Reader Chris brought the sad lack of reviews on the internet of this film to my attention recently, and I am surprised. This is a really fun film, and though Shammi is admittedly towards the end of his career as a hero, he is still the Shammi who made hearts go pitter-patter. The songs are classic Shanker-Jaikishan-Rafi-Shammi, with the dance-off between Helen and Vijayanthimala probably its most well-known feature. But there’s so much more to it than that! Shammi is less exuberant than the Yahoo Shammi of early in the decade, which gives his performance a more subdued realism. He plays Prince Shamsher Singh, the jaded, bored, arrogant son of the Maharajah of Ramnagar (Ulhas); the film is about how wealth and privilege do not guarantee happiness, not by a long shot. This theme—and the setting, at the twilight of the Princely States—may be be trite, but they are no less valid; and the screenplay and story are penned by none other than Abrar Alvi. And the supporting cast…let’s just say it is a gift that keeps on giving.
Shamsher is a very unhappy man who finds refuge in alcohol and can only sleep with the aid of tranquilizers liberally supplied by his factotums, both of whom appear to be named Zanowar (Rashid Khan and Sunder) (as is usual with this genre, everybody’s last name is Singh); nothing holds his interest or attention for very long.
How I love Bejewelled Shammi. I love bejewelled anything, really, but especially Shammi. *Sigh*
All this angst comes to a head one day when, after a highly respected and egalitarian holy man (Nayampalli) refuses to put the drunken Prince ahead of the people waiting in line, he has the Swami brought to him and demands an apology. The Swami’s cool refusal infuriates Shamsher and he whips the poor man brutally, working himself into a tantrum of monstrous proportions. When he collapses exhausted and sobbing with frustration and misery, the Swami says one of the wisest things I’ve heard lately to him.
The holy man, still calm after the beating he has received, soothes the weeping Shamsher. Amazed by his compassion and his strength, Shamsher asks how he can achieve the same strength of spirit. The Swami tells him to leave the palace with its trappings of wealth and to go live anonymously, like an ordinary man, for six months.
As the sole heir, Shamsher knows that his father will never stop looking for him—unless he fakes his own death, of course. He drives for a solid day and night, finally coming to an exhausted stop in the environs of another royal state, Jamnapur.
He pushes his jeep into the river and sets off to become a mamuli aadmi as instructed. It does not proceed smoothly, however. A traveling insurance salesman named Vilayatiram (Rajendrenath) gives him a lift on the condition that he will buy life insurance.
They soon come across a gaggle of what look like village girls, but are actually the local Maharajah’s daughter Amrita (Vyjayanthimala) and her friends. They had watched as Shamsher’s jeep crashed onto their boat on the river’s edge, taking their belongings with it.
They too beg a lift from Vilayatiram, and Amrita sits down squarely on the now fast-asleep Shamsher. He wakes up and they stare at each other with a spark of instant attraction. MELT!
The girls entertain with this lively and lovely song.
Vilayatiram and Shamsher drop the girls off in the village still thinking that they are locals, and Amrita parts from Shamsher with the teasing proclamation that she’s going home to her husband. I think most of you will understand how thrilled I am with the next set of developments. Vilayatiram’s rusty jalopy breaks down and Shamsher goes into the forest for some water. Dacoits attack each of them; Vilayatiram escapes when his car backfires at the perfect moment, but Shamsher is not so lucky. OR IS HE? I guess it all depends on one’s point of view.
Shamsher is saved from the belligerent machinations of Shyam Kumar by the young and dashing Sajjan Singh (Sudhir). Sajjan Singh has discovered that his ailing mother is blind and he wants a way out of the gang so that he can go live with her and help out. He figures that by saving Shamsher’s life he has a better shot at getting the Maharajah of Jamnapur to forgive him his previous sins. Sadly, as they make their escape they run smack into Shyam Kumar, who fatally shoots Sajjan Singh just as Vilayatiram shows up with the police. I make a Nahiiin! Face. Not Sudhir! It does no good and Sajjan Singh dies after extracting a promise from Shamsher.
Shammi + Sudhir = Almost Too Much For Memsaab To Handle.
Sajjan’s conveniently blind Maa Shanti (Leela Chitnis) is expiring on her bed: not from any disease, as the doctor informs her neighbors (who take pains to mention that they’ve never met Sajjan), but from pining for her son. She is thrilled when Shamsher presents himself at her door, and instantly gets better, assuming him to be her long-lost Sajjan. Being told that his showing up has saved her life, Shamsher hesitates and then goes along with her misconception.
In Ramnagar, his father is told of his demise. His grief is centered around his loss of an heir rather than the loss of a beloved son, but I guess given Shamsher’s former nature I can’t blame him (much). In Jamnapur, Shamsher explains away his eurocentric characteristics by saying that he had become a midshipman after leaving home, and has traveled around the world. Neighbor Kamla (Leela Mishra) is not having it.
Her husband (Durrani) gets Shamsher a job at the Maharajah’s stables mucking out the horses (and singing, “Sansaar Suhana Lagta Hai”). He literally runs into the haughty Princess Amrita again and the Shammi-stalking-as-love begins.
With his polish, charm, and polo skills, he ingratiates himself quickly with her father (DK Sapru) who makes Shamsher his ADC. Maa is thrilled, Amrita not so much.
For a long while her dialogue with him consists mostly of “Shut up!” and “Idiot!” You know the drill. Her father assigns Shamsher to escort her and her friend Countess Sophia (Helen) around when Sophia visits, an excellent excuse for pretty scenery and knitwear:
and the aforementioned and justifiably famous dance-off.
Thanks to his burgeoning love for Amrita, being cared for tenderly for the first time in his life by his “Maa,” and working hard at his job as ADC, Shamsher sleeps well at night, has given up pills and booze, and is happy for the first time in his life. Then he accompanies the king and Amrita to the wedding of her friend Ratna (Praveen Choudhary). To say that he is surprised at the sight of the groom is an understatement.
His father, thinking himself without an heir, has decided to marry the girl he had wanted Shamsher to marry. He manages to escape his father’s notice, but both of the greedy Zanowars see him. Although he eludes them they are determined to find their dead Prince’s doppelganger. Meanwhile, Amrita’s father has noticed her attraction to his second ADC and sends his first ADC to first fire him and then get him out of the way. Dacoits hired by the first ADC set upon Shamsher one night and beat him nearly to death.
While he is recovering, the two Zanowars finally track down his whereabouts. When Shamsher’s father dies a couple of months after his marriage to Ratna and her greedy brother (Ajit! seriously the Goodness of this cast never ends!) makes plans to crown her Queen, they approach Shamsher with a scheme: he will impersonate the lost Shamsher and split the wealth with them. They don’t believe him when he tells them that he IS the real Shamsher.
Disgusted by the greed of the Zanowars and Ratna and her brother; determined to side with the Indian government which wants to abolish the Princely States and free the people of his kingdom; and equally resolved to protect Shanti from ever knowing the truth about her real son’s fate, Shamsher decides to go along with them for now and tells Shanti that they have offered him a job.
Will Ratna and her brother believe he is the real Prince? Will Zanowars One and Two ever realize the truth? Can Shamsher save his kingdom from being looted, and free his people AND keep Shanti in the dark as to his true identity? What will Amrita think—will she believe he’s real or will she think he’s a fake only interested in wealth?
Watch Prince for all the answers, plus for more music including a band called What Four? and funny Shammi antics; for the return of our favorite crazy thespian; for a Masala Death Trap which roasts the victim on a spit as he is hand-cranked around at dizzying speeds; and for everything else, including some surprising twists. WATCH IT. That is all.