Bluff Master (1963)

For all the Manmohan Desai and Shammi films I’ve written up, it’s kind of criminal that I’m only now getting to one of their collaborations. Better late than never, right? And this is a much better film than their second venture together, Budtameez (1966). In fact, this is a film to which Shammi brought his acting “A” game. He is just great in it, giving a realistic and three-dimensional portrayal of a slick and charming con man who has some hard lessons to learn. Saira Banu is his love interest, and although she’s not my favorite, she is lovely to look at here and, as with Junglee, a good foil for Shammi. Mr Desai himself shows little sign of the unrestrained lunacy he was to bring to cinema in the 70s, and has directed a movie with brisk pacing, interesting characters and an entertaining—if predictable—story. The songs, by Kalyanji Anandji with the able assistance of Laxmikant Pyarelal, are just fabulous too.

Ashok (Shammi Kapoor) lives in a chawl in Bombay. He has come from his village home to try and make a better life for himself, and to send money home to his mother (Lalita Pawar), an honest and respectable woman. Finding it hard to get a job, he uses his considerable talking skills to scam his not-so-wealthy-themselves neighbors out of their hard-earned paise. His character is nicely summed up by his room decor; for example, an expensive-looking radio is just an empty shell.

An ad seeking a newspaper photographer catches his eye one day; he steals a camera and talks himself into the job. His first scoop: a photograph of wealthy Seema (Saira Banu) slapping an eve-teaser on the street. Ashok refuses to hand over the film when she demands it.

The paper (hilariously called Bhukamp, meaning earthquake) publishes her photo front and center, and circulation skyrockets. Ashok is sent by editor Varma to call on Jwala Prasad (Niranjan Sharma), the paper’s very pleased owner.

Jwala Prasad offers Ashok a raise in salary, but apparently he doesn’t actually read Bhukamp. Ashok’s good fortune is cut short when Jwala Prasad’s niece, who is the actual owner of not only the newspaper but the house they live in, turns out to be Seema—and she is not happy to have her picture on the front page.

She fires Ashok and throws him out of the house. Jwala Prasad, it turns out, is not wealthy himself but has been looking after Seema since her father—his brother—passed away, leaving her a fortune. He is being blackmailed by Ram Kumar (a very creepy Pran)—who is smitten on sight by Seema’s beauty.

He suggests that if Seema marries him, he’ll no longer need to blackmail Jwala Prasad.

Meanwhile, Seema is putting on a theater show for charity in the afternoon, but the main attraction—a dancer named Munnibai—is a no-show. Ashok (who knew about the show) turns up to lend a helping hand. I am thrilled to also see a young and baby-faced Laxmi Chhaya in a bit role.

Ashok offers to find a substitute for the ailing Munnibai, and thus is born one of my favorite Shammi songs—and qawwalis—of all times, “Chali Chali Kaisa Hawa.” Those handsome Kapoor men transform into very ugly women, indeed!

I can watch it over and over again, especially since it also features Mohan Choti in drag (he plays a tongawala friend of Ashok’s):

and Laxmi playing harmonium for Seema. How had I never noticed her in this before? (Her dancing skills are sadly not used, as they are not in Budtameez either. For shame, Manmohan!)

I find Saira B far less shrill and annoying when she’s opposite Shammi—something about his insouciance and devil-may-care quality softens her up a bit or something.

Back in her village, Ashok’s Ma asks the mailman to read her son’s latest letter to her—but he’s not much help in decoding Ashok’s new profession.

I love Lalita in this—she plays a simple, sweet, humble and honest woman, such a nice change from her usual stints as a meanie in Shammi movies! And on a side note I love the mailman’s hair sticking out from his cap. But I digress. Ashok is not *entirely* honest with her either.

Meanwhile, desperate to stop Ram Kumar’s blackmail and being harassed by creditors, Jwala Prasad lies to Seema, telling her that it was her father’s dying wish that she marry him.

