Chori Mera Kaam

A child is kidnapped, only to see the criminal Amarchand (Anwar Hussain) stymied by Inspector Kumar (Policeman PRAN!). Kidnapping was clearly Amarchand’s go to plan as before long, Inspector Kumar’s eldest son is also abducted. This tactic fails, as Pran announces he would sacrifice all of his children, not just one, to bring a crook to justice.

Oh dear, such a promise made to the filmi forces of fate can only mean bad news. Things happen, as they do, especially when guns, alcohol and revenge are involved. Young Munna is abducted, rescued, caught, menaced, rescued, abducted again and finally taken in by a thief called Mr John (David Abraham).

Years pass and Munna becomes Bholanath (Shashi Kapoor).

He leaves jail after a delivering a ‘fortunately/unfortunately’ style monologue that exercises his range of facial and vocal expressions. His on/off girlfriend Sharmilee (Zeenat Aman) gets out at the same time and this delightful Kalyanji Anandji song gives us a fly on the wall view of their daily rounds:

While Bhola has a heart of gold he isn’t the brightest crayon in the box, and gets by on charm more than planning. He understands people and can take advantage of their weakness and stupidity but he doesn’t ever seem to think too far ahead. Bhola has many of the traits of a stock filmi heroine and Shashi seems quite unselfconscious about playing dim and pretty. And yes, Shashi naysayers, I do think he was acting. He could have been dressed prettier though – the brown highpants are not good especially with the Kapoor thighs.

Sharmilee is smart and more practical, despite her predilection for ruffly outfits, and I never expected to see Zeenat stealing a chicken so that was noteworthy. Sharmilee has a sick father that she supports through her petty crimes, and she explains to him that her work is what takes her away. I liked this slight role reversal where the lady gets to come and go, citing ‘work’ and her responsibility as breadwinner. It isn’t a sustained element as she does get sidelined towards the finale, but it is fun to see the girl in charge for a while and Zeenat suits this kind of role. She directs Bhola during a break in and seems to coach him in what he needs to do to carry off a con.

Shashi and Zeenat have nice chemistry as the likeable criminals. They play out their scams with relish, and bounce dialogue back and forth with dash and enthusiasm. They also have some great outfits and Shashi scores some excellent shirts.

Escaping from the police after an attempted burglary, Bhola and Sharmilee make off with a briefcase which contains a manuscript called ‘Chori Mera Kaam’. They are spotted by the mysterious Shankar (Ashok Kumar), who has a history with Mr John and unbeknownst to Bhola, was instrumental in his early life. He also seems to be beloved by the wig department.

The obligatory comic relief  in this case is a protracted and very amusing scam involving Sharmilee being allegedly hit by a car ad killed. Pravinbhai (Deven Varma), the unfortunate driver is conned into paying compensation and digging a grave at the ruins near Borivili. By coincidence this is where Shankar hangs around. By an even more fortuitous coincidence, Pravin owns a publishing house.

Bhola becomes an overnight sensation, his illiteracy and lack of nous covered up by Shankar who blackmails Bhola and Sharmilee for a share of the proceeds. This manual on how to commit the perfect crime draws the attention of villains and the police. Amarchand aka arch-criminal Number 7 wants to find a mask maker as per page 165 of ‘Chori Mera Kaam’ so he can carry out even more heinous crimes. I love that the police seem totally mystified by how people keep getting away with crimes described in the book, although they also read it so surely they should be prepared. Number 7 does have an expensive looking lair to maintain, right down to the essential stuffed tiger, so I can imagine his cashflow was under some pressure.

And then the plot thickens.

There are cross and double cross manoeuvres, silly disguises and improbable schemes. So it’s all great fun but there is a pinch of substance. The film favours the ‘good’ criminals – those who steal because they are poor, have dependants and have no other means of making a livingl. These are the sympathetic and sentimentally appealing characters. Writer K A Narayan makes some observations about the hypocrisy of the wealthy educated criminal like Amarchand who has no such excuse for his choices.

Iftekhar as the Police Commissioner looks like he turned up on the wrong set but was too polite to just leave so stayed on and did his bit. I liked Ashok Kumar as a paunchy middle aged hero – he was smart, capable and took to the wigs with great enthusiasm.  Shetty made a flamboyant purple suited appearance so it was clear Number 7 had opted for the very best class of henchman. Raza Murad played Shyam, Pran’s policeman son, and didn’t get much to do apart from being a lot taller than anyone in his family. Urmila Bhatt’s small role as Amarchand’s independent and dignified wife was quite pivotal, and only once in her scenes did I yell ‘nooooooooo’ at the DVD.

