Jewel Thief

I always enjoy Vijay Anand’s Jewel Thief, mostly for the glorious presence of Tanuja, Vyjayanthimala, Helen and Faryal. The style is groovy Sixties cool, the music is fab and funky and the story is packed with incidents and coincidences.

SD Burman’s soundtrack is brilliant, and the dream playback ensemble of Lata, Asha, Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar does the material justice. The title sequence sets the tone; a swinging big band with Krupa-esque drums over an old school cut and paste montage of newspaper headlines that are stuck over real news stories.

Is it just me, or do these display mannequins look just a little like Nargis?

Vinay (Dev Anand) arrives at a jewellers looking for work. His skills dazzle Mr Visambhar Das and his flirting impresses daughter Anju (Tanuja) so he gets the job.  Soon after, he is mistaken for a man called Amar by a number of strangers. At Anju’s birthday party he is confronted by Shalu (Vyjayanthimala) who claims the mysterious Amar is her fiancée and that Vinay is indeed Amar.

This leads to the least suspenseful proof of identity scene ever as Vinay takes over one full minute to remove a shoe and prove he doesn’t have six toes. Did I mention the subtitles on this original DVD are quite peculiar?

Shalu’s brother Arjun Singh is played by the wonderful Ashok Kumar. Arjun seems to want to throw Vinay and Shalu together despite her apparent engagement to another man. He has hidden motives, and gradually more is revealed about his character. It’s a fun performance, and I do have a soft spot for all of the Kumar boys.

Anju and Shalu vie for Vinay’s affections, which results in some awesome outfits and extreme eyeliner. Tanuja is fun and bubbly, and plays her headstrong character with great gusto. Anju seems to have very few restrictions on her activities but isn’t spoiled by being indulged.

Shalu is the weeping wronged woman, and wants to recreate Vinay in Amar’s image which he initially rejects.  However Shalu is flirtatious and yet reserved, a combination Vinay cannot seem to resist.

Vinay plays both women and seems to have no qualms about his situation. He takes for granted that the girls find him irresistible and will tolerate his peccadilloes. Dev Anand has so many idiosyncrasies that I can never forget it is Dev Anand I am watching. However I do like his seemingly genuine enjoyment of Tanuja’s antics in Raat Akeli Hai, Bujh Gaye Diye. And hurrah for the interior design excellence at Anju’s house which we get to tour in that song. I love the fridge, but the bar steals the show.

Things become more tangled as it appears Amar and Vinay are impersonating each other, sometimes inadvertently. Amar aka the Prince is the Jewel Thief. He is a ladies’ man and a ruthless criminal by all accounts, although one with appalling fashion sense. No one seems sure of which side anyone is one. The plot becomes more and more convoluted, even as nothing really happens.

Amar has better taste in women than expected given his shocking taste in clothes. What’s not to love about Helen (playing a character called Helen) making her entrance in a sparkly zebra chicken ensemble complete with crystal beaded tights?

This was one of my first Helen films and whenever I describe vintage Bollywood, I draw on that image. Helen also loves her fridge, to the point of not locating it behind the nifty concealed revolving bar. It reminded me of my grandmother’s kitchen which was built before whitegoods were common so our fridge was plonked against a wall. It took me back to the exciting day when Nan got her first ever washing machine. Sadly I grew up without the groovy bar, but we did have a fair collection of 70s kitsch.

Julie (Faryal) doesn’t seem to have a fridge, but she did have a drinks trolley in one scene.  She is part of the gang and draws Vinay further into their murky designs. With Faryal wearing the entire budget for a key jewel heist scene, I can totally understand why the art team recycled the Nargis busts in the background.

It is a treat to have multiple vamps and heroines of this calibre in a film that lets them all shine. The ladies drive much of the action, providing the clues, motivation and manipulation that ensure Vinay continues to swagger limply in pursuit of Amar. Anju Mahendru also has a small but crucial role as Neena, yet another babe who runs rings around our hero. They are strong, individual women and I love seeing Helen and Faryal do more than an item number. For a fun and informative discussion of vamps, please listen to this excellent podcast by netvixens Beth, Amrita and Memsaab at Masala Zindabad.

The action moves to Gangtok as Vinay pursues Amar. Dev Anand is slick and superficial; Vinay looks the smooth man of the world but is never really convincing as a man of action. Luckily his dad (Hussain) is a police commissioner so he has resources to call on. Even more complexity in the plot is revealed as Vinay is taken hostage. (It was very thoughtful to provide the lads and ladies of the gang with table tennis. Such a wholesome recreation for evil doers!) The gang is working on one big heist that doesn’t seem to be worth it given that they are making ample money from the smaller crimes that attract less attention. The targeted crown is a bit more Miss Universe than I expected for a prince in Sikkim.

Amar continues to elude Vinay and his dad, but there is plenty else of interest going on. Vyjayanthimala wears a sari covered in furry bobbles for a start, but she has the consolation of a lovely song to emote to.

Helen and Julie create confusion as Vinay does a lot of overacting, sometimes intentionally. In a fantastic filmi architectural coincidence the old palace tunnel system was handily located under the captives’ quarters. All it took was Shalu, a rope made from a sari, her handy chisel and mallet plus the good scissors and they were off and running for freedom. The film is full of great secret rooms, sliding panels and amazing design features. But it wouldn’t be truly masala  if the hero escaped right away, and the director had invested in some hi-tech memory modification equipment, so the action returns for more mind altering shenanigans.

