Shamsher Raj Kapoor, Bollywood superstar, died on August 14th, aged 79
THE stately descent of an eyelid; the five-minute burning glance; tears frozen on a heroine’s cheek; the moustachioed hero standing to pained attention; the slowly circling dance of attendants in and out of curtains to some interminable tune. That was old Bollywood, before Shammi Kapoor came along. He could do old-style too, keeping chastely still and delivering his laments and what not, because it ran in the family’s famous blood. But in 1957, frustration boiling up inside him after 19 films which had made him precisely a nobody, he took a different tack; shaved off the pencil moustache; cropped his long hair into a Presley duck-tail, tossed his head sideways, spun round, shook his hips, and exploded on to the Hindi film scene.
The film was “Tumsa Nahin Dekha” (“Never Seen Anyone Like You”). And India never had. Suddenly, stasis and convention were thrown out of the window. On screen at least, in packed and humid cinemas across the country, everything changed. Shammiji never came that much closer to his heroines, but he seethed with Westernised sex appeal. He was a playboy and a clown, a ceaseless ragger of the girls he loved, who would serenade them on moving trains and dangling in bathrobes from helicopters, and who in his most monstrous hit, “Junglee” (“Wild”), in 1961 slid on his front down a mountainside of snow, leapt up (leather jacket sexily torn open), sang to his heroine that people could call him wild, what could he do, swept up in love, and then roared out over the ice-bound forest, “YAHOO!” His teenage audiences yelled out with him, suddenly liberated. He had won the girl just by being his mad self, and had apparently not asked his family or hers.
Offscreen, Shammiji behaved much the same. He was no natural mover, he insisted, and tended to tumble into lakes and damage himself (he put this down, oddly, to being a Libra, a not entirely balanced one, easily floored), but he also realised that classes could not teach him anything. His extraordinary, spontaneous style was never choreographed. When he heard good music, he had to dance to it. His favourite back-singer, Mohammad Rafi (who sang his numbers for him in the Bollywood tradition, and who would merely be warned by Shammiji “I might do this”, or “I might do that” before he threw himself in), said that if he had been born a leaf, he would have fallen off dancing.
Love came easily to him too, and from an early age. At 12, the gorgeous green eyes already starting to smoulder, he boldly brushed lips with a classmate as they sang “I’ll k-i-s-s kiss you in the d-a-r-k dark” at a concert in St Joseph’s convent in Mumbai. He never forgot that. In fifth standard at Don Bosco, playing goalie at a school match, he preferred to take shelter from the rain under a beautiful girl’s umbrella; his team lost by 11 goals. Both his deeply happy marriages were precipitate. His first, in 1955 to Geeta Bali, a film star better known than he was, took place in pouring rain in a temple near the Napean Sea Road in Mumbai with only one witness, and without informing the families. His second, to Neela Devi after Geeta had died of smallpox in 1965, was proposed, together with lunch at his place, on the telephone; he had last seen her, a nine-year-old with pigtails, as he acted at 19 with his father’s theatre company. Impulsiveness was just his way.
A film star’s high ego flashed from time to time. If he was offered roles too late in the casting (even by his close director-friend, Nasir Husain), he would turn them down. For “Tumsa Nahin Dekha” (a lucky break in several ways, for the established star Dev Anand was meant to play the lead, but had walked out), he was offered 20,000 rupees and complained it was too little; at which the producer slapped him for a fool. Generally, however, he was amiable and humble, sitting on the grass to chat to fans who lined the roads to see him, or wolfing down makhani dal at a kerbside stall on the way from Haldwani to Delhi. He relished simplicity as well as stardom, and “beautiful” (“Yes, sir!”) was a word he used often when he reviewed his life.
作为电影明星，他架子挺大。如果在筛选演员是，晚点给他分配角色，他就不演了，就算是对要好的朋友Nasir Husain导演，他也不给人家面子；Tumsa Nahin Dekha 曾请他出演，片酬是2万卢比，他却嫌片酬太低，气的制片人抬手就是一巴掌，大骂他愚蠢。幸亏后来由于担任该片男一号的戴维·柯南中途解约及其他种种原因，他没有参演此片。不过，在实际生活中，他平和又谦逊：影迷们列队来看他，他就坐在草坪上同他们聊天；从哈德瓦里去德里，途中他在路边摊前止步，狼吞虎咽地吃完一份黄油小扁豆。他推崇质朴的个性，同时又享受演员的身份。每当回忆起前妻，“美丽”（“是的，先生！”）这个词总是挂在他嘴边。
His appetite, and his bouts of liking alcohol (as a boy he stole a bottle of champagne from a hotel in Wadala, being beaten nicely for it), made him run to bloat in the end, and then to kidney trouble. The films got worse, and he gave up romantic leads to try directing, which went badly, and character roles. To his brothers’ disgust—Raj and Shashi both being more “serious” actors—he appeared in the mid-1980s in a hugely popular TV ad for Pan Parag chewing tobacco, merely for the chance to act opposite his idol Ashok Kumar. They beamed together, two ample men on sofas.
Surfing the air
Of his more than 100 pictures only a dozen or so shone (“Dil Deke Dekho”, “An Evening in Paris”, “Kashmir Ki Kali”), treasured for the moves and the hopelessly catchy songs. It was widely believed in India, first, that Elvis had modelled himself on Shammiji, rather than the other way about; and second, that the Yahoo! internet portal, named after his famous shout, was actually owned by him. Shammiji, a computer buff whose delight in old age was to surf the net as he had once surfed the air, never objected to that. There was more than one way to embrace the modern and thoroughly banish the blues.
在他的100多张照片中，只有十来张惹人注意，例如“Dil Deke Dekho”、《巴黎一夜》、“Kashimir ki kali”，这些照片均因经典影片和朗朗上口的歌曲而愈显珍贵。印度绝大部分人都相信：1.猫王一直以来都是在模仿shamiji，其实是Shamiji模仿猫王；2.雅虎网站得名于shamiji那声著名的呐喊，所以该归他管，而他也不反对这种想法。就如同他年轻时爱太空一样，老年时期，shamiji最大的乐趣就是上网。有多种方式享受现代文明，让人遗忘悲伤。