Eventually Bhola finds out the truth about his parentage. His biological father and brother need help to clear their names and bring Amarchand to justice, and it’s a chance for the petty crim to change his fate. The final confrontation must have given director Brij food for thought – it involves Shashi, Ashok and Pran in disguise, rain, lots of mud, a tiger and a bucket.

You may imagine how these things combine to form a wacky but satisfying conclusion, or just go watch the film. 3 stars!

Kashmir Ki Kali

This is one of my favourite Shammi movies, although I’ve never been able to clearly decide why I prefer it over some of his other equally fabulous films. Maybe it’s because there is plenty of Shammi shimmying and trademark contortions going on? Or perhaps because Sharmila is beautifully innocent and the love story is sweet with a fantastic soundtrack? Whatever the reason, it’s always a film I watch to the very end and enjoy every second.

The film opens with Seth Rajiv Lal gaining control of his father’s businesses. He is a millionaire’s son and wants to give the business profits back to the people who actually do the work. His mother is appalled by this regrettable instability in her son and decides that the most appropriate way to curb his socialist tendencies will be to marry him off. Almost overnight, the house is full of prospective brides and their hopeful parents but Rajiv manages to get rid of them all by a not very convincing display of madness.

Deciding that he has to get away from his mother and thus avoid more potential brides, Rajiv leaves to visit the family holiday home in Srinagar with his friend Chandar (Anoop Kumar). Along the way he has to spend the night on the veranda of a small hotel as the rooms are full with Champa and her friends who have come to dance at a local fair.  Rajiv’s first meeting with Champa isn’t too auspicious as she empties a bucket of water over him and his smoking stove, but her kindly nature is revealed when she later takes him a  blanket to stop him from freezing overnight.  It’s not long before Rajiv has succumbed to her charms, but he is a wealthy man and she is a flower seller who has no time for the indolent rich. At their next meeting, he pretends to be a driver so that she will look more kindly on him.

There is a slight diversion here as the family caretaker Bola Ram (Dhumal) has rented out Rajiv’s house to a party of 3 girls and their guardian Rama Devi (Tun Tun). In an attempt to get rid of them all Rajiv reveals his true identity and then immediately has to pretend to be the insane friend of Chandar, who in turn pretends to be the real Seth Rajiv, to make sure that Champa doesn’t find out the truth. This allows for some mix-ups between the three girls, Chandar and Rajiv as the former try desperately to snare a rich man as a husband, Chandar enjoys the attention, and Rajiv only has eyes for Champa. Confusing? Well, not really, as most of the time Rajiv just acts insane unless he is with Champa, so it all makes sense – honestly!

This is a wonderful song where Rajiv romances Champa while sailing on the lake – only Shammi could get away with these contortions in a boat!

Just as Ravi and Champa are falling in love, intrigue is added as local bully Mohan threatens Champa’s blind father Dinu. Mohan is also determined to marry Champa and  warns Dinu that he will reveal the truth about her parentage if he doesn’t get his way.  The plot thickens as Mohan does some investigating and finds out exactly what did happen the night that Champa’s father lost his sight.

There are many complications on the way to the film climax but naturally there is an old family servant who reveals the truth just before she dies and almost everything is explained by the end. The obstacle of Mohan in the way of Champa and Rajiv’s romance does make for some great disguises such as this one at a local fair.

While the story is improbable at best, there is so much going on that the many plot holes don’t really matter. I adore Shammi in this film. He cavorts around with plenty of trademark hair twitching, and looks to be having the time of his life. And really, who can blame him when Sharmila looks so totally fabulous. This is one of her very early films and she does look very sweet and natural as a Kashmiri flower girl,  instilling her with grace and beauty which contrasts well with Shammi’s more over-the-top persona. She has a wonderful collection of massive earrings and hair adornments. I would love to know how she managed to dance without them either hitting her face or getting caught in her hair as this is a skill I’ve never mastered!

