Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.

Bollywood loses Shammi Kapoor

Asnooty, rich lad is stranded in a blizzard with a flawless beauty in the wilderness of Kashmir. The long night and an icy wind wheezing outside the log cabin bring them closer. Hours later, as they ran across the sunny, snow covered valley, he is a changed young man, having discovered what he missed in life – a typical concoction of the Bollywood dream factory where reality has no place. But what audiences in countless theatres could never know was the risk our man was taking in the unforgiving world of show business. He was about to create one of the most enduring images of Hindi movies.In an age where heroes stood out for their gravitas, good looks, smouldering intensity and sartorial splendour, Shammi Kapoor emerged as the Yahoo man. ‘Junglee’ (1962) not only pulled Shammi out of the shadows of a formidable elder brother, it also marked the birth of India’s first youth icon on the silver screen.

The Yahoo man (79) died of renal failure at 5.15 am on Sunday at Breach Candy hospital, leaving behind his wife Neeladevi, son Aditya Raj and daughter Kanchan Desai. It marks the end of a generation, the demise of a life style. “No youngster can ever step into his shoes,” said Saira Banu, the lady in the log cabin. “The flamboyance and joi de verve of the industry (is) lost,” tweeted Amitabh Bachchan.

Prithviraj Kapoor’s second-born always wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, and when the 22-year-old made his debut in the film industry, it was far from a dream. Despite being paired with the leading ladies of the time, he admitted to having spent the first five years of his career crying, with every film failing at the box office.

The tide changed with Nasir Hussain’s ‘Tumsa Nahin Dekha’ in 1957. Here too, destiny played its part: Dev Anand, the urbane, stylish hero was the natural choice for writer-director Hussain, having worked with him in movies like ‘Munimji’ and ‘Paying Guest’. But since Anand, then a top star, was hesitant to act with a newcomer, the film landed on Shammi’s lap. Indeed, working with newcomers – from Saira Banu to Sharmila Tagore – was to become one of Kapoor’s most acknowledged and applauded traits.

With Tumsaand Junglee, there was no looking back. Kapoor had found his groove and a new kind of flamboyance was sweeping across the industry. The trade called him “Shimming Shammi’, as the man took after his screen idols James Dean and Elvis Presley.

“The Hindi film industry will never see such an era again,” said writer, poet Javed Akhtar, echoing a sentiment of the Hindi film industry.

“When he is on screen it is very difficult to look at anyone else. He had a great sense of humour and a sense of rhythm, so important to the Hindi film industry. His contribution to the industry is quite considerable,” said Tagore, who acted with him in her debut Hindi film, Kashmir Ki Kali.

With the success of ‘Junglee’, Kapoor brought in the swinging sixties to Hindi film and along with it a host of hit songs numbers, which even today sells. “We had compiled a video of Shammiji’s hit songs and called it Yahoo, Shammi Kapoor, which did even better than some of his individual films on the home video and we even got corporate orders for the same,” says Hiren Gada.


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