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The rock ’n’ roll Romeo

With Madhubala in 'Rail ka Dibba' (1953). Photo: Om Books International

With Madhubala in 'Rail ka Dibba' (1953). Photo: Om Books International

Rail ka Dibba had a silver lining for Shammi: the ‘exciting experience’ of working with the ‘gorgeous’ Madhubala, “who was just out of this world”, as Shammi had gushed. “When I met her on the set of Rail ka Dibba for the first time, I could not take my eyes off her. I was like hit by a thunderbolt,” he confessed. In spite of his overt self-confidence and cavalier disposition, he was “extremely nervous” taking Madhubala in his arms for an intimate scene. “I was so nervous that I kept forgetting my lines,” he had said. “And she was fully aware of the effect she had been having on me and was relishing it thoroughly.”

He just couldn’t stop the rhapsody: “She was breathtakingly beautiful… woh jab paani peeti thi toh aisa lagta tha jaise yahan se (runs his finger down his neck) ek nas mein se paani guzarta hua neeche jar aha hai… (when she drank water, it was as if I could see water flowing down her throat). She was so delicate.”

“Those days Madhu was romantically with Dilip Kumar on the one side and Premnath on the other. Since I was just a nobody at that stage, no one had bothered to associate my name with Madhu’s.

“She was very much in love with Dilip Kumar, so was he with her. I remember, during the making of Naqab at Prabhat Talkies in Poona, he would often drive to the location all the way from Bombay to see her. If she was shooting, he would stand at a distance outside the ‘field’ of the camera and single-mindedly watch her perform without disturbing her.

“I must admit, in spite of knowing that Madhu was already in love, I could not resist falling madly in love with her. No one can blame me for it. Even today, after meeting so many women and having had relationships with God knows how many, I can swear that I have never seen a more beautiful woman. Add to that her sharp intellect, maturity, poise and sensitivity. She was awesome.” (Shammi was speaking to the author in early 2011, a few months before his demise.)

Becoming very nostalgic about Madhubala, he wondered, “Why women like Madhubala don’t happen anymore?” After a pause, “When I think of her even now, after six decades, my heart misses a beat. My God, what beauty, what presence. After another pause, he had said, “I think life was a bit harsh on her. She didn’t deserve to go through all that she did.”

He had even proposed marriage to Madhubala. When she had giggled it off, he was said to have gone home and cried in front of his mother, only to be snubbed by her. “Are you in your senses? You can’t marry her, she is a Muslim. There will be too many problems,” she had warned him tersely. Those were conservative days.

After blissfully relishing the attention the tall, stylish, irresistibly handsome young man was lavishing on her, Madhubala had turned pragmatic and made him see reason. “To be fair to Madhu,” Shammi had admitted, “even though she kept teasing and tantalising me, she never let forget that she was madly in love with Yusuf (Dilip Kumar). She could never resist mentioning ‘Yusuf’ at the slightest opportunity. She seemed to feel motherly towards me.”

Though Shammi had signed on Jeevan Jyoti first, PN Arora’s Rail Ka Dibba had gone on the floor ahead of it, as if it was ordained that his career should start with Madhubala. In fact, the first ever film Shammi had signed was his friend Aspi Irani’s Hum Tum Aur Woh opposite Madhubala. But, that film didn’t go beyond the opening shot. Shammi was a beginner during Rail Ka Dibba. A confident and more experienced Madhubala would go all out to help him in whatever way she could.

Madhubala and Shammi Kappor had worked together in two more films after Rail Ka Dibba , Lekhraj Bhakri’s Naqab (1955) and Naresh Saigal’s Boy Friend (1961). By Naqab , Shammi had gained a lot of confidence. “On the sets, Madhu and I would have long academic discussions, especially on love and love scenes in our films. We did some very interesting love scenes in Naqab,” Shammi had said. Their last film together was Boy Friend . By then Shammi was a big star and flying high. “I remember filming the delicate Rafi Saab number Salam, Aapki Meethi Nazar Ko Salam… I was as if I was actually serenading her,” Shammi had recalled.

Madhubala was so fascinated by Shammi’s presentation of another song in the film, Dheere Chal Ae Bheegi Hawa , that she would keep one eye open as he serenaded her (though she was supposed to be asleep in the sequence). When he chided her for distracting him, she said, “I can’t help it. Shammi, I am fascinated by what you are doing… the way you are enacting the song.

Recalling one of his earlier meetings with her, Shammi had said, “After we became friends during Rail ka Dibba , Madhu would often tell me that I was too thin and needed to put on weight. Soon I took to drinking lots of beer. Ten years later, when we met on the sets of Boy Friend , I was a star and very self-assured. She looked at me and said, ‘You look very confident now, but you need to lose lots of weight, you have become f-a-a-t.’ How could anyone resist a women like that? She was always blunt, in-your-face.”

Shammi thought that Madhubala was a highly underrated actress in spite of performing well in her films. His favourite film of hers was Guru Dutt’s Mr and Mrs 55 (1955), though for sheer intensity and professional approach he had ‘loved’ Mughal-e-Azam (1960).

Madhubala wasn’t the first or the last among the beautiful icons of the time to ignite Shammi Kapoor’s ‘grand passion’.

Actress Nutan was one who bowled him over completely during the early phase of his life. Sharmila Tagore was yet another one, who came into the picture much later.

Shammi Kapoor: The Game Changer by Rauf Ahmed, Om Books International is available online for Rs 470/-

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Printable version | Aug 11, 2022 9:40:34 am |