Remembering Shammi Kapoor, India's answer to Elvis Presley
The ever-energetic, almost bouncy, yet deliciously broody-eyed Shammi Kapoor showed us it is okay to be a little crazy in love, and taught us the twist!
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For the longest time, Shammi Kapoor remained the man who’d boisterously declare his love for Pan Parag — red-lipped from chewing some, dressed in a blue silk kurta and Nehru jacket, with back-brushed slick hair and a bushy beard. “Baratiyon ka swagat, Pan Parag se kijiye” became a sort of an inside joke — even those who never touched it would use the line in various context, and the group would invariably crack up because they would all get the joke.
Growing up in the 90s, that’s all Shammi Kapoor embodied. And such was the impact of television and advertising combined.
A little older me, however, got the opportunity to watch some of his older films and really get to understand why that line at all had that kind of an impact on an entire generation — it wasn’t so much because of the line, but the man who delivered it. India’s answer to Elvis Presley, Shammi Kapoor was ever-energetic, almost bouncy, yet deliciously broody-eyed, who introduced an element of crazy in romance and a twist onto the dance floors.
Junglee (1961), starring Kapoor and Saira Banu, was my introduction to him — and Yahoo was the song that did it. He had the ability to drop his inhibitions — like the beat in that very song — and blend in with the music. I am yet to find another actor who feels every beat, every melody with every bone in his body, quite like Kapoor did.
Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), starring Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore stands out not just because of the ephemeral songs strung together by OP Nayyar, but because of Kapoor’s antics. Yeh Chand Sa Roshan Chehra, picturised on shikaras on the beautiful Dal Lake, had me skip a beat every time Kapoor spread his arms to the beat and Mohd Rafi’s melodious pitch, scared that he’d topple the slim boat. He does in the end, intentionally — but until then his gravity-defying moves kept the audience enthralled.
O Haseena Zulfonwali (Teesri Manzil, 1966) and Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyar Ke Charche (Brahmachari, 1968) had the same electrifying effect. Even with Helen’s lascivious moves and Mumtaz’s wrap saree that was all the rage back then, Shammi Kapoor — with a twirl of lock on his forehead — stole the show. Sorry, ladies.
If Kapoor brought a bucketful of untameable energy into such songs, he also managed to bring a sombre ruminative tone to songs that sang of heartbreaks. Dil Ke Jharoke Mein from Brahmachari, for instance — aside from his questionable piano playing — makes you want to break into cathartic tears, all thanks to Mohd Rafi’s crooning and Kapoor’s glistened eyes.
Unlike Shashi Kapoor, his brother, Shammi Kapoor never really completely disappeared from the public eye, even when the lead roles were few and far between. He directed and produced films that tasted moderate success, he continued doing cameos and guest appearances, he even dabbled with television with Bible Ki Kahaniyan. But with a consistently deteriorating health, he took a sabbatical post-2006, only to come back — one last time — in Rockstar.
It was surreal to see Ranbir Kapoor and Shammi Kapoor in one frame, even if it was for a fleeting moment. Ranbir’s admiration for his grand-uncle in real life is no secret, and the warmth that truly binds them together poured into that one scene. Ustad Jameel Khan is what Janardhan aka Jordan needed that day outside the dargah — leaving us with the bittersweet memory of Shammi Kapoor’s last performance.
It was almost poetic if you realise that the man who felt and relived music with every pore in his body, in a way got the most melodious send-off with Kun Faya Kun — a masterpiece by AR Rahman, in the buttery voices of Rahman, Javed Ali and Mohit Chauhan. Rockstar was released on November 11, 2011, after Kapoor’s death on August 14, 2011 — this day, eight years ago.