Days before he turned 77, I’d asked Shammi Kapoor who was undergoing dialysis at Hinduja Hospital, how he planned to bring in his birthday. He’d admitted it would be a quiet celebration at home, but had fond memories of more boisterous donga parties years ago in Kashmir.
“Cruising down the Dal Lake we feasted on gustaba, rogan josh and yakhni, singing and dancing all night,” he reminisced, adding that though wheelchair bound now, he often dreamed of touring the world with wife Neela Devi, may be even returning to the Valley.
Last year, he’d agreed to be a part of the centenary celebrations of Hotel Lalit in Srinagar where he’d stayed many times in the past. He’d been promised the same suite, but before he could make the trip, he was called off to another Paradise, not on earth. On August 14, he left us forever. And his daughter Kanchan, remembering his romance with the Dal, convinced the family that his ashes should be immersed there.
Accompanied by a few Bollywood friends like Biswajeet, Asha Parekh, Amitabh Bachchan, Shabana Azmi and Vinod Khanna, the family flew down to Srinagar. “Everyone got into shikaras (boats) and sailed down the Dal to the tunes of ‘Yeh jheel si neeli aankhen…’, bidding a final Yahoo to the man who as long as he lived, celebrated life,” Shabana took me back to my first meeting with the man who to me was one of the few rock stars from my parents’ generation. The desi Elvis!
When I told him this, he retorted, “I don’t know how to dance, I love music and my body reacts to it.” ‘Dil deke dekho, dil deke dekho dile dekhe dekhoji, dil lenewalon, dil dena seekho ji…’ I’d hummed under my breath, and chuckling he’d recalled Nasir Husain’s reaction to producer Tolaram Jalan’s decision to cast him in Dil Deke Dekho (1957), “That guy has got no style!” With a pencil-thin moustache and a middle parting, Shammi looked like an actor with nothing to offer besides 19 successive flops. He’d been approached only after Sunil Dutt and Dev Anand had turned down the role. He’d been ready to take on the film for a paltry R25,000. It didn’t endear him to Nasir.
Urged on by his wife, Geeta Bali, and his friends, Shammi shaved off the moustache, swept back his hair, got a couple of trendy jackets, turned himself into an Indian James Dean and Pelvised his way through the musical with Tolram’s girlfriend Ameeta. No one had seen Shammi Kapoor like that before.
Two years later, the Dean Elvis was back, with another saucy newcomer, Asha Parekh, whom Geeta nicknamed “tea cosy” and helped her with her make-up and wardrobe. On Judgement Friday, Shammi and Nasir nervously did the rounds of theatres to gauge the audience reaction. After the first two shows, Shammi called up his anxious wife chortling, “We’ve done it!”
That evening, all dressed up, Geeta accompanied her husband, Nasir Hussain, Asha and lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri to Naaz cinema for the film’s premiere. “We walked through the foyer, our thumbs up in the victory gesture. After the film, we all went back to our Chembur home for a private celebration. Nasir and Majrooh spent the night in a tent we’d rigged up on the terrace,” he had told me 20 years ago.
Today, two days before his first death anniversary, I remember those rock-and-roll memories…Those shikara rides down the Dal Lake… Those slides down the slopes of Gulmarg and wonder if the heavens are now ringing with his war cry from Junglee.
“Do you know, I used Yahoo for the first time in Tumsa Nahin Dekha as a macho expression of love?” he’d told me. That Yahoo is still ringing in my ears today!