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|March 11, 2000||
Bollywood's blue-eyed boy
Says Naseeruddin Shah, who rates himself as Kapoor's awed fan, "He had a style no one has been able to match, be it the way he danced or the stylish clothes he wore. He would remind me of James Dean and I would wonder what on earth he was doing here!"
It was not easy for Shammi to hold his own in an era ruled by the triumvirate of Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and his elder brother, Raj Kapoor. But this rebel debunked everything his elders were doing and danced his way into audiences's hearts. As one casts an eye over the Hindi film industry, one can honestly say that, though many tried, but no one could even come close to imitating the panache of Shammi Kapoor.
But stardom did not come to him on a platter, despite the fact that he was the son of the great Prithviraj Kapoor and Raj Kapoor's brother. It was only after doing a stint on the stage at Prithvi theatre that he got his first film, Jeevan Jyoti, opposite Chand Usmani in 1953. The film didn't run, neither did remaining 20 that followed in the next four years.
In the meanwhile, he had met and fallen in love with the exuberant, chirpy, vivacious Geeta Bali, who was already a star. Perhaps it was her influence to some extent, or perhaps his luck was changing, but Tumsa Nahin Dekha happened. It transformed the gauche-looking Shammi of Hum Sab Chor Hain, Shama Parwana and Memsahib into the aggressively male star who stole everyone's hearts.
His new haircut and clean-shaven face suddenly focused attention on his fabulous eyes, which were henceforth to become his trademark. Despite Shammi's overt maleness and aggressive courtship style, he was perhaps the only star who almost never manhandled his heroines. He could melt their resistance by merely looking at them.
While he's often been compared to Elvis Presley because of his dance style and hazel eyes, the way he used his eyes to court and woo his beloved was more reminiscent of Clark Gable -- perhaps it was a mixture of a number of Hollywood stars.
The western influence was marked in Shammi's acting and deportment -- it was the first time someone had shown such refinement in clothes. He wore leather jackets and tee shirts at a time when tee shirts were not part of Bollywood's vocabulary. His preference for casual collars instead of fuddy-duddy shirts all added up to the image of a star who was making a statement with lots of exclamation marks to it!
Till then, the focus on clothes had been underplayed in Bollywood. Shammi Kapoor changed that -- whatever he wore had to be noticed! His larger-than-life persona carried off the clothes just as they carried his dance routine in a way no one had seen on the Indian screen.
For a large man, Shammi's lightfooted antics on the dance floor are fascinating -- he transformed songs into productions by themself. The songs, in each of his films, were the highlight, from the teasing initial number where he's baiting his heroine, to the soft wooing song where the lady is on her way to giving up her resistance, to the romantic duet where she has given in to forces stronger than her will can stand -- each song was Shammi Kapoor at his best.
When Shammi moved, he didn't follow the camera. Instead, the camera chased him. His gestures were so unpredictable that directors fascinatedly allowed him free rein in his dance numbers. One has often noticed how he subtly moved out of a camera frame when a stanza ended, leaving the director with no choice but to end the sequence. It was Shammi who decided that this much was enough.
After Nasir Hussain's Tumsa Nahin Dekha, Shammi could do no wrong. His films were lapped up by the viewers and he is perhaps the only star on whose broad shoulders a host of new heroines were launched -- Ameeta, Saira Banu, Asha Parekh, Mala Sinha, Kalpana...
The heroine was incidental to the success of his films. Shammi was shaping an image which was to become more and more refined with the passage of time. This could not be more evident than in Junglee (1961), which put its stamp on this star who ridiculed all bourgeoise nonsense to stalk arrogantly across the screen, proclaiming that love knew no boundaries. Was it any wonder then, that most of his fans were starry-eyed females?
If Amitabh Bachchan, in later years, was to fight for the underdog, Shammi had paved the way for him by fighting against stifling customs and stultifying values. Life, according to Shammi was to be lived in every vibrant moment -- Junglee's Prince exulted in his wildness and in throwing the dull expectations of tradition to the winds.
In his personal life too, he was going through a joyous period. Following a long courtship, Geeta Bali married him in typical runaway fashion. They bought their own house and had two children, a son and a daughter. Then Fate struck its disastrous blow, Geeta succumbed to smallpox.
And, after outstanding hits like Dil Deke Dekho, Jungle, Dil Tera Diwana, Professor, Kashmir Ki Kali, Rajkumar, An Evening In Paris and Brahmachari, Shammi Kapoor's career began a downward spiral. Unable to come to terms with his personal loss, his acting lost its verve and joyousness till Destiny brought peace in the shape of his second wife, Neela Devi. After which the flamboyant star returned to Bollywood in a new avatar, which he maintains to date.
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