By Vikas Datta
Title: Shammi Kapoor – The Game Changer; Author: Rauf Ahmed; Publisher: Om Books International; Pages: 299; Price: Rs.595
If Shammi Kapoor’s life was presented on celluloid, it would quite be like one of his iconic films – a youth out to live on his own terms, attracting many women except the one he wants, pursuing and serenading this one till she consents, lots of energetic jiving, misunderstandings, heartbreaks and finally, a happy ending – but not entirely.
For life doesn’t always imitate art, but can sometimes be much strange than appears evident and that of Shamsher Raj ‘Shammi’ Kapoor is proof enough.
His landmark films made him the most sought-after star, but his rebellious, playboy-like persona came as late as in his 19th film – and that too with a role rejected by the top star it was conceived for. Initially girl-shy, he became the Indian embodiment of a restless Casanova-like figure, both in reel and (to some extent) in real life, but a loyal and devoted husband once married. And in an industry where most stars were more known for their high living than learning, he was well-read enough to catch out people on books they claimed to have gone through – as Sharmila Tagore found out.
Filled with exuberant highs and depressing lows, both influencing and portraying a paradigmatic shift in the Indian film hero, his was a life that demanded to be told – and veteran film journalist Rauf Ahmed does it justice in this biography – the first full-length account of this most-contradictory man and actor.
And the author, who has to his credit a biography of acclaimed director Mehboob Khan and the entry on Dilip Kumar in Bhaichand Patel-edited “Bollywood’s Top 20: Superstars of Indian Cinema” (Nasreen Munni Kabir did the honours for Shammi), presents his story in a typical Bollywood style.
Thus the narrative doesn’t begin directly with Shammi but in two years before his birth in 1931, when his redoubtable father, Prithviraj, arrived in Bombay and set out to carve his film career. This lays well the ground for understanding his early life and formative influences – and his eventual choice of career. There is much here that will be interesting – a young Shammi literally putting the bite on a rival at a girl’s birthday party, his first, uproarious (to us) dates, and how he once managed gifts for his many ‘Rakhi’ sisters one Rakshabandhan when he was stone broke.
Shortly, we see him beginning his film career, but despite his best efforts, not making much of a impact or niche before he met Geeta Bali, with whom he had a whirlwind romance and impetuous marriage, who she set him on the road to become the Shammi we know.
Then there are set pieces of some prominent points – his relationship with his various female co-stars, especially Madhubala, whose beauty and art he continued to extol throughout his life, the story of the filming of the iconic “Yahoo…” song from “Junglee” (it was not shot in Kashmir and it was neither Shammi or Mohd. Rafi who shouted “Yahoo”), his relation with “his voice” Rafi and music composers Shankar-Jaikishan, and how his keen interest in music developed (it involves Nargis and a reneged promise of a kiss).
The narrative then picks to the tragic loss of Geeta Bali and his unstable existence as he made numerous attempts to find someone to share his life with while in parallel began his descent from the heady heights of stardom in a new era, and a struggle to reinvent himself. But it ended happily with Neila Devi coming into his life before a further twists – the hard-living dandy turning religious-minded, but also helping to popularise internet.
Though it could have given more about his later career, and the simultaneous translations of any Hindustani word are irksome, the account, based much on the author’s interactions with the actor himself, and many others close to him or otherwise figuring in his life, goes a long way in telling the whole Shammi story, and revealing how the “beyond the boisterous, singing, dancing, clowning image he used to project on screen” was an “intellectually-inclined, sensitive and well-read guy with a wide range of interests”.