21 Rare facts about Oct. 21-born legend, Shammi Kapoor

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Shammi Kapoor with Sharmila Tagore in An Evening In Paris. Photo: Shakti Films

He would have been 91 years old on October 21, 2022. But instead, he is immortal, ageless and will never be forgotten.

Shammi Kapoor changed the definition of the Hindi film hero from an over-chaste, self-pitying touch-not-the-heroine ‘gent’ to one who serenaded incandescent women with great style.

Here are 21 lesser-known facts about the actor nonpareil.

  1. Shammi Kapoor made his debut in 1953 with Rail Ka Dibba. The first film that he signed, Jeevan Jyoti, released later.
  2. His first hit and breakthrough film that changed his fortunes was Tumsa Nahin Dekha in 1957, which was his 19th film! It was amazing that he got so much work despite 18 flops in a row, getting to work with top names like Madhubala, Nutan and Geeta Bali.
  3. Explained Shammi to me then, “I came from theatre, and I had the mindset that I was given a role and my lines and I had to enact the scenes! I remember my Jeevan Jyoti director, the famous Mahesh Kaul, being very impressed by my performance because he made me do the same harkatein as my brother Raj Kapoor had done in his Gopinath and Raj’s brother-in-law Premnath had in Naujawan! “
  4. He signed Tumsa Nahin Dekha because ace talent hunter S. Mukerji believed in him. Says Shammi, “He literally thrust me on Nasir Husain, the writer-director, when original hero Dev Anand walked out of the film because Ameeta, and not some top heroine, was to be his co-star.”
  5. He did 58 films as a leading man, and almost one-and-a-half that number as a character artiste, beginning with Manoranjan (1974), which he also directed, making his debut in that field.
  6. A Russian version of Ajooba, a Bengali film, Mahoshoy, and 7 TV series formed the rest of his oeuvre.
  7. Strangely, Shammi never wanted to be an actor! He wanted to become an aeronautical engineer and joined the Science stream—the only Kapoor to join college. He would also represent his college and school in table-tennis.”
  8. Shammi Kapoor’s hit musical association with pet composers Shankar-Jaikishan began with Ujala (1959) and went on to Chhote Sarkar (1974), his last film as a leading man. While Mohammed Rafi was his near-permanent singer in their movies, it was Mukesh and Manna Dey who sang in Ujala.
  9. Between Budtameez in 1966 and Preetam in 1971, all his 12 films had their music. Had Jaikishan not passed on, Manoranjan too would have had S-J’s music, revealed the actor.
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    The post-1974 look, from when Shammi Kapoor did more films as a character artiste than as hero. Photo: Publicity Photo
  10. Coincidentally, most of his films as a character artiste had music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, whom he also considered to be “natural successors to Shankar-Jaikishan”. He was to work with them as director in the 70mm project, Aaghaaz Aur Anjaam, a Mohan Kumar presentation with Dharmendra-Shashi Kapoor-Zeenat Aman that never took him off,. And L-P had been approached also for Sachaai that they turned down as they were too busy.
  11. When debutant Usha Khanna was signed for Dil Deke Dekho, it was Shammi Kapoor who suggested the tune of the title-song, based on the English number, Sugar in the morning.
  12. Shammi had all the other big names from his time singing at least once for him—Mahendra Kapoor, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar and Talat Mahmood. Though an accomplished music lover, he never faced the microphone even to recite a few lines in any of his songs.
  13. In Junglee, it was Prayag Raj, writer and future director, who sang the word Yahoo for Shammi in the title-song. Almost eerily, it became a portent of what was to come almost three decades later as Shammi became one of the earliest users of Internet in the country, and was even the President of the Internet Users’ Club of India. He even design a website for the Kapoor clan.
  14. His younger singers included composers R.D. Burman and Bappi Lahiri, Shailendra Singh, Suresh Wadkar and Mohammed Aziz.
  15. His long association with filmmaker Manmohan Desai (Bluff Master, Budtameez, Parvarish, Naseeb, Desh Premee, Allahrakha) was cemented when his daughter Kanchan married Manmohan Desai’s son Ketan in an arranged marriage.
  16. Shammi Kapoor played negative roles in Kareeb and Tehelka.
  17. His films included movies directed by other top stars of their times like Raj Kapoor (Prem Rog), Dev Anand (Censor), Shashi Kapoor (Ajooba) and Sanjay Khan (Kala Dhanda Goray Log).
  18. Shammi Kapoor’s son Aditya Raj Kapoor, made his debut in 2010 at the age of 54, just one year before Shammi’s demise on August 14, 2011. Nevertheless, Shammi was happy that his son had at last followed in his footsteps. But Aditya did only 5 films.
  19. “Geeta Bali and I starred in three movies, Coffee House, Coca-Cola and Mohar, but believe me, neither of us has ever seen any of those films!” he told me. “She was a strong support system for me in those days, especially after we got married in 1955.” The marriage was solemnized suddenly one late night at the Ban Ganga temple in Mumbai.
  20. Shammi remains the only Kapoor to have worked on-screen with all the male Kapoors, but for Karan Kapoor and his own son Aditya. The list includes father Prithviraj (who also played his elder brother in Ehsaan!), Raj, Shashi, Randhir, Rishi, Rajiv and Ranbir Kapoor (in his last release, Rockstar) besides even Kunal Kapoor.
  21. Contrary to popular perception, Shammi did not gain weight because of either alcohol or the sorrow of losing wife Geeta to smallpox. By 1969, he had already married childhood friend Neela Devi and found inner peace. But the actor was known to choreograph all his songs himself and all the jumping and cavorting needed him to take steroids for his much-injured knees and lower limbs. This led to his obesity and ended his career as a leading man!
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