She hates Kumar (hey, it’s Pran!) and decides to rid herself of him with the help of Ashok, who gets his job back too. Of course pretending to be in love quickly leads to real love, despite the awkward presence of the fuming Ram Kumar—who ends up paying for everything they do, as well. It also occasions some lovely songs:

And this creative little touch as a portent of things to come from our Masalameister Manmohan D:

Ashok has told Seema and Jwala Prasad that he is the only son of a well-off family in Calcutta, but of course that isn’t true. His poor mother is robbed one night of all the money which the other villagers had given to her for safekeeping, and they turn on her. She decides to come to Bombay to find her son (the Governor’s brother, living in the Taj Mahal hotel) and get the money from him to repay them. And of course Ram Kumar (being Pran!) is not going to give up on Seema that easily either, and he has his hold over Jwala Prasad working in his favor.

Will Ashok’s Ma find him? Will his deceptions all be uncovered? Can he be reformed? Can Seema love him as he really is? And can she go against her dead father’s wishes? Why is her uncle being blackmailed by Ram Kumar? What did he do?

I really like this film. It’s nothing earth-shattering story-wise (whoever thought that could be said of MM Desai?!), but it’s really well done. Shammi is superb—he is funny, sensitive, obnoxious and REAL; he has his good points and his flaws, like the rest of us! Saira’s Seema is sharp, intelligent and independent, and she keeps Ashok on his toes, while his charm and his love softens her a bit. They are just darling together, and their love story is what holds the film together.

There are few indications of the Manmohan Desai legacy to come, although some glimmers can be had: Shammi visits a church to give thanks for Seema’s love, and you saw the cherubs shooting arrows into Saira’s eyes! Pran gives his more than able villainous support as usual, complete with quirky mannerisms (sniffing like a cocaine addict) and a bad wig (BTW, when did Pran’s real hair disappear? this question haunts me!).

If you love Shammi, this one is a don’t miss! And if anyone can identify these two guys, do tell me who they are!

The newspaper editor:

And the camera store owner, from whom Shammi steals the camera:

Good question, Mr. Face-Without-A-Name!

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54 Comments to “Bluff Master (1963)”

  1. AWWW Shammi looks really cute here, and anytime he applies his acting is bound to be a good film! That qawalli song is hilarious but Shammi is an ugly woman like Shashi when they cross dress! And a non-shrill Saira seems like a good reason for me to watch but when she did become shrill her fashion sense just blossomed!

  2. Shammi is v. handsome and so natural in this. One of his best in my opinion (although I’ve seen him in some earlier ones too where he was absolutely great). Don’t get me wrong—I love “Shammi” Shammi too, but the man can act and this is proof :) Saira was shrill, but there was enough good stuff that it was mitigated enough to enjoy her.

  3. t’s nothing earth-shattering story-wise (whoever thought that could be said of MM Desai?!)” – at the risk of sounding like an MD iconoclast, I must say that I love this one waaay more than any of his zany 70s masala-flicks. There is no craziness to detract from the film’s sincerity and a restrained Shammi is the best Shammi EVER (*ducking to avoid the brickbats*). One film that could have done with MD’s WTH-factor was Roti – I wonder why MD was soooo restrained there!

    • ps Surely you can help me out with the mystery actors? They look SO FAMILIAR…

      • I’ve been wondering about the mystery actor #1 coz he’s been showing up in a lot of films I’ve seen lately – he was definitely there in Kinare Kinare and some other film I’ve seen lately. I’ll chack on the casts for these two and see if I cant find a common name! #2 I dont recall seeing anywhere. :(

  4. It is just a WELL done film, on all fronts. But I love the zany. And actually, Roti is one of my favorite Desai films, because I think it started the crossover into zany without being completely WTF. I’m sorry, but Rajesh Khanna’s obsession with roti was NOT NORMAL :D

  5. Aww, the movie is in black & white – sigh (although the quality seems to be very good looking at your screen caps). I think I will stickto reading ur review. In any case, I won’t get this movie here anyway.

