Teesri Manzil started with a woman running and then falling from the teesri manzil. Jewel Thief began with a mysterious, shadowy figure dexterously removing jewellery worth lakhs from showrooms and jewellery stores. Vijay Anand has a flair for dramatic beginnings. Chhupa Rustam begins dramatically enough - in a blinding snow storm with Hangal, an archeologist, stuck in the snow, making a distress call to his son. There has been a fierce snow storm and we see corpses lying in the snow.
Unlike his masterpieces, and I am particularly biased towards Jewel Thief and Teesri Manzil, in Chhupa Rustam the director seems to have lost his flair for elegant romantic thrillers. The Prem Chopra - Bindu sequences are crass and distasteful, especially the one in which he tears apart her dress with his teeth. Since that scene was on the cover of the disc as well, I presume it was highlighted as the most provocative scene in the film! When Bindu mouths cliches like "tum mere laash ke saath khel sakte ho" I couldn't beleive my ears! A Vijay Anand movie with such uninspired lines?
The story is about an archeologist, Hangal, who has discovered a hidden civilization of gold in the Himalayas. He is kept prisoner by Ajit and Prem Chopra who torture him to dislose the whereabouts of this lost world. Hangal's son is Dev Anand, who seems to have had a bad hair day throughout the movie! He has hair flopping on his forehead - which made me wonder if it was a wig!
To continue...Dev Ananad is an undercover agent, who kidnaps Hema Malini, the daughter of a millionaire, who is to receive a Padmashree, but who is being blackmailed by Ajit to pour crores and crores of money into Nagra Valley, to unearth the city of gold. Dev Anand kidnaps her as a quawali singer - turned dacoit, and strangely enough she doesn't seem too upset nor very scared about her fate in the hands of a criminal.
Ajit meanwhile has kidnapped the millionaire's wife and son to force him to fund the entire operations.
Hema is initially to be married off to Prem Chopra (Ajit's son). But Dev Anand persuades Ajit that he alone can decipher archeologist Hangal's coded map to the city of gold. In return he asks for Hema Malini's hand. So now Hema and he are a couple, and yet Dev Anand asks Hema to woo Prem Chopra. Why? To find out where Ajit and Prem Chopra have hidden Hema's mother and brother.
Phew! What could have been a unique adventure thriller digresses into a melodramatic mishmash with too many subplots.
The story has simply too many sub plots:
Main plot: Dev Anand is out to nab the "gaddars" who are plotting to siphon away kilotons of gold to Tibet!
Subplot 1: Bindu- Prem Chopra - Vijay Anand triangle. Bindu and Prem Chopra are lovers, but Prem Chopra is attracted to Hema Malini and her wealth. Bindu warns Prem Chopra that a scorned woman is not to be taken lightly, the bornfire burning outside a not-so-subtle metaphor for the fire burning within her, as she dances in the snow in a ridiculous slit skirt. Prem Chopra does what he seems to be best at - he comes and rips apart her shirt. Vijay Anand, a chor, who is actually Dev Anand's partner, covers her modesty by offering her his coat and thereby wins her heart.
There follows another provocative scene in which Vijay Anand hides beneath Bindu's bed and watches her undress. Wonder what provocation caused a director of Vijay Anand's class and style to add such generous dollops of sleaze in his film?
Sub Plot 2: Rescue Hema Malini's mother and brother
Sub Plot 3: Dev Anand - Hema Malini romance
Sub Plot 4: Rescue Dev Anand's father - who is sustained throughout the length of the movie, only to be killed quite needlessly in a shower of bullets. Vijay Anand, Dev Anand's partner, counts the number of bullets (eighteen he pronounces significantly)- making one wonder if Dev Anand would exact revenge with the same number of gun shots (Mr. Pradip Bhattacharya, a columnist on Boloji suggested that the 18 bullets were a reference to the 18 days of battle in the Mahabharat. But I really don't see how!)
Sub Plot 5: Hema Malini's father - is he worthy of receiving the padmashree or is he hand in gloves with the villains
Ofcourse most Hindi movies have two to three subplots, for example in Jewel Thief the main plot is about the mysterious jewel thief; the subplots are (i) romance between Dev Anand and Vaijayantimala and (ii) Vaijayantimala being blackmailed to work for Ashok Kumar (iii) the Tanuja - Dev Anand romance. I just realised, while writing this blog, that the Vaijayantimala - Ashok Kumar plot in Jewel Thief mirrors the Ajit-millionaire plot here (I'm afraid I can't recall the actor's name). Both have their family members kidnapped and threatened with dire consequences unless they do as they are told. But, the screenplay and editing in Jewel Thief ensures that the main plot never loses its steam. Not so with Chhupa Rustam
And what on earth happened to the S.D.Burman - Vijay Anand magic? The songs of Jewel Thief are a superb mix of haunting melodies ("dil pukare aa re"), evergreen favourites like "raat akeli hai" and "yeh dil na hota bechara" and foot tapping numbers like "hoton mein aisi baat". Chhupa Rustam does not have a single hummable song other than "dheere se jana khatiyan mein" which is a paradoy of S.D.'s own song. The lyrics by Neeraj are completely uninspired and dull.
The villains, Ajit and Prem Chopra are caricatures. They are neither menacing nor grotesque. Prem Chopra is like a mad dog, tearing Bindu's clothes with his teeth, and then shooting an old, senile Hangal with a sten gun without any provocation. Yet he fails to evoke any sort of fear. He comes across as a bumbling buffoon dancing to Hema Malini's tune.
Ajit and Prem Chopra are Prem Nath's hirelings. Prem Nath seems to be some sort of Russian gangster, or an Indian who speaks Russian gibberish. There are lots of green bulbs flashing to indicate a crime den and he is surrounded by an outrageous menagerie of international goons, black Africans, bedraggled whites dressed in ankle length homespun tunics, who for some strange reason walk like zombies, with flaxen shoulder length hair, Oriental villains who only grin wickedly and snarl. They all pounce on Hema Malini like a pack of wild dogs, smacking their lips, one even sticks his tongue out, pinching her cheeks. I guess Vijay Anand meant it to be revolting - but did he have to be so laughable? Prem Nath as the Top Boss, gets to enjoy the delectable Hema first (pecking order among goons!). Dressed only in a dressing gown, with his legs showing, he pats his thigh and leers at Hema, asking her to sit in his lap. Hema ofcourse breaks into a song, to evade his lecherous touch.
The only saving grace in the entire movie was Vijay ANand as Jimmy. He seemed to have enjoyed his role of a happy-go-lucky rakish rascal quite thoroughly. He wears blue glares, a cowboy stetson hat, leather gloves, boots, and yellow striped pants! He sports long sideburns, twirls a cigar from his lips and glints flirtatiously at Bindu. He is the only one in the film who does not take himself seriously. His one liners are the only lively dialogues in the film and his duet with Bindu ("jo mein hota") the only memorable song. I loved the way he broke into a caper, foot tapping on roof of the car as he sung his way into Bindu's capricious heart.
I have a feeling that had Vijay Anand reappraised his role and done away with Dev Anand's character, the movie might have been far more enjoyable!
[Footnote: I just looked up imdb. The actor who did the millionaire's role was Sajjan]