Sunehri Nagin (1963)

Sunehri Nagin_Movie title

Sunehri Nagin is a sword and sorcery fantasy featuring Helen in a lead role, so of course I had to see it. She stars opposite genre film stalwart Mahipal, along with Anwar Hussain as a flamboyant villain. Babubhai Mistry directs in a fairly pedestrian style, but the film has loads of charm. There are lovely songs (in colour), some very good dancers, a snake goddess delivering some divine assistance, ye olde fairytale elements, special effects and some enthusiastic visual design.

Sunehri Nagin_RajkumariSunehri Nagin_Vijay

The Rajkumari (Helen) is out on a hunting expedition with her handmaidens when her chariot horses are spooked by a nearby panther. Bolting off into the blue, she screams for help. Luckily her pleas are heard by Vijay (Mahipal) who has been languishing in the forest while wearing a splendid fur trimmed suit. Within minutes he has saved Helen and taken her home to meet his blind Ma (Sulochana Latkar) and comedy bro (Kamal Mehra). They are all on their way to a pooja at the snake temple so Princess Helen goes along. The ritual involves placing bowls of milk at the base of a statue and then dancing to invoke the Naag Devi. The owner of the milk the snake drinks will be blessed. That all leads to an excellent dance by Helen and some enthusiastic ‘tribal’ dudes.

Those backward leaning kneeling statues reappear a few times throughout the film so perhaps Mistry was really commited to recycling.

Of course the snake goddess chooses Helen. So does Anwar Hussain who is lurking in the crowd. He is an evil not quite magician who seems intent on taking as much power as he can – and he needs to marry the princess to do that. He is also involved with a sorceress, Sadhna, played by the lovely Preeti Bala. Sadhna supplies Anwar with a magical laddoo that will let him travel at will, and a flying carpet. Sadhna seems to be in love with Vijay but terribly naïve when it comes to believing an earthman in a gladiator outfit. The story then falls into a cycle of Helen and Vijay making eyes, Anwar kidnapping Helen, and Vijay and his comedy sidekick going to rescue her. Add some divine intervention thanks to Sulochana’s prayers and a magic sword. Overcome the King’s (DK Sapru) objections to Helen marrying a commoner. Repeat, rinse, repeat. Until everyone realises Anwar cannot be trusted and then things go a bit pear shaped (for him).

The plot elements are pure fairytale, sometimes even pantomime, inspired. The designs are sometimes lovely and sometimes a bit mystifying. Vijay and his Ma live in this carefully geometrical tumbledown shack. The royal palace interiors are sumptuous. But I don’t know why Helen and Anwar appear to fly over 1960s Marine Drive when he kidnaps her on a flying carpet.

Vijay and sidekick encounter many fabulous perils. I think my favourite would have to be the evil grasping trees on rolling platforms but the cannibal cat man in the secret caves is a close second. Or maybe the jousting. I’m indecisive, but so many fun things happen that maybe they’re all my favourite.

The special effects team kept busy with a number of nifty transitions. Sadhna transforms herself into Helen, and is later miniaturised and captured in a bottle. The ladies change places in an attempt to fit in another song steal a magical sword back from Anwar and there are lots of flying and disappearing effects. And when Anwar says look into his eyes – don’t!

Kalyanji-Anandji are credited with the soundtrack, and Laxmikant Pyarelal appear in the playback/recording credits so the songs have some serious pedigree. The playback singers include Lata and Usha Mangeshkar, Mohd Rafi, Mukesh, and Kamal Barot. I have to admit I did cheer when Helen stole Mahipal’s been in one song as I only have so much love for snake music but overall it is a pleasure to listen to this soundtrack. Babubhai Mistry switches from B&W to colour film for the song sequences and they are so pretty to look at. I had high expectations from Helen, of course. Mahipal doesn’t have such a natural flair for frolicking in meadows as his leading lady does. Apart from the lead actors,  there are other entertaining dances including this court piece performed by Bela Bose and Madhumati.

I watched this online and then bought the VCD. I haven’t seen a version with subtitles but most of the story was clear. I had a little moment of wondering who loved who when Sadhna and Anwar were bickering about a marriage but of course she loved the hero, everyone loves a hero, so I was not confused for long. Although I think the wardrobe team showed their love for Anwar Hussain in their own special way.

