indian cinema heritage foundation

“Thoda Sa Dil Laga Ke Dekh” - Shammi Aunty

15 Apr, 2020 | Beete Hue Din by Shishir Krishna Sharma
Shammi Aunty. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

She had set foot in the glittery world of Bollywood almost sixty five years ago. In the initial days, she had ample opportunities to display her histrionic abilities as a lead actress and as a second lead. Then she slowly graduated to doing supporting roles. The point to be noted here is that in such a long time her career has continued to thrive without any major hiccups. This can be attributed to her social capital in Bollywood which she was able to garner due to her magical personality and a friendly countenance with all her colleagues and associates. Meet the legendary actress Shammi nee Nargis Rabadi. May be this is the reason why Bollywood fondly calls her – Shammi Aunty.

Shammi Aunty was born on 24 April 1929 in her maternal grandmother’s home in Nagrol-Sanjan (in Gujarat) to Parsi parents. The family shifted base to Mumbai when Shammiji was only a few months old. The family had absolutely no filmi connections whatsoever. 
 

Shammi Aunty. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Shammiji’s family comprised of her Parsi priest father and homemaker mother and an elder sister Mani Rabadi. Mani later earned fame in the world of fashion designing. She also won the President’s Award that recognized her talent in fashion designing.
Shammi Aunty. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din


It was purely a matter of providence that Shammi aunty entered films. However, it was not easy. She faced resistance from relatives in her family who were not receptive to the idea of her joining films. Shammi aunty was just three years old when disaster struck and her father passed away. There was no steady source of family income. Hence, Shammi aunty’s mother had to struggle to make ends meet. She had two young daughters whom she had to take care of. This was a major responsibility.
 
Malhar (1951). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Shammi aunty was just three years old when disaster struck and her father passed away. There was no steady source of family income. Hence, Shammi aunty’s mother had to struggle to make ends meet. She had two young daughters whom she had to take care of. This was a major responsibility. But the girls did their mother proud.
But the girls did their mother proud.  With the passage of time, both the sisters started self-funding their education by taking up a job in a toy factory owned by the Tatas. 
Mani Rabadi was an active member of People’s Theatre. Whenever she went for drama rehearsals, Shammi Aunty would often accompany her. It was during one of these visits that Shammi aunty met Chimankant Gandhi who was then assisting well known & legendary film maker Mehboob Khan.
 
Shammi with Anwar Hussain and Ranjan in Baghi (1953). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Shammi aunty reminisces, “Chimankant Gandhi not only inspired me to work in movies, but he also introduced me to producer-director-actor Sheikh Mukhtar."
Shammi aunty reminisces, “Chimankant Gandhi not only inspired me to work in movies, but he also introduced me to producer-director-actor Sheikh Mukhtar. Sheikh Mukhtar was on the lookout for a second female lead in his upcoming movie Ustad Pedro. I met Sheikh Mukhtar at his residence. His first question to me was whether I could speak Hindi fluently. I immediately blurted out that if I was talking to him then I must be also speaking Hindi fluently.” 
 
Shammi with Bhagwan Dada in Doctor (1963). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Sheikh liked her fearless and formidable demeanour so much so that he immediately signed as her the second lead for his movie.
Sheikh liked her fearless and formidable demeanour so much so that he immediately signed as her the second lead for his movie. Ustad Pedro took 18 months to make and was released in the year 1951. The main star cast comprised of Sheikh Mukhtar himself along with N.A.Ansari and Begum Para. C Ramchandra was the music composer. Shammi aunty played the lead opposite actor N.A.Ansari.
 
Musafir Khana (1955). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Tara Harish who directed Ustad Pedro was also directing another movie called Malhar that was produced by singer Mukesh. Tara Harish was the same Harish who had acted in the 1930’s & 40’s decades in films like Mehboob’s Hum Tum Aur Woh (1938), Aurat (1940), Bahen (1941), Ek Hi Rasta (1939). He had also featured in other movies like Sanskar (1952), Jail Yatra (1947), Nai Roshni (1941) and Sharbati Ankhen (1945).
 
Ekadashi. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

After Ustad Pedro & Malhar, Tara Harish directed Lalten (1956), Do Ustad (1959), Kali Topi Lal Rumal (1959) and Burma Road (1962). 

Shammi Aunty’s hard work and commitment in her first film Ustad Pedro paid off. Impressed by her diligence, Tara Harish decided to cast her as a heroine in Malhar opposite actor Arjun. The music for Malhar was composed by the legendary Roshan. The songs of Malhar became a rage – Bade armanon se rakha hai kadam, Tara toote duniya dekhe and Dil tujhe diya tha rakhne ko.
 
Rukh Sana (1955). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Shammi Aunty recollects, “My real name is Nargis Rabadi. But all of you know that in the 50’s Nargis was a big star. To avoid the confusion, Tara Harish re-christened me as Shammi which was actually the name of the character in Malhar.”
Malhar also got released in 1951. Shammi Aunty recollects, “My real name is Nargis Rabadi. But all of you know that in the 50’s Nargis was a big star. To avoid the confusion, Tara Harish re-christened me as Shammi which was actually the name of the character in Malhar.”
 
