Shammi Kapoor, The Yahoo Man

When the Yahoo man of Indian celluloid, Shammi Kapoor, moved on to dance in the heavens, he left behind an unusual legacy. Shammi’s fascination for the internet was not known widely till the media, frantic for new Shammi snippets, caught on to the late superstar’s intense involvement with the World Wide Web. Shammi helped found the Internet Users Club of India way back in 1995.

In case you missed it all, here is a recap of the ‘Shammi and the Web’ tidbits going round.

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Shammi Kapoor was always ahead of his time and lived the ordinary life quite extraordinarily. He was one of the first guys in India to hook on to the internet in India, ages before any tech-savvy Indian youngster with deep pockets ‘imported’ the hardware or software required. In fact, Internet came to India in the mid 90s but Shammi was on it much before through a British Telecom line. In the very year he was honoured with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award, 1995, Shammiji founded the IUCI, or the Internet Users Club of India to create awareness and solve internet-related problems. The organization went on to open chapters in the other cities in India.

The Ethical Hackers Club was another of his brain children and he also founded a website, supposedly one among the first personal websites in India, in honour of his pedigree, the Kapoor family. He named it junglee.com it and maintained it in the true style of the entertainer that he was, even managing his own updates. Shammi also had an unusual blog, a voice blog, titled Shammi Unplugged and maintained within the junglee.com premises. He was also active on twitter with the handle @shamsherraj, here is his page, but it’s protected and only confirmed followers have access to it. Shamsher Raj Kapoor is Shammiji’s real christened name.

When the Yahoo Company initiated their operations in India, Jerry Yang the Yahoo founder sought out the late actor to honour the inaugural function in Mumbai, and the orchestra broke into the famed Yahoo song at the pinnacle moment of the function, and much to the delight of Shammiji. Jerry Yang later said that while he was familiar with the word yahoo before, it’s the Junglee song which motivated him. Shammiji even said in an interview that he has been so associated with the word Yahoo in India that he is often asked if he owns the yahoo company, given his internet fixation.

Techgoss met up with B.Shrinivas, from the IUCI, Chennai chapter, who has a lot more to share about Shammi Kapoor’s close association with the IUCI Chennai chapter. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

Techgoss (TG): You have been associated with the IUCI, the late Shammi Kapoor’s not-for-profit initiative for promoting the internet. Could you tell us more about Shammi Kapoor and his link with the internet?
B.Shrinivas (BS): The late Shammi Kapoor is a real hero of the internet. He was one of the earliest users of the internet in India, and even before internet was launched in India. It was on Aug 15, 1995 that the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited or the VSNL   introduced public Internet access in India via dialup services in 6 cities. It’s an uncanny coincidence and perhaps points to Shammiji’s heart-felt connection with the web that he was cremated on an anniversary date sixteen days later. Shammiji had a British Telecom line providing the web connection.

In those days, the internet was not for the common man, it was expensive, and the subscriptions were something to the tune of 25,000 rupees. Shammiji was intent on making the internet a common tool and used all his clout in high places to this end. It was his vision to popularize the internet and he founded the IUCI in 1995 for this exclusive purpose. It’s curious he didn’t use the web to popularize himself, or keep himself in limelight, say start a fan club on the web or something, and instead he started an intellectual club which would benefit all. He had the whole-hearted support from the Mafatlal people in this.

TG: How is the Chennai Chapter of IUCI associated with Shammi Kapoor?
BS: Shammiji looked to starting more chapters of the IUCI in other cities, to encourage and aid those who were coming into the web fold. In Chennai, we were running this company called PPP, founded in 1995. PPP is perhaps the only company in India which shunned the popular way of tapping the IT pie, i.e. by harnessing offshore software development contracts, body-shopping and the like. Instead, we invested on technology development and that paid dividends. The company is the first in India to come out with Internet products when product development was not an accepted practice at all in India. We also published public exam results online coordinating with State Education Department and ISP.

I guess Shammiji was impressed at the way we served the public with the web and our attempts at building Brand India even back then, and entrusted us with running the IUCI Chennai Chapter.

TG: Was Shammiji present at the inaugural function?
BS: This was the year 1997 and by that time, Shammiji had put on a lot of weight which restricted his travel. But he attended the function virtually, and spoke to us through a video conferencing mode. Mr. Mihir Mafatlal had come down for the function and it was on 11.1.1997 at VSNL Hall in Chennai.  In fact, the VSNL facilitated the smooth functioning of IUCI Chennai chapter to a huge extent. The VSNL Hall was ours every second Friday for the regular meetings and the IUCI people, including Shammiji were mailed the minutes and the photographs of the meeting each time it was held.

We were communicating with Shammiji very regularly. I think the last communication we had with him was sometime in 1999, and by the time the web boom was happening in India, so the promotion of the web started taking lateral directions. PPP was instrumental in unleashing the Internet booth revolution in Chennai, which led the way for the whole country. The number of Internet browsing centers in the city proliferated and soon we had the First Internet Access Node outside Chennai at Tiruchirapalli, which was the first ever one outside a metro.

TG: Is there something special you can share about Shammiji, the internet evangelist?
BS: One more thing I can mention is that Shammiji was an Apple guy. He connected to the internet through e-Apple initially and was never quite keen on the Windows products. He used an Apple Mac. In those pre-VSNL days he bought his software abroad, in London.

After he retired from films, he never sat on his past glory but moved on to create another world for himself with his computer. In the meanwhile, he was ill, had motor issues because he was obese, but he lived fully and well. He gave up his famous addiction to the cigarette and instead became a mouse addict.

B.Shrinivas has fond memories and a thousand words for Shammi Kapoor the internet hero and is lucky to have known this aspect of the beloved actor. In his later years, the actor was in wheel chair and on dialysis thrice a week but as he admitted in this now famous quote about what technology did to him. “The moment the mouse came in my hand, the cigarette flew away…permanently,”

Tailpiece: What’s the word Yahoo all about and who used it first?
The word Yahoo is actually a legendary being in the classic Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Swift describes the Yahoos as vile and savage creatures, filthy and with unpleasant habits, resembling human Hence the term “yahoo” has come to mean “a crude, brutish or obscenely coarse person” says wikipedia.

This interview appeared on techgoss.com in August 2011.

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