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Shammi Kapoor – The Game Changer

Written by Omair Alavi

Know how Indian film star Shammi Kapoor changed the game on 21st October this year, on what would have been his 91st birthday!

He might not have been regarded as the most intense actor in his day but Indian film actor Shammi Kapoor was easily the most popular actor of his era. Despite being the middle brother of a trio that featured Raj Kapoor at the top, and Shashi Kapoor at the bottom, Shammi Kapoor changed the way heroes were portrayed in films, and that’s why he was more popular amongst the youngsters than his contemporaries. Rauf Ahmed’s Shammi Kapoor – The Game Changer is a tribute to the legacy of the dancing Kapoor who predated others and is still remembered for his iconic songs, and antics.

According to this biography – which also features quotes from the late actor who had many sittings with the author – Shammi Kapoor was on the verge of being declared a loser after more than a dozen flops in the 1950s, but when he decided to take control of his dwindling career, everything changed for the better and he was able to revive his career. The book explains how Shammi Kapoor broke the existing rules, made his own set of rules, and created a persona that was later emulated by others, including Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna, and even his own nephew Rishi Kapoor.

Shammi Kapoor is credited with redefining the profile of the film hero in the late ’50s and making him more realistic than fantastic. The hero he played onscreen was never perfect and represented the youth of a newly-created country who wanted to experiment instead of following the traditions. This book takes the audience down memory lane where the audience gets to know things about Shammi Kapoor that weren’t known to the general public, and although it might seem irrelevant and outdated to few, for Shammi Kapoor fans it’s the best thing to happen in many years.

If you didn’t know that Shammi Kapoor had initially resisted the idea of using R D Burman for Teesri Manzil, had an affair with fellow actress Mumtaz after the death of his wife, and was responsible for introducing the internet in the region, then this book is what you will need to refresh update yourself with everything Shammi. It explains why the actor who dominated the 1960s as the matinee idol chose to take the back seat in the next decade and create a template that would benefit all those who chose to play older characters after being heroes in their youth.

Also know the reasons behind the machismo Shammi Kapoor displayed onscreen, as well as the inspiration behind his roguish demeanour and the flamboyance, which was an integral part of his song and dance routines. Not only did he break the cordon of the formidable Big Three of the time – his elder brother Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, and Dev Anand – he challenged the latter by replacing him in films that Dev Anand left for one reason or another. It was Dev Anand who rejected Tumsa Nahi Dekha, the film that helped Shammi Kapoor break into the big league, and Teesri Manzil, which further consolidated Shammi Kapoor’s position at the box office as the man who could do no wrong.

After going through this biography, one would find out that although Shammi Kapoor’s father Prithviraj Kapoor, and brother Raj Kapoor influenced his decision to become an actor, it was his actress Geeta Bali who helped him change the direction of his career in a positive way. It was she who told him that he should use his off-screen goofiness to entertain the audience, which is how he revitalized his career which wasn’t going anywhere. Her death at the young age of 35 was easily the worst thing to happen to the actor who took time to recover from the loss, and he felt lively after getting married for the second time.

His experiences with frequent collaborators Nasir Hussain, Mohammad Rafi, and Shankar – Jaikishan are also the highlight of this book since it adds colour to the narrative. It also explains why Shammi Kapoor’s films had the best music, why he always preferred Rafi over others and how his style and swagger changed the way songs were filmed in those days. The behind-the-scenes details of some of his iconic songs will also entertain the readers who want to know how he felt while singing on a boat in Kashmir Ki Kali, hanging from a helicopter, and riding a chairlift in An Evening In Paris.

His equation with his leading ladies is also discussed, as is the fact that he played both the lover and father of Saira Banu in films, rejected the idea of adopting Asha Parekh when it was presented by his wife Geeta Bali and why he never played the romantic lead with Mumtaz, with whom he was involved off-screen. If you had no idea that he almost married socialite Bina Ramani, then you are in the dark regarding most Shammi Kapoor facts. Quotes from Shammi Kapoor’s second wife Neila Devi are essential in this regard since she filled all the missing gaps in her late husband’s story without being biased.

And then there is the story behind his famous songs like Yahoo! from Junglee which was neither filmed in Kashmir (the location was Kufri) nor was the cry in Mohammad Rafi’s voice. You also get to know how religion influenced the latter half of his career, and the author must be commended for bringing forth the part of the actor’s life that was hidden from even his most ardent fans. It even makes the errors in this book – mistyped names, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors – look small in comparison.

On the whole, this biography is one of the best things you will read about Shammi Kapoor, who may have passed away in 2011 but is still alive through his quality flicks and memorable songs. The narrative is interspersed with his own words which give the feeling of an autobiography at times, helping the readers to connect with the subject. Not once do the readers feel bored while going through the pages, and just like Shammi Kapoor’s films when things begin to go slow, a surprise is there to welcome the audience. –Ends

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Omair Alavi

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