Shammi Kapoor's wife Neila Devi is a perfect blend of grace, dignity and humility. She has NEVER done an interview on camera before this. But she agreed to make an exception for ETimes, when we requested her for the same. We caught up with her at her lovely Nepean Sea Road flat and she took all the questions sportingly.
Neila Devi is Shammi ji's second wife, his first Geeta Bali passed away in 1965 due to smallpox.
Watch the FULL INTERVIEW in the video below. You are in for a real treat:
Shammi Kapoor's WIFE Neila Devi's FIRST On-Cam Interview: On Geeta Bali, Drinks-N-Temper, Last Days
Here are the excerpts from the conversation that transpired:
Correct me if I am wrong but Shammi ji and you got married in this very house where we are doing the interview…
That's right. Raj Kapoor ji's wife Krishna ji was very fond of me. I used to hang out a lot with her daughter Ritu Nanda. She suggested to Shammi ji that he should get married to me.
Now, interestingly, Ritu Nanda's marriage was just round the corner. And suddenly, one night Shammi ji called.
My sister hung up on him saying that it was too late to call at that hour. But he again called and insisted that he wanted to talk to me. He not only proposed marriage during that call, but revealed almost everything about himself- his school, girlfriends, marriage to Geeta Bali, kids. We spoke for 4 to 5 hours. Of course, he asked me about myself too.
He said that he would come home the next day and take me to Banganga and we'd get married there. I told him 'hamare yahan aise nahin hota'. He said that I should speak to my brother and he would understand. However, I insisted to Shammi ji that our parents should be present at the marriage. Shammi ji said that he was okay with that and we should get married at his house only.
When Krishna ji learnt about our shaadi, she started jumping with joy. My father-in-law (Prithvi Raj Kapoor) took Shammi ji aside and made sure that he was serious about me and told him that I wasn't someone with whom he should think of fooling around. Shammi ji categorically told him that he was serious about me and he wanted to settle down in life, once again.
The very next day after his call to me, June 27, 1969, we got married. Shashi ji (Shashi Kapoor) wasn't in Mumbai. FC Mehra, Pramod Chakraborty and many producers attended.
After the shaadi, Shammi ji called his kids (Aditya and Kanchan) and had a word with them. And before that, he asked me what I would like them to address me as. I told him that I am okay with anything that is comfortable with them.
Four days later, Ritu Nanda's marriage was happening. Shammi ji and I were the centre of attraction; after all, we were recently married.
So what did Aditya and Kanchan address you as?
They started calling me Mummy only. Aditya opened up faster. Kanchan used to look at me a bit apprehensively. The third day, Shammi ji gave me Geeta Bali's ring which I gave to Kanchan; she felt quite nice about that. The ice was melting. It took a little time alright, but not really much.
Soon after our wedding, Shammi ji was leaving for an outdoor shoot of the movie 'Prince'. I didn't go with him. He was self conscious of going out with me in our early days. You won't believe this but he was a very shy person. I think I didn't go to his shoots for at least a year.
FC Mehra (filmmaker) helped me a lot. They taught me the ways of the Kapoor family. The Kapoors have always been very traditional, trust me.
Slowly but surely, I started settling down beautifully. But nobody thought that our marriage would last. They gave us two months.
Who gave you two months?
The journalists. But we proved them wrong,
I recall you had once said that Shammi ji had a temper…
Yes, he had a temper. He couldn't take certain things. Let me put it this way. If anybody stepped on his toes he would react. So in parties, such things used to happen. He used to drink heavily in those days.
But to his credit, the next day, he wanted to know from me what had transpired. Slowly, he changed.
Did you try to stop him from drinking?
He would not listen.
So you tried…
I did, but he would not listen when it came to drinks and cigarettes- unless he didn't want to drink on certain days. Like, every year, he never drank from January 1 to January 21. Geeta Bali had fallen sick on January 1 and she had passed away on January 21. He observed this every single year throughout his life after Geeta Bali passed away.
Then, Prithviraj ji and my mother-in-law both fell ill. He started spending a lot of time with them and we stayed with them. Shammi ji didn't work for two years. Around that period, Raj ji was very busy with 'Mera Naam Joker' and Shashi ji was shooting for 4 to 5 films together.
That period brought us very close to Shammi ji's parents and they blessed us a lot. It wasn't easy for Shammi ji to be away from work for 2 years. After my in-laws passed away, he went to Mauritius and then we found our Guru ji. He never believed in any Guru ji but gradually he started believing in him. That changed our life. Aditya got married in our Guru ji's ashram.
And note well, our Guru ji never imposed anything on Shammi ji. Yet, Shammi ji got so involved with our new path that he started going to the yatras with our Guru ji. After that, he started doing character roles.
Wasn't he in two minds to take that route?
Yes, he was in two minds before accepting the character roles. That happened because his first character role was in Zameer wherein Saira Banu was a heroine. Now, you see, Saira had been his very first heroine. But I told him that he's an artiste and should never think about such things. He was in two minds and then, he got on to the computer; he loved to be on the comp. Later, he even quit smoking.
Did he smoke a lot before that?
About 100 cigarettes a day.
100 in a day?!
Yes. That's how his lungs got spoiled. In fact, initially, he didn't have a kidney problem. It started with lungs. In 2003, he got admitted to Breach Candy Hospital for a month and he was on a ventilator. That's because his lungs had gotten adversely affected. He was put on steroids and antibiotics. After that, his kidneys got affected. And, dialysis began. But mind you, he would still travel. He loved travelling.