Pran is suitable slimy and conniving as the villain, although I do wonder how he always knew the right place to be lurking at precisely the right time. Nasir Hussain does a very good job of being blind Dinu here and in the flashback scenes is very convincing as the alcoholic father. I’m not entirely sure that Dinu’s blindness was enough of a reason for him to change his ways, but there were enough shades of grey in his later actions to make him a more plausible character. The comedy track with Chandar, Bola Ram, Rama Devi and the girls works well for me within the main story, although with so much else happening in the plot it probably was an unnecessary addition.

Another highpoint of the film is the soundtrack. Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bholse are perfect as the playback singers for the two leads, and the music by O. P. Nayyar is beautiful.

This is probably a film more for the Shammi fan as he really does throw himself into the role with great gusto and it might be a little too much for anyone not accustomed to his mannerisms. But Sharmila is excellent, the pair have good screen chemistry as a couple together and the story really does have almost everything. A 4 ½ star film for me.

Temple says: I like Shammi but I don’t think this is his finest work. Every time I watch this film I remember, just a bit too late, that I hate the first hour. Shammi is just so annoying with his zany animal noises Paagal Act!Ing! and Sharmila looks about twelve years old and that creeps me out a bit. But once all the characters are settled in Kashmir, things improve greatly. The location is one of the biggest attractions for me – I love being able to see places that I may never get to visit and the lake scenes are very pretty. The O.P. Nayyar soundtrack is beautiful and all the songs are delightful, especially Isharon Isharon which I think is a perfect romantic duet. After the first hour, for some reason Sharmila looks less like a schoolgirl, there does seem to be some appreciable non–creepy chemistry with Shammi, and her Kashmiri costumes are beautiful. Shammi drops a lot of the OTT mannerisms and goes for brooding romantic instead which is more successful and more appealing in this kind of story. Well, he does wear a hot pink burqa in one song but cross-dressing is par for the Kapoor course. I much prefer him in ‘Evening in Paris’, ‘Rajkumar’, ‘Bluffmaster’ and ‘Teesri Manzil’ where he is a bit less self consciously whimsical and more character focussed. The story is the typically convoluted romantic comedy blend with none of the surprises actually coming as much of a surprise to anyone but the lead pair. See it for gorgeous scenery, lovely costumes, a wonderful soundtrack and count your blessings that on DVD you can skip the boring bits! 3 stars

Chori Chori (1956)

I grew up watching RKO and MGM musicals, and have always loved that kind of film with snappy dialogue, lush soundtracks, stylised visuals and excellent casting. I am a bit resistant to the remake in general – I tend to think that if a film was great first time around, why mess with it. So I was surprised by how much I like Chori Chori. It is ‘inspired’ by the 1934 Frank Capra film ‘It Happened One Night’ starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, and has the legendary jodi of Nargis and Raj Kapoor at the fore, directed by Anant Thakur. Chori Chori seems to me to be the perfect balance between slick Hollywood and heart on sleeve Bollywood.

One of my great friends often says ‘Raj Kapoor was sleazy…and not in a good way’ which never fails to crack me up and is the thing that pops into my head when I see him.  I didn’t ‘get’ Raj Kapoor til I saw this film and drew the connection to the Gable style of Hollywood hero that used equal measures of smarm and strong-arm to win the day. I’m still not a huge fan, but I can at least glimpse what it was that makes him such a significant figure in the Hindi film industry.

Nargis is Kammo – spoilt daughter of the super wealthy Ghirdarilal (Gope). She is determined to marry the dashing pilot Suman (Pran!) but her father is sure Suman is only after the dollars not his daughter. She jumps ship and swims to shore, determined to make her way to Bangalore and Suman’s arms. I have to say she showed some moxy in pawning a diamond ring to fund her travels, but the white net sari she bought with the proceeds struck me as wildly impractical for a long bus trip.

Also bound for Bangalore is struggling journalist Sagar (Raj Kapoor). The two loathe each other on sight and of course we know that can only mean true love is round the corner. Sagar is reluctantly drawn into helping Kammo, caught by his chivalrous nature, curiosity and later by his attraction to her. He wears a western suit and hat, slightly the worse for age, and his look could have been lifted straight from Hollywood Central Casting. He represents the heroic battler, trying to make a decent living while keeping his morals intact. He cuts a deal with Kammo – he will help her get to Bangalore and Suman, and he will reap a financial reward when he sells his story.