Halaku (1956). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

In 1952, Shammi aunty played the second lead in Sangdil that featured real-life heart-throbs Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. During the shooting of this movie, Shammi unty developed a bonding with Dilip Kumar that lasts to this day. Shammi aunty never fails to remember three actresses who were close to her – Nargis, Madhubala and Asha Parekh.
 
Madam XYZ (1959). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Along with her best friend Asha Parekh, Shammiji co-produced television shows like Baaje Payal, Kora Kagaz, Kangan and Kucch Pal Saath Tumhara. Shammi Aunty’s friendship with Asha Parekh has been an enduring one that has remained unblemished with the ravages of time.
During the 50’s, Shammi aunty enacted several memorable roles in movies like Baghi (1953), Aag Ka Dariya (1952), Munna (1954), Rukh Sana (1955), Pehli Jhalak (1954), Bandish (1955), Musafirkhana (1955), Azaad (1955) and Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960). Shammi aunty says, “I never planned my career and neither was I too ambitious. I kept on accepting whatever offers came my way. This is the reason I became known as a character artiste. However I have no regrets whatsoever about the same. As a character artiste, my hands were full and there has never been a dull moment in my career. I was never bereft of work”.
 
Shammi with Manoj Kumar in Naqli Nawab (1962). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Shammi aunty has acted in almost 200 films so far in small and big characters. She also got an opportunity to act in television serials like Dekh Bhai Dekh, Shriman Shrimati, Kabhi Yeh Kabhi Woh. In the Sahara-one serial Ghar Ek Sapna, Shammi aunty played the role of Alok Nath’s mother. Her last film that released in 2012 was Bela Sehgal’s Shirin Farhad Ki to Nikhal Padi.
 
Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
Shammi aunty got married to producer-director Sultan Ahmed in the year 1970. Along with her husband, Shammi aunty co-produced blockbusters like Heera (1973) and Ganga Ki Saugandh (1978). Sultan Ahmed directed both these movies.
Shammi aunty got married to producer-director Sultan Ahmed in the year 1970. Along with her husband, Shammi aunty co-produced blockbusters like Heera (1973) and Ganga Ki Saugandh (1978). Sultan Ahmed directed both these movies. Though she turned a producer, Shammi aunty kept acting in films produced by outside banners. However due to certain unfortunate circumstances, Shammi aunty had to separate from her husband barely 7 years after her marriage.
 
Shammi in Shahi Mehmaan (1955). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
 
After the painful separation, the resilient Shammi aunty joined hands with Ramesh Shah (son of composer Kalyanji) to produce a movie called Pighalta Aasman. This movie was released in 1985 and featured Shashi Kapoor, Raakhee Gulzar and Rati Agnihotri. Kalyanji-Anandji composed the music for this film.
During the days that she was married to Sultan Ahmed, Shammi aunty grew so fond of Sultan’s younger brother’s son Iqbal Rizvi that till today, Iqbal revers Shammi aunty and treats her like his mother. Iqbal Rizvi is a popular director in television.

How was I able to access Shammi aunty? Rizvi was then directing a show for Colors channel called Jaane Kya Baat Hui. I was writing the dialogues for that show. It was only thanks to Iqbal Rizvi that I was able to meet Shammi aunty.
 
Wanted (1961). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din
Shammi aunty is fond of listening to music. She is also a voracious reader. Her library is stocked with CDs and books and this is testimony to her interest in reading and music.
I happened to meet Shammi aunty in her flat in Gulmohar Society that is located in Juhu Circle near Juhu scheme. Shammi aunty is fond of listening to music. She is also a voracious reader. Her library is stocked with CDs and books and this is testimony to her interest in reading and music.
 
Shammi aunty with Aruna Irani. Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Shammi aunty has always been a spiritual person and she often espouses the immense benefits of prayers. An ardent devotee of Lord Ganesha, one can find hundreds of Lord Ganesha idols in her home. Shammi aunty begins her day by chanting the Lalita Sahasranama and Hanuman Chalisa. Whenever she is at home, she loves listening to the Vishnu Sahasranama stotra (the thousand names of Lord Vishnu).
 
Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi (2012). Image Courtesy: Beete Hue Din

Shammi aunty’s perspectives about life are crystal clear. She says, “I have always lived life by my own terms. Whatever I received in life, I considered it as the Almighty’s blessing. I am happy to have received so much love from people. I am fortunate to have an able son like Iqbal. I am satisfied with my life. What else do I need?”

Advancing age and failing health have resulted in Shammi aunty moving in with Iqbal Rizvi’s family at Millat Nagar near Andheri (West).

Shammi ji passed away at the age of 89 on 5 March 2018 in Mumbai. She was unwell for last couple of months.


Part of Shishir Krishna Sharma’s Beete Hue Din blog series.
 

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