Anyone who is familiar with Bollywood cinema knows that every film that is churned out by the Bollywood film industry contains musical numbers. That doesn’t mean they are all classified as musicals. Quite the contrary. Almost every film genre you can imagine exists in the Bollywood universe – romantic dramas, historical epics, action-adventure yarns, spy comedies, soap operas, even horror films – and they all have musical interludes that relate to the plot. Jewel Thief, one of the biggest Bollywood hits of 1967, falls under the category of crime caper but this is not a gritty noir like Rififi (1955) or The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Instead, it is a noir-lite delight that is closer in tone to the more comic heist classics like Topkapi (1964) or romantic suspensers like To Catch a Thief (1955). What sets it apart from all of the above movies are the stylish and elaborately choreographed dance/song numbers.
As the opening credits of Jewel Thief unfold, we see a culprit loot the contents of a jewelry story window but we only see his hands. This is followed by a montage of newspaper headlines revealing a rash of robberies in the province. Amid all this excitement, Vinay (Dev Anand), a stranger in town, enters a jewelry store and offers the owner Vishambar (D.K. Sapru) his services as a savvy buyer of gems. Part of his motivation might be his attraction to Anjali (Tanuja), the owner’s daughter, or something more devious.
Vinay eventually earns the trust of the jewelry store owner but his identity becomes an issue when he is confronted by Shalini (Vyjayanthimala), a family friend of Vishambar. She claims he is her missing fiancé and his real name is Amar. Dumbfounded, Vinay protests the mistaken identity but is asked to reveal a telltale marking on his foot. In front of a group of witnesses, Vinay proves he is not Amar but the situation becomes more complicated when Vishambar’s secret vault of jewels is ransacked.
Suddenly Amar becomes the prime suspect in the robberies and Vinay decides to pursue and capture him with Shalini’s assistance. The fact that Amar and Vinay look identical complicates things for the villagers and the local police but Jewel Thief does not provide Dev Anand with a dual role in the traditional sense. There is no split screen magic here with Anand playing opposite himself and it is not due to a lack of a special effects budget. You have to wait until the final act of the film for the resolution of the Vinay/Amar dilemma and it provides a surprise twist to a highly convoluted storyline.
But before all that, you are treated to a crime caper/chase thriller that is punctuated by romantic interludes – Vinay is quite the ladies’ man – and eye-popping musical numbers. There is some genuine suspense along the way and, in one unexpected sequence, Vinay is subjected to electric shock therapy in an effort to brainwash him. Still, the overall tone of Jewel Thief is lighthearted and playful but the main reason to see the movie is for the melodic and visually impressive musical set pieces (The score was composed by S.D. Burman).
Among them is “Dil Pukaare aare aare aare,” a catchy love ballad performed by Vinay and Shalini against a bucolic countryside landscape (the two actors are dubbed by famous playback singers Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar). Tanuja as Anjali gets to shine with “Raat Akeli Hai, Bujh Daye Deepm,” a seductive siren call that she performs behind transparent pastel-colored curtains while doing the shimmy (she is dubbed by Asha Bhosie).
Helen, the Burmese dancer who has been featured in over 500 Bollywood films, has a decorative supporting role as a duplicitous nightclub hostess and gets a spectacular showcase number, dancing around the top of a circular bar while the dance moves are reflected upside-down on the mirrored surface.
The most elaborate production number and my favorite is “Hothon pe aisi baat main,” which opens with a wild melee of masked dancers and bongo-like drumming as Vinay sets the stage for Shalini and a harem of swirling, spinning chorus girls that would make Busby Berkeley proud.
Dev Anand, the star of Jewel Thief, made over 100 movies but he reached his peak in the 1960s when he confirmed his appeal as a romantic leading man with a playboy persona. In Jewel Thief, he has almost as many wardrobe changes as his female co-stars and his eclectic fashion style is often amusing to behold. He has a breezy, easygoing charm but can also be quite goofy when physical comedy is required. Later in his career he became a director as well as a political activist. He was often referred to as India’s answer to Gregory Peck, a comparison he didn’t appreciate.
Equally famous, if not more so, was Vijay Anand, Dev’s younger brother, who became one of the most popular Hindu directors of his generation (Chetan Anand, the older brother of Dev and Vijay, was also a well-known film director in India). Among Vijay’s most popular films were Guide (1965), a tale of tempestuous love and spiritual redemption, Teesri Manzil (1966), a Hitchcock inspired mystery-romance starring Shammi Kapoor as a nightclub singer/drummer and, of course, Jewel Thief, which is a pop art marvel for the eyes and ears.
Jewel Thief has been released on DVD by different distributors over the years but probably the most accessible version for English-speaking audiences is the 2001 DVD from Eros Entertainment with English-subtitles. Although the print displays some emulsion scratches and noticeable damage at times, the colors are vibrant and the sound mix is fine.
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