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.

Teesri Manzil

Teesri  Manzil (1966) is a stylish, slick Hitchcock influenced musical romance with a little murder mystery thrown in.

The film opens with a film noir style scene of a woman (Rupa) rushing up to the third floor of a hotel before falling to her death.  A crowd of onlookers gathers, and we see that Rupa is clutching something in her hand – later revealed to be a button from an assailant’s clothing.  Suspicion falls on Shammi Kapoor as Anil, the western style playboy musician with an eye for the ladies and extremely emotive hair.  But the button was not investigated at the time, as otherwise there would have been a speedy resolution, fewer incidental deaths, and no film.

In the next scene, we find that almost a year has passed from the time of Rupa’s death.  The jazz feet of Shammi trip nimbly across the railway station floor, only to meet the elegantly shod feet of Asha Parekh and we have our love interest! Both of these young fashionistas exude a western influenced hip and funky style, with Asha’s tailored salwar kameez leaving Shammi in no doubt about her femininity.

They speak a blend of Hindi and English, quote couplets and are smooth as silk. Asha’s Sunita  is opinionated, feisty and likes her independence and comforts. She can be a brat, as shown in the unfortunate picking-on-the-fat-guy scene on the train. But she also has excellent Filmi Heroine characteristics, fainting with fear at the idea that she had killed the Fat Guy with her umbrella.

Sunita travels to Mussoorie to confront the man she believes ruined her sister, Rupa, thus causing her to commit suicide. Being alert viewers, we know Shammi’s Anil is her man and before long, he knows it too. The interior of the hotel is full of niches, doorways, drapes and balconies and invites skulking, spying and eavesdropping.  Many shots are framed by archways, window apertures and drapery, giving a sense of spying on the hotel occupants. Sunita had planned ahead and brought a women’s hockey team to Mussoorie to ensure Rocky is taught a lesson (perhaps an inspiration for the eve-teasing scene in Chak De?).

Anil aka Rocky aka Sona is the drummer and singer in a hotel band, which is an excellent plot device as it allows for some fabulous RD Burman songs to be centre of attention. It also allows for Helen!  Helen not only minxes her way through showtunes, she has a small but significant role as femme fatale Ruby, the band’s singer and a woman in love with Rocky.

Anil and Sunita play cat-and-mouse culminating in a contrived car expedition which turns into an unplanned overnight stay in the forest. Back at the hotel, we resume the noir-ish atmospherics and the mysterious Cigar Man makes his presence felt, stalking Anil/Rocky/Sona. Ruby makes enigmatic statements; even Rocky’s friends assume there is some guilt regarding Rupa’s suicide. What really happened that night?

During the snappy fairground fight song we can’t help noticing an extra wearing the outfit Asha Parekh wore in the train scene. What’s going on, wardrobe team???

As the romance between the two leads hots up, we are treated to a series of flashbacks which go some way to explaining the sequence of events leading to Rupa’s death, and leave us with an impressive array of possible suspects and motives.  To further murk the waters, Anil tries to confess to Sunita that he is Rocky, but due to yet more intrigue she only discovers this as she watches him sing his heart out to her.  Sunita rejects Anil/Rocky with true Filmi Heroine style in front of an appreciative audience – score 1 for team Helen!

The Enigmatic Cigar Man turns out to be a police  inspector (Iftekhar!) and we have another flashback episode explaining Rupa’s death – after which Shammi decides maybe he does know more than he thinks he knows. Yes, only in films. Shammi confronts Helen about her lies and there is a scuffle during which an unseen assailant fires a gun and Helen expires gracefully, with beautiful eyeliner. Her dying declaration is that her only crime was to love Rocky and so that obstacle to his marrying Sunita is neatly sidestepped.  Shammi starts acting like a Hammer Horror Heroine and does exactly as he is told by a strange woman who breaks into his room. Some minutes of sweaty overacting later, Shammi catches up with the audience, confronts the real killer and gets to the truth. The bad guys get their comeuppance, the heroic couple get a first class train ticket home and everyone is happy. Even the Fat Guy.

There are some beautiful moments in the editing – for example when Sunita realises that the man she has given her heart to is also the man she thinks is responsible for her sister’s death, there is a beautiful shot of wax running down the candle, followed by the tears running down Sunita’s face. Or later, when the police inspector shows Anil the flashy button that was found in Rupa’s hand after her death, the next shot is of more fancy buttons, this time on the jacket of Ramesh, her fiancée (played by Prem Chopra – who among us would not suspect him of being the bad guy?).

The film relies on flashbacks to fill in the missing facts, and this does tend to slow the pace down. The Hitchcock vibe dissipates somewhat under the weight of the ludicrous decision making by Shammi and Sunita at various points, but the mystery aspect remains well integrated into the romance in this interesting  screenplay by Nasir Hussain.  The direction by Vijay Anand does create an undertone of unease and mistrust throughout the film. The visuals are western, stylish, slick and glossy, and convey the sense of intrigue brewing in the hotel.  The music by RD Burman is fabulous, and Asha Bosle and Mohammad Rafi are in fine voice.

We had trouble selecting screencaps for this post, so here is an assortment just for your viewing pleasure:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Heather says: I watched this film initially for Shammi and Helen, being a fan of both.  It was lovely to see Helen in a more realised role, and she was just fabulous as the jealous Ruby.  Shammi is his wonderful self with plenty of dancing, that too with Helen, to keep me happy.  The music is one of the best points of this film, and the dance numbers are infectious and energetic with enough rock n roll to keep Shammi’s hair choreographer busy!  I defy anyone to remain still while watching Oh Haseena or Aaja Aaja.  I love the contrast in the editing, with the suspense built up using shots through windows and in gloomy passageways in the hotel, in contrast to the romance scenes played out in the ballroom, or outside in the open air. The dance sets in the ballroom are totally over the top, and my optometrist self gets very excited at the use of a gigantic eye as a prop !  The fashions are another high point and I tend to find that I don’t really care who killed Rupa or why, as the whole film is such a visual feast – and it fact it does seem as if the rest of the cast is of the same opinion by the end.  I deduct stars for the ridiculous plot contrivances in the latter part of the film, but add on another half for Helen, Asha and Shammi who really make this movie.   After which complicated mathematics I give this movie 4 stars.

Temple says: I think Teesri Manzil is an excellent example of how style can triumph over substance…to an extent. This isn’t my favourite Shammi film by a long chalk, but it has so much flair that the really stupid plot contrivances cease to be too annoying. I love the soundtrack, and the song picturisations are fabulous. This is the film that convinced us all that Shammi’s hair had it’s own choreographer! The added joy of seeing Helen in a pivotal character role almost compensates for the ridiculous under-use of Laxmi Chhaya. I will never understand the decision to cast her in this film, with this gorgeous soundtrack and NOT HAVE HER DANCE!!!!! I love the visual devices in Teesri Manzil – the cutout arches and windows framing shots, the lurking behind doors and draperies and the amazing fashions.  The real focus in this film remains the romance between Sunita and Rocky which Asha Parekh and Shammi Kapoor invested with such lively intensity and feeling. The whodunnit aspect of who killed poor Rupa is diluted by the time we get to all the frantic action in the last 30 minutes or so and the sense of unease and fear that gave this a noir flavour just fizzled out. The only reason anyone seems to be interested in Rupa is that her death is a major obstacle to True Love for Sunita and Rocky. It leaves me feeling quite dissatisfied with the denouement as the romance overwhelms the mystery and pushes the film into silly territory. For me, this rates 3 1/2 stars.