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Over 400 films in 50 years: Actor Shammi no more

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Veteran actress Shammi, who was a familiar face in countless Bollywood movies since the early 1950s and whose effortless turn as the ‘chhoti nani’ in the sitcom ‘Dekh Bhai Dekh‘ (1993) endeared her to millions, passed away in Mumbai on Tuesday. She was 89.

shammi“Shammi Aunty… Prolific actress, years of contribution to the industry, dear family friend…passes away…! A long suffered illness, age. Sad… slowly slowly they all go away,” mourned actor Amitabh Bachchan on Twitter.

She was named Nargis Rabadi by her family of Parsi priests. But the name had to be changed when she entered the tinsel world because it already belonged to a major star.

In a career spanning over five decades and, by her own estimates, over 400 films, Shammi did everything from lead roles (‘Malhar’, 1951) to character roles (‘Kudrat’, 1981) to bite-sized parts such as the motormouth neighbour in ‘Ittefaq’ (1969). Toward her later years, she replayed the garrulous granny over and over again. But the actress imbued even casually-written roles with a dash of energy.

Shammi began her career in a character part in Sheikh Mukhtar’s Ustaad Pedro (1951) before making her debut as a heroine in ‘Malhar’. The only film produced by singer Mukesh flopped at the cash counter. But the classic Lata-Mukesh duet, ‘Bade armaan se rakha hai balam teri kasam’, filmed on Shammi, continues to be relished to this day.

Her ability to raise laughs was noticed in ‘Musafir Khana‘ (1955). Paired with comedian Johny Walker, Shammi jived heartily to the playful track, ‘Thoda sa dil laga ke dekh’.

That she was a much better actress than what her roles allowed her to be is evident in the song, ‘Ajeeb dastaan hai yeh’ from the Kishore Sahu-directed superhit, ‘Dil Apna aur Preet Parai’ (1960). The camera focuses on Shammi for barely three seconds, but it is enough for her eyes to register and express cunning when she realizes the song is being crooned by Meena Kumari for Raj Kumar, who has just married Nadira.

She married director Sultan Ahmed, who specialized in dacoit movies. The two were divorced after seven years.

She was a close friend of Nargis. Nargis’ daughter and former Congress MP Priya Dutt tweeted, “Shammi, aunty to me and a great actor of yesteryear, passed away today. She was my mother’s dear friend and someone we all loved very much. May her soul rest in peace and her laughter and contagious smile rock the heavens. Be in peace with your friends.”

Published on Times of India