If you have grown up on Bollywood movies, the image of Shammi Kapoor sliding down the snowy slopes of Kashmir to the war cry of Yahoo in Junglee would be crystal clear even after six decades. Subodh Mukherji’s 1961 film was a monster hit and made him the flamboyant star of the swinging sixties.
Biswajit Chatterjee, who also ruled the decade with a guitar in his hand and a song on his lips, points out that Shammiji had other hits before Junglee too, including Nasir Hussain’s directorial debut Tumsa Nahin Dekha, four years earlier, with Amita. “I had just come to Mumbai then and I recall watching them shoot,” he reminisces.
Two years later, in 1959, the Shammi-Nasir jodi scored big again with the musical romcom, Dil Deke Dekho. But it was Junglee that made Shammi Kapoor a brand. “He would drive around in a Jeep with the word ‘Yahoo’ inscribed on it and people knew from a distance that Shammiji was arriving,” Biswajitda smiles fondly.
He remembers the actor as a lively, jovial man and a style icon. “We would usually meet at parties, he loved them. Occasionally, we dropped by each other’s sets, and most Sundays, I would run into him at Hotel Sun n Sand in Juhu. We would sit by the poolside and enjoy a beer together,” Biswajitda recounts.
They acted together in the Ketan Desai-directed 1986 film, Allah Rakha, with Waheeda Rehman and Biswajit playing advocate Salma and Inspector Anwar, the parents of Jackie Shroff, the protagonist, while Shammiji was the Pathan, Karim Khan. “Shammiji loved food and during the shoot, he would order Chinese meals, different dishes from different restaurants, knowing all their specialties, and we would all eat together. He was so much fun,” Biswajitda asserts.
When Mala Sinha and he were filming Night In London in Beirut, Shammiji and Sharmila Tagore were also shooting Shakti Samanta’s An Evening in Paris there. And the five of them would meet for dinner and golpo (chit chat). “I watched Shammiji hanging from a helicopter and serenading Sharmila from the skies to the tune of Aasman se aaya farishta," Biwsajitda recounts.
Years later, in 1990, they took an Air India flight together to London, with Lata Mangeshkar, Jeetendra, Shabana Azmi, Farooq Shaikh, Deepti Naval and several others, for a Mohd. Rafi Nite, organised by the late singer’s son at Wembley Stadium. “Rafi sahab was Shammiji’s voice and had sung many evergreen chartbusters for him, including, Raat ke hum safar, Deewana hua badal and Badan pe sitare lapete huye. But I also have a favourite Shammi Kapoor song from Bluff Master, Aye dil ab kahin na ja. When I reminded him of it, he smiled and said the beautiful Kalyanji-Anandji composition was apt for Hemantda’s (Hemant Kumar) voice,” he flashbacks.
Biswajitda had known Shammiji’s wife, Neila Devi, from the time she was the young princess of Bhavnagar, as her brother, Raghuvir Singh, was a good friend and hosted a lot of parties. “She didn’t speak much, but was always warm and affectionate, and grew into a graceful and regal woman. Shammiji was like royalty himself, a man with a big heart. The day Kishore Kumar passed away, we were among the first to reach his bungalow, meeting at the gate of Gauri Kunj. I stayed close by in Juhu, but Shammiji drove all the way from Malabar Hill the minute he heard the news,” he narrates.
After Shammiji’s demise, the actor flew to Srinagar with several others, including Vinod Khanna, Shabana Azmi, Sunnada Puskar, Joy Mukherji’s wife Neelam and Manoj Kumar’s wife Shashi and his children, to pay shradhanjali to the actor who had shot so many of his reel-life romances in the Valley.
“His last rites were performed and a tree planted in his name at The Lalit, which had earlier been the Oberoi Palace where we had all stayed during our visits to Kashmir. After that, I stood on the banks of the Dal Lake, with the commandos, who had followed us since we had landed in Srinagar, and remembered Shammiji in a shikara crooning, Yeh chand sa roshan chehra, yeh jheel si neeli aankhen to his Kashmir ki Kali. That year, at my annual Durga puja celebration, I paid my personal tribute with a Shammi Kapoor nite where we sang his songs to an overwhelming response. It was the best way to remember the man who had always celebrated life, whose melodies will never fade from our memories,” Biswajitda says emotionally.
Yesterday, October 21, would have been Shammi Kapoor’s 90th birthday. And one can still imagine him hanging from a helicopter in the sky, singing, Aasman se aaya farishta, pyar ka sabak sikhlane, dil mein hai tasveer yaar ki, laaya hoon who dikhlane.