Dilli Ka Thug (1958)

I have loved the music from this film for a long time, especially the great song “C.A.T. Mane Billi.” The composer Ravi is one of my favorites anyway, and this is one of his best soundtracks (I also love “Yeh Raatein Yeh Mausam”). The plot skitters along rapidly with some very bizarre twists and turns, a great deal of comic relief—some of it quite politically incorrect, yay!—and moments of genuine suspense, as well. Kishore Kumar is at his loony best and Nutan’s sweet loveliness is the perfect foil. Throw in some great character actors in early roles (Madan Puri! Iftekhar! Tun Tun!) and what a treat it is.

Kishore (Kishore Kumar) is a young journalist who can’t find a job and desperately needs to support his mother (Protima Devi) and sister (Shakuntala). His father, also a journalist, has recently died, killed by the gang distributing fake medication throughout the country.

Kishore has also been engaged since childhood to Asha (Nutan); but when his mother approached Asha’s uncle to fix a date for the wedding after Kishore’s father’s death, he sent her packing. Kishore vows to get back at Asha, and also takes up gambling to make some money. His mother boots him out of the house when she is told of his new affinity for the seedy underbelly of life.

Asha is a famous swimming and diving champion. We get to see Nutan in a (very modest) swimsuit and bathing cap!

Asha is unaware that her uncle—an author named Professor Amarnath by day—is also Anantram, the ringleader of the gang distributing these bad medications. Bihari (a very young Madan Puri!) and Kishore’s friend Sohanlal work for him. Sohanlal is beginning to feel guilty about all the deaths, and wants to quit.

He has a letter incriminating Amarnath/Anantram, and promises to return it that evening. Oh alas! the trouble with the seedy underbelly is that it will not let go so easily.

Kishore arrives at Asha’s house pretending to be a journalist scheduled to interview her. She hasn’t met him since they were children, so doesn’t recognize him, and is both charmed and irritated by his antics. Then the real reporter shows up:

Kishore goes to meet some friends, who are short on funds and unable to pay for the buttermilk they are drinking. I love it! Thieves drinking buttermilk! One of them flicks the wallet from a passer-by: Kishore’s friend Sohanlal. Kishore sees Sohanlal’s name on the wallet and scolds his friend, and pockets it to return to Sohanlal.

When Sohanlal shows up at Bihari’s, he and Anantram are waiting. Sohanlal realizes then of course that his wallet containing the incriminating letter has been stolen. They tell him to return home and get it, and someone follows him in the shadows. When he reaches home, a frightened Sohanlal calls the police and says he has information on Anantram:

Sohanlal insists that Anantram is not dead but alive, and has shifted his headquarters from Delhi to Bombay. He asks Inspector Singh (Iftekhar) to come see him.

Truer words were never spoken! And also:

It’s Freddy Krueger’s Indian father! Anyway, Sohanlal is strangled and the murderer begins to ransack his home looking for the letter. Then Kishore arrives and the murderer flees, crashing into Kishore, who chases him but loses him in the dark.

We now see the murderer donning a very realistic mask over his pitted and scarred face:

He puts a monocle in one eye and voila! It’s Amarnath! Who knew that Indian cinema invented the clever lifelike latex mask way before “Mission Impossible” ever did?

Anyway, Kishore returns to Sohanlal’s house to find the police there and his friend murdered.

I love Iftekhar’s towering pagri! It is really ginormous.

The inspector is convinced that Sohanlal was telling the truth and that the “horrible face” belongs to Anantram, who must have survived the plane crash he supposedly died in. Kishore offers to help him, since his own father was murdered by Anantram.

In the meantime, Kishore’s courtship of Asha continues apace. He disguises himself as the Prince of Sangam, and goes to meet her and her uncle at dinner time, hoping for an invitation. He gets one and is introduced to the other diners:

It’s Tun Tun! (she’s still billed as Uma Devi in the credits). This is all followed by some incredibly racist antics. In any case, at some point the Prince tells Amarnath that he has a friend who needs a job, and Amarnath tells him to send the friend to him in Bombay.

We now find out from Inspector Singh and his men that it was Kishore’s father’s investigation that triggered Anantram’s flight from Delhi. There were six men on the plane that crashed whose bodies were never found; one of those men was Asha’s uncle Amarnath. As it turns out:

Anantram seized his chance, made a latex mask to look just like Amarnath and took his place. Simple!

