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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 14:21 GMT
Shammi Kapoor: The original Yahoo man
The BBC's Hindi Service is running a series of interviews to discover the unknown side of India's newsmakers. Here, the service's India editor Sanjeev Srivastava talks to Bollywood actor Shammi Kapoor


Actor Shammi Kapoor
Shammi Kapoor is India's first singing, dancing star

One of my childhood heroes, Shammi Kapoor can be credited with several firsts.

To many, he is India's first internet guru and amongst the first Indians to have a website of his own.

He bought software from a shop in London long before many in India had even heard of a computer.

When Yahoo opened its office in Mumbai (Bombay) several years ago he was invited by Jerry Yang.

As the launch festivities started building towards a climax, Kapoor was pleasantly surprised to hear the band playing his Yahoo song from the film Junglee [or Wild], made famous years before the internet existed, and so called for his famous cry of 'yahoo'.

Later, Yang told him how inspired he was by the Yahoo song and the way the actor had used the word in his inimitable style in so many of his films.

"It was all very flattering. Many of my relatives still call up and ask whether I own Yahoo," he says.

But what did the word Yahoo really mean to him? Why did he use it with such energy in so many of his movies?

Singing, dancing star

"It was an expression of joy after having won over my lady love," he explains.

And that is Shammi Kapoor for you - India's first singing, dancing star. He was also perhaps the first Indian actor who developed a style of his own and moviegoers flocked to theatres just to see Shammi Kapoor's antics and mannerisms.

There may have been better actors than him but nobody could match Kapoor's on-screen persona and energy. That made him Bollywood's first real star.

He gave heroines like Asha Parekh, Kalpana, and present Indian Censor Board chief Sharmila Tagore their first break in films as a co-star.

"Each one of them was so pretty and committed. It was a pleasure to work with them," he says.

But Shammi Kapoor is not really a modest man.

"I only recommended these newcomers to my producers because at that stage of my career I had realised that my movies sold on my name alone. I wanted things to work my way and that was possible only with newcomers," he says.

But before hitting the highs of superstardom, Shammi Kapoor went through a long lean patch, so much so that he contemplated quitting the film industry and joining a tea estate.

New look

"My films just refused to work at the box office. Movie after movie flopped and just before I was offered Tumsa Nahi Dekha (Haven't Seen Anyone Like You), I had thought that maybe I am just not destined to be a film star. I even thought about life as a tea-estate manager.

"But before that, I decided to give myself a completely new look for the film. I shaved off my moustache, I decided to give myself a more macho, aggressive and in-your-face kind of desperado lover image who rocked, danced, fell and jumped all over the place and then exulted a Yahoo on finally winning over the girl," he says.

And it worked.

Tumsa Nahin Dekha was a hit in the late 1950s and over the next few years Shammi Kapoor's name became synonymous with box office success.

But he has not forgotten his days of struggle when he had to cope with more than just his string of flops.

He also had to carry the burden of his family name. And boy, did he have a pedigree!

He came from what's widely regarded as the first family of Bollywood.

His father Prithviraj Kapoor was a doyen of theatre and then Hindi films.

Even before he had signed his first film, his elder brother, Raj Kapoor had already made a name for himself as one of the finest actors and film-makers in the country.

Even Shammi Kapoor's wife, Geeta Bali, was a much bigger star than him during his early years in the film industry.

"It was not easy. Critics and even fans constantly compared me to all these great people around me, and found me wanting. It was very difficult at times. But fortunately, none of my close relationships suffered because of these comparisons, and finally I also made good."

Kapoor worked with a number of extremely pretty actresses but his favourite remains Madhubala.

"She was just so beautiful that I used to forget my lines. And she knew the kind of impact she was having on me. Over the years we became good friends. She died so young. There can never be anyone more beautiful," he says.

A secret

According to Kapoor, his first and last true love was his late wife Geeta Bali.

"I was so much in love that I used to cry when I used to listen to her songs on radio. Every morning I used to get up and call her with just one request - please marry me. One day she agreed. But she too had a condition. She insisted that we will have to marry that very day otherwise, she said, no marriage. It was a rushed and complicated affair but we still managed to tie the knot in a temple in less than 24 hours," he says.

Often referred to as the Elvis Presley of India for his guitar strumming, singing and dancing on-screen persona, Shammi Kapoor lets me into a secret I still find hard to believe.

"The truth," he says, "is I could never learn to dance. I even tried coaching classes but failed."

So how did he look like the natural dancer on screen then?

"I always had a sense of music and rhythm. And that worked in my favour. If you notice my famous dance numbers with somebody like Helen (India's first Bollywood cabaret dancer), you will realise that while she did the intricate steps I usually reacted with facial expressions and body language rather than dance steps," he says.

But then one day - while still going strong at the box office - Kapoor gave it all up. Why?

"I had put on a lot of weight and I could not shake it off. I had broken so many limbs jumping up and down during my career that at the end of it I had little strength and fitness left to exercise and shed off those extra pounds. "Since then internet has been my life. This is my window to the world and it helps me remain busy as well as connected."

The radio interview with Shammi Kapoor can be found via bbchindi.com. The programme is called Ek Mulaqat.


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