By Hindustan Times
Shabana Azmi has just returned from Srinagar after bidding a final Yahoo to Shammi Kapoor. Some of the late actor’s biggest blockbusters, including Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), were filmed there and he was almost like the state’s goodwill ambassador. That’s why Jyotsa Suri was really keen that he be a part of the 100-year celebrations of her hotel, The Lalit, that as Oberoi Palace had hosted him many times. When the actor, who was suffering from kidney problems, pointed out that he couldn’t undergo dialysis there, she promised him his treatment would not be interrupted. “They met on August 14, and Shammiji was excited about returning to Kashmir. He passed away on the same day,” sighs Azmi.
Suri then spoke to the family and wife Neela Devi, son Aditya and daughter Kanchan, along with their spouses, agreed that since Srinagar and the Dal Lake had been synonymous with the 1960s superstar, his ashes should be immersed there. They flew out to Srinagar with some of his friends from the film fraternity, including Azmi, Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Biswajit, Asha Parekh, Tina Ambani, Vinod Chopra and Poonam Dhillon.
“After the ritual, everyone got into a shikara (boats), one of which was playing Shammiji’s hit songs, including Yeh jheel si neeli aankhen.., and soon we were all singing and dancing. It was a fitting tribute to a man who always celebrated life,” says an emotional Azmi, who admits that the three-day trip was pure nostalgia, bringing back memories of her first visit to Srinagar back in 75. “Shashi (Kapoor) and I shot the Tota Maina Ki Kahani…song from Fakira (1976) at the Nishat Bagh and the Chinar Sharif. These places are preserved in their
pristine glory along with the palace hotel, including the room I used to fight for and the lush lawns on which Yash Chopra picturised so many of his beautiful songs. We crooned Pukarta Chala Hoon Main… from Mere Sanam (1965) for Biswajitji and Ashaji,” smiles Azmi.
She’s touched that local ghodawallas (horse owners) and shikarawallas (boatmen) remembered and recognised them, pointing out places where their films had been shot. “The younger ones were more keen to know about Farhan. I’ve resigned myself to the role of Farhan’s mother with the generation next,” she laughs.
Recently, Kapoor’s nephew Ranbir shot his Rockstar in Kashmir. It is his uncle’s last film. There were huge crowds in Pahalgam when he was shooting there. “Given his blood tie with Shammiji, the emotional connection with Rambir is really strong and the locals are excited about the film. In fact, the state government is keen our Hindi film industry returns to Kashmir for shoots. We met Karan Singh and Farooq Abdullah and the latter promised top security,” says Azmi.
She points out that while for her generation and the one before the link with the Valley is unbreakable, for the younger generation, including her children, Farhan and Zoya, it’s still an unexplored paradise.