In July 2010, after a decade of being confined to the wheelchair, Shammi Kapoor returned to face the studio lights for Imtaiz Ali’s Rockstar. His grandnephew, Ranbir, remembers how on the eve of the shoot he was surprised by a call from the ’60s rockstar, who confessed that he was nervous: “I’ve grown old, what if I forget my lines?”
Ranbir insisted they’d take good care of him and all would be well. “It was only after I’d put down the phone that I realised that it was one of the legends of Hindi cinema taking reassurance from a rank newcomer,” recalls the younger Kapoor, as images of his granduncle flirting with the female assistant directors, rehearsing his lines and sharing stories about Kashmir flash through his mind.
This year, on August 14, Shammi Kapoor passed away. Rockstar, that releases this Friday, will be his last Yahoo. “It is poetic justice that his last film should have been titled Rockstar because he was and always will be the original rockstar,” points out Ranbir, who’s inherited the title with convincing ease.
His granduncle wouldn’t have been surprised. Three years ago, days before his 77th birthday, when I’d asked him which actor reminded him of the Shammi of the ’60s he’d smiled, “There are so many wonderful boys around… Aamir (Khan), Shah Rukh (Khan), Salman, (Khan), Hrithik (Roshan), and Ranbir who’s a good dancer but not my reflection. He’s an original, like Shammi Kapoor was.”
There were many who had tagged Shammi the
(Indian) Elvis Presley. Shammi didn’t agree. “May be Elvis was the
(foreign) Shammi Kapoor,” he’d quipped, tongue-in-cheek, pointing out that back then there were no videos for him to copy Elvis. “I didn’t imitate him, he didn’t imitate me… We just danced to the same beat.”
For Elvis fans this ‘beat’ would be Jailhouse Rock… and Good Rockin’ tonight… For Shammi fans it would be Suku Suku.., Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyaar Ke Charche…, and O Haseena Zulfonwali…
Vijay Anand or Goldie, as he was fondly called, had spotted Helen in a group of chorus dancers when he was filming Nau Do Gyrah and he wanted to give her a break as an actor. When Nasir Hussain approached him to direct a film for his banner and Teesri Manzil turned out to be a musical with a jazzed up score by RD Burman, Goldie cast the dancing girl as an eyewitness to a murder and also gifted her a chartbuster.
O Haseeena Zulfonwali… with its frenetic pace and infectious energy was right up Helen’s street. Goldie was delighted when she sparked off a competitive spirit in Shammi. “Whenever they were in the frame together, he wanted to outshine her and that made their moments magical,” he pointed out, recalling how when he had told his rockstar that he wanted to can the song in one shot, with him sitting atop a crane and the camera zooming into Shammi’s eyes, the star had rushed to Nasir complaining their director had lost it.
Soon after, Nasir turned up for the shoot and watched quietly from a corner. Before long he was taking his actor friend aside to tell him not to worry, their director knew his job. “
Kamaal ka shot liya hai woh
(He just canned a brilliant shot!),” he told Shammi, allaying his misgivings.
Forty-six years later, my 12-year-old daughter Ranjika is strumming an imaginary guitar and crooning, Sadda Haq, Aithe Rakh… I keep her company with O Haseena Zulfonwali, Jaane Jahan, Dhoondti Hain Kafir Aankhen Kiska Nishaan… RK rocks but it’s still SK whom I remember when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll. Shammi who in his prime had danced not only on screen but all night on a
(houseboat) on the Dal Lake even after the director had shouted “Cut”.
“All my songs set me feet tapping and my heart racing, RD Burman and Mohd Rafi were a potent combo,” he’d sighed during in the course of our last interview. “Unfortunately, I can no longer dance, I can’t even walk, I’m confined to a wheelchair. But my feet still tap and my heart races whenever I hear these songs.” So does mine!