He wasn't the hottest star around. He hadn't been seen in a film for years. He wasn't in news either. Yet Shammi Kapoors's passing away last week filled me with immense sadness. He was our first crush, my sister's and mine.
The Kapoor Khandan must have intrigued every Bollywood Buff back in the 70s but for us it was just Shammi all the way. Our grand affair was fuelled by the new arrival of the television. How we waited for those Chitrahars when he would come on dancing, clapping, teasing, romancing... all with equal elan.
We'd sit glued to the telly soaking up each expression of his eyes, each inflection of his voice, each wave of his body, each shake of his head. Could anyone have done a better Aa aa jaa, or his ever famous Yahoo? He certainly had the Kapoor sense of rhythm. If those were his high points he could also do a meltingly soulful Deewana mujhsa nahin or Ehsaan tera hoga mujh par. We remembered to breathe only when the camera moved away from his closeups.
We stocked up cassettes of his songs.. "Mohammed Rafi sings for Shammi Kapoor Vol 1, 2, 3... " We knew them all by heart.
I fought many battles for him. Each time there was a Kishore Kumar versus Mohammed Rafi debate I stood up for Rafi not realising then that it was primarily because he was the voice of Shammi Kapoor. We had these huge struggles with our grandmother who was also a television freak but didn't seem too fond of Shammi's juvenile act. "He'll break his back dancing," she'd comment wryly. However I suspect she wasn't untouched by his charm as we'd often find her smiling at his antics... juvenile though they were.
My sister and I spent long hours debating the song Tareef Karoon Kya Uski where the song ends with Shammi falling into the water with a splash. Even now she is convinced that was his brainchild.. not a planned act at all.
But then spontaneity was his charm. Spontaneity and an ability to laugh at himself. Tell me how many actors can look utterly, heartbreakingly handsome even while making a complete idiot of themselves? Well Shammi could do just that. There he was singing Subhan Allah Haseen Chehra in a burkha. Or wearing a weird contraption with the most ridiculous pom pom cap in the song Tumse Achha Kaun Hai or strutting around with a supposedly angry pout while Saira Banu sang Kashmir Ki Kali in Junglee. He could have you in splits even while mesmerising you with his green brown eyes. Those green eyes, squiggly eyebrows, broad shoulders, his trademark bracelet they were all just so Shammi.
He'll be missed. Sorely.
Really... tumse achchha kaun hai?