  6. Amongst such ever green, songs that transcend movies into folk culture as “Aaj mere yaar ki shaadi hain”, “Bombay se aaya mera dost”, also proudly stands the “Govinda Ala Re” song, which is universally hailed as the greatest Janamasthami street song ever.
    For that matter Manmohan Desai’s “Dum Dum Digha Digha” also achieved transcendence. :)

  7. It’s been a while since I saw this movie…clearly grounds for a rewatch. I’ll have to watch it in doses though…can only take so much of shrill Saira at one time.:-)

  8. Reading this post (needless to say, wonderful as usual) I have a request, perhaps you should write one on “Guess the Song from the screenshot & English Subtitle”. I spent several minutes trying to figure out “Beauty has made such a move …” & “Though they refuse on the face …”. I finally figured out the first one, but only because I knew the film’s name; still have not figured out the second.
    I believe Manmohan Desai’s son Ketan is married to Shammi Kapoor’s daughter, so they are related as well.
    Like you, Shammi is one of my favorites; did you know that that his Teesri Manzil was first offered to Dev Anand ( my all time favorite). Dev & Nasir Hussain (the producer) had worked in Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai; but had a fight after the signing of “TM”. Vijay Anand fortunately stayed on, and the result is evident for all to see. I have a promo shot of Dev Anand in “TM”, one where he is sitting on those drums. But I will agree that the “TM” role suited Shammi as opposed to Dev, and he was magnificent in it.
    Have not seen “BluffMaster”, but will certainly see it if I can.

    • I don’t always screencap the first line of the song, which is generally the title of it as well :)

      And yes to all the other tidbits of info. I met Shammi’s daughter recently (and her daughter). She is lovely, looks a lot like her mother Geeta Bali. If I’d had more time I would have loved to talk with her about her FIL for sure! :)

      Teesri Manzil was clearly meant to be Shammi’s film. It’s really too bad that he and Goldie never made another one together…

    • So “Teesri Manzil” was originally offered to Dev Anand and it went to Shammi Kapoor. How fortuitous !

      A similarly fortuitous thing happened in 1970s when dev Saab refused “Zanjeer” and that movie finally went to Amitabh Bachchan. One cannot thank Dev saab enough for refusing these two movies.

      I hope Amitabh Bachchan is just as thankful to Dev saab. It is this movie that launched his career when his career was hanging by a thread.

      • LOL! You are funny, Atul. Yes, we all owe Dev Saab for much more than the films he DID—the ones he didn’t do are just as important! :)

        • I too wish Goldie & Shammi had made another movie together.
          LOL @ Atul’s comment & your reply.
          Along with DA, Dharmendra & Raaj Kumar also refused Zanjeer. DA is supposed to have said (while refusing Zanjeer) “Your hero is too dry, At least give him a few songs”.
          Incidentally, DA refused another Shammi film, “Tumsa Nahin Dekha”.
          The Rajendra Kumar role in Sangam was in fact written for & first offered to DA, who refused. Raj then offered it to Dilip Kumar who wanted to direct the movie, and so Raj refused. Then it was offered to Shammi, who wanted Raj’s role; and Raj refused once gain.
          And so finally it went to Rajendra Kumar.

          • the sangam story of the second lead is quite interesting… :P
            there are more such examples… all i dnt remember but baazigar is definitely one that i’ll never forget.. all leading actors at that time refused to act in a relatively negative role, killing an innocent actress.. but SRK did and rest we all know!!!

          • That’s true, Ambarish! Film history everywhere is littered with rejection that turned to stardom for others :)

  9. Saira looks so pretty!! And how cute are those 2 cupids? =)

  10. Not to mention great songs too ! I never did get to see this one. I need to remedy that pronto.

  11. How did you get snow to fall in the first screen shot? So neat.
    I didn’t like this movie when I first saw it a few years ago.
    I also didn’t like the dialogue where he comes to Saira’s character and says “how do people show they like each other in English films? Don’t you watch English films?” a bit lame dialogue I thought for getting them in the amorous position.

    • Snow is falling on the whole blog! :) It’s a WordPress perk :) I loved that scene that you talk about—he said that because she was really struggling to express herself in words. Sometimes a hug says it all!

  12. This isn’t in my A-list of Shammi films (Dil Deke Dekho, Junglee, Professor, Tumsa Nahin Dekha…) but it’s definitely above less entertaining fare like Mujrim – Saira and Shammi look great together, and I love the songs! This is also the only film I’ve seen in which four people sang playback for a single actor – Rafi, Mukesh, Hemant and Shamshad Begum sing for Shammi in this. My favourite, though, is Ae dil ab kahin le jaa, in Hemant’s voice.

