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|Volume 10 |Issue 33 | August 26, 2011 ||
Of Actors and Ageing
Syed Badrul Ahsan
Shammi Kapoor turn-ed into an old man long before his death last week. Every time you watched him, with all that ballooning of the body, the string of pearls around the neck, the head with its hair a memory and that salt-pepper beard, you found it hard to convince yourself that it was the same Shammi Kapoor who once cavorted with beautiful women in the movies and for many was symbolic of romantic virility. And that was in the 1960s. He was there frolicking around with Sharmila Tagore and singing a dirge before Asha Parekh. And then there were those children in Brahmachari and he lipsing a riveting Rafi number, main gaoon tum so jao / sukh sapnon mein kho jao.
After that, his girth went through an expansion and age speedily caught up with him. There has always been something about the Kapoors finding it hard to keep their bodies young and trim and slim. Recall Raj Kapoor who, by the time he died, had become an enormously heavy and unwieldy man. There is Shashi Kapoor, clearly the superior actor among all the brothers, who nevertheless could not beat the weight trend. You remember the song he sings, ek tha gul aur ek thi bulbul — this too from Rafi — for Nanda. You do not forget the quiet passion he brings into his paean to Asha Parekh through the song, again the inimitable Rafi, likhe jo khat tujhe wo teri yaad mein / hazaron rang ke nazare ban gaye. That Shashi Kapoor, he of Shakespearewallah, is not the Shashi Kapoor you find today. His girth, like that of his siblings, has swallowed the charm that once was his.
And if you have had occasion to observe Raj Kapoor's sons grow into their fifties, you will be willing to bet that they too will follow in the footsteps of their father and uncles. Rishi Kapoor, the young man who was once all the craze in Bobby with Dimple Kapadia, is a perfectly rotund, avuncular being today. So much for ageing. So much too for the body, through all the wear and tear of the years, assuming a shape that is beyond the control of its owner. Which brings us, though, to how other people in the movie world have fared health-wise. By the time he died in the 1980s, Uttam Kumar had begun showing his loss of control over his physical being. You only have to think back on the movie Amanush to recreate that image. Dilip Kumar, not in the best of health these days, has certainly not taken the trail blazed by the Kapoors, but he has surely grown old the way ageing men should, gracefully. For his part, Dev Anand for years refused to acknowledge the creeping pace in which age was catching up with him. He refused to play roles other than those he had grown accustomed to playing, that of a leading man beside pretty damsels. All that has changed, however. These days, it is a terribly old Dev Anand, cheeks sunken and the old glamour gone, that you sometimes spot at some of those ubiquitous cine world celebrations in Mumbai. You will then feel sad going back to him serenading Waheeda Rehman with that poetry of a song, tere mere sapne ab ek rang hain, in Guide.
The once sensual Asha Parekh has gone unmanageably old. With Vyjayanthimala, there are yet some of the old sparks that made her such a sensation in Madhumati and Sangam. Pakistan's Shamim Ara in old age has not been the same person who once lipsed the Noor Jahan number le aayi phir kahan par qismat hamen kahan se. But Musarrat Nazeer has remained pretty and so has Zeba. Rani died beautiful a long time ago. The Bengali Shabnam has magnificently remained a dusky beauty, enough to make you recreate the old images of her in movies made in pre-1971 Pakistan. Babita's ageing has hardly had an effect on her charms. In India, Shabana Azmi's age is beginning to show. Hema Malini remains a thrillingly pretty woman, though you cannot fail to notice those wrinkles below her eyes. Meena Kumari was lucky. She died young. Madhubala was luckier. She died the fiery goddess she was in Mughal-e-Azam, aged thirty six. Waheeda Rehman is an adorable old woman nowadays.
It is said Waheed Murad died a disillusioned man. Still young, he simply collapsed from that artistic malady, that of being displaced by younger men. Bangladesh's mishti meye Kabori has, through the years, remained that, a sweet damsel you could always fall in love with. India's Nadira, who in Aan flung that knife into Dilip Kumar's robust back, wept copiously in her dotage on television a few years before death overtook her. Guru Dutt, caught between fidelity and desire, put an end to his life in the early 1960s. He thus ensured everlasting youth for himself. His wife Geeta Dutt died in the latter part of the decade. In Bangladesh, the young, handsome Mustafa who mesmerised us with his brilliance in the Bengali adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew simply saw himself transformed into a middle-aged and still handsome actor in his final years.
Ah, but why are we going on and on and on about ageing? Ageing, like nearly everything else in life, simply happens. Must we complain? Don Marquis put it all in perspective:
“Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.”
The writer is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star.
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