It’s quite a glamorous looking film. Helen was very pretty and princess like, and Preeti Bala and the featured dancers all looked lovely too.

This is not a film to watch for deep insights into the human condition, but it does have a pleasing internal order of justice and right. People can try and welch on their bets or lie their way out of trouble but they will have to face the consequences at some stage. And it isn’t just the bad guys who learn that. Some people are a bit more resistant to enlightenment than they should be. The final fight sequence takes place at the snake temple, mostly on and around a giant bell. Seeing the not very sprightly figures of Mahipal and Anwar Hussain clambering about added an extra, and maybe unintended, level of tension. But Anwar pushed his luck with the wrong deity. Perhaps the lesson here is don’t bite the hand that can bite you.

South Indian fantasy films from the same time seem more technically accomplished but I am guessing that this was probably not a big budget production so the comparison is probably unfair. It is obvious where some corners were cut in Sunehri Nagin, but it doesn’t really detract from the enjoyment of watching. See this for a good old ripping yarn of love and heroics, a likeable and competent cast (especially Helen) and the array of visual delights on offer. 3 ½  stars!

Seeta aur Geeta

Seeta Aur Geeta is a classic dual role movie so common in Bollywood, but for a change it’s the heroine who has the double part to play and Hema Malini excels as both characters in this tale of separated sisters. This is my favourite film with her as she flawlessly provides drama, action and comedy and looks totally stunning throughout. It’s a pleasant change to have a heroine-centric film and although Dharmendra keeps trying to sneak a piece of the action, Hema always gets the last word. You go girl!

The film opens by explaining how the twin sisters get separated at birth and brought up by different families. But there are no mystical songs, lockets or other identifying objects needed because the two just happen to be identical, which means of course that there will be confusion between the two when they grow up.

First of all we meet Seeta and her family. Her parents are dead and Seeta is living with her Aunt Kaushalya, Uncle Badrinath and their two children. Also living in the house is Kaushalya’s brother Ranjeet (Roopesh Kumar) and Seeta’s grandmother.

Kaushalya and her daughter Sheila treat Seeta as a slave and she is constantly abused and overworked. Seeta is the weak-as-water type of heroine I usually want to slap and tell to pull herself together, but since her rather pathetic and hopeless character is the whole point of this part of the film, I can live with it. Anyway, the focus at this point is much more on Kaushalya who is the best wicked aunt ever. Manorama is outstanding in her role as Kaushalya and has the best selection of grimaces I have seen outside of a gurning competition. Here is just a selection of some of her expressions which she uses to excellent effect.

Honey Irani appears in front of the camera in one of her first roles as an actress playing the mean and spoilt mommy’s girl Sheila. I love the way she stands and screams as an iron burns her sari rather than just lifting out a hand to move it away. She really does seem to believe she is the delicate flower her mother calls her and she wonderfully nasty towards her cousin. Ranjeet is appropriately sleazy and obviously the villain once he turns up in a selection of increasingly bad shirts and terrible scarves.

After Seeta’s trials and troubles have been established we are introduced to Geeta. What a difference! Seeta is introduced in a scene where she is scrubbing the floor and her evil aunt is yelling at her. Geeta is introduced by a song – upbeat, full of life and fun, it’s an apt description of Geeta and her outlook despite her humble status.

Geeta lives with her mother and works as a street performer with Raka (Dharmendra) and Jhumroo (Master Ravi). She’s loud, vivacious, a bit of a crook and nothing at all like her twin sister. There is much made of the differences between the two: Geeta’s fiery nature and her loving relationship with her mother for example, compared to Seeta’s meek obedience and her constant craving for her lost parents. It all sets the scene for the inevitable switch between the two sisters.

After further abuse and inappropriate attentions from the slimy Ranjeet, Seeta finally escapes from the house and Kaushalya reports her as missing to the police. However Geeta happens to be at the local police station where she is ‘recognised’ as the missing Seeta and picked up by her ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’.

On the way home Geeta decides she doesn’t want anything to do with the crazy fat lady and escapes, ending up hiding in a car with Dr Ravi (Sanjeev Kumar) in a coincidence that is only ever possible in Bollywood. Dr Ravi has already met Seeta as a possible marriage candidate and at the time wasn’t impressed at the way Kaushalya presented her niece, but he finds the new ‘Seeta’ intriguing and the two end up falling in love.

