With his dishevelled hair and devil-may-care attitude, Shammi Kapoor was the quintessential Sixties hero, the one who appealed to the nation's youth. Kapoor was conscious of his special appeal. Veteran film journalist Rauf Ahmed, whose biography of the star tentatively entitled Shammi Kapoor: The Untold Story will soon be launched, recounts him saying, "The 'Yahoo' song (from Junglee (1961)) not only shook the valley, but also shook my contemporaries".
A soft spoken man, it's easy to lose Ahmed's words, amid the chaos of the festival, but his fondness for Kapoor shines through as he talks about the actor. "People didn't really understand what Shammi Kapoor did. They thought he was some crazy person jumping around like a monkey," he said. Few knew that Ahmed, a good friend of Shammi Kapoor's, had begun chronicling the actor's life before he died on 14 August, 2011. This then is an authorised biography.
Ahmed has many anecdotes to share about the actor's out-of-the-box approach to his work. During the shooting of the 'Aasman se aaya farishta' in An Evening in Paris (1967), Shammi mentioned that he would like to actually come down from the sky to give more meaning to the song. The comment led to Shakti Samanta booking a helicopter for the sequence and the rest is Hindi film history. Ahmed believes Shammi Kapoor was the greatest game changer in the history of popular Hindi cinema. Though he began as a failure and had 18 flops before he hit the big time, he competed with established leading men like Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor, and eventually became a superstar — a position he maintained for 12 years.
"He shook away the gentlemanly and 'holier than thou' image of the actors before him, and brought in the energy and the rebellious image that the youth could identify with," said Ahmed who believes Shammi Kapoor changed both the perception of the hero and how films were made. "He was the one who introduced romantic musicals," he said adding that the women in his life influenced him a great deal. Indeed, it was his first wife Geeta Bali who convinced him to lose his moustache, and to stop emulating his elder brother Raj Kapoor. She also made him wear western clothes. "It was a mix of Elvis Presley's style and James Dean's rebellious attitude," says Ahmed of Shammi Kapoor's onscreen persona. While his wild dance moves were a large part of Shammi Kapoor's appeal, there was more to him than just dancing. "Shammi was a trained musician, well versed in both classical and western music," said Ahmed who has devoted space to the star's fling with theatre, his early failures, his eventful love life, his collaboration with composers Shankar-Jaikishan and the legendary Mohammad Rafi, which revolutionized Hindi film music, and how his health facilitated his decline.
In short, the biography promises to be an exciting read. Almost as exciting perhaps as film magazines were in the 1980s and 90s when Ahmed was editor of Filmfare. "There used to be a column called 'Frankly Speaking' and the only thing the columnist did was rip apart superstars," says Ahmed who believes film journalism has now morphed into celebrity journalism. "Unfortunately, our entire media has become a victim of this celebrity journalism," he says. Ahmed is now working on a book on Rajesh Khanna. Future plans include a biography of Shahrukh Khan. Both these projects will have their takers but those who grew up on Shammi Kapoor's boisterous romantic musicals will look forward eagerly to Ahmed's biography of the ultimate dancing star.