Capri is a stunningly beautiful island located on the south side of the Gulf of Naples in the Tyrrhenian Sea in the Campania region of Italy. Besides being a popular resort for European artists, writers and celebrities, the island has also inspired the ever popular song, Isle of Capri. The song was written in 1934 by Jimmy Kennedy and the music composed by Wilhem Grosz. The two worked together well in tandem working on several hit songs including Harbour Lights, Red Sails in the Sunset, When Budapest Was Young, and of course, Isle of Capri.
Isle of Capri, ever since its first recordings, has been a worldwide hit and has been sung down the years, among others, by singers like Gracie Fields, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra. The song has also got popular versions that have been sung in French and Spanish.
As Hindi cinema found itself dealing with more and more urban themes post Indian Independence, the West proved to be a great source of ‘inspiration’ for our composers to incorporate more jazzy tunes and orchestration to their songs. It is well known, for instance, that C Ramchandra based his ever popular ditty, Gore Gore O Banke Chhore, sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Amirbai Karnataki for the Filmistan production Samadhi (1950), on Edmundo Ros’ landmark Chico Chico From Puerto Rico; or that OP Nayyar turned to My Darling Clementine, while composing his iconic Bombay song, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil Jeena Yahan for the Guru Dutt production CID (1956).
It was but a matter of time before one of our music directors ‘discovered’ Isle of Capri. Sure enough, Madan Mohan was inspired for not one but two versions of the song for the 1956 film, Mem Sahib. The film stars Meena Kumari in one of her lighter and most likeable roles, along with Kishore Kumar, Shammi Kapoor (in a negative role) and Kum Kum, and is directed by RC Talwar. In the film, the Meena Kumari and Kishore Kumar characters are engaged in childhood and then they part. She grows up to be a spoilt, rich, modern miss who rebels against standard social norms while he grows up as a devotee in a hermitage and sprouts ‘wisdom’ on Indian culture. So when they meet, of course, it’s a battle, not just between the sexes, but also between so called corrupting Western values and good ol’ Indian traditions. To add to the complication, a charming scoundrel, Shammi Kapoor, is also wooing Meena Kumari for her wealth and she appears to be totally smitten by him…
The songs, both having the opening words Dil Dil Se Mila Kar Dekho, come as female and male solos, sung by Asha Bhosle and Kishore Kumar respectively. Both songs are picturized on Meena Kumari and Kishore Kumar.
The first version in the film comes more than an hour into the film when Meena Kumari pretends to be interested in Kishore Kumar and who, outside the world of the ashram he has grown up in, is just getting introduced to the ways of the ‘sinful’ world.
The second version comes about half an hour later once Kishore Kumar, now having fallen hook line and sinker for Meena Kumari, has succumbed to the lifestyle of the rich and wealthy. To his mother’s shock, dressed in a suit and all, he tells her that instead of eating dinner at home, he is going out to eat in a hotel and that too with a knife and fork! As he gets in and lifts the roof of his car, he recalls the earlier song but imagines it differently now with him being the driver and Meena Kumari the passenger.
Interestingly, Isle of Capri also found inspiration as a cabaret number in the Tamil film CID Shankar (1970)!