Tuesday, November 1, 2011

‘Yahoo’ – The Cry of a Generation

Shammi Kapoor, nee Shamsher Raj Kapoor, could safely go down in history as Hindi Cinema’s first true blue youth icon. As one who changed the very essence of screen dynamics, Shammi was inviolably sacrosanct as the ‘rebel star’, whose comic wit could degenerate into clenches, just as his serious banter could swell into a bombast. And the audience loved it all. Plus, there were those pulsating numbers enacted by him so vigorously on screen, where every vein, every muscle of his, swiveled & swirled in a manner that was as indescribable as it was indefatigable.

Shammi's music in fact makes for an entire subject of study and analysis. It started out on a circumspect note with the stately Talat doing most of his playback, which didn't really jar for Shammi himself, had a relatively sedate persona when he started out. It was much later when Rafi synthesised his singing style to a point of ‘hybrid vocal calisthenics’ even as an unimpressive gait metamorphosed into the  flamboyant, swaggering 'Yahoo' star. Two of Talat' evergreen numbers, 'Chal Diya Karvan..' ['Laila Majnu'] and 'Aye Gham-e-dil Kya Karoon..' [from 'Thokar'] were in fact, picturised on Shammi though the film themselves tanked. As did another lesser heard number, 'Tere dar pe aaya hoon fariyaad lekar..' from an even lesser known, 'Chor Bazaar'. Rafi made the first impression as the voice of Shammi with a song seeped in the Punjabi idiom, 'Tune mera yaar na milaya..' from another box-office failure, 'Shama Parwana'. Films like 'Rangeen Raatein', 'Rail Ka Dibba', 'Jeewan Jyoti' and 'Hum Sub Chor Hain' only added to his dwindling stocks at the box-office. This lasted for a full four years, 1953 to 1956.

‘Yahoo’, a kind of guttural rasp, which became his very own vocal fiefdom, first made its appearance in ‘Tumsa Nahin Dekha’ in 1957 and reached a crescendo with the mega-hit, ‘Junglee’ in 1961 to become a sort of a national chant. And thus was born a star among stars!! Always the irritable hell-raiser to his leading ladies, his kind of romance was akin to brandishing a red rag to a bull. And the hits followed thick & fast, ‘Professor’, Kashmir Ki Kali’, Raajkumar’ and ‘Jaanwar’. But as it happens, once you reach a career peak, there predictably is a downslide. The year 1965 was to prove a watershed in Shammi’s life, when his first wife, Geeta Bali succumbed to small-pox, leaving behind a shattered husband. ‘Teesri Manzil’, now rated a cult film, was then under-production but had to be halted for months. A broken, embittered Shammi unable to cope up with the tragedy, hit the bottle with a vengeance and drained it to the very dregs. By the time he was back, the once envied physique had started showing signs of neglect. Though, some of his celebrated hits, ‘An Evening in Paris’ & ‘Brahmachari’ were to come in the following years, the expanding girth now required the exigent camouflage of a suit or an un-tucked shirt. Inevitably, came the flops, ‘Pagla Kahin Ka’, ‘Jaane Anjaane’, ‘Preetam’ & ‘Jawaan Mohabbat’. Even as he slithered into the sunset plumes, Shammi had to share his last box-office success, ‘Andaz’ with Rajesh Khanna and his motor-cycling zip-off.

Subsequently, Shammi tried his hand at direction with ‘Manoranjan’ but the attempts to recreate the aura of ‘Irma La Douce’ with the same voyeuristic undercurrents fell flat on its face. Towards the end, after his days as character actor too faded into a dim tint, it was sad to see a wheel-chair bound Shammi being subjected to an exacting dialysis routine, though he still maintained equanimity with the caresses and bruises of life.

Today Shammi is no more but his legend endures. A legacy of the days when the nation swayed with the unbridled vigour of ‘Aasman se aaya farishta, pyaar ka sabak sikhlaane….’ that now makes for sweet shenigans on TV channels, just as the ‘Yahoo’ mystique has a glorified halo around it. A star among stars has indeed gone back to where he came from, ‘aasman’ or the eternal skies!! God bless his soul!