In 1955, he secretly married fellow film star Geeta Bali, and his family was less than supportive of the union. The actress, already a bankable name due to films like Albela and Jaal Baaz, also served as a valuable professional collaborator who inspired many of his career choices. For the first time, the image of Shammi Kapoor underwent a drastic makeover, and he began to appear as a flashy star complete with a signature hairstyle for crazed youths to copycat. The change was received with immediate success via Junglee (1961).
Dissatisfied with the chemistry he shared with established actresses in the past, filmmakers tested out new combinations with starlets suited for modern characters. These included Asha Parekh, Sharmila Tagore, Saira Banu and Sadhana. For dance scenes, his partnership with Helen proved to be electrifying, resulting in hits like "Suku Suku" from Junglee and "Oh Haseena Zulfon Waali" from Teesri Manzil.
The cry of "Yahoo!" from Junglee's Subodh Mukherjee, has embodied the impatience of a generation asserting individuality, influenced by the rock and roll movement raging in the West - particularly Elvis. Shammi Kapoor became a global hero.Though he never studied dance, he created his own style that prioritized enthusiasm over technique, indulging in any level of exuberance to please and energize his audience. In Professor he donned funny disguises as an old and sickly guardian, in Tumse Achha Kaun he rolled between the telephone wires, in Kashmir ki Kali he performed perilous pirouettes to seduce a lovely Sharmila Tagore. In Rajkumar he was a lover, and in the bold comedy-thriller Singapore he was a dancer. Budtameez with Sadhana and Janwar reinvigorated the aggressive approach of Junglee. Shammi Kapoor was reinventing himself several decades before Madonna built a reputation on doing the same.
Filmaker Shakti Samanta, before drawing attention to Rajesh Khanna, found the most effective way to utilize the flamboyant stage personality of Shammi Kapoor by giving him films rich with musical numbers and outdoor locations. The films also contained a number of "club scenes", which were scenes wherein the hero performed westernized song and dance routines (rock, twist or a Latin dance), with disguises ranging from tastefully exotic to downright strange. The highly stylized elements also applied to the heroines, such as Sharmila Tagore's hula inspired costumes in An Evening in Paris or Helen's tribal trousseau in Singapore.
Under the supervision of Nasir Hussein, the man who launched the second phase of his career, Shammi starred in the evergreen favorite Teesri Manzil. It was a spectacular triumph of excess, a unique film where the noir plot melds with an eccentric, livewire performance. The uncontrolled nature of it may appear senseless, almost animalistic, the character's manners are abrupt and then, as if by magic, princely. Shammi was truly unique in his ability to portray a charismatic hero, a rebellious dancer, a witty comedian, and a wacky oddball simultaneously. This gave him the ability to diversify his career so that it would include both the weird and the sincere in equal measure. His contribution opened the door for greater freedom of expression in Indian Cinema, and body language became bold and uninhibited like never before.
After the success of Brahmachari, he gradually abandoned the image of the young man in love and began acting in supporting roles alongside Amitabh Bachchan (Zameer) and much later, nephew Rishi Kapoor in the RK productions Prem Rog (1982) and Prem Granth (1996). He also launched two ventures as a director. The first was Manoranjan (1974), a remake of Billy Wilder's Irma la Douce, and the second Bandalbaaz (1976). Though neither of them garnered much success at the box office, they did well to showcase his potential behind the camera.
The actor received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Filmfare in 1995, Zee Cine in 1999, the Star Screen Awards in 2001, and IIFA in 2002. Shammi Kapoor was a beloved personality, not only among adults who grew up watching his films but also the younger generation who adored both his sweet, grandfatherly appearance in contemporary films and his electrifying personality from decades past to which their parents introduced them. Despite health issues, the star did not give up on public appearances and acts of kindness and generosity.
The legendary actor passed away on August 14, 2011 due to renal failure. With the death of Shammi Kapoor closed an entire chapter in the history of cinema, just as it had in 1988 with the passing of Raj Kapoor.
Editors: Lola K. & Gunia M.