And then the deservedly famous Hoton Me Aisi Baat in which Dev Anand has the very good sense to restrict his dancing to posing and scuttling out of Vyjayanthimala’s way.

I don’t want to give the ending away completely but the Jewel Thief’s complex plan comes unstuck remarkably easily. Anju takes her turn at helping Vinay fight the good fight, and all loose ends are tied up in a delightful final scene.

Vijay Anand has created one of my favourite retro masala films. There is so much to enjoy visually, so many fun performances, and great music and dance numbers. What more could I ask for? 4 and ½ stars! (extra points for Helen, small deduction for Dev Anand’s hats).

Heather says:  Jewel Thief was one of my early ‘oldies’ film purchases and I’m pretty sure I bought it because of Helen. Of course not only does Jewel Thief have the incomparable Helen but also the amazing Vyjayanthimala, Tanuja and Ashok Kumar along with Dev Anand. I’m not usually a great Dev Anand fan as I find him much too affected, but he seems to suit the James Bond-esque role he plays here fairly well. He does look to be too old to be a wayward son of the police commissioner though and his mannerisms make it hard to forget that he is Dev Anand rather than the character, but I still think this is still one of his best films.

The best part of this film for me is the music – the soundtrack is fantastic and as Temple has mentioned it has the dream team of playback singers. This is a film where I’d heard and loved the songs before I saw the movie, and they only got better with watching. The sets are fantastic too with plenty of hidden rooms and tunnels as well as some very inspired décor in Helen and Anjali’s apartments – so much to appreciate.

I also love the totally fab costumes. The red dupatta with white fluffy spots all over it that Vyjayanthimala is wearing in the song above is a particular fave, and Tanuja has a great selection of outfits.  Naturally Helen shines (and sparkles!) in that department as well, and one of the gang has a rather eye catching black jacket with large white pockets. Where do they find this stuff – actually I do know the answer to that as I went shopping in Chennai earlier this year! Dev Anand is a little too ‘corduroy’ in some scenes for me (clothes and attitude), but his collection of hats helps to make up for that. I particularly like that the jewellery was by Parikh Novelty house, which sounds exactly where I need to go shopping, and that there was just so much of it!

The story aims to be a mystery/thriller and I think in general it works fine for the mystery but not quite so well in the thriller part. There just isn’t very much suspense – at least not once we get past the sock removal. (Just as an aside, I seem to have a different copy toTempleas I have rather more boring subtitles which sadly refer only to toes.) But perhaps I’m just too distracted by the costumes, the jewellery, the interiors and the dancing! The story moves along well though and there are plenty of twists which generally make sense, even if the final scheme does turn out to be more complicated than it really needed to be. Adding in electro-shock treatment was particularly inspired, and I did enjoy Dev Anand’s grimacing throughout the procedure. Brilliant!

All the actors are excellent throughout and it is a real treat to see so many great performers together in a better than usual story. The end is just a little disappointing, but there is still plenty to enjoy in this very stylish film . 4 stars from me.

7 thoughts on “Jewel Thief

    • Hi Limette. Isn’t that funny! Whenever I think of vintage Bollywood I think of Helen, and she is the reason I initially sought out so many older films. Her presence is not exactly a guarantee of a quality film, but I always find her delightful to watch. I really do recommend Jewel Thief even if you don’t like Helen so much. The design and the music are just too good to miss. Cheers, Temple

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  1. Ah, Jewel thief! I think it was my first oldie and that was before I had seen Awwal Number and decided that Dev Anand just creeps me out. I liked it ok.

    I actually got this one for Vyjayanthimala and have to say I really loved her in it. So it was definitely worth my money. But I wouldn’t go shouting it from the rooftops, for some reason I could never quite comprehend the masterpiece status that it has obtained… I guess the thriller-y part just seemed so childish and long drawn to me. Seriously? 6 toes?? And a dungeon?… Oh well..

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    • I think it was the six toes and the dungeon that kept me going :) I love the blend of Get Smart meets Masala and Vijay Anand did it really well. It is a bit long, but there are so many fun things to look at, and it’s nowhere near the most far-fetched thing I’ve seen and enjoyed. I also really liked all the ladies being present throughout the film rather than just getting the old dance-repent-die thing. I’m not a Dev Anand fan, and will actually break out in hives during some scenes in Guide, but he is adequate in this. Again, I’ve seen him in creepy roles so maybe that helped as I was mildly pleasantly surprised. I think it is the combination of the music, the cast and the style that takes Western design and clothing and makes them so perfectly filmi and glossy. And you know, secret rooms and double crosses and significant toes. That all spells classic to me :) Temple

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  2. Good review, it reminded me of childhood days watching old films on the telly and giggling with friends :) Thats how I had watched this film and with the uncritical eyes of childhood, really enjoyed it then. But I am not a fan of Dev Anand ..actually, I believe I dislike him.. so I never bothered to watch it again. You remind me of how much I used to love the music so I should hunt out a copy and do a post for my music blog. I’ll listen to the songs now..

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    • @Suja – I think that’s the perfect way to watch this film :)

      @Memsaab – I struggled with Guide. I love a lot about it but it just got soooooooooooo self righteous it became unbearable. Although I mostly blame Dev not Vijay, as Dev is the common denominator in many films I have not liked.

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