Shikar (1968)

After all the melodrama of the recent Hindi films I’ve been watching, I decided it was time to sit back and enjoy one of my favourite genres: the thriller. And a thriller the way only the Bollywood of the 1950’s and 60’s could manage: with lots of romance thrown in, a gorgeously vampish Helen, hummable songs, a comic side plot starring none other than the inimitable Johnny Walker—and, interestingly enough, a supporting actor who manages to steal the limelight from the hero.

Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar in Shikar

Naresh (Ramesh Deo) is a wealthy bachelor who owns the Timli Forest Estate, somewhere in the Himalayan foothills. Timli’s manager, Ajay Singh (Dharmendra) is also a good friend of Naresh’s. One day—shortly after Ajay’s killed a tiger that mauled a local woman—Naresh tells Ajay he’s made his will, leaving all his wealth to an aunt who lives in Africa. Naresh’s secretary Veera (Helen) is in the office too, looking at some files.

Veera eavesdrops on a conversation between Naresh and Ajay

While they’re talking, Naresh reads a letter he’s received; he burns the letter but throws the envelope into the wastepaper basket, and Veera takes away the basket to be cleared. She comes by later to tell Naresh she’s leaving for the day. But before going, she surreptitiously places the envelope—which she’s retrieved from the wastepaper basket—in a book in the office library. She doesn’t realise that Naresh is watching her all the while.

Veera hides the envelope in a book

That night, the local tribals celebrate the killing of the maneater with much dancing and drumming. It starts raining, and what with all the din, Ajay wakes up—just in time to see a jeep come careening down his driveway, crash into a tree and topple over. He dashes out and finds only one occupant, now unconscious: a beautiful girl (Asha Parekh), whom he picks up and takes into his house.

Ajay brings the mystery girl into his house

The girl’s out cold, but comes awake, terrified, when the tribal drums start again. She’s incoherent, and soon lapses into a doze again. Ajay, by now worried, drives off to fetch a doctor. En route, he notices that the gate to Naresh’s house is broken, and that Naresh’s jeep is parked outside. Ajay smells a rat and goes in to check if all’s well—and finds Naresh’s corpse. The man’s been shot through the heart.

Ajay finds Naresh's corpse

Good (and thankfully aware!) citizen that he is, Ajay doesn’t touch anything, not even the pistol he sees lying beside the corpse. Instead, he goes to inform the police, and returns with Inspector Rai (Sanjeev Kumar) and his team. Ajay tells the inspector that Naresh owned two pistols, both of which have vanished. One, he’s sure, was the pistol he’d seen next to Naresh’s corpse, but that’s gone now. The police find a mud-soaked handkerchief pressed into the tire tracks in the driveway, and a red rose lying in the hall. They also notice two pairs of footprints leading up to the house: one a man’s, the other a woman’s, wearing high-heeled shoes.

Ajay and Inspector Rai examine the evidence

It’s already morning, and