When Nargis gifted Shammi Kapoor a gramophone instead of a kiss

For the actor’s 85th birth anniversary today (21 October), we went back to Kapoor’s own website where he reminisced about the best present he’d ever received from Nargis.

Sonal Pandya

Shammi Kapoor was one of the earliest Hindi film actors to embrace the internet in the early 1990s. He had purchased an Apple computer and could be found browsing the web until the early morning hours and networking with fans and long-lost friends. In fact, he became the founder and chairman of Internet Users Community of India (IUCI).

But more importantly, he set up his own website which shared details of the Kapoor family tree and long hidden photos. He also began reminiscing about past events of his life. One of them was the time that Nargis gifted him a present which he treasured his entire life. When young Shammi was still in school, he hung around the sets of his brother Raj’s films, hoping to have a free lunch. He stopped by the sets of Barsaat (1949) and saw Nargis wasn’t having lunch with the crew as usual.

Shammi stopped by her makeup room and found her crying because her family refused to let her act in Raj’s next project, Awara. He wrote on his website, “I told her if she really wanted it, all she had to do was pray and she would get to do the film. Big words from a young tot, but it made her happy. She said, “'Shammi, if I get to work in Awara, I will kiss you', end of conversation.”

When Barsaat finally released, it went on to be a super hit. Shammi, who by this time had joined Prithviraj Kapoor’s theatre company, stopped by for another free lunch on the sets of Awara. He recalled, “On seeing me, she said, “I know, I promised, but now you are a big boy. Ask for anything else.” That is what I wanted to hear and blurted out, “I want a gramophone”. She did not even blink at my sudden response. “Come with me,” she said and taking hold of my hand led me to her Riley car and drove out of the studio. She took me to the HMV shop which was quite far from the studio, I got to select the colour I wanted. Of course, it had to be red, and she had it packed and put in the car. Then she drove to Rhythm House, a record shop; I am talking of the 78 rpm days, and asked me to select 20 records. I did. My first record was The Gypsy Love Song. This was followed by Arti Shaw’s Jungle Drums, Glen Miller’s In the Mood and a lot of Rumbas and Sambas. My day was made, I thought.”

The gift of the gramophone was a gateway to another world for Shammi. As a youngster, he learned classical music from Jagannath Prasad for five years. Prasad had previously taught KL Saigal and Mukesh. He had always been musically inclined but the gramophone awakened something inside him.

He described his later experiences with music on his website, all thanks to Nargis. “And thus the music grew within me. I spent every moment of sober and not too sober life in the ensuing period of my life deeply involved with different phrases of music. The beat and the swing engulfed me completely. I was totally spaced out in a form of blending with the music to such an extent that there were times I danced to it in the middle of the night, lone and lost. At last, I found it. My way of expressing to every form of music reached a state where I did not need to hear the music itself. It had embedded itself so deep within me that I even lost track of it. It lay dormant for a long time. And the day I had need for it, I found myself dancing and singing to every type of music. I had created a style. And it all started from a red gramophone I received instead of a kiss. For this I shall ever be grateful to her, Nargisji.”