It was the winter of 1961. Bengali cinema’s doyen Uttam Kumar was at Kolkata’s Roxy cinema with Shammi Kapoor for the premiere show of Junglee. Kumar was wearing a diamond ring, a gift from his admirer Kapoor. Enjoying every bit of the movie, Kumar marveled at Kapoor’s sense of rhythm and acting. After the show, the actors hugged each other in appreciation.
Kapoor, the rebel star who took the 1960s by storm, was a diehard Kumar fan. Whenever he visited Kolkata, he made it a point to see Kumar’s films and also meet him. After Kumar failed to hit the bull’s eye with Choti Si Mulakat, Kapoor commented: “Why did Uttam-da have to step into my shoes? He is unique and should stick to his Bengali classics. Hindi films can never do justice to a great talent like Uttam Kumar”.
There are endless tales of Kapoor’s admiration for talent and his generosity. He was shooting in Darjeeling in 1960s for Professor. So was Satyajit Ray, who was shooting Kanchenjungha. Ray ran short of raw stock and was forced to stop shooting. Hearing this, Kapoor gifted Ray his unit’s raw stock.
Kapoor’s nature was evident in all his performances: his body movements and lip-syncing of songs was graceful, perfect and full of rhythm. Kapoor never shied away from confessing that he was influenced by Dean Martin and Elvis Presley. He wooed his heroines with belligerence, innocence and a rare passion that no actor has managed to match to this day.
Kapoor may not have been as gifted as Dilip Kumar or Raj Kapoor. But the truth is that the two stalwarts wouldn’t have managed to do a Junglee or a Professor the way a confident Kapoor did. Kapoor’s main competitor was Dev Anand but he shared a warm rapport with him. Even Rajesh Khanna confessed that the trademark rhythmic jhatka of Kapoor’s head is yet to be equalled.
He was one actor that no choreographer dared to challenge. The songs ‘Badan Pe Sitare’ (Prince) and ‘Dil Use Do’ (Andaz) were conceived and choreographed by the inimitable Kapoor whose musical soul was Shanker-Jaikishan. After shooting for the song sequences, both Vyjayanthimala and Hema Malini expressed their desire to work with him.
MB Shetty, the best fight composer of the 1960s, said that he was afraid of the left hand punches of Kapoor. Shetty considered Kapoor the original action hero. Contrary to what many believe, Kapoor could emote very well. He proved his critics wrong while lip-syncing ‘Main Gaun Tum So Jao’ for Mohd Rafi in Brahmachari. The scene in Pagla Kahin Ka where he turns insane seeing his beloved getting married to his dear friend is a lesson in acting.
Kapoor’s favourite co-star was Sadhana. By the late 60s, he was fed up of repeating his ‘yahoo-type’ roles and called it a day after Andaz. As a mature character artiste, he later showed flashes of his brilliance in Ahista Ahista, Meera Bai and Harjaee. With his height, gait and blue eyes, Shammi Kapoor, whose death anniversary is today, was truly the undisputed king of rhythm.
Ranjan Das Gupta is a Kolkata-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal