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Updated: September 29, 2011 13:33 IST

Star whose moves defined India's swinging Sixties

  • Ranjani Mazumdar
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Shammi Kapoor
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Shammi Kapoor

Shammi Kapoor's easy handling of instruments along with his hyper-energetic dancing style made him the Elvis Presley of India

One of the most celebrated and influential screen icons of Hindi cinema, Shammi Kapoor typified the indomitable spirit of the Sixties. As an ardent lover on screen, as a man of action, and as a comedian, he paved the way for a unique expression of masculinity in cinema. He was modern, cosmopolitan and somehow always on the move. His energy and charm remain unforgettable. The son of Prithviraj Kapoor and brother of Shashi and Raj Kapoor, he breathed his last at the Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai on Sunday, aged 79.

When any film star of this stature dies, their celluloid moments are inevitably recalled by the present in a desperate rush to keep the legend alive. Recalling memory is subjective and fans and admirers will remember the actor for many things. But Shammi Kapoor will always remain significant for the way he brought about a fundamental change in the pulse of song picturisation. Kapoor's ability to handle western instruments on screen and his remarkably funny and unselfconscious facial gestures, only added to the affective universe of the songs. It is this combination that made him the icon of the Sixties as he flamboyantly breezed his way across prime locations in India and the world. Romance with Shammi Kapoor was a kinetic event that was orchestrated with the best possible music.

The mad sound of “yahoo” in Subodh Mukherjee's Junglee (1961) in some ways embodied what was unique in the star's screen biography: Kapoor was constantly on the move, using virtually all means of transportation. In Tumsa Nahin Dekha, he was on a tonga energetically singing “Yun to humne lakh haseen dekhen hai, tumsa nahin dekha,” while Kashmir ki Kali saw him dancing on a shikara or swaying gracefully to “Deewana hua badal.” In Lekh Tandon's Professor (1962), Kapoor danced his way on a train with actress Kalpana through lush valleys with snow-capped mountains displayed all around. In Shakti Samanta's An Evening in Paris (1967), Kapoor opened the film with a bevy of women on both sides as he looked straight at the camera and sang “Aao tumko dikhlata hum Paris ki ek rangeen shyam, dekho dekho dekho, dekho, dekho an evening in Paris.” We are literally introduced to the French capital by night with the actor moving through its streets with his quintessential swaying walk. In the same film, he hung from a helicopter to woo his leading lady, Sharmila Tagore. Shammi Kapoor could devour space with his brisk, speedy and choreographed movements. He was physically agile and tall and could make the screen explode with his energy.

Kapoor entered the film industry towards the end of the black and white era and literally danced through its heady transition to colour. If he was not jumping around in some outdoor location, then Bombay cinema's quintessential 1960s nightclub just drew the actor into its fold. In this invented space designed to evoke the erotic charge of the decade, Shammi Kapoor played the band and the saxophone in Nazir Hussain's Teesri Manzil (1966) and Dil Deke Dekho (1959); the piano and the accordion in Bhapie Sonie's Brahmchari (1968); the guitar in Chinatown (1962). Kapoor's easy handling of these instruments along with his hyper-energetic dancing style made him the Elvis Presley of India. Even in his choice of shimmering jackets, Kapoor was inspired by Presley's persona. Kapoor could twist, skip, shake and sway to music. Though heavy set by the end of the decade, he was light footed and literally sprang into action with music. Kapoor's style was at once playful and sensual. Mohammad Rafi sang virtually all of Shammi Kapoor's songs adding to his lively performance.

The 1960s exploded all over the word through music, fashion and youth culture and Shammi Kapoor emerged as a star marked by this time. His work with director Nazir Hussain was critical to his stardom because it was this partnership that made him get rid of his mustache and also shed the serious image with which he had made his debut. Hussain's breezy, light approach to filmmaking and his love for music and locations was just what the actor needed. Together they made several major hits that finally established the Shammi Kapoor persona for generations of film goers.

Kapoor got to act with all the leading ladies of the decade — Asha Parekh, Sharmila Tagore, Saira Banu and Rajashri. He was wild, flamboyant, erotic and with a touch of madness. Films do date and so do actors. But Shammi Kapoor can never go out of style for he was Hindi cinema's first poster boy.

(The author is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and author of Bombay Cinema: An Archive of the City)

this is 2 time iam commenting iam a great fan of shami. and iam from pakistan 3days back i send my condolence but it was not published iwould like to condole his family may god give u courage to bear this loss the departed soul may rest n eternal peace. i saw al his movz teesrimanzil professor,tum sanahi dekha, rajkumar today iam going out to get his movz like prince(i have not seen this movie before),kasmir ki kali and pagla kahika ihop il get thes movz on dvd bcz its difclt to get old movies

from:  murtaza bugti
Posted on: Aug 17, 2011 at 14:52 IST

Taman, above, is wrong to complain about the author's reference to Elvis Presley. He may not have heard of Elvis but it is wellknown that Shami, Joy Mukherjee and a host of other 'rebellious' starts of Bollywood in the 1960s consciously modelled themselves on the King of Rock and Roll. To mention that is not to diminish Shammi Kapoor's achievements. Acknowledging a cultural reference point is part of intellectual honesty, even if it hurts the hyper nationalist sensitivities of some misguided patriots.

