For me, An Evening In Paris = Pran’s bright orange Joker hair + lovely songs. It’s not one of my favorite Shammi films, although there is lots of pretty—especially Sharmila. In fact, everyone should have two hours of footage like this of themselves looking impossibly glamorous, heart-meltingly beautiful, and haughtily chic. If I were Sharmila I would probably watch this every day. Shammi is quintessential Shammi: he looks a little the worse for wear around the edges, but retains his considerable charm and his willingness to make a complete idiot of himself (one of my favorite things about him).
I think my main quibble is with the plot, which is all over the place (literally!), too long, and brain-dead in places. There’s also a complete lack of real character development. It’s as if Shakti Samanta just needed a backdrop for the music and stars and didn’t care about the rest; unfortunately it gets tedious, stylish though it is—the fashions and hair and sets, oh my! Plus it’s lovely to see the locations (Paris, Switzerland, Beirut, the Niagara Falls) as they were during that era, even if we are required to believe sometimes that Paris is filled with signs in German and that the French countryside looks just like India.
Deepa (Sharmila Tagore) is a rich heiress who has decided that Indian men are no good, only after her wealth. She shifts her home to Paris, where her wealthy father’s business manager Damodar Dayal (David) has found her an apartment, a secretary named Honey (Sarita) and a driver named Makhan Singh (Rajendranath). She quickly confides her romantic woes to Honey who tells her to pretend that she’s poor—nobody in Paris will know the difference except herself, Damodar and Makhan.
But one other person does know: Damodar’s ne’er-do-well son Shekhar (Pran), who immediately wants to meet Deepa when he hears of her visit. He is in deep debt from his gambling and debauchery, and poor Damodar knows it.
Makhan Singh is sent off to find a nice poor tribal-girl outfit for Deepa’s masquerade, the need for which is never explained (and in fact Deepa just stops wearing it after her first outing). Not surprisingly, it isn’t long before she catches the eye of a Frenchman named Jacques, who just *happens* to speak Hindi thanks to an Indian friend. The Indian friend is Shyam “Sam” Kumar (Shammi), and he is piqued when Jacques tells him that beautiful Deepa doesn’t think much of Indian men.
He sabotages Jacques at his next meeting with Deepa and introduces himself to her instead, pretending to be a Frenchman who lived in India for a spell (to explain his fluent Hindi). His somewhat obnoxious behavior does not endear him to Deepa, but in true Shammi fashion he doesn’t give up and even pursues her to Switzerland where he finally wins her over.
Devious Shekhar has no chance whatsoever despite his best efforts, which also include following her to Switzerland.
When Shekhar gets Deepa drunk and takes her to his room, Sam and Makhan Singh rescue her by calling him from the hotel reception desk. Shekhar mistakes them for Jack (KN Singh) and his goon Juggu (Shetty), to whom he owes a lot of money. And as it turns out, Jack and Juggu are in Switzerland—and they are shocked when they get a look at Deepa.
Suzie is a cabaret dancer who performs in Jack’s casino and is also, it is implied, his lover. This is of course the perfect setup for a fabulous cabaret song-and-dance (“Leja Leja Leja Mera Dil”), and it gets the full 1960s treatment: gori dancers alongside Indian ones, numerous changes of clothes, crazy rotating sets and an enthusiastic cameo by Madan Puri as the master of ceremonies.
Shekhar—thwarted because Deepa loves Sam and oblivious to the fact that she would never love him anyway because he seriously needs a hair and personality intervention—seizes the opportunity to further his own ambitions towards Deepa’s money. When Jack finds out who Deepa is, he is predictably overcome by greed. But Shekhar convinces Suzie that it’s in her own best interests to help him and double-cross Jack.
His plan is to set Suzie up in Deepa’s place after Jack and Jaggu kidnap Deepa, and then to marry Suzie so they can split the money—thereby somehow putting themselves beyond Jack’s reach (it’s a little thin on logic). The perfect opportunity for Jaggu comes when Deepa discovers that Sam is not really French at all, but one of the Indian men she so distrusts (the humanity!); she runs back to her hotel in a fit of anger.
Will Sam realize that “Deepa” is not really Deepa? Who is Suzie, anyway, and how is it that she and Deepa look exactly alike? Will Jack and Jaggu discover that Shekhar is double-crossing them? What will happen to poor Deepa, now firmly in their clutches?
All the elements for a good movie are there, but somehow this one doesn’t quite make it for me. I’ve skipped over a lot of the romancing, much of which was very silly (although the songs are sublime), and the CSP (Rajendranath wooing Sarita, which was not as annoying as it might have been because Sarita is sassy and charming; and Rajendranath is my favorite comic foil for Shammi). Deepa’s character is never very well defined: her signature distrust of Indian men is only referred to when it’s convenient, otherwise her pretence at being poor is discarded almost immediately and she is just a somewhat spoiled rich girl indulging herself. Sam is someone we never really get to know—it’s hard to invest much in a character who remains a largely enigmatic stranger. All in all, the film could have been tightened up considerably, but with judicious use of the FF button it is a colorful and fun way to pass time, especially if you’re a Shammi and/or Sharmila fan.
And where will we ever get a heart like Shammi’s again, indeed.