Kishore goes to Bombay and shows up as himself at Amarnath and Asha’s to apply for the job. Kishore has no idea who Amarnath really is, he’s just after Asha. She is irritated to see him there (she seems to recognize it as stalking, unlike most heroines). Kishore does manage to tell Amarnath the whole story of the Anantram investigation (I guess Iftekhar forgot to tell him to keep his mouth shut). Amarnath sends him to work for Sevakram, a pharmacist in his employ who manufactures and markets the fake drugs.

Somewhere around this time, the subtitles begin to rush ahead of the actual action/dialogue. It’s very distracting. Aargh.

The rest of the film details how Kishore and Inspector Singh gradually figure out who Anantram is, while Anantram tries to kill them (and retrieve the stolen wallet with the incriminating letter inside). There are some plot holes, but who cares when it’s this much fun.

The water ballet:

It’s so bad (the above shots are the highlights). Most of it is more like this:

Funny in its own way, but Esther Williams it isn’t.

Kishore more than makes up for it with his fantastic footwork in “C.A.T. Mane Billi” (and Nutan is so cute once he wins her over):

The lyrics remind me of this hilarious missive I received from my nieces when they were chhoti chhoti:

Do watch Dilli Ka Thug, it’s really good!

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26 Comments to “Dilli Ka Thug (1958)”

  1. Oh My God..!! Your nieces’ letter is sooooooo cute!!!

    Want to see the movie as well. I love both Nutan & Kishore!!

  2. I know, I have preserved it carefully for quite a long time. When they see it now, they roll their eyes. When I got it in the mail, I thought I would die laughing and from the cuteness of it all.

    Movie is great fun, you should watch it!

  3. Thanks for the review memsaab. A little known fact about my past youth was that I was on the synchronized swimming team in 8-10 grade, so this movie appeals to me a lot! Synchro was semi-cool here in the land of 10,000 lakes back in the day. It appears form your screen captures that they maybe couldn’t swim? I see those tell tale floatation devices. This film has been added to my “to watch” list.

  4. Yeh…it was not exactly “synchronized” even if it was swimming. I used to love Esther Williams though so perhaps I’m biased, although it was a lot of fun to see them try!

    I always hated swimming myself :-) I’m a landlubber.

  5. What fun! Must see this one. Nutan looks gorgeous. And your nieces’ card. Better than the film, I think.

  6. I have wanted to see this! I’m glad it’s good! Of course, anything with Kishore dancing is A-OK by me…. That Tun Tun scene looks hilarious, too. There is no one quite like Tun Tun in Bollywood today.

    Here is a tough question: Which is worse – the roller skating in “Half Ticket” or the water ballet in “Dilli Ka Thug”?

  7. Ooh good question, Filmi Girl. I’d forgotten about the roller skating thing :-)

    And Tun Tun asks the “Prince” some very very funny questions. She is so great.

  8. This movie sounds AWESOME. LOL about Freddy Krueger’s Indian father! And OMG the water thrashing-about is priceless.

  9. I *loved* the water ballet. Badly synchronized swimming – I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so hard at a film.

  10. It is quite funny. Sorry I watched the end without you, Carla, but you can always borrow it :-)

  11. I love that CAT song- now, thanks to you, I finally know where it comes from. I so also love Nutan- and even though I never could care for Kishore’s acting or singing (alas), I would sit through it for her (seriously- so amazing).
    …Iftekhar looks v cool w/ that funky policeman’s hat- i wonder why they discontinued those.

  12. Another song which I rather like is O Babu O Lala, with Smriti Biswas rolling her eyes at Iftekhar… an interesting remix of Rum and Coca-Cola. Have just seen Dilli Ka Thug all over again today, after years – and enjoyed it much more after having read your review!

  13. Saw this one years ago and only remember the songs, which I love. I adore Nutan too, but like Shweta, just cant stand Kishore (except in Chalti ka naam gaadi). I think his crazy antics onscreen put me off his singing, too. Have to try seeing his Naukri where Bimal Roy’s direction might have had a sobering effect on his exuberance – maybe I might finally learn to appreciate him!

  14. He’s very like he was in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi in this one too. I don’t always love him for the same reasons you two have, but he’s really quite bearable here.

    And Shweta, probably that enormous pagri kept getting caught in stuff, like car wheels, or lift doors…would make chasing down a criminal v. difficult.

    Madhu, glad you saw it again; and quite agree with you re: “O Babu O Lala.” I really like all the songs so much…

  15. oh, that was one fun movie. Kishore Kumar did come up with innovative & wacky plots, albeit sometimes haywire in the Bollywood tradition. Just look at his Mr. X in Bombay!
    Nutan’ bathing costume was famous, but if the balleting wasn’t up to Esther Williams, no Hollywood heroine would be able to belt out Lata sopranos, underwater, in-the-air, on cars, bikes and trains…

  16. Bawa, you make an excellent point there! :-)

    And yes, it is one fun movie. I haven’t seen Mr. X in Bombay but will look for it.

