Last Sunday, I woke up without any premonition that the sun was shining through its tears. The day stretched out lazily in front of me as I chatted with a friend. The message, short and bold, came as a sudden bolt of lightning. Shammi Kapoor is gone. The brightness was gone from my Sunday.
The tributes flowed, on TV and on Facebook. They were all sorrowful and sombre, as they should be. But I remembered Shammi
as a genial giant who gave me ‘happy’ interviews while undergoing dialysis, dreamt of gifting himself a Rolls Royce on his birthday and only sighed over the fact that you couldn’t do a ‘Yahoo’ on a wheelchair!
That’s how I wanted to remember one of my favourite stars and that was why I sat up, late into the night, rewinding to his evergreen chartbusters. And as I watched him zooming down the snow slopes of Gulmarg to the exuberant Tarzan-like whoop of ‘Chahe koi mujhe junglee kahe…’ or serenading Sharmila Tagore from the sky with ‘Aasmaan se aaya farishta..’ Shammi
returned to me, the way I remembered him.
Shankar-Jaikishen and Shammi Kapoor made for a magical combination. So did OP Nayyar and Shammi. But I associate the ‘desi’ Elvis best with RD Burman’s rock ‘n’ roll scores.
It was Goldie (director Vijay Anand) who introduced the two. Goldie had known Pancham since he was a child and surprised everyone by deciding to entrust him with the Teesri Manzil music. Shamm
was aghast. “Who is this Pancham?” he hollered, when producer Nasir Hussain gave him the news. Even when told that he was Dada’s (SD Burman) son, he was not appeased and instead persuaded Shankar-Jaikishen to slash their price for the film. Eventually, Goldie and Nasir managed to get a small concession from their temperamental superstar by getting him to agree to ‘just one’ music sitting with Pancham.
Shammi drove up on the appointed evening with his producer and lounged on the sofa, his mind far away, having already given the untried composer a thumbs down. Pancham struck the first chord and as one song after another played on, Shammi sat up, mesmerised by the fusion of rock ‘n’ roll, twist, jazz and ‘desi’ melody. By the end of the evening, Pancham was on!
Today, Teesri Manzil is remembered as much for its seductive ‘Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera…’ with its concerto of electric guitars, drums, bongo, trumpets, keyboard, flute and frenzied percussion as it is for the folksy ‘Deewana mujhsa nahin…’ If ‘O Haseenon zulfonwali…’ has your feet tapping with its frenzied energy, then ‘O mera sona re…’ lulls you with its bongo, flute and guitar strings.
On one hand, Pancham came up with the spirited ‘Main inpe marta hoon…’ that mirrored Shammi’s cocky swagger, and on the other, turned him into a gentle, grateful lover in ‘Tumne mujhe dekha hokar meherbaan…’ It’s the last song I remember for the story attached to it that Goldie narrated to me.
While they were filming the song, Shammi learnt that his wife Geeta Bali, who was shooting her film Rano in Punjab, was gravely ill. She had contracted small pox. He immediately flew down and brought her back to Mumbai. But despite his tender nursing, Geeta left him forever.
Shammi was devastated by her premature death. The unfinished song was the last thought on his mind. An empathetic Nasir kept the expensive set standing, hoping it would shake Shammi out of his depression. But the weeks went by and Shammi stayed shut away from the world.
Finally, one day, Goldie stomped into his house and physically dragged him to the sets. They were wrapping up the song that day, he told his star, in two long shots, with the camera going around him in circles on a trolley. Shammi who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown was astounded. Hands shaking, voice breaking, he almost sobbed, “I can’t do it.”
Goldie’s tone gentled, “Try, if it’s too much, we’ll pack-up.”
Reluctantly, Shammi stepped in front of the camera. And gave a perfect take. He was ready to collapse when Goldie shocked everyone by asking him for a retake. The assembled crew waited for the tempest. It didn’t come. Instead, Shammi quietly faced the camera again and came up with another perfect take. By the end of the day, Shammi Kapoor, the star, was back.
Today, as I’m writing this column, the song returns to soothe me with its words…
O lekar yeh haseen jalwe, tum bhi na kahan pahunche, Akhir ko mere dil tak, kadmon ke nishaan pahunche,Katam se ho gaye raaste sab yahaan, Jan-e-man, jaan-e-jaa..Tumne mujhe dekhaa, hokar meharbaan, Ruk gayi ye zameen, tham gaya aasmaan…