Long in the public eye as a socialite of note, Bina Ramani sprang to further fame when model Jessica Lal was killed in her New Delhi restaurant. Her freewheeling autobiography Bird In A Banyan Tree, which culminates with the murder case, includes Ramani’s dalliance with yesteryears’ actor Shammi Kapoor. Though Kapoor ardently pressed his suit, Ramani was constrained by parental strictures as well as opposition from Raj Kapoor, and the match was never made. We present excerpts from the book that tell the tale.
Despite a busy shooting schedule, Shammi Kapoor ardently courted Bina Ramani, she says in her book
Among our closest friends in Bombay were the Raj Kapoor family. Krishna Kapoor, fondly known as Bhabhi-ji, was one of the warmest and most hospitable people we had ever known. As Raj Kapoor’s ‘rakhi sisters’ from London, Pushpa and I enjoyed a rather privileged position within his family. We spent many memorable nights at their legendary Devnar residence in Chembur, with Bhabhi-ji presiding and dispensing her benevolent hospitality.
On How It Began
The […] secret project that Bhabhi-ji had nurtured since she first got to know me the previous year in London was to introduce me to her roué brother-in-law, Shammi. His wife had died of a sudden illness about ten months earlier, leaving him with two children, and in an inconsolable state. While his film career as an actor was at its peak, he was very lonely in his personal life and was becoming increasingly reckless in his behaviour.
For some reason, Bhabhi-ji had concluded that I had the right combination of traditional and modern values to bring stability back into Shammi’s life. However, she was also aware that there were considerable differences in our backgrounds and that potential family objections would be a major barrier.
It’s cordial relations as Shammi Kapoor meets Bina Ramani at a function, long years later
Besides, Raj-ji had already expressed his disapproval of this scheme, as he considered me too innocent and sheltered to be able to cope with his brother’s wild ways. But Bhabhi-ji […] would not be deterred by the opposition. I had been in India barely a week when a dinner was arranged at the Ritz Hotel for just family and a few close friends. Shammi was there, and we got our first glimpse of each other as we exchanged greetings. [...]
A few days later, Bhabhi-ji deftly managed to arrange a little get-together at Devnar, to which Pushpa and I were invited. Raj-ji was out of town, so Bhabhi-ji seized the opportunity to put Shammi and me together. While I was surprised to meet Shammi there, it soon became clear that he knew why this evening had been planned - his attentive glances and conversation were frequently directed towards me. [...]
Soon enough, Shammi was openly displaying his growing affection for me and, usually with Bhabhi-ji’s help, managed to find many occasions where we could either meet in private or ‘run into each other’ publicly. Raj-ji had already sensed what was happening and reiterated his disapproval to Bhabhi-ji, but she was undeterred. Of course, she was also aware that I could not disobey my parents’ express wishes and that they were strictly against the idea of my marriage with Shammi. But her resolve remained firm as steel. […]
‘Nobody can stop us from sharing our lives together,’ Shammi assured me. If I couldn’t find the courage to go against my parents’ wishes, as Plan B he proposed that we trump the opposition by eloping. Over and over again, Shammi expressed his love for me and built up beautiful dreams of our life together. He told me that he was not at heart the flamboyant playboy he portrayed on screen; he had been stereotyped, and now that he was stuck with that role, he simply delivered the image that the public loved him for.
Bird In A Banyan Tree is published by Rainlight, an imprint of Rupa Publications. Price Rs 500
He was, he insisted, intellectually inclined, sensitive, and loved books and classical music, but hardly anyone knew that side of him. […] Shammi and I never had any serious physical contact, but the rare glimpses, meetings and phone conversations sufficed to inflame our relationship. Expressions of love continued for several months via secret codes and methods.
His film career was skyrocketing and he was shooting four or five films simultaneously, travelling all over India and abroad. He would speak to his co-stars about me and occasionally had me speak to some of them on the phone, especially when he was partying. In his recklessness and daring, Shammi was very different from anyone I had ever met. It was outrageous behaviour, according to my conservative upbringing, but I was completely overwhelmed and delighted.