Since she feels sorry for the grandmother, Geeta ends up back in the mansion living with Seeta’s family, but she doesn’t appreciate the idea of being their servant and certainly won’t put up with any abuse. It’s a shock for everyone in the family when their previously docile slave lashes out and forces everyone else to work instead. Geeta is hilarious as she pretends to be Seeta and turns the tables on Kaushalya and Ranjeet. There is so much to laugh at, but also plenty of drama and a good balance between the two. It all works so well because of the excellent performance by Hema Malini as the two different sisters. Geeta is a strong and determined character and Hema conveys this resolution with body language and expression just as much as by the dialogue. Seeta is quieter and more submissive, keeping her eyes downcast and her voice softer, but in her own way is just as determined to get what she wants once she breaks free of her restrictive family. It’s hard to believe that no-one seems to question the identity of the two sisters, especially since Hema makes them two very different people but no-one ever seems to consider the possibility and that allows the chaos to continue.

While Geeta is busy reforming Seeta’s family, Seeta is found by Raka who naturally thinks she is Geeta and takes her back to Geeta’s foster mother Leela (Radhika Rani).  Seeta blossoms with the love of her new ‘mother’ while Leela is amazed to have a daughter who can cook, sew and volunteers to visit the temple.

Despite her abysmal attempts at street performing, Raka falls in love with Seeta while for no real apparent reason, Seeta falls in love with him. Although to be fair he is probably the first person she has met who is as self-absorbed about his orphan status as she is, and their shared misery does create a bond. Their wedding is set, as is Geeta’s to Dr Ravi but of course the path of true love never runs that smoothly and there is still the confusion between the two sisters to sort out. Although Raka tries to save the day, in the end it’s Geeta with a little help from her sister who proves that anything a Bollywood hero can do, a heroine can do even better. It’s all totally crazy, over the top and Hema seems to have an excellent time beating up all the bad guys in the fight scenes.

The cast here are all excellent and they are perfectly cast to fit well into their roles. Sanjeev Kumar is effortlessly charming and debonair as Dr Ravi. His assertion that he wants a good Hindustani girl as his ideal wife did make me groan, but despite his initial statement he doesn’t seem to mind when Geeta dresses in more Western style clothes and he positively encourages her to go roller-skating (which may actually be something that good Hindustani girls do considering the number of times it happens in films). I’m often quite ambivalent when it comes to Dharmendra, but since he is rather overshadowed by Hema Malini and his over acting goes almost totally unnoticed beside the caricature of Kaushalya, I really enjoyed his performance. Both Pratima Devi as the long-suffering grandmother and Satyendra Kapoor as Kaushalya’s hen-pecked husband provide excellent support, as do the various other members of the cast. But it’s  Hema and Manorama who are the two essential elements to the film and their scenes together still make me laugh every time.

The music is by R. D. Burman and his songs are lovely and well-integrated into the story.  Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar provide beautiful vocals for Hema while Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey provide the male voices for Sanjeev Kumar and Dharmendra. The songs are all pictured on Geeta rather than Seeta which is perhaps a shame, although there is one solo song with Dharmendra which works well. I love this famous song with Geeta pretending to be drunk to dissuade Dr Ravi from marrying her. It’s funny but very sad too and while Hema is excellent, Sanjeev Kumar provides excellent backing for her drama.

Javed Akhtar, Satish Bhatnagar and Salim Khan have done a great job adapting the ‘Prince and the Pauper’ storyline to suit a Bollywood audience and the dialogue is well written and very funny. Director Ramesh Sippy keeps everything moving along and despite knowing the switch is going to happen he still builds plenty of suspense into the story.  This is a total Bollywood classic for me – great performances, good songs and excellent comedy, all delivered with such style by Hema Malini. I absolutely love this film and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched it. A full 5 stars!

Temple says:

I like Seeta aur Geeta, but I don’t love it. I first saw it several years ago and I really liked it at the time. I’ve watched it a couple of times since, and each time I enjoyed it a little less and fast forwarded a little more. I can’t quite warm to Hema Malini, Sanjeev Kumar is not my idea of hero material and I lack the Dharmendra Swoon gene. So it all comes down to the story and the characters.

