It’s lush green valleys, snow-clad mountains, picturesque gardens, serene lakes adorned by pretty shikaras and welcoming locals clad in traditional costumes and accessories produced an air of peace and pleasantness providing a rejuvenating break from the stuffy air of studios and its stilted art direction.
And while there’s no denying the region’s contribution for its sublime imagery in celluloid history, Shammi Kapoor’s legendary spunk enhanced its appeal even further.
He’s one of those rare dynamic personalities whose energy diffuses any space he occupies, lends it an infectious, buoyant vibe that’s impossible to resist. And after 1961’s Junglee, it came to be known as ‘Yahoo’ or to be precise, ‘YAAAHOOO!!!’
Smile, didn’t you? More than 50 years have passed but the response to Subodh Mukherjee’s frothy romance brimming on the ebullience of its adorable leading man and puckish debutante Saira Banu is unequivocally favourable.
Despite the predictability attached to rich boy-poor girl stories, Junglee’s conflicts are not limited to social/class distinctions alone. It underscores, even if in a droll, mocking vein, the importance of lightening up and affectionate demonstration.
Here Saira Banu’s petite Rajkumari, or Raj as everyone lovingly calls her, slips into Snow White’s shoes to transform Shammi Kapoor’s grouchy, no-laughter policy Chandra Shekhar into a Mir-spewing ‘aashiq’ with her cherubic smile and playful ribbing when he comes to Kashmir accompanied by his sister (Shashikala).
But before hitting paradise, Mukherjee establishes the stern ways of the Shekhar household led by the domineering Lalita Pawar whose sentences are punctuated with words like ‘khandaan’ and ‘usool.’ We also get a glimpse of Shekhar’s horrible boss as he breathes terror among his distressed employees.
This could get completely contrived and overdone if the treatment wasn’t so whimsical.
The mother-son duo have crucial family meetings in a chamber named ‘Private and Confidential.’ This room contains portraits of many fierce looking fellas, including a certain dictator after whom this movie was initially named—Mr Hitler but changed to a more feasible and catchy Junglee later on.
In the first half, Kapoor wears a constant expression of a puffy pout, snarling nostrils and a ferocious gaze. Obviously, the chubby-cheeked star looks far from menacing (in a role originally meant for Dev Anand) but that is fine in Junglee’s fluffy scheme of things.
Meanwhile, Pawar keeps her enthusiasm in check and plays it straight. Her conviction lies in leading a lifestyle her deceased, disciplinarian husband would have wanted. She’s not entirely the monster Junglee would have us believe but conceals her emotions to fulfil a set of warped ideals.
On the other hand, Shashikala hasn’t inherited any of her mom or brother’s idiosyncrasies and is quite content frolicking around with her bumbling beau Anoop Kumar, employed as a clerk in their company.
Now’s here the hard-to-digest bit. She’s six months pregnant and oblivious to it. Nobody in the family seems to have taken notice either.
The incredulity of it all (the baby is conveniently delivered and designated in care of the doctor) is happily overlooked to focus on pressing matters—Shekhar and Raj’s upcoming romance.
So it takes Saira Banu’s pixie-like charms (traipsing like a porcelain doll in Kashmiri attire to the tunes of Kashmir Ki Kali Hoon Main) and a adventurous night trapped in the middle of a snow storm for Shammi Kapoor to unleash his inner, what else, YAHOO!
It’s as though all his previously tightened muscles have decided to let go and party with blind abandon, throwing his hands in exclamation, sliding over the snow, tossing its feathery flakes towards a shy, surprised Saira. It’s a visual that is best witnessed with one’s own eyes, no description is energetic enough to do it justice.
Interestingly, the Yahoo bit in Chahe Koi Mujhe Junglee Kahe wasn’t sung by Mohammad Rafi, Kapoor’s animated voice for the rest of the song, but his writer/actor friend Prayagraj from Prithvi Theatre.
Even so, the actor in an his video blog once expressed his admiration for Rafi in the manner he elevated the chartbuster from an already high-pitched shriek with his tremendous modulation, ‘That was the greatness of Rafi saab.’
The latter too was equally pleased with Kapoor’s delivery. ‘He hugged me. He loved me when he saw it. That’s exactly what I thought you were going to do.’
Junglee would have none of its soul without Shankar-Jaikishen’s gorgeous melodies. If Rafi is in perfect sync with Kapoor’s rhythm Mangeshkar achieves the perfect blend of sweetness to match a teenage Saira Banu in the breezy Ja Ja Ja Mere Bachcpan.
The soundtrack, penned by Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra, continues to delight listeners with timeless creations like the ecstactic Chahe Koi Mujhe, exquisite Ehsaan Tera Hoga, peppy Mere Yaar Shabbakhair or the supremely zingy Suku Suku featuring a dance by Helen. I have a bit of a bias for Suku and with good reason, which I elaborately explained here.
Films with trite themes have a very poor shelf life. But there’s no expiry date for freshness and Junglee has oodles of it. The spontaneity of Kapoor’s actions and his fun chemistry with his perky co-stars makes for repeated viewing.
The sequences where he concocts farce, bullying the perennially hapless Asit Sen, to get around his inflexible mommy particularly tickle.
There are echoes of the doctor-patient skirmish between him and Anoop Kumar in the Dr Khurana-Tillu camaraderie of Andaz Apna Apna.
Even the climax is hilarity personified solely because of the priceless expressions on the women when the men engage in a unwieldy dishoom-dishoom.
Returning to Junglee is awarding for many reasons. I’ve already expounded on its many merits above but the one that I appreciated on this viewing is just how lovely Saira Banu is (even when in the garb of a sadhu baba).
The camera (by N V Srinvias) lovingly rests on its leads glowing faces and lingers long enough for the beholder to sigh, on screen and off it.
Nominated for a Best Actress by Filmfare, Saira Banu looks like she’s walked out of a fairy tale and exudes youthful elegance. Yet there’s something completely unaffected about her raw bearing, a quality you rarely see in today’s I-know-exactly-the-kind-of-effect-I-have brand of newcomers.
In an an episode of Asha Parekh’s television series Baje Payal, the glam girl of the sixties relates an anecdote while filming the track Kashmir Ki Kali from the film in Srinagar’s Shalimar Bagh.
A huge crowd had accumulated to watch the dance and during the line Pyaar pe gussa karte ho, tera gussa humko pyaara hai, Banu couldn’t get the rhythm right.
After many wasted takes Shammi Kapoor went up to her and asked her to improve her act.
The young actress burst into tears and her mom (yesteryear actress Naseem Banu) asked her to give it up saying acting is not her cup of tea. That did the trick, a determined Saira got the steps right in the take after.
And Shammi Kapoor found another beautiful reason to Yahoo about.
This article was first published on rediff.com.