On The Obstacles
My parents were growing increasingly uncomfortable with the deepening intimacy between Shammi and me. The thought of losing their daughter to a movie star with a terrible reputation for ‘drinking’ and ‘womanizing’ was alarming, to say the least. They began to step up their efforts and introduced me to a series of prospective husbands, all of whom I rejected outright.
The other hurdle was posed by Raj Kapoor. Raj-ji had a conservative streak, despite his flamboyant lifestyle, and the mutual love and respect between his family and ours was deep and long-standing. He was my devoted rakhi brother, and I had always made a bracelet for him on Raksha Bandhan each August, being sure to mail it to him in time for the big day. [...]
One day, he surprised me with an invitation to lunch at his favourite restaurant in Bombay, the Nanking near the Taj Hotel. [...] After a couple of mouthfuls, Raj-ji laid down his fork and looked up at me. There was a radical shift in his mood. His furrowed brow signalled an ominous reason for this meeting and I struggled to hide the trepidation I felt.
With an intensity in his eyes that I had never seen before, he asked, ‘Are you in love with him?’ I froze. I was thunderstruck. I had only seen this intensity in his most compelling film roles. Only, he wasn’t acting now. I did all I could to disguise my fear, especially since we had always shared a great compatibility in our conversations. Feigning calmness, I replied, ‘Yes, I am.’ ‘Do you know who he is and what he is capable of doing to you?’ I was silent, stunned by his question.
Raj-ji continued, ‘He is my brother and I love him dearly, but his success has gone to his head. He is an impatient and impulsive man, and he will not easily settle into married life. The two of you are complete opposites. He can be ruthless, and neither you nor your family will be able to deal with his wild, unpredictable ways. You have had a sheltered upbringing, and your parents have very spiritually rooted and compassionate values. You deserve better.
And I cannot bear to see your parents suffer the unhappiness of having my brother Shammi as their son.’ He stopped, trusting that he’d made the necessary impact.I sat crushed, at a total loss for words. I had nothing to say that would counter what the big brother had just made excruciatingly clear. […] Then came the defining moment: he made me promise that I would give serious consideration to his warning, and that I would keep our lunch meeting a secret. It was as if I had received a court sentence.
On Meeting Andy
My father’s elder brother had arranged my first meeting with yet another prospective suitor […] exactly twelve months to the day I had first met Shammi. At the time, Shammi happened to be out of town on a hunting expedition in the jungles. [...] Before he left he had told me, ‘This trip, my prize is assured. Whether I bag wild game or not, I’m getting the best trophy on my return, in any case.’ The memory of my secret lunch meeting with Raj-ji burnt holes in my heart every time Shammi talked about his Plan B with such passion. It tore me apart.
My uncle set up the meeting. Both sets of parents were to be present. I reluctantly agreed, just to please my family. The prospective groom’s name was Andy Ramani. He had come to India from San Francisco to attend his younger brother’s wedding. He was the manager for Air India for the west coast of America. Importantly, he was from the Sindhi community, though not a Sikh. […] Hanging over my head was a caveat. My parents had threatened to pack me off to London if I continued to refuse any more eligible suitors. Going back was at the bottom of my list. [...]
On Getting Married
Mama asked me once again after Andy had left, ‘Are you sure about this?’ There was concern in her voice. ‘His parents will be expecting an answer in the morning.’ I said a simple ‘Yes’. [...] I would agree to marry Andy and get engaged to him for a few months. At some point I would find a reason to break the engagement and elope with Shammi. It seemed like the perfect ploy.
[…] Andy’s parents were overjoyed at the news. But to my horror, they insisted to my parents that the wedding should take place immediately, without delay. My desperate request for a three-month engagement was waved off by my imposing matchmaker uncle. ‘When a match between two has been struck, there should be no room for trivial reasons to cause delay,’ he declared.
Suddenly everything was on fast track with hurried shopping sprees, lists of gifts to be distributed to the in-laws and relatives and special guests to be called personally. Everyone was mobilized. […] Six days later my name changed from Bina Lalvani to Bina Ramani. An announcement in The Times of India invited friends and relatives to the gurdwara for the wedding ceremony. There was a hurried reception party at the Taj Hotel. That was it. While Shammi was in the jungle with his buddies, engaged in his favourite sport, he lost his love to a stranger from San Francisco - forever.