I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

...On Shammi Kapoor's Passing

Shammi Kapoor passed away yesterday, and as is usual in this remote location that I currently call home, I only found out today. I was saddened, extremely saddened and more than a little shocked. I mean I know he was in his 70s and a longtime sufferer of renal failure, but he had seemed so hale and hearty until very recently that his death comes as a major shock, at least to me. I hadn't planned to write anything this month but I feel I must express my feelings and thoughts in one way or the other otherwise I might spiral into another one of my black dogs. And since my location precludes what would've been a more fitting tribute to the great actor, namely getting together with some friends and watching his movies and songs, remembering and re-enjoying the hours and hours of pleasure he brought to milllions of his fans, I can try to use my words to somehow pay my respects to one of my favorite actors, and one of my favorite people, the late Shammi Kapoor.

I can remember being a Shammi Kapoor fan for most of my life. I wasn't exposed to Bollywood films very much, especially in my childhoood, but I still remember watching a fair number of Shammi Kapoor films, and more than a fair bit of Shammi Kapoor songs. What had appealed to me even as a child, was the spontaneity, the freshness and the overpowering sense of joy in his performances. As I got older and properly started watching classic Bollywood films, my admiration for his work grew. There is a sizeable number of my friends and possibly a fair chunk of the movie watching public who didn't consider him a serious 'actor' in the Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand mould, thinking of him more as a lightweight (not literally) who was suited for just comedy and a bit of song and dance. I had had the same opinion before I started watching him in earnest, but my opinion didn't last long. There was a vivacity, a natural exuberance, and in films like Brahmachari and Vidhaata, a sense of the melodramatic that was at par with the other 'greats' of that time. That's why I consider him not only a fine performer, but one of the great all-round actors of the Golden Age of Bollywood.

And as for the songs, now they're a whole other story. The Shammi Kapoor-Muhammad Rafi partnership was a match made in heaven. The sheer number of evergreen and immortal songs picturised on Shammi Kapoor and sung by Rafi saheb is unequalled in Bollywood history. The two had more chemistry than any on-screen pair could ever achieve, an affinity so brilliant that you could forget that it was actually a playback singer belting out "Aasmaan Se Aaya Farishta" while Shammi dangled from a helicopter in An Evening In Paris, or that it was someone else and not Shammi singing "Main Gaoon, Tum So Jao" to the cute little critters in Brahmachari. Again, the amount of pure, unadulterated joy that Shammi Kapoor managed to express in the songs was a mark of his consummacy as a performer. He was also the first leading man to incorporate dance - his own trademark style of dance - into the three minute song that was the staple of the Bollywood film. With the jaunty, slightly spastic and ever-so-debonair flicks of the head and jerks of the hips, he was able to communicate an irrepressible joie de vivre to everyone who watched.

Bollywood's answer to Elvis, Shammi also shared the King's unfortunate weight issue, yet for at least ten years - the most fruitful period of his career - he didn't let his weight come in the way of having a grand old time onscreen. He sang, he danced with an exquisite lissomeness that defied logic and he churned out hit after immortal hit all through the sixties. It was only when the weight problem got out of hand that he gracefully changed gears from leading man to character actor and spent the rest of his career as a bearded, benevolent presence in film after film. Kidney failure plagued him for the last two decades of his life, a disease that was precipitated if not aggravated by the same weight issues. But Shammi didn't let an ailment control his life and spent his last years squeezing out as much enjoyment and happiness out of his days as possible, a fact that was borne out by the delightful series of webcasts he made in these last few months titled "Shammi Kapoor Unplugged", a series that I watched eagerly and with great enjoyment. I remember him remarking once that he had dialysis thrice a week, yet on the other four days, he managed to have so much fun that those three days were more than compensated. On his final webcasts, I could see the ravages of age and disease - the laboured breathing, the thinned frame and the raspy voice - but I hadn't thought that they were that serious, which is why his death came as a shock to me.

Life and death are part of the inevitable and vicious circle of life and no matter how much you reconcile yourself to it, the passing of someone special always leaves the geart pained and sorrowful. With Shammi Kapoor's passing a great chapter has closed in the history of Indian cinema. Now only two, albeit two of the greatest - Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand - remain of the Golden Age of Bollywood. Dilip saheb is an infrequent sufferer of health problems and Dev Anand is in his nineties now, so I'm afraid we won't be blessed with their presence for long, but again, their passing will leave the heart sorrowful. Only one thing remains to assuage the heart's pain, and that is the treasure trove of memories immortalized in celluloid that Shammi Kapoor has left behind; memories that might start fading a bit faster after his passing but will never be completely obliterated. The joy he brought - that's a word one has to use often when describing him; joy - to millions around the world, the way he lived his life on his own terms till the very end, and the innumerable memories he has left for his fans are his astonishing and magnificent legacy.

Farewell Shammi Kapoor, and thanks for the memories ......