For a lot of people of my generation – or those younger than me, who have seen Shammi Kapoor in his earlier films, this is the film that is probably representative of Shammi Kapoor: the ‘Yahoo! Kapoor’ as a friend of mine says with a sneer.
Junglee is one of the major successes of Shammi Kapoor’s heyday. It is also, with Shammi’s wild whooping and crazy antics in songs like Suku suku, an important reason for him getting saddled with that ‘Yahoo! Kapoor’ epithet.
But for me, Junglee is more. It’s a sweet little romance, uncomplicated and lovely, and with some fabulous music. And it actually allows Shammi Kapoor to show off (though in a limited way) his skills as a thespian and not just a whooper and neck-jerker.
More on that later; for now, a synopsis.
Chandrashekhar ‘Shekhar’ (Shammi Kapoor) is the son of a very wealthy widow (Lalita Pawar). His mother has modelled Shekhar (and herself) on the tenets propounded by her late husband, whose portrait hangs in the house. Shekhar’s father had believed in all-encompassing discipline: no laughter, no childish frivolity, nothing that is silly and dishonourable. That is how Shekhar has been brought up, and he’s a grim, unsmiling man.
Shekhar has returned to India after three years abroad, and his reunion with his mother is marked by the stiff formality one would expect of a pair such as this (the scenes up to this point have no dialogue, but a narrator with a dry humour all through).
When he goes to office of the vast business he controls, Shekhar shows he’s not going to tolerate any nonsense there either. The manager (Shivraj) whom Shekhar had, as a child, played with and called chachaji (‘uncle’), is brusquely told that he had better remember he’s just the manager. An employee is reprimanded for being 10 seconds late. Shekhar’s secretary Rita (? Sangeeta?), when she phones from hospital to beg for leave because her boyfriend had an accident, is summoned to the office and told that she has a choice: either she quits work or quits her romance.
This man’s an unfeeling brute.
There is one person in the household, though, who’s not cast in the same mould. Shekhar’s younger sister Mala (Shashikala) – even though she isn’t openly rebellious – is a happy, cheery girl, who’s romancing Jeevan (Anoop Kumar), a clerk in Shekhar’s office. They know well enough that Shekhar and his mother will throw a fit when they realise that Mala is in love with a mere clerk, but that doesn’t stop them.
Meanwhile, Shekhar, now that he’s back home in India, has been told by his mother that it’s time to honour the long-ago promise that Shekhar’s father had made to the Raja of Aamgarh: that Shekhar, when grown up, would marry the princess (Azra) of Aamgarh. Shekhar agrees, a message is sent to Aamgarh, and the princess’s brother (Rajan Haksar) arrives. As a token of the agreement, an heirloom sword is handed over to Shekhar from Aamgarh. In return, Shekhar’s mother gives Rs 10,000 and a valuable necklace for the princess.
She, however, makes one stipulation; that the wedding be held only a few months later, since Shekhar has to go on urgent business to Kashmir. The prince of Aamgarh tries to plead, but Shekhar’s mother is sternly adamant.
The scene now shifts to Aamgarh, where we are shown the real reason behind the hurry to get the princess married to Shekhar. The Raja, his son and daughter live in a mansion that’s obviously seen far better days; it’s now falling apart, faded and battered. There’s a line of creditors outside, all of them clamouring for their debts to be cleared.
Fortunately for the degenerate Raja and his equally degenerate son, there’s the Rs 10,000 that Shekhar’s mother has given. They quickly distribute that, and look forward eagerly to when Shekhar gets back from Kashmir and the princess can marry him and they can all loll about happily in all that gorgeous wealth.
In Bombay, Shekhar and Mala’s mother has discovered Mala sneaking off (to meet Jeevan, though she doesn’t tell her mother that). Mum figures out that Mala is “up to no good” and this is confirmed by the manager, who happens to have seen Jeevan and Mala together. Mala and Shekhar’s mother decides that a ‘change of air’ will be good for Mala – so Mala will accompany Shekhar to Kashmir.
