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Saturday, August 20, 2011

A TRIBUTE TO SHAMMI KAPOOR: Lights, Camera…Conversation – The Resounding of Music!

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Baradwaj Ranjan, The Hindu / August 19, 2011.

Shammi Kapoor
Shammi Kapoor.

Why do we remember stars through their songs – and sometimes only through their songs?

With every obituary I read of Shammi Kapoor, with every remembrance, what comes across is that the 1960s were a memorable age for Hindi film music. A westerner reading these tributes and obits may think that the only thing Shammi Kapoor (like his colleagues Rajendra Kumar and Biswajit and Joy Mukherjee) did was luck into a great number of films with great songs that became great hits. It's like Elvis Presley and the films he made, which are remembered today only through the songs.
Let's not bother looking at whether today's hits will last as long as yesterday's – each generation carries with it, in its cultural DNA, its shared growing-up memories, and it's very likely that in 2040 a group of men with flabby stomachs and balding crowns are going to be lamenting, over beer, that no one makes hit music like Himesh Reshammiya anymore. The more interesting question is why these songs – these Shammi Kapoor songs, these Biswajit songs, these Joy Mukherjee songs – have lasted so long. Why are they often the first things that spring to mind when an actor dies and we scramble to recall his work?
One reason is that many of the films weren't good enough and we've wiped the plot and the performances from our memories and the songs are the only things that survived. But more importantly, the songs we hear while younger are always better than the songs we hear later in life because they are made not just of tunes and voices and instruments but also our nostalgia. We remember them in ways we remember a favourite uncle or a friend from school we spent every waking hour with but then lost touch with because his father got a job in a different city.
Also, film songs were and are our pop music – not just in the popular sense but that they are to us what pop music is to the US. We never had the tradition of bands recording albums in Indian languages – the film soundtrack was an album, its songs were the numbers, some of which would become hit singles and top the charts. Shammi Kapoor had a ridiculously long run of hit singles, and that's why we remember him, today, through his songs.
But above all else, in those days – and I mean the pre-liberalisation days, when India remained largely unchanged through decades; which is why we can talk music and movies (or heck, pretty much anything) with our uncles and our grandfathers but not so much with nephews and nieces who have grown up in a country that changes every couple of years – we had time to assimilate music.

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