I really like the way the story plays with the masala tradition of twins separated at birth, and there are lots of fun moments as Geeta impersonates Seeta. But it does drag on a bit once the twin swapping starts, and Seeta is such a wet dishrag that I get restless whenever she is at centre stage. Geeta is more lively but as with so many filmi heroines, she can only get a husband when she pretends to be something else – in this case, a demure young lass like her sister. So that detracts from the ‘you go girl’ mood as it turns into ‘you go girl and put on a nice sari and a long-sleeved high-necked blouse’. I also found the roller skate scene stupid and not in a good way – Geeta was a tightrope walker and acrobat and all of a sudden she can’t work out how to balance or control her body? Yes she was on wheels, but it was just a lazy way of asserting the hero’s superiority when there was no real need. Kickarse girls can only kick so much before decorum demands they are put in their place. And then to have Sanjeev Kumar as the vision of young love…oh dear. The romances didn’t grab me in the slightest as neither couple seemed to be well suited or even mildly interesting. There wasn’t really enough of a threat or menace to keep the dramatic tension either, as most of the ‘bad’ characters were more slapstick than villainous.

Overall, I like this enough to say see it as a good timepass. It’s colourful, the music is pleasant although I don’t think it’s great, the mood is generally upbeat (apart from all the attempted rapes and beatings). But it’s not a film that rewards repeated views and there are many other masala favourites I would rather see again. 3 stars.

Naag Panchami (1972)

Snakes Galore!

Perhaps as an omen of the awesomeness which is to come, the film opens with some excellent snake animations which include a very snakey title. Love it!This film is a feast for costumes lovers – every outfit seems to have extra glitz, glamour and shine with some really amazing fabrics and accoutrements. Just look at these bodice designs – very apt for the snake goddess and her poisonous serpent sidekick:


And just for some variation, later on Goddess Mansa decides to try out a fish theme with a wonderful headdress.But there are also plenty of real snakes throughout – not just on the costumes – although the film seems to use a combination of some really quite bad model snakes interspersed with the real thing. These are some of the real ones.

Naag Panchami starts with the rather petulant Snake Goddess Mansa having a bad day. It’s her birthday but she is restless and irritated by her followers in Naglok. Fortuitously Nagraj turns up and she manages to cajole him into revealing the name of her father, who is none other than Lord Shiva. Mansa is thrilled by this news and immediately goes to see her father who takes her to meet her mother and siblings in Khailash. Once there she discovers the existence of ‘the rest of the world’, and decides she wants to be worshiped just like Shiva and the other Gods. To achieve her aim she decides to make Lord Shiva’s chief devotee Chandrakhar her worshiper too, and to that end she appears to him on board his ship and demands his instant worship. But the successful merchant is unimpressed by Mansa and reviles her for her arrogance and presumption.

Various ploys by Mansa to force his worship fail to work and finally she kills all six of Chandrakhar’s sons. Mansa seems to work on the theory that the more insane her actions, the more likely it is that Chandrakhar will devote himself to her, which of course is guaranteed to have the opposite effect entirely. Lord Shiva very wisely declines to get involved so the scene is set to allow Mansa to do her worst.

As part of her long term plan she then approaches Chandrakers wife Alta and gifts her with another son – not really a lot of consolation for the lost of the last six, but then that’s not her ultimate plan. Rivers flow, birds fly and suns set as he grows up incredibly fast to be the handsome and dashing Lakshmindra. Lakshminda crosses paths with the equally daring and beautiful Behula when she is out hunting. Naturally the two fall in love and in next to no time determine to marry.

Meanwhile, Mansa’s chief handmaiden Maithreyi has also married and as husband and wife are cavorting in the forest, Lakshmindra inadvertently runs over her husband in his chariot, killing him instantly.

Unaware of this fresh disaster Lakshmindra is now under threat of death from both Mansa and the vengeful Maithreyi – a situation with plenty of snakey potential. It all becomes very Sleeping Beauty-ish as Mansa turns up to the engagement and threatens Lakshmindra with death on his wedding night. Queue evil laugh Mwah ha ha ha! Even Maithreyi is starting to look a bit worried! To protect his son, Chandraker orders a house to be built of iron to ensure that nothing will be able to enter and kill his son. Now I would have thought that an iron house would be quite impractical , hot in summer and hard to keep warm in winter, and not necessarily the only way to keep snakes at bay. Nevertheless, the newlyweds end up in a supposedly impregnable house on their wedding night. Except of course it isn’t. Maithreyi turns up to seek her revenge, but Behula is resolved to save her husband and manages to convince Maithreyi not to kill Lakshminda.