We now follow Shekhar to Kashmir (where, though he’s ostensibly gone on work, he seems to spend all his time skiing, wandering through gardens, or doing anything but work). One day, as he’s going along a snowy slope, Shekhar encounters Rajkumari ‘Raj’ (Saira Banu, in her debut film). Raj is the daughter of a doctor (Moni Chatterjee) and is an outspoken, impish girl who isn’t in the least intimidated by Shekhar’s scowls or his snapping and snarling.
A few days later, while Shekhar is not at home, Mala begins to feel unwell and has to go visit the doctor – who, as we know, is Raj’s father. He examines her, and in his conversation, tells her that she has only about three months to go, and this is her first baby, if he isn’t mistaken…? Mala is devastated [I am amazed at how naïve so many Hindi film heroines can be; isn’t it a little far-fetched for a woman who’s six months pregnant to not know?]
Once away from the doctor’s, Mala heads for the nearest cliff and tries to fling herself off, but is saved just in time by – another coincidence – Raj. Raj takes her back to the hospital, has her admitted, and firmly tells her to put all thought of committing suicide out of her mind. When Mala voices her anxiety about Shekhar’s reaction to all of this, Raj says she’ll handle Shekhar. I like this girl; she’s got so much backbone.
Raj’s ‘handling of Shekhar’ consists largely of driving him up the wall (most of which occurs during the delightful Kashmir ki kali hoon main). Shekhar finds himself tripped up, dumped in a water channel, his shoe stolen, his motorboat driven off with him left floundering in its wake… he’s even bullied into taking flowers for his poor invalid sister in the hospital.
Meanwhile, Mala’s getting close to her due date. Shekhar has been coming to see her every day. They must contrive now to get Shekhar away for a couple of weeks; otherwise he’ll soon know the truth. Raj takes it upon herself to send Shekhar away. This she accomplishes by disguising herself as a sadhu [a very poor disguise, I may add – and those beautifully manicured nails aren’t often seen on sadhus].
In her sadhu disguise, Raj meets Shekhar and ‘predicts’ that Shekhar is being tormented by a girl. He can rid himself of her irritating presence if he goes to the shrine at Sheshnag and prays there constantly for fifteen days. For someone who’s such a curmudgeon, Shekhar agrees quite readily. I’d have expected him to be rather more suspicious.
Having sent Shekhar off to Sheshnag, Raj returns happily to Mala’s side – only to discover that an awful blizzard has hit Sheshnag and some people have died. And that’s where she’s sent Shekhar off to! Oh, no.
So Raj sets off at once to stop Shekhar. He flies into a rage when he realises the prank she’d pulled on him, and they end up caught in the blizzard. After much stumbling about in the flying snow and with a roaring gale all around, they find a deserted hut and stumble into it.
They get stuck in the hut for the night, the next day and the night following it. It’s all very innocent – Raj is her chirpy self, pulling Shekhar’s leg at every opportunity, and he’s as sulky and snappish as ever.
But something’s slowly happening here, and Shekhar, waking on the first morning, sees Raj lying asleep:
And has to literally run from the hut – on the pretext of chopping firewood, even though there’s a snowstorm outside – because, as he says when Raj ingenuously questions him, she has no idea what storms he has to face. Raj, thankfully is not a naïve moron, and realises what’s happening. There’s loads of tension here, but nothing does happen, except that they’ve now run out of food and the storm doesn’t seem to be abating…
…but it does, and they wake to a new, sunny morning. And a changed Shekhar. He’s a complete madcap, wild and more playful than Raj could ever have imagined.
They head back to town, and Raj discovers that Mala has had her baby (a fact they are able to hide from Shekhar). Unfortunately, Shekhar and Raj’s new-found love hits a barrier: he has to return to Bombay. But he’s already asked Raj’s father for her hand in marriage, and so they’re able to part with the anticipation of that.
Back in Bombay, people are in for a surprise. The office staff are shocked – and pleasantly surprised – at the sudden change in Shekhar, who’s gone from being tyrant to chummy boss. Shekhar’s mother is horrified to find him hugging her instead of maintaining a decorous and respectful distance – and she finds that she actually likes it.