  17. I have always had a soft spot for “Dilli Ka Thug.” I think it’s because, while I love Kishore in both his singing and acting incarnations, he was often relegated to the buffon role in his movies and after a while I found his frentic antics unfunny and tiresome.

    While he still has plenty of comic stuff to do in “Dilli Ka Thug,” he gets to balance it with the more conventional romantic hero bits and that makes for both, a better performance and a more enjoyable movie. And it’s such great fun to see Nutan let her hair down. Their other two movies together, “Chandan” and “Kabhi Andhera Kabhi Ujala” have long been on my Most Wanted Movies list.:-)

  18. This is the ONLY movie of Kishore I enjoyed – or I should say I was enjoying seeing on Doordarshan when there was a power cut (or ‘load shedding’ as we used to say). The electric supply returned hours later. I somehow never got round to seeing this film again… More than Raj Kapoor I think it was Kishore who had a Chaplin fixation – and it was often all so OTP – though – small mercy – he did not often imitate Chaplin’s walk. I can NEVER stand duplicate Chaplin stuff. No wonder his (Kishore’s) antics and somewhat strident form of dialogue delivery often cheesed me off. But the Kishore and Nutan pairing here was really great. Will try and locate the CD.

  19. Kishore Kumar apeaks about S.D.Nranag – Directors like S.D. Narang didn’t even know where to place the camera. He would take long, pensive drags from his cigarette, mumble ‘Quiet, quiet, quiet’ to everyone, walk a couple of furlongs absentmindedly, mutter to himself and then tell the camera man to place the camera wherever he wanted. His standard line to me was: Do something. What something? Come on, some thing! So I would go off on my antics. Is this the way to act? Is this the way to direct a movie? And yet Narangsaab made so many hits! -Both of us gave Dilli Ka Thug ,Bombay Ka Chor as hits.

    • That’s the worst of it. By happenstance they get a hit shooting a film this way and they consider it to be a ‘method’ to make movies. No wonder ‘scripts’ are said to be often written on sets rather than having one in hand before they start shooting the film! OK to experiment shooting on the go now and then or to have just one maverick director who always tends to think up the scene on the set – but practically all of them seem to be of the same tribe. Of course when it comes out well it would have that rare quality of ‘spontaneity’ but one can’t rely on this method always. Having a script in hand doesn’t mean you are totally bound to it – but it would mean you would have already done some homework on the situation and you can use that as a springboard to quick start and maybe come up with something better.

      • you didnot get want kishore wants to say…
        yes its professional way to have scripts etc…
        but today just see there 220-240 films releasing in hindi alone but how many of them are watchable one year aftermath its release?
        from 1969-87 just see how many films became hits and there were few films which were very good but failed to become hits ..only cause each year had atleast 35-45 memorable films for year s to come.

        even at that time 200 films used to get released.
        difference is quality story line was made in that time….scripts were not handwritten …dialogoues were written on the sets and the directors were just learning it the hard way…experimenting on sets..

        even today dilli ka thug is classic but ajay devgan’s all the best or golmaal 3 cannot b called ever as classic

      • people used to declare top 30-45 from 1969-1985 …cinema deteriorated from then… now jsut see box office sites have in top 10 to show kites in top 10 only coz box office wise its in top 10 althugh it was a flop.

        today in a year 240 films released but only top 10 declared of which 6 are hits and 4/5 may or may not be classics plus so you have 230 flops today…waste of money///

        then 1969-1985 –25 hits and 15-18 more nice films…..very few were bad hits like coolie, mard, himmatwala or mahachor.
        infact tyaag, redrose , bairaag kind of good films had to flop
        so sad that scenario has changed..

        • O you were supporting that manner of shooting :-D. I got you (and Kishore) wrong ! Well everything has its good sides. If you experimented on the sets various ways of developing the scene and choosing the best – one way it is the most creative method of shooting – but now (even then) its one of the most expensive method for this medium of art. And if the film is a flop… the production house would collapse – and many studios did collapse in this way.

          And why knock poor Ajay Devgan and his tribe! Nowadays its the only type of film (Golmaal 1,2, 3,All the Best, etc) I can see again and again (even if they cross the line now and then) rather than something like ‘Rakht Charita’. Violence and sex have become so graphic that I now merely read the reviews of such films rather than see them.

  20. this movie was funny and you said it about the composer ravi, i loved all the songs in this movie, in fact i have a cd that has some of his great compostions.

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