Sadly though, after Maithreyi leaves, neither Behula nor Lakshmindra think to bung up the hole in the wall and Mansa sends another snake which does manage to complete the job. Not one to be easily defeated, Behula resolves to carry her husband’s corpse on a pilgrimage around various temples in order to revive him. While on her quest, Mansa assails Behula with many really bad special effects including a huge crocodile and lightning induced blindness just to name a few.

We also get to see that not all snakes are bad, or at least not all the time, as Maithreyi turns up to help Behula in her snake form, towing the body to safety and waking Behula up with a nicely placed spray of water. I really do think all of this would have been much easier to accomplish as a human, but probably nowhere near as much fun to watch.

I really enjoyed this film. The costumes are wonderfully sumptious and there is just oh so much evil that Mansa manages to accomplish. The songs are fantastic and with playback singers Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar and music by Ravi it all sounds beautiful. There is even a great snake dance by Maithreyi as Mansa looks on in her fab fish ensemble – already mentioned by jenni, but I think it deserves to be seen again.

The snakes here do conform pretty much to the standard in the Filmi Snake Spotters Field Guide. There is the less is more approach to clothing, plenty of embellishments and headdresses, great eyes and plenty of snake inspired architecture to pose with. Mansa also has the ability to conjure snakes whenever she is feeling annoyed with someone and flings them around with gay abandon. She becomes more and more maniacal and Shashikala is wonderfully crazy, changing from self-indulgent and immature one minute to totally malevolent and insane in the next.  Her eyes get wider and wider and she is definitely a master of ’the look’. She even talks to herself.

Maithreyi (Jayshree T.) is much less vengeful despite losing her husband, and a much nicer person snake all round. Hers becomes the voice of reason which Mansa of course totally ignores.

Jayshree Gadkar is lovely as Behula. She invests her with grace and determination and plays the devoted wife perfectly. Out of her lavish costumes as the princess she looks beautiful in her plain sari when she is making the pilgrimages around the various temples. The other actors are all fine but are mainly just there as targets for Mansa. Prithviraj Kapoor is suitably imposing as the rich merchant, and Ashish Kumar does a good job as Lakshmendra. Satyendra Kapoor has a small role as Lakshmendra’s friend Vishwavardhan and makes the most of it.

The end involves various Gods and Shiva dancing to shake the world – yet more excellent costumes and ‘bad enough to be really good’ special effects. This is so much more than just another snake movie and I’m rather surprised that it doesn’t seem to have the recognition I think it deserves – if only from aficionados of shiny fabric and bejewelled headdresses. A great film for Nag Panchami Film Fessstival  I love it! 4 stars.

Junglee

Junglee is quite simply my favourite Shammi Kapoor film. It was a big hit when first released in 1961, and featured not only Shammi but also Saira Banu in her debut performance. In fact she netted a Best Actress Filmfare award for her role in the film. Junglee features some great performances, an engaging story, beautiful scenery, fantastic songs and even a snippet of Helen – just perfect!

The film opens with Chandra Shekhar (Shammi) returning home after 3 years overseas in a wonderfully decorated plane. Via a voice over and a series of scowls and grimaces from Shekhar and his mother, we learn that the family disapproves of laughter and believes that it is something only indulged in by the lower classes.

While Shekhar and his mother seem to firmly believe in these sober and unsmiling principles, Shekhar’s  sister Mala (Shashikala) has somehow managed to escape the family  affliction. She is in love with Jeevan, the son of the family’s business manager and is quite the rebel. She smuggles her lover into the house, successfully hiding him from both her mother and Shekhar, although she doesn’t seem quite as adept at smuggling herself out.

In due course, Mala and Jeevan’s secret affair is discovered, quite appropriately in secret and confidential discussions. We can tell this as there is a helpful sign with accompanying illuminated red light to let us know that there is a top-secret meeting going on and  for extra top-secret authenticity, the room is red-lit .

