Shammi Kapoor by Rauf Ahmed

I knew of Rauf Ahmed as Amitabh Bachchan’s biographer. He used to write about Amitabh Bachchan in the 1970’s when he was just rising as a star and in those days, Rauf analyzed both the persona and the phenomenon of this emergent superstar insightfully. He has been, in my opinion a raving analyzer of living stars. Now Rauf is compiling his stories on stars who are dead, and among them are Shammi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna. I wanted to meet Rauf in connection to my work on Amitabh Bachchan but I could never connect with him. It was thus sheer serendipity when Rauf contacted me in connection with his work on Rajesh Khanna. Presently I am reading Shammi Kapoor by Rauf Ahmed. Published by Om Books earlier this year, Rauf’s exposition of Shammi Kapoor’s person and persona reveals the processes through which stars in India are made. The book becomes an insight into the entire phenomenon of stardom in Bollywood.

Shammi is divided between a life as a scientist and that of a film star; the former is his passion, the latter his family business. In the former he is not encouraged neither by his teachers nor by his family. His life in the films seem to be made out for him by his father and Shammi is supposed to play a second fiddle to Raj Kapoor, the brother who was none years older to him. Shammi is ambivalent towards Raj Kapoor, while admiring him Shammi was also eager to step out of his shadow. Utterly dominated by his sister, Urmila and thoroughly bowled over by Madhubala who seemed to have enjoyed devastating Shammi, he tried using his masculinity to gain control of his life. Shammi’s masculinity was thus a reaction to his sense of inferiority and helplessness in the face of strong women.

It appears that it was Geeta Bali who very carefully crafted the image of Shammi Kapoor. It was Geeta Bali’s genius which actually created the idea of a star, a standalone personality around who played himself in the film. Before Shammi, the idea of a man playing himself over and over again with a set of mannerisms, a specific style and attitude quite never became the meat of stories of the Hindi popular cinema. Uttam Kumar in the Bengali cinema was a star but the Hindi film world had excellent and glorified actors who played characters. Raj Kapoor stood for ideals and ideology, Dilip Kumar stood for a certain depth of emotions, Dev Anand, for elaan but Shammi stood for himself. This is where Shammi becomes the game changer.

But Shammi had a tough time establishing his image; he had the trinity, namely Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar to deal with but on the other hand, the Hindi film industry was dominated by two formidable women, namely Nutan and Madhubala. Nargis was more or less permanently paired with Raj Kapoor but film scripts used to be written for Nutan and Madhubala and Shammi often filled in for the male supporting role. As long as Shammi would pair with Nutan or Madhubala, he had absolutely no screen space to eke out for himself. Therefore, he needed new faces inexperienced in cinema and made way for a slew of newcomers like Asha Parekh, Sharmila Tagore, Sadhna and others. In roles that were now written out for Shammi, masculinity it was and Shammi Kapoor turned the tables of Bollywood from being women centric into being a male gaze upon the world.

With the invention of Shammi Kapoor’s boisterous and brattish image, the Hindi film music got a fillip. Music director O P Nayyar, singers like Mohammad Rafi and Manna Dey emerged matching up music to Shammi’s level of energy. Nasir Hussain and Subodh Mukherji wrote mainly for Shammi; their stories were such that they put the star’s persona into a profile. It is interesting that Shammi developed an entirely new set of people who he would work with, a very different group than those who would have worked with his father and older brother, Raj Kapoor.

Shammi was not a stable person; he had anxieties of being acceptable to women and the Casanova image he developed was perhaps to cover up for his innate feeling of inadequacy as a man. Raj Kapoor had a huge weakness for women and while girls would queue up romantically for Raj Kapoor they often tied rakhis for Shammi while he was still an adolescent. The tragedy of losing Geeta Bali to small pox perhaps unsettled him further and only after his marriage to Neila Devi, did Shammi find some solace and stability.

Shammi appears to have been born with a huge sense of entitlement; he had friends among the royal family of Jodhpur but his own attitude was no less worthy of a royal lineage. He felt that the world owed him a good life and insisted that he got the best of everything – a marked difference with Raj Kapoor who knew that he had to work hard for a passion. Shammi works in cinema as a star but neither as a director or producer and hence his passion for cinema remains confined to the professionalism and the involvement of a star. Even when he produced a film here or there, Shammi could not evolve the attachment to the entire medium in the manner of Raj Kapoor.


About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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