August 17, 2011: Professor Shammi Kapoor Teaches Us

Julie M: Professor is a fun introduction to why Shammi Kapoor deserves his reputation. He is completely adorable as Pritam/Professor Khanna in this masala film, and he shows off the complete hero range: romance, charming light comedy, a fight scene, love of his mother, looking dashing in fashionable (for 1962) clothes and hair, safeguarding a young girl’s honor, dramatic arguing which of course he wins, and to top it off he admirably pulls off a masquerade as an old man plus being his young stud self.

Shammi Kapoor finds a Himalayan Heaven in Professor (1962).

Jenny K:  I agree, Julie.  Shammi was pretty adorable in this film.  I only had seen Kashmir Ki Kali in this decade of his work, and it definitely was a different side of him.  When he came on the screen, the scenes with his mother were so low-key and sensitive that the rambunctious Shammi that I’d seen before was almost unidentifiable.  He was so endearing trying to feed his mother the last of the family rice.  Shammi’s chemistry with Pratima Devi was, I think, stronger than with any of the other ladies in the movie.  Goes to show, an Indian boy always loves his ma the most.

 

Julie M:  I noticed that too—his ma was definitely the center of his life.  (and he was hers)  Is there an Indian film that doesn’t have this mom-son thing going on?

 

Jenny K:  Maybe to a lesser degree, but I can’t think of one film where the son is at odds or even dislikes his mother, aside from complaining about her rushing him to the altar.  The feminist side of me could have done without the old, stale trope of  the school’s Principal, Sita Devi, (played by Lalita Pawar with an alarming severity that suggested she was trying to play a literal devi) fall head over heels in love with the first man who dared to stand up to her.  Oh, well,  perhaps it wasn’t so old a gimmick back in the 60’s…and it added extra complications to the comedy.

 

Julie M:  I really dug her fashion sense, though, when she was severe.  Reminded me of Indira Gandhi on the news when I was a kid.  And I thought her wistful look at herself in the old portrait above the fireplace was heartwrenching:  kind of like she regretted the person she had become.  Very touching.  The hotel room farce scenes were a bit predictable but Shammi’s so innocent-looking that the old tropes work. I kept thinking of him as a combination Jerry Lewis and Charlie Sheen (the old semi-innocent CS, like in Hot Shots, not the creepy one from earlier this year, ugh), but better than both. Sigh.

 

Jenny K: I can’t believe you said that!…I was thinking the same thing, Charlie Sheen-wise, and wondering if it would be too awful to draw the comparison.  It’s actually just a physical resemblance, nothing else…the squarer build in the loose 50’s style shirts, the dark coloring with the sexy, easily ruffled hairstyle (ooh, did Shammi look fine after that little dip in the lake toward the end!), and the cheekbones to die for.  I can’t, and never want, to imagine CS in one of Shammi’s dance numbers. Charlie with his two “goddesses”….”Aaja, A-a-a-aaja, Aaja, A-a-a-aaja!”  It’s definitely not a “Winning!” image.  Shudder.

 

Julie M: For the most part I didn’t notice that it was an old-old film (yes, it’s as old as I am and I am almost as old as dirt) except for the scene where Reeta and Ramesh are pitching woo at the record party, which seemed very jarring and completely dated the film. (In fact the entire Reeta-Ramesh subplot could have lifted right out, as far as I was concerned).

 

Jenny K: One of my few negative thoughts was that I thought the hotel scenes in Mumbai (that you mentioned, too), where almost all of our stars ended up for a very extended game of “Where’s Pritam?” could have been lifted out and not really be missed.  It was as if he wanted to be caught with all that “where’s my beard, where’s my hat?” business.  And as he didn’t end up telling either Aunty or Neena the truth, then, what was the point except for filler, which  a 2 ¾ hour film really doesn’t need, IMO. 

 

Julie M:  I disagree—I thought it was a much-needed bit of silly humor that didn’t depend on romance.  If this is what Shammi was known for at the time, I think the audiences would have expected both the farce aspect and the “Will he be unmasked now?  How about now?” anticipation. I admit to being charmed by it, and I Hate Farce almost as much as I Hate Westerns.

 

Jenny K:  I may have to nickname you Ms. Nafrat (check the glossary post). I loved, however, the “I was young once” number with the girls in the school garden, “Yeh Umar Hai Kya,” though they were pretty mean to the “old guy.”  I wasn’t sure what drew Pritam to Neena, except the Young Male Hormone Factor, of course.  I also loved that the subtitles translated “pagal” as “freaky”…adds an extra odd charm to the number.

 

Julie M: That was pretty cute. And I hope you noticed the random squaw dance in the middle, which we mentioned in our latest horror-costume discussion (the Intergalactic Squaws in “Om Shanti Om” number from Subhash Ghai’s Karz). Wonder if the OSO sequence, set in the 1970s, was a deliberate callback to this 1962 scene?

 

Jenny K:  Yeah, I thought it was odd, too, to have a tribal number in a part of the country way the heck away from Nagaland, which is the only native dress that I can think of in India that looks vaguely like that.  Now, I know there are plenty of ethnic looks in the Darjeeling area, but most of the ones I’m aware of are more of the Tibetan/Nepali type.

 

Julie M:  We saw lots of Nepali ethnic dress and faces in the opening number. I liked that.  And now I have to put in a clip of my favorite number from the film, “Main Chali Main Chali.” The setup is that Neena (played by Kalpana) has been playing naughty pranks on Pritam in his guise as her Sanskrit professor, and Pritam has put into play an elaborate plan to both get revenge and win her heart with a little playful blackmail. Neena has decided to use her wiles to steal the blackmail instrument so he has nothing on her. This flirty cha-cha at the top of the world (yikes! She terrified me when she was hopping along those train tracks) is the height of charm as both characters try to work their schemes on each other.

 

Jenny K: I loved Main Chali Main, too.  Though I think I woulda danced a rhumba to it, partial as I am to that style J!  I think it’s really cool the way Shanker – Jaikishan, the Music Directors, could go almost seamlessly back and forth between current western latin-jazzy styles and the more traditional Bollywood string-fests of the ballads without a flicker of hesitation.

I’m always partial to the almost obligatory “tanhayee” (loneliness) number in every good masala film. “Aawaz Dekhe Hamein” does it justice with our heroine, Neena wandering sadly (and picturesquely) through the Darjeeling hills to its hauntingly poignant notes. She’s looking for her Pritam, who finally comes thither and joins her in a duet.

While we’ll all miss Shammi Kapoor’s splendid excesses on screen, and the occasional sweet grace notes, as in this film, thank heaven that they are all preserved on DVD and a surprising number online, too.   Thank you, Rajshri for putting them up!   Enjoy!

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5 Comments

  1. So glad you enjoyed it! It’s my favorite Lalita Pawar film, I think. I thought she played her part really well, it was a difficult role…

    • Lalita had a very hard line to walk, script-wise. Lekh Tandon, the director, seemed to want her to turn on a dime, emotionally, and she managed it with a real agility, as far as her lines would allow her. He had her so keyed up that her character at times seemed almost unbalanced. She was a real trouper.

  2. […] verdict is okay but not as charming as some of Shammi’s other vehicles, say, Professor which we reviewed earlier, or Kashmir Ki Kali, also with Sharmila…they were both better in that […]

  3. […] playing the easily thawed hospital Matron cum Ma, who we saw as the principal in Shammi’s Professor. And Johnny Walker of all those Guru Dutt films, doing, for him, almost a straight dramatic role as […]

  4. What an awesome way to explain this-now I know eviygthenr!


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