    • Agree with you—it’s not in the top echelon, but it’s solidly entertaining and much better than some others. It was so weird to hear Mukesh’s voice coming out of Shammi. Good trivia point about four different voices for a single actor!

  13. P.S. If you are wondering, the writing on the wall says, “sin decreases only when expenses decreases”. :)

  14. I like Dil Deke Dekho and Professor better but this is still a must watch. Very entertaining. I like Saira when she’s little sober. She makes a cute pair with Shammi.
    Shammi looks great in this movie (actually he always does). And I adore his role in this. He’s not the perfect hero. He has carried his character as a con man very well and the way he just talks himself in and out of a situation is worth watching. He’s not always right, cheats people, not true to whom he loves and all that but I just couldnt see anything else beyond his charm.
    “One can fool everyone at times; one can fool someone all the time, but one cannot fool everyone all the time” – this was a kind of disclaimer when the movie started and I really liked it

    • I think his performance in this is just wonderful. He’s not entirely likable from a moral standpoint, but he certainly is charming and his fast-talk is astoundingly effective (but realistically so). And thanks to you too, because that disclaimer at the beginning isn’t subtitled either!

  15. I thought I was hallucinating when I first noticed the snow falling! Very filmi. :)

  16. This is one of my favorite Shammi films ever. Because he is looking really cute and handsome in it and Saira is not one of my favorite actress but i just simply loved her in this one. She was really looking cute too. The music given by Kalyanji Anandji is superb (esp. the qawwali). In total its an fantastic film. But an little disappointment, because of Laxmi, there should be an Laxmi song in the film because she is an great dancer and why her beautiful dancing skills are not used and she was looking really very very cute in it. And at first when i watched the film i couldn’t recognize her. Thank you memsaab for reviewing this fantastic film.

    • I’ve watched this at least 3-4 times and never noticed that it was Laxmi in it. She didn’t have a dance in Budtameez either, also a Manmohan Desai-Shammi film! Ah well.

  17. I have surely seen this movie sometime on DD. But completely forgotten the story line. But since the stories all sound the same, it doesn’t really matter much!
    Saira looks so beautiful here.
    And thaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnkkkksss a lot for the Laxmi Chayya screen caps. She should have done Munnibai!
    I didn’t read all the comments.
    I found the board in his room superb!
    “Kharch ghate to, paap ghate”
    “reduce expenses, reduce sin!”

    Lovely!
    Though very puritanic, still has a message for the consumeristic society. I would be rather for a positive message!
    “reduce expenses, increase life-quality!” or something on that lines.
    :-)

  18. I loved Shammi in ‘Govinda Ala Re’, ripped shirt and dollops of little fat here and there included. Most lovable! If it was anybody else…….nah!

  19. I’m a great Shammi Kapoor fan!!! I’ve bought this DVD…now waiting to watch it!!! Your post convinces me that I should do it fast!!! Thanks!!

  20. The camera store owner is Jugal Kishore.

    This is a great film for Shammi! and the oddball cast: the extremely thin bodybuilder guy!, the singer Professor + the usual great characters: Rashid Khan, Tun Tun, Mirajkar..

    I never noticed Laxmi Chhaya either! Woah, great catch!

  21. I’m watching this right now and paused to come to your site to find out who Mr. Face-Without-A-Name is! :D

  22. Dear Memsaab,

    As usual, a great post! I haven’t seen this movie, but I just love the songs. My favorite of course, is the one sung by Mukesh – socha tha pyaar… That song is beautifully picturized; throw in Shammi’s impromptu dancing, and the effect is great! It feels so strange to see Mukesh singing for Shammi! I think they would have made a GREAT pair (not as good as Rafi-Shammi, though!)…

    Regards,

    Vinod

  23. have you seen tumsa nahin dekha?its a very nice movie,do write a review about it.

  24. and have you budtameez,its one of my fav. shammi kapoor films

  25. Nice review . Would have been even nicer if you had commented on the iconic song “Govinda Aala re” , which even 50 years later is played on the occasion of the Gokulashtami festival!

  26. I also agree that Mukesh and Shammi did a good pair like Mannadey and Shammi. Mukesh sang for him in Singapore ,Ujala and Coffee House also.

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