Luckily for his father and Jeevan, his identity  is not disclosed and to resolve the problem Shekhar is ordered by his mother to take Mala with him to Kashmir on his business trip. Shekhar has his own romantic issues to deal with as  his mother has arranged his marriage to a Princess. However she is not aware that the royal family are impoverished and are banking on the marriage to ease their monetary woes, waiting only for Shekhar’s return to Bombayto go ahead and tie the knot.

Needless to say Shekahr’s cantankerous disposition is not improved at all by his relocation and he just becomes grumpy in the snow instead of grumpy in the city. He meets the charming Rajkumari (Saira Banu) who delights in tormenting Shekhar just because she can.

Rajkumari’s father is the local doctor who soon diagnoses Mala’s sudden ‘illness’ as pregnancy. Knowing what Shekhar’s likely reaction will be, Rajkumari hatches a plot to lure him away until after the baby is born. However Shekhar discovers the deception and the two end up marooned in a cottage as a violent snow storm isolates then for an undisclosed amount of time. Long enough however for Shekhar to fall in love with Rajkumari and inspired by the transformed snowy landscape and his own evolution he bursts out with an exuberant Yahoo!

This is probably the most famous song from this film and deservedly so – Shammi’s high spirited cavorting around in the snow is brilliant and it’s a song always guaranteed to make me smile even after the worst day at work. There is so much energy and enthusiasm, and it’s a great contrast to the previous scenes where the two are stuck in close proximity in a small cabin.

Now that Shekhar is in love he wants to marry his Rajkumari and heads back to Mumbai with his sister. But he still has to get rid of the other Rajkumari, the Princess he is betrothed to and there is also the dilemma of Mala’s baby to resolve. And Shekhar has to win his mother’s approval of his new happy personality which is probably the biggest challenge of all. He falls back on the favourite Bollywood excuse of insanity, which gives Shammi the chance to ham it up and make full use of his range of facial expressions. A visit to the princess and her family gives us a wonderful dance with Helen complete with giant-sized artist palette backdrop.

 

There is plenty more drama as Rajkumari and her father arrive with Mala’s baby and the brother of the ‘real’ princess gets more and more desperate before a suitably heroic ending. It’s not all about Shammi’s antics pretending to be crazy though as there are a number of beautifully romantic scenes as well. This is my favourite song from the film and I find Shammi totally adorable in this.

I love the many faces of Shammi in this. His mad twitches and grimaces are limited to when he is pretending to be crazy and in the rest of the film he is much more restrained.

The character of Rajkumari is also well developed and shows a gradual transition from her initial childish persona to a young women determined to do what is right. Saira Banu displays charming innocence and naivety and it’s clear to see that she was only 17 when she made this film.

Junglee has some of the most romantic scenes I have seen with Shammi and he is at his absolute best in these. He can be guilty of some scenery chewing at times, but here he is restrained and convincing as a man in his first throes of love. His eyes are very expressive and he does have some excellent chemistry with Saira Banu. The song Din Sara Guzara is another gem which is beautifully pictured. In fact, all of the songs are excellent and both Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi do excellent justice to the music by Jaikishan and Shankar. The beautiful Ja Ja Ja Mere Bachpan is wonderful as well, and it really is worth checking both of these songs out.

 Although the story starts with a rather ridiculous premise, Lalita Pawar makes the character of the inflexible family matriarch strong enough to keep the idea of a woman bound by her duty to her late husband credible.  While the ‘no laughter’ idea may not be very realistic, it is easy to believe in Shekhar as a man bound to rigid work principles who is uncompromising and ill-tempered. The mood lightens considerably when we get to Kashmir – not the least because of N. V. Srinivas excellent cinematography. The hills and flowers are beautifully shot and the songs make the most of the scenery.  There are also some wonderful sixties décor on the sets. I particularly like the clocks and it’s a shame that my copy of this film has suffered from colour degradation with aging.

The support actors are all good in their roles too. Anoop Kumar provides some light relief as Jeevan and although Mala and her lover are only a peripheral part of the story, they both make an impact when they need to. While I do end up feeling a little sorry for the rejected princess, her brother and father aren’t quite evil enough to be convincing villains and I think they appear more pitiful and desperate.

Junglee is at heart a love story and as such it works really well. Excellent performances and fabulous songs plus Shammi at his best make this a 5 star film for me.

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.