Saturday, August 20, 2011

Each Shammi film was pure ambrosia

Goodbye, Sir! MJ Akbar is the editor-in-chief of The Sunday Guardian.
Forty years later it is easy to be dismissive about that yell which rose from the belly, filled the throat and then knocked your head off: Yaaaahoooo! For me, sitting in a bug-infested cinema hall called Swapna, that cry from Junglee was a roar of liberation from the silly boredom of convention. Suddenly, lovers did not weep, as Dilip Kumar did by the bucketful; or go perpendicular with patriotism, as Raj Kapoor considered necessary; or adopt a stomach-ache face, which was Rajendra Kumar's speciality. Shammi Kapoor told us, when I was all of ten and had just been sentenced to boarding school, to go find our own voice, even if that turned into the occasional scream. Be brilliant, if you could; be a fool, if you had to; but be authentic in either case. There was fun to be had in both avatars.

The importance of not being earnest - The Times of India
Srijana Mitra Das Aug 17, 2011, 12.00AM IST
Shammi's elder brother, Raj Kapoor, was typically the angst-ridden wanderer, an awara with a hard-luck story and blue-eyed charm, ill treated, then redeemed by the Nehruvian state. Dev Anand brought a happier face to the Nehruvian persona, playing fleet-footed characters knee-deep in mystery, modernity and mischief.
Eschewing modernity, Rajendra Kumar was an old-fashioned 'tragedy king' drawn from bards' tales and folklore, whose films framed three hours of perfect sorrow, expressed in shrieking shehnais, teary eyes and tragic accidents twisting lives out of shape. Dilip Kumar was a silken-voiced thespian around whose heavy talent epics had to be spun, extending from the splendour of Mughal India to the griminess of rural India, cowering before dacoits and moneylenders alike, finding respite in just a little jig by the waterfall.
Against this, Shammi's movies were an entirely new breeze blowing in from the four corners of the world. They carried to India the sexiness of Hollywood, the pulsations of pop, the verve of Italian fashion, the poutiness of French love-making. Dhotis, kurtas, guns and speeches went out of the window. Shammi shook the rafters with his gags and stormed the dance floor, sax in his mouth, babe by his side, shimmying and shaking before sophisticates in a nightclub seated at tables glimmering with cocktails. … Despite the rock and roll, there was little question of shaking the established order – Shammi's films only lightly, smilingly, suggested how much fun it would be if everyone chilled out a little.
In this frame, serious politics took a decided backseat. Despite embracing international culture in the form of Elvis, sunglasses, trousers and travel, Shammi kept his films free of overt politics, whether that of modernity or tradition. He personified the quirkiest combination of the 'swinging sixties' in India – the joyful energy of youth without its intense debates or demonstrations. …
In his own manner, thus, Shammi too was political. He took differences of class and creed in his hands and crumpled them up into a paper ball, making light of such pettiness under the clear skies of modern India. With a jazzy step and a smile on his face, he threw the ball high up in the air, to where few could see it anymore – and all with a great yahoo. Shammi taught a delighted nation that it was possible to be political without anger or angst. It was possible to not be earnest – and still be deadly serious. It was possible to say it with a song, not a speech. Few others made that point quite as wonderfully.
Shammi Kapoor celebrated entertainment. His films steered clear of social messages, forte of his elder brother Raj. Shammi Kapoor sang and danced into the hearts of a new generation of Indians straining at the leash to break away from the overdose of moralistic hype in the immediate aftermath of Gandhian puritanism and Nehruvian socialism. 
To the generation stepping out of their teens in the mid-60s, each Shammi film was pure ambrosia. They transported you to a perfect world of make-believe where boy chased girl with gusto, bordering on behaviour that would today bring the Crime Against Women cell scurrying to the spot. The girl, needless to add, would eventually succumb to his irreverent, lusty courting and a long spell of bliss interspersed with half-a-dozen melodious songs would follow. Then the villain would appear, convince the girl’s stentorian father that his daughter’s lover was a wayward, good-for-nothing waster. Much drama would happen till the obstacles evaporated in the face of truth. Boy and girl would live happily ever after. Shammi Kapoor’s films became the epitome of this so-called formula. Almost every film had the same story line, give or take the occasional unexpected twist or turn. …
Again, Shammi wouldn’t be Shammi without Mohammad Rafi, who was literally his voice. From the soulful Ehsan tera hoga mujhpar (Junglee) to the erotic Dilruba dil pe tu (Raj Kumar), lilting Jawaniyan ye mast mast bin piye (Tumsa Nahin Dekha) and the sheer abandon of Taarif karoon kya uski (Kashmir ki Kali) melancholy Yeh duniya usi ki zamana uki ka and the romantic Deewana hua badal from the same film, it was Rafi who modulated his voice and style to match Shammi’s every mood.
Hindi cinema has come a long way since Shammi eased himself out, playing occasional character roles, the most memorable being in Manoranjan. The formula has run its course and rise of the multiplex has altered cultural preferences significantly. Maybe a surging India doesn’t need to escape drudgery any more. But in the era that produced Shammi Kapoor, India needed him as a soothing balm, someone who comforted you while egging on to assert and stake claim as a young man who had aspirations to go beyond the straitjacket that Indira Gandhi’s socialist society kept ready for you. The generation that woke up to the freedom of ear-shattering Yahoo! will always remember him as one of the shapers of modern India 

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