Previously, Sinbad has found a special sword (not that he’s really used it thus far) and Aladin has found a magic lamp complete with Genie Helen, but poor Alibaba (except for one brief moment) has nothing to show for our trio’s (or quartet’s, if you count Jameela) adventures.
The end of our first installment saw Aladin passing out drunk at a restaurant in the desert, and Alibaba going off in search of Sinbad and Princess Jameela; elsewhere in the same desert, Sinbad is romancing Zarina (Minoo Mumtaz) for some unknown reason as Shyam Kumar tries to molest poor Jameela.
I’ve been dying to see this ever since I found out it existed. It’s not any big secret that I’m a sucker for an Arabian Nights tale, especially as done in 1960s India on a shoestring budget. And if Helen is in it along with Sayeeda, Minoo Mumtaz, Bela Bose and Madhumati, how can it possibly be bad? It’s a dance extravaganza! The music is by one of my favorite music directors, Ravi—and it is lovely. Alas, the film is only available on VCD so no subtitles; whatever I got out of the story I’ve basically made up wholesale because it was seriously bewildering. But the visuals are so fabulous (despite the poor video quality) that I thought it time for another comic-book style entry, which is my way of saying: “Look at the pictures and figure the story out for yourselves.”
I have to start out this review by thanking dustedoff and Laura for bringing this film to my attention. It never occurred to me that anything from the silent era in India might be available on DVD, let alone so beautifully restored with English intertitles! A gorgeous soundtrack by Nitin Sawhney which complements the visuals perfectly has also been added. Many of these older films are worth watching mostly for their historical value, but this—this is a treasure and a treat, all at once. It’s also short, clocking in at 74 minutes.
It’s the third film from the collaboration between Himansu Rai and German director Franz Osten, which had already produced Light of Asia and Shiraz. Osten was working with his brother Peter Ostermayr’s production company Emelka in Germany when he met Himansu and Devika Rani, and came to India to work with them on these joint efforts. This partnership also gave us 1936’s Achhut Kanya starring Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani; but when World War II broke out Osten and the other German technicians were arrested by the British and then deported, and Himansu Rai died in 1940.
Although made in 1970, this film was clearly shot on a shoestring 1950’s budget by one of my favorite B-movie directors, Mohammed Hussain. It features a very carelessly put-together plot in the hands of a very beefy (some more uncharitable than I might call him paunchy) Dara Singh and his pals Bhagwan and Agha, who are actually very funny—yes, the Comic Side Plot entertains! Opposite Dara is the very lovely Shabnam, and they are supported by the goodness that is Madan Puri and Shetty as bad people. The songs by Dattaram are very lovely too. It shares a lot of quirky Hussain characteristics with the fab CID 909, although it’s a bit more muddled and not quite as much fun. It does make an adequate alternative for a rainy day’s watching if you’re in the mood for wacky nicknames and silly disguises and don’t need much of a story.
I am sure no regular reader of these pages will have any trouble imagining my great joy at receiving this treasure from my new friend Shalini.
Shammi + Wadia Brothers + Babubhai Mistry—it’s like a miracle!
*dies and goes straight to heaven*
Add in Shashikala as Shammi’s heroine, and the redoubtable Kuldip Kaur (dictionaries should all have her picture next to the word “haughty”), plus a hunchback, a band of gypsies, and royal intrigue!…words fail me. Really. And it doesn’t matter, because I couldn’t tell you honestly what the plot is, only that I love this film. LOVE. Of all the early Shammi films I’ve seen, this is the first one in which he actually pretty much resembles the Shammi of his heyday. He looks like he’s having a ball—and why not? It’s oodles of swashbuckling fun.
Everything I find on the internet says that this film was released in 1975, which may be true but it was definitely not made in 1975. For one thing our hero Feroz Khan is too young, as is heroine Tanuja (who was also occupied with giving birth to Kajol in 1975). So are all the other actors in it with whom I am familiar (Deven Verma, SN Banerjee, Sulochana Chatterjee, Shabnam); it’s filmed in black and white; and everything about it (home decor, fashions, hairstyles) screams 1960s. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was made in 1967 with the opinion of some readers who are guessing early 70s although I suppose it could also be up to a few years later than that. But most definitely not 1975!
Why does it even matter? Well, this film works pretty well as a movie from the mid-60s, but would be too regressive (at least for me) if it dated from the mid-70s. One of the major plot elements annoyed me considerably even so. But it was an interesting film with an engrossing story and engaging characters. I’m a big fan of Tanuja—wish she had had more roles she could really get her teeth into. She’s one of the best things about the fantastic Jewel Thief, in my opinion. Feroz of course is as handsome as can be, and the other supporting actors are very good too, especially Shabnam. There are also some very pretty songs by Usha Khanna, who is always underrated.
At a run time of almost three hours, this film is about two hours too long. This can be blamed on two things: Mehmood, and the fact that it’s crammed with every melodramatic cliche in Hindi film history. In point of fact, Mehmood should be credited as the main star of the film, with Shammi as his co-star and sidekick. Not only is entirely too much time spent on the irritating—and predictable—CSP (Shubha Khote as Mehmood’s love interest, with of course Dhumal as her father and the rather startling spectacle of Leela Mishra in a brown wig as her mother), but he figures in the main plot far more than Shammi does too. His character reminds me of the animals in Manmohan Desai films; he is smarter than all the humans combined, and loyal and true to a fault—and he is everywhere. Additionally, we are treated to all these various plot points: communal harmony, the bhai-bahen rishtaa, the rape-suicide trope, blindness, bad western-influenced girls turned into good sari-clad ones, bromantic pyare-dost, the saving of an atheist’s soul, and much, much more!
Why would anyone sit through this even once, you ask—let alone several times? Shammi, my friends, Shammi. Plus the initial sparkle of a rifle-wielding and stylish Babita, the joy of Lalita Pawar as identical twins, and Shankar-Jaikishan’s songs, which are lots of fun.