Shekhar’s intended – the princess of Aamgarh – and her debt-riddled relatives have however been clamouring to hurry up with the betrothal. So Shekhar is bullied into going and paying them a visit. He manages, with some lunatic antics, to convince the Aamgarh lot that he’s quite mad. But they decide to ignore that minor flaw; the bridegroom’s millions will nicely make up for any mental shortcomings in the groom himself.
So we’re in a bit of a mess here. Shekhar is engaged to a gold-digger, while the girl he really wants to marry is far away in Kashmir. His mother is adamant that the princess is the only girl she’ll let him marry – because Shekhar’s father, after all, had given his word, and there is no greater dishonour than to go back on the word of one’s own father.
And in all the flurry, there is the small matter of Mala and Jeevan’s baby…
What I liked about this film:
Just about everything. The story’s simple; there are no complicated plots and side plots cluttering up the background; and the climax is neat and not unnecessarily prolonged. [I hate it when the hero has to spend all of the last half-hour of a film bashing up the villains. We know he’s going to win, dammit – get on with it!]
But, what I particularly love about Junglee:
(a) The sheer eye candy. Saira Banu and Shammi Kapoor are gorgeous.
(b) The romance. Yes, the gorgeousness of the leads contributes to that, but there are sweet little scenes that actually build up the romance. For example, when Raj and Shekhar are stuck in the hut during the blizzard, and all that follows after he sees her lying asleep… this is also one scene that prompted me to write that bit in the beginning of this post about Shammi Kapoor showing his acting skills. The dawning realisation that Raj is not the pest he’s always considered her – the realisation that he’s actually very attracted to her – and then the discovery that he really loves her – are beautifully reflected in his face.
(c) The songs. Shankar-Jaikishan are in their element in Junglee, with some lovely tunes (yes, one – Suku suku – borrowed, but still). I especially love Jaa jaa jaa mere bachpan, Mere yaar shabba-khair and Kashmir ki kali hoon main. But my all-time favourite is the wonderful Ehsaan tera hoga mujhpar. The lyrics are beautiful, the music melodious – and the picturisation of both the male and the female versions sublime [that beseeching look in Shammi’s face when he’s singing it to her; and the pain in his face when she sings it to him in his dream… mmm].
(d) I can’t help but put this in: the heroine. Saira Banu’s Raj is such a refreshing change from the usual simpering beauty (or, conversely the silly-and-rather-naïve beauty) that is a hallmark of old Hindi films. This one’s sweet and feminine, but she’s also got a terrific sense of humour, loads of spunk, and a generally sensible head on her shoulders. I love her; such a perfect match for Shammi Kapoor’s Shekhar.
What I didn’t like:
The forced funniness in places. One scene that especially irritates me is the one involving Asit Sen as a doctor who is brought in to examine Shekhar.
Also, I thought the ‘makeover’ of Shekhar from stern tyrant to unmitigated joker was too drastic. He could’ve become a sweeter person, ‘softened by love’ so to say, but this change was too abrupt and too over the top to be swallowed.
Who cares, though? I love Junglee for its charm, its beauty, its embodiment of all the delightful escapism that makes so many Shammi Kapoor films addictive for me.
Two little bits of trivia:
First, Saira Banu’s recollections of debuting opposite Shammi Kapoor in Junglee. In an interview shortly after Shammiji’s death, she recalled that she first met him in Srinagar’s Shalimar Bagh, where they were filming Kashmir ki kali hoon main. Saira Banu was nervous – she was fresh out of college, and had defied her mother (Naseem Banu) to join the film industry.
The director, Subodh Mukherjee, explained the scenario to them, and filming began – with a vast crowd of eager onlookers on the fringes. The crowds bothered the already-nervy Saira so much, she just wasn’t being able to summon the saucy expression Subodh Mukherjee wanted. Shammi Kapoor finally lost his patience and yelled at her, “If you’re so nervous about people watching you, wear a burqa for the shoot!”
Saira burst into tears and vowed she wouldn’t work with him again until she’d learnt how to act (well, she did star opposite Shammi Kapoor in Bluffmaster in 1963, so I’m guessing she made rapid progress…)
Second bit of trivia: I don’t know if this was intentional, but the set design for Suku suku bears an uncanny resemblance to a song and dance sequence from the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis film Artists and Models.