Ghirdarilal places adverts offering a reward for anyone who returns Kammo to him. Thus there is ample opportunity for a host of minor characters (including Johnny Walker) to join the treasure hunt, and a catalyst for throwing the sparky leads together.

As they travel incognito, scenes cut away to Suman who is shown to be a gold-digger with an eye for dancers. This is not bad for the viewer as we get to enjoy a very nice classically inspired dance, but we already know which man Kammo should marry.

Kammo and Sagar miss their bus, and continue to travel together under the pretence of being married. Raj is only carrying a small valise and yet I lost count of how many pairs of stripy pyjamas he seemed to have packed. Mind you, Nargis seems to amass a decent collection of saris along the way so it’s probably only fair that Sagar has an extensive range of sleepwear. The pyjamas were quite significant in ‘It Happened One Night’, but rather than share a single pair of pjs this couple get matching his n hers. Lots of them. Perhaps the wardrobe team had the day off when someone came up with Kammo’s alluring night attire.

They encounter suspicion and adversity and their own growing feelings. Sagar wanted the story and maybe the money, and Kammo wanted Suman – neither of them wants to acknowledge what is changing between them. They offer each other small kindnesses – the loan of the ubiquitous pyjamas, a blanket thrown towards a sleeping Raj – and lots of snark. The dialogue by Agha Jani Kashmiri is sharp and delivered with perfect timing. These two really are a match for each other and the chemistry is sizzling.

It’s all quite predictable down to the last twist and turn but it is still compelling. Nargis is stunning in her portrayal of the feisty Kammo. She isn’t afraid to articulate her feelings for Sagar, whether in song or dialogue, and challenges his reticence. In one scene, heartbroken Kammo walks through a storm and Nargis exudes grief so profound it outshines all the environmental theatrics. It is a bit irritating, although perfectly in tune with the era, after such an independent start Kammo appears to realise she should never have defied her father or left her home, although that may be her own idea of a necessary penance.

Kammo’s relationship with her father was perplexing. Kammo was spoilt rotten and certainly lacked for nothing in the material sense. He locked her up to stop her marrying Suman and really did not believe that anyone would marry ‘baby’ for anything other than his money. He was devastated when she disappeared but trusted Kammo to tell him as much as she wanted to on her tearful return. So I kind of blame Ghirdarilal for making Kammo susceptible to Suman’s flattery as she was seeking approval she didn’t get at home. But he also made her the kind of brat that needed a reality check. Oh these filmi parents!

Raj Kapoor seems content to mostly allow his leading lady to dominate, and is fairly low key. Until the puppet song which I think was designed to allow him to release all the repressed over-acting. He spouts a lot of philosophy about the joys of the simple life, which seems to impress Nargis. I’d have more faith in that if Sagar had ever lived anything other than a simple life and so could make a valid comparison, but I’m a cynical viewer not a filmi heroine.

A disquieting note throughout is the equation drawn between marital status and the individuals’ threshold level for physical violence. One scene has a landlord test whether Sagar and Kammo are married by smacking Sagar around. The fact that he doesn’t flinch is accepted as proof he must be married to her! Slaps fly in this film, and while they are generally shown as a symptom of passion, it’s still a bit disconcerting and causes me to remind myself this is the 50s. For those wondering, Nargis lands some excellent shots, which I enjoyed, but on the downside the women in Chori Chori are generally portrayed as the aggressors in domestic violence.

The music is used to perfection in this film. Each song acts to illuminate the innermost thoughts of the characters singing or those observing the performance. Shankar-Jaikishan have the perfect big band sound for the romantic duets, and the orchestration is lush as befits this story. The songs show a range of musical influences and are very well integrated into the narrative. And who doesn’t swoon just a bit on seeing Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar, Manna Dey and Mohammad Rafi all on a soundtrack?

The classic visual devices from ‘It Happened One Night’ appear throughout Chori Chori – particularly the wall Sagar creates in their shared rooms by draping a blanket over a rope, those stripy pyjamas, and the cramped bus trip. It’s a fairly faithful remake, adapted to suit its audience’s sensibilities, and the changes don’t weaken the story.

Raj and Nargis are stunning and deliver beautifully nuanced performances. With the frisson of their legendary affair in mind, the romance on screen seemed that much more compelling as I wondered what was acting and what was revelation. The film has style, beautiful cinematography, lovely songs and strong performances. I give it 4 stars! Temple