'When he was offered B R Chopra's Zameer, many advised him against playing Saira Banu's father, pointing out that a decade ago, he had been her hero in her debut film, Junglee.'
'When he asked me, I pointed out that he was an actor first, so nothing should stop him from playing any role.'
What strikes you immediately is her beauty, dignity and the serenity she brings into the room with her.
Shammi Kapoor had turned to Neila Devi Gohil when his life was careening out of control, and the 27-year-old woman from Bhavnagar, Gujarat, had quietly taken charge of his home, becoming not just his life partner, but also a mother to his children, Aditya and Kanchan, from his first wife, the late actress Geeta Bali.
With her by his side, the brash star had turned into a genial giant.
They were married for 42 years.
On the occasion of Shammi Kapoor's 92nd birth anniversary on October 21, the reclusive Neila opens up to Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya in an exclusive interview.
What was your first impression of Shammi Kapoor?
I met him when I was nine years old when he had come to Bhavnagar with his father's Prithvi Theatre.
He was performing Aahuthi and Deewar and I had gone with my brother (Raghuvir Singh) to watch the plays.
I remember Deewar was about a wall that comes up in a family separating two brothers.
Later, he became friends with my brother, and when we moved to Mumbai, Shammiji would drop by once in a blue moon and chat with my father about the army.
I was 14 then and didn't interact with him for over a decade till the eve of our wedding when he called way past midnight.
We spoke for five-six hours, he told me everything about himself and his life.
The conversation ended with him asking me to marry him and I accepted.
Even in my wildest dreams, I had never imagined marrying him, but the same day, January 27, 1969, my family and his came to this very house and my father-in-law (Prithviraj Kapoor) asked my father for my hand, jholi phelakar, after which the pandit was called and we took the pheras right here.
(Laughs) I was in a ghunghat (veil) by the way.
Given that he was a huge star, you must have watched some of his films before you married him?
Yes, of course. From the time I understood what cinema was all about, I was Shammi Kapoor's biggest fan.
I watched all his films, even the ones that weren't popular like Laila Majnu. Except for maybe a couple, I loved them all.
He used to go to bed very late and I would stay up with him.
Even now, I can't sleep early.
I have all his films and sometimes, at night, I watch one of them.
He was a fantastic actor who could express his feelings eloquently through his eyes.
Unfortunately, as the leading man, he was only made to sing and dance and he did not get the recognition his talent deserved.
He kept working though, moving to character roles after he hurt his back and knees, and could not lift weights.
It was important for him to work and he needed the money too.
When he was offered B R Chopra's 1975 action-drama, Zameer, many advised him against playing Saira Banu's father, pointing out that a decade ago, he had been her hero in her debut film, Junglee.
When he asked me, I pointed out that he was an actor first, so nothing should stop him from playing any role.
He got some good films in later years, like Prem Rog and Vidhaata, the latter won him the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor. But I regret that unlike some other actors, Shammiji did not get better roles, which were his due.
What did you think of him as a director? Should he have continued?
Manoranjan was a modern film, too advanced for the time, and with Bundal Baaz, he could not do what he wanted.
I'm glad he didn't direct any more films.
He was a simple man. We did not socialise much, he liked being home with the family.
Our son (Aditya Raj Kapoor) and daughter (Kanchan) got married early and we thoroughly enjoyed being with the grandchildren.
We would play games with them at home and go on holidays together.
Once, during an interview, he had confided that he loved going on drives with you sitting beside him.
He loved driving. When he hurt his back, he told me that he didn't want to live if he couldn't drive.
Till a week before he passed away, we would go on drives together.
Sometimes when I couldn't leave the house, he would go off with the driver for a cup of coffee.
After a couple of hours had passed, I would call him to ask where he had disappeared and he would laugh, 'I'm having coffee in Lonavala.'
In the last eight years of his life, every alternate day, we would go out to a hotel or restaurant for lunch or dinner.
He had to go to the hospital for dialysis three days a week, but the remaining four days were ours to enjoy.
Even when he was not well, Shammiji was full of life.
My life has always revolved around my children and grandchildren, and he had done everything for me, but knowing how difficult it would be for me after he was gone, he taught me to be independent.
I miss him so much today.
He must have flooded you with gifts.
I never purchased anything for myself, he bought me watches, bags, everything.
If I was ever going out of India alone, he would give me whatever money he had on him and tell me to spend it on anything I wanted.
But for me, the most priceless gift was the flowers Shammiji gave me for my birthday.
We have a small garden at home and he had got me a Frangipani plant which was in full bloom.
I was sitting there watching him walk around, I don't know when he plucked the fragrant flowers, but at the stroke of midnight, he presented them to me in a box with a message.
(Smiles) He never bought cards, he would scribble 'Happy birthday, lots of love' on any piece of paper he found.
He gave me so much, he never hid anything from me or disrespected me.
I adored Shammiji for who he was and took good care of him.
I gave him my love and respect.
I gave him myself.
Shammi Kapoor is synonymous with Kashmir. He had reportedly agreed to be a part of Hotel Lalit's centenary celebrations in Srinagar just before he passed away.
Yes, Mrs (Jyotsna) Suri had even made arrangements so his weekly dialysis would not be interrupted.
He was really excited about the trip, but before it could happen, he passed away, on August 14, 2011.
My children went there after his demise and planted a tree in his memory.
The palatial hotel, where he had always stayed on his visits to the Valley, now has a garden named after him, the 'Shammi Kapoor Bageecha'.
I had gone to Kashmir last in 1989, and returned there this month after 34 years.
It was tough, but my daughter and her daughters, everyone, made it beautiful for me and I'm glad I made the trip.
Wherever I went, shopping, sightseeing, on a shikara ride, I would meet people who would admit to being Shammi Kapoor fans.
I felt so proud I was his wife.
I could feel his presence everywhere.
We couldn't make that last trip to the Valley together, but we had been there many other times.
Not just for shoots, but for trout fishing and even in winters when it was snowing.
There are so many happy memories of Shammiji singing; he was a very good singer.
Really, a singer?
Yes, earlier he would play tennis, squash and golf, but once he put on weight, he couldn't play any sport so then he turned to computers and music.
He learnt Indian classical music for seven to eight years.
When we were abroad, we would attend Western classical and jazz concerts.
In his last days, Shammiji used to sing Ustad Rashid Khan's song from Shahid (Kapoor) and Kareena's (Kapoor) Jab We Met.
Aaoge jab tum aa saajna, angna phool khilenge, barsega saawan, barsega saawan, jhoom jhoom ke Nwas his favourite song so I love it too even though it always makes me cry.
He used to sing a lot and so well, I wish I had thought to record him.
Which is your favourite Shammi Kapoor song?
Tum mujhe yun bhula na paaoge.