Then, the dialysis became thrice a week; initially it was once a week. The travelling was reduced. But the days when he was not undergoing dialysis, he would go out and enjoy. He would zip away for a coffee; once he drove off to Khandala and surprised me with a call that he's not having his coffee that day in Mumbai.
I was completely dependent on him. He taught me that I should learn to stop worrying about him and not cave in. He said that life is meant to be lived and I should do just that.
You might laugh. I am an educated person but I didn't know how to write a cheque.
Would he get frustrated because he was strapped to a wheelchair? Why I am asking this is, because his image on screen was that of a very bubbly guy…
As long as he was able to drive his car, he was chirpy. He used to enter the dialysis room, singing a song. He said that three days belonged to dialysis but four days of the week were his. But after a point, he had to use a wheelchair and… (trails off).
According to you, which was Shammiji's best movie?
I would pick 'Junglee'. Many people say 'Professor', but I think it was 'Junglee'. And, I think he was very good in 'Pagla Kahin Ka' as well. My husband was a very good actor but most roles he got had him largely only singing and dancing.
Correct me if I am wrong but Shammi ji was very upset when he wasn't given the 'Best Actor Award' for 'Professor'…
Yes, he was very upset.
Let's talk about Geeta Bali ji…
As I told you earlier, my husband had told me everything about her. Do you know they would race with each other in their cars?
Geeta Bali's demise hit Shammi ji very hard. He had started staying at Raj Kapoor ji and Krishna ji's house. He started drinking non-stop.
Krishna ji played a big role in getting him back to what he was. She even looked after Aditya and Kanchan, then. Aditya was studying in a boarding school then and Kanchan too had started staying with them. After my marriage, I got Aditya back to Mumbai.
Geeta Bali gave Shammi ji the boost he needed. She had a terrific sense of humour. He asked her to accompany him on the shoot of 'Rangeen Raaten' and she wanted to be with him; so she even agreed to do a boy's role in that film, wherein the heroine was not Geeta Bali but Mala Sinha. I think they fell in love on the rebound of Nutan (Nutan and Shammi Kapoor were in a relationship).
Geeta Bali helped him to become Shammi Kapoor, The Rebel Star. It was on the sets of 'Rangeen Raaten' that they fell in love with each other.
And then, they too got married in Banganga in the middle of one night. She didn't say 'yes' to him immediately, though. It is so sad that she died so soon.
Name one film which you think Shammi ji shouldn't have done…
Quite a few.
Name quite a few…
(Laughs) I don't want to name any of them.
Who won in the car races that Shammi ji and Geeta Bali ji had?
I think, most of the time, Geeta Bali won.
Once I had taken her autograph when she was shooting with Bharat Bhushan. And then, before my marriage with Shammi ji, I had seen her at the premiere of 'Sangam' which was held in our theatre, Apsara. As she was Shammi ji's wife and I was a huge fan of Shammi ji, I thought that it would be only fitting if I guided her to her seat. She had come with a friend and she told that friend about me 'yeh badi changi cheez hai'.
By the way, do you know what Geeta Bali wrote in the autograph?
Remember the letter 'M'. Remember the letter 'E'. Add them together and you'll remember 'Me'.
How uncanny! I always remember her.
Tell us about the parties that Shammi ji loved to have…
Even if he was not in town, our house was loaded with food. Even in his absence, his friends used to come home and drink, gamble and eat here. This went on for five years after Geeta Bali passed away. That stopped after he got married to me but a few of his friends were offended.
Were those friends- producers and directors?
One of them was a lady; she was his pal. One day, she walked in and said she would be having a guest of her's to come over to our place. Shammi ji told her very politely that he and I were going out. She didn't take the cue. Then Shammi ji told her that the bar was closed. She didn't take it well; we never saw her after that at our house.
And someone used to also say, 'Woh neeli aankhon wala mera hoga'.
Which heroine suited Shammi ji the most?
Nutan. Actually, they all suited him. Asha Parekh too suited him quite a lot. Geeta Bali used to carry Asha Parekh on her back and do her make-up.
Kapoors are known for grand weddings. Let's talk about that…
Ritu Nanda's wedding was the biggest one. What food! What guests! Do you know who all were serving? Manoj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar and others! They all said 'hamari beti ki shaadi hai'.
Talking about Randhir's wedding, it still gives me goose flesh. My father-in-law was suffering from cancer and he had high fever then- but yet he came out and danced in front of the ghodi.
Rishi's wedding was fun. He was very nervous while sitting on the ghodi. Mere husband ne pakkad ke bitha diya tha.
How's your equation with Babita and Neetu?
It's very nice. Neetu and I haven't met so much, though. Shammi and I even went to Babita and Randhir's home a couple of times to sort them out. Chintu (Rishi) and I shopped together abroad when he did a few films with my husband. I am a proud Kapoor bahu. Kapoor khandaan is a lovely family. The youngsters- no matter how rich or popular they are- respect the elders a lot.
Let's conclude by talking about your biggest sacrifice. You made the biggest sacrifice when you decided to not have kids of your own. Was it your decision?
100 per cent, it was my decision. Shammi had once said that he would be very happy if he would see Kanchan and Aditya in my lap. And, I achieved that.
God has been kind. I have four granddaughters. I have seen them grow up in front of my eyes. They are just one phone call away.
Did Shammi ji ask you if you wanted to stick to your decision ?
Many times. But he and my father-in-law saw the bond that I had developed with Aditya and Kanchan.
Any parting shot?
I worshipped my husband, Shammi Kapoor. He changed himself so much.
The Open Magazine of India by Artmotion Network (https://magazine.armotion.com/)