from:  Thottam
Posted on: Aug 17, 2011 at 10:42 IST

Whenever I was tense I would go and watch a Shammi movie.His body swaying and typical face making would free you of any stress.It was pure fun watching him sing those unforgettable songs in his inimitable style...Lal chhadi maidan khadi, Govinda aala re,Badan pe sitare lapete hue ...etc.

from:  yatish
Posted on: Aug 16, 2011 at 18:21 IST

Shammi saab was a fantastic actor and portrayed his characters in the movies with zeal and enthusiasm. I still watch his movies and songs and it gives me lot of pleasure and joy. Thank you Shammi saab for all those moments that made my life enjoyable..

from:  Raj Malusare
Posted on: Aug 16, 2011 at 12:55 IST

It was as if he created his own world of entertaintment. He led in all he did. He had this guarantee that you could get your absolute worth each time you watched him. I am really glad that I had the opportunity to live in his times and apprecite his talent. Thank you, bhai. May there be love the way you have potrayed it.

from:  Sadhasevam Naidu
Posted on: Aug 16, 2011 at 11:23 IST

"Yahoo!!", 'Lal chchadi', 'Tumse acha kaun hai..', 'Dil dekhe dekho'...WOW what songs .. what portrayal . Who can forget? Indian king of Rock. Seeing Junglee, Janwar, Teesri manzil etc in STAR theatre in Chennai. He was very popular in those times in Chennai in spite of the fact anti-hindi imposition agitation.

from:  RGKrishnan
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 07:23 IST

Several thousand miles away,in Port Mourant,Guyana (home of President Jagan and Rohan Kanhai) via Indian movies in the 60's,Shammi Kapoor was my favourite actor. Dil Dekhe Dekho was the first of his movies I saw and Junglee continues to be my favourite. In fact, occasionally I continue to look at the DVD of Junglee. Some of the scenes in his movies generated phenomenal interest in my wanting to visit Kashmir. This was accomplished in 2006. As a youngster I had several animated verbal sessions with my dad as to whom is the better actor - Shammi Kapoor or Rajendra Kumar. Shammi was always my choice. As kids we would try to emulate moviestars. You guessed it - I was perpetually Shammi. Even tried, unsuccessfully, I might add,to dance like him. Though I have met several moviestars,I did not meet Shammi. Our heartfelt sympathy and condolence to the bereaved family. A genuine icon has departed. Rest in Peace, Shammiji!

from:  Ray Sundar
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 07:13 IST

Ranjani Mazumdar is really irresponsible to translate Shammi Kapur to us through Elvis Presley, who was American. What does it add to our knowledge of Shammi if she says he was "Elvis Presley of India"? Whom is she writing for? Some readership from Los Angeles or what? This is what happens when academics with poor training and weak thinking end up getting published in the newspapers. Never would an American newspaper allow Elvis Presley to be called the Shammi Kapoor of the United States--and that is because they actually care about their readership.

from:  Taman
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 07:12 IST

Who was Elvis Presley? Do we have to know him to know about Shammi?

from:  Meena
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 07:07 IST

With a set of friends, my age (40's), we loved his films mostly on Doordarshan and now on DVDs. One of my favourites is actually a non-Shammi film Andaz where he acts the bereaved husband and father of a small kid and woos a widow recovering from her loss. One of the more subtle of his films!'kashmir ki kali' is a second.

from:  akhila
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 06:10 IST

Thank you Shammi saab. You gave me many hours of joy in the sixties and late fifties. RIP my friend.

from:  Kersi
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 03:23 IST

Shammi Kapoor is my best Hindi actor.I love his performance in Raj Kumar,Tesri Manzil,Junglee and Singapore.He is my superstar.I will still keep on seeing him in his films.To his family,I express my deepest condolences.I appeal to the Indian Government give a posthumous award.

from:  V.Hariharan
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 03:17 IST

The man will live forever reigning in our hearts. He was conspicuous not only for his flambuoyant looks, dance and way of acting during 60s but also for presenting the looks of a sage in 70s and thereafter. I remember his performance in the song "hatthon ki chand lakeerun ka" alongwith Dilip Kumar which really made one amazed by the vivid personality of Shammijee. May his soul rest in peace!

from:  Adnan.Ashraf
Posted on: Aug 15, 2011 at 00:52 IST

Growing up in 60's in Hyderabad I. had love/hate relationship with Shammi Kapoor. He was so debonaire, bonvi-vant, embodiment of joie de vi-vre. We were teenagers envious of his music, moves and machismo. And he had gorgeous girls to boot! He was a class act, a breath of fresh air. Other actors acted, he brought life and magic to silver screen. I will miss him.

from:  Vijay kumar
Posted on: Aug 14, 2011 at 23:15 IST

He also popularised hindi culture in south India when anti-Hindi sentiments were at its a south Indian studying in madurai I was a true fan of Shammi Kapoor.

from:  Bala Srinivasan
Posted on: Aug 14, 2011 at 21:47 IST

Our whole family are very sadened about Shammi ji passed away this morning.May god will give him a clear way right to heaven,he will always be remembered in our lives and millions other fans in the world.JAI HIND

from:  mohun.chutoori
Posted on: Aug 14, 2011 at 20:31 IST
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