiographies. To Ahmed’s continued credit, he eases out the glass ceiling.
One also needs to thank the magnanimity of the Kapoors who, unlike most Indian film-families, never believed in rolling out saccharine sweet stories to the media .The book is as much a write-up of Shammi’s glory and his deep sorrow, including disturbing moments of poignancy like Geeta Bali’s death and the havoc it wreaked on him, as it is an account of his failures and rejections he had to endure. It is not an “And-they-lived-happily-ever-after” fairy tale.
Loaded With Trivia & Photos
Ahmed has also infused huge nuggets of rare trivia. Some are very interesting, like the presence of an unidentified passenger on the train journey to the north for the premier of Tumsa Nahin Dekha, an unreleased Shammi-Dev Anand starrer, why Shammi and Saira did not work for twelve years, and many more. On the wish list, one would have expected a deeper dive into the two films that Shammi directed – Manoranjan and Bundal Baaz. Also, Shammi’s avatar as a successful character actor has not been covered atall. Further, one misses anecdotes like the box of multi-coloured medicine pills that Shammi always carried, the story that Shammi wanted to lip Dhanno Ki Aankhon Mein... (Kitaab, 1977),or the fact that Tum Mujhe Yun Bhula NaPaoge... (Pagla Kahin Ka, 1970) was the caller ID tune of his mobile phone.
A book of this dimension is prone to errors as well. Thankfully, Ahmed does a fine job here too. Blatant errors are minimal. One exception which comes to mind is a story involvingGoldie Anand (giving this away would be a spoiler). It does not match the actual timeline. One wishes Ahmed had taken multiple accounts of the story, as this certainly could be a case of anachronism.
The editing is good, though, minor issues are there. On a few occasions, the same pieces of info appear twice on different pages making the reader go, “Hey didn’t I read that just now?” Dipa Chaudhuri, the editor, could have also chosen to break-up the interview transcripts into more wieldy pieces to support the author’s story-telling.What happens instead, is that, certain parts of the book becomes the interviewee’s narrative rather than the author’s narrative. There are a couple of typos as well. These include incorrect proper noun spellings, wrong song – film combo, misprints of film years, etc. Some examples are - Shammi’s daughter’s age is mentioned as ‘33’ instead of ‘3’ during Geeta Bali’s death.
But overall, the book is a fascinating page-turner that can be consumed in one sitting. And unlike watching a Shammi Kapoor super hit which is a one-time watch masala film, it’s a book dense enough to be re-read. Multiple times. And it has some lovely photographs too…
Title: Shammi Kapoor - The Game Changer
Publisher: Om Books International
(Anirudha and Balaji, engineers by education and IT consultants by profession, are film addicts who find time to sing, quiz and discuss songs of the 1950s through to the 1980s. They won the National award for “Best Writing on Cinema” for their first book in 2012 : RD Burman, the Man the Music. Their 2nd book : Gaata Rahe Mera Dil, won the inaugural “Excellence in Writing” award at the Jio MAMI film festival in 2015.)
(This article is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 21 March 2016. It is now being republished to mark Shammi Kapoor’s birth anniversary.)