And so another personality from yesteryear Indian cinema goes over to the great beyond – one that I was fortunate to have met a couple of years ago in the midst of many meetings I’ve had with various stalwarts of the Hindi film Industry – Shammi Kapoor, the ‘Yahoo’ man or the ‘Rebel’ star who ruled Hindi filmdom right through the late 1950s and the 1960s!
The usual suspects – Shivi, Arwa and me – landed up at his South Mumbai flat as he regaled us with tales that were supposedly to focus primarily on his interactions with Guru Dutt (with whom both he and his first wife, Geeta Bali, were good friends) but what we got were not just wonderful memories of his moments with Guru Dutt but Shammi Kapoor’s own journey down memory lane as well! In spite of having to go for dialysis regularly, he was quite upbeat as he gave us a good 2 ½ -3 hours of his time and spoke of enjoying going out for long drives as and when he could!
Shammi Kapoor was in his element as he recalled a film party where a then-starlet-now-famous-TV-hostess was rocking on a superstar’s lap with everyone around taking bets as to who she would leave the party with! Especially since she had come to the party with someone else before throwing herself at the star! Of course, he mentioned the names involved but I will choose to be correctly discreet! He revealed that Waheeda Rehman was the original choice as his heroine for Dil Deke Dekho (1959) and that Nasir Hussain decided on Asha Parekh at the last minute (incidentally, he and Waheeda never worked opposite each other). He revelled in the various fishing trips he made to Powai with Guru Dutt, fondly remembering their drinking binges together and the narration of Kaagaz ke Phool’s script that Guru Dutt gave him and Geeta Bali of on the steps of Famous Building – where most film offices were then – a narration that moved Geeta Bali to tears. He relived his badminton games with Guru Dutt, recollected advising Guru Dutt to tell financier KK Kapoor he had no dates to spare so that Guru Dutt could continue as the hero of Aar Paar (1954) as distributors wanted him removed as leading man after the dismal showing of Baaz (1953). He also poignantly reminisced how each time he was shooting at Natraj Studio, he would ask for the last reel of Kaagaz ke Phool (1959) to be screened in the preview theatre there.
Since Shivi and me have studied Indian cinema history at FTII, he was quite surprised – and pleasantly so – when we discussed some of the films his father, the legendary Prithviraj Kapoor had done, particularly in the 1930s for New Theatres – amongst them Manzil (1936), Vidyapati (1937) and President (1937) under the direction of filmmakers like PC Barua, Debaki Bose and Nitin Bose.
A personally signed booklet of Gul Sanobar (1953), where Shammi Kapoor co-starred with Shyama, is my cherished ‘nishani’ of the meeting.
RIP Shammi Kapoor! There will never be another like you!