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Junglee Janwar Budtameez
He enchanted a nation by sliding down slopes and screaming 'yahoo'. The echo of that cry continued down the generations. So much so, when Yahoo! opened its India-office, the legendary actor was a special invitee. Such was the charm of Shammi Kapoor, Hindi cinema's eternal loverboy, who danced his way into women's hearts and made craziness cool.
Shammi Kapoor makes a comeback to acting with director Imtiaz Ali's forthcoming film, Rockstar. Ranbir Kapoor plays the lead in the film. Three days a week, the veteran actor goes for dialysis. "The other four days are mine, " he says.
You have played everything from a Junglee, Janwar and Budtameez to a Rajkumar, Prince and Professor. Were such movie titles deliberately chosen?
After Junglee became a hit, the rest of the titles followed. Not all of them did too
What does the word 'yahoo' mean to you?
I first used the expression in Tumsa Nahin Dekha. It was the cry of a man who had got the woman he loved. I repeated 'yahoo' in Dil Deke Dekho. Then, dialogue-writer Prayag Raj turned it into a war cry in Junglee.
Your initial films flopped, but then you turned into every girl's dream. How did the transformation come about?
Initially my films didn't fare well. Both my father Prithviraj Kapoor and brother Raj Kapoor were big names, but I didn't ride on their fame. After a string of flops, I decided to change my image. I shaved off my moustache and styled myself differently. It worked and Tumsa Nahin Dekha was a hit.
You were known as a dancing star. . .
I never took a dance class but loved dancing. For me, dancing was an expression of freedom. Nargisji gifted me gramophone records that I would play and dance to. I practised all styles but my early films didn't tap this potential. It was Tumsa Nahin Dekha which gave me a chance. I was totally uninhibited in my dancing, released all my pent-up energy and just let myself go. People would say I danced like Elvis Presley. I don't think so, because those days there were no videos for me to study his style.
Most of your movies have been laugh-athons. Was that a deliberate choice?
They were musical entertainers. But at times I had to be cheerful despite personal tragedies. My wife Geeta Bali died before we started shooting Tumne mujhe dekha from Teesri Manzil. I took three months off and had to shoot this romantic song on my return. That was painful.
You also had heroines like Asha Parekh, Kalpana, and Sharmila Tagore making their debut opposite you. . .
I was lucky. Each one was so pretty and so committed.
How did the very staid Mohammed Rafi sing all those energetic songs?
Rafiji sang in the typical Shammi Kapoor style. He was my voice. It is uncanny but he would incorporate my adaa and andaaz in every song. I bow to the legend that he was. He recorded Aasman se aaya farishta from An Evening in Paris in my absence. When I returned and listened to the song, I was stunned. He told me that he imagined how I would scream and roll down slopes and sang keeping all those images in mind. Without Rafiji, there is no Shammi Kapoor. There's a great anecdote about the shooting of that song.
Tell us. .
I suffer from vertigo. We had to shoot a scene where I hang on to a rope that's dangling from a helicopter 200 feet above the ground. I had no idea about the scene. When I was briefed about the shot, I almost passed out. But in the end I did it. On the day of shooting, I went to a bar and ordered cognac and drank and drank. Finally, I was ready to take on the world. We shot the scene with me hanging on to the rope for dear life. I obviously couldn't hear anything from that height, so Shaktida (producerdirector Shakti Samanta) kept waving a handkerchief to the beat of the song and I lip-synched to that beat.
Which actor today reminds you of the old Shammi Kapoor?
Oh, we have so many wonderful boys around. But they have their own style. There's Aamir, Shah Rukh, Salman, Hrithik... Also, Ranbir is excellent. He's been blessed with the best of both Rishi and Neetu.
Who do you think can step into your dancing shoes today?
Undoubtedly Hrithik Roshan. But all the boys are good.
Do you watch present-day movies? What do you think of the music?
I do and some of them are technically very good. Indian cinema has evolved and is more professional now. But most of today's music doesn't linger. Only a few songs are good.
You're the film industry's original internet guru. Don't you think the web has taken away the mystery of movie stars?
I don't think so. The internet is a wonderful medium through which we bond with our fans. It gives me a real high.
First film: Jeevan Jyoti (1953)
Film hit: Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957)
Latest film: Rockstar (under production)
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