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Subodh Mukerji’s Junglee (1961): Vibrant, hopeful romance set in Kashmir, starring Shammi Kapoor and Saira Banu

On Mukerji's birth centenary today, we revisit the filmmaker’s biggest hit, a movie that made 'Yahoo!' leading man Shammi Kapoor's calling card.

Sonal Pandya

In his three-decade career, Subodh Mukerji chose his projects carefully. Subodh was born in Jhansi, now in Madhya Pradesh, on 14 April 1921, and was an avid sportsperson as a young man. In 1942, he was even jailed for three months for taking part in India's freedom struggle.

Brother of producer Sashadhar Mukherjee of Filmistan Studios, he eventually followed his sibling to Bombay and into filmmaking. He became an assistant director and directed his first film Munimji (1955) with Dev Anand and Nalini Jaywant.

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In the filmmaker’s biggest hit, Junglee (1961), written, produced and directed by him, all the hallmarks of Hindi cinema were present. The feature had a star-making turn from Shammi Kapoor, who continued his streak of hits after Dil Deke Dekho (1959), and introduced a lovely new face, Saira Banu, daughter of yesteryear star Naseem Banu.

Shammi Kapoor, Lalita Pawar and Saira Banu in a scene from Junglee

Junglee featured a solid, crackling script with dialogues by Agha Jani Kashmiri. Kapoor played the wealthy foreign-returned heir Chandrashekhar, who comes back home to his strict mother (Lalita Pawar) and sister Mala (Shashikala). Shekhar has already been promised, at a young age by his late domineering father, to marry a wealthy princess.

We learn through a narrator that in this house, there is no laughter or love. Incidentally, the earlier title of the film was Mr Hitler. Mala, on the other hand, is the odd one out, falling for her brother’s employee Jeevan (Anoop Kumar). On a work trip, the siblings travel to Kashmir, where Shekhar meets Rajkumari (Saira Banu), who turns his world upside down.

Previously a stuffy suit, Shekhar literally lets down his hair as he learns to embrace love and laughter into his life. Confident of his ardour for Rajkumari and the newfound lease on life, he shouts out ‘Yahoo!’ on the snowy slopes of the mountains in Kashmir.

However, Shekhar and Rajkumari’s love story hits a pothole once his mother finds out, and Mala too is hiding a pretty big secret. But like all good Hindi romances, all’s well that ends well. In fact, the film ends with a statement, ‘A film of SMP [Subodh Mukerji Productions] is a joy for ever’. The feature has a hopeful, positive stance on both life and love.

An article on the website Cineplot.com states that “Junglee was one of the earliest of the decade’s light romances to be shot in colour, which it used to great advantage on locations in snowy mountains and on elaborate sets, such as for ‘Suku Suku’, which has an MGM-style set of a giant artist’s palette and an unexplained troupe of Russian dancers.”

While Kapoor led the cast as a transformed Shekhar, Saira Banu was impressive in her first screen role. The 17-year-old earned a Filmfare nomination for Best Actress with her debut. Furthermore, she and Kapoor have wonderful chemistry in the film.

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The actress, playing a beautiful ‘Kashmir ki kali’, was poised and principled as a doctor's daughter who falls in love with the rich Shekhar. When she is shamed for her choices by Pawar’s character, she stands her ground.

The supporting cast of Shashikala, Anoop Kumar, Moni Chatterjee and Shiv Raj also stood out. Moreover, Mukerji’s film had a scintillating soundtrack by Shankar-Jaikishan with lyrics by their favourite collaborators Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra. Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar lent their voices to the lead pair as they navigated their dislike into love in the romantic musical.

Surprisingly, however, it was neither Rafi nor Kapoor who shouted out the iconic 'Yahoo' in the film; it was Kapoor's friend, actor-writer Prayag Raj whose voice was used instead.

Subodh Mukerji went on to direct Abhinetri (1970) and produced films like Shagird (1967) and Sharmeelee (1971), but Junglee, shot in vibrant Eastmancolor, remains a nostalgic delight to this day.

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Indian cinema