When it comes to Hindi film composer duos, for me there’s none greater than Shankar-Jaikishan. By no means the first (Husnlal Bhagatram, for one, predated them) and definitely not the last (there have been many others, from Laxmikant Pyarelal and Kalyanji Anandji to more recent duos like Anand-Milind), Shankar Jaikishan were unparalleled in the sheer quality of their work. They composed some of Hindi cinema’s best-loved tunes, all the way from Westernized club songs to ghazals, from dreamy love songs to peppy folk numbers. Versatility, finesse, and that ability to appeal to the common janta, to have ordinary folk humming their tunes: these were some traits which set Shankar-Jaikishan apart.
My sister keeps a stack of CDs in her car. Often, when she gives me a lift, she puts a CD into the stereo and we listen as she drives along. The CDs are a mixed lot: Harry Belafonte, Simon and Garfunkel, 3 Idiots, Wake up, Sid!, The Best of S D Burman… and The Best of Shammi Kapoor. The others are in reasonably good condition; the Shammi Kapoor CD is battered and scratched and sadly in need of replacement.
I can understand why.
Shammi Kapoor is, for me (and I think I can speak for my sister too), one actor on whom some of the most fabulous songs in classic Hindi cinema were filmed. Funny songs, sad songs, romantic songs, madcap songs, rock-and-roll songs: he did them all, and memorably. And – somewhat unusually for an actor – he took a great interest in the music of his films. (There is an oft-repeated story of how Shammi Kapoor was so biased in favour of Shankar-Jaikishan’s music that he at first refused to let R D Burman compose the music for Teesri Manzil. But RDB, by insisting on playing a couple of the tunes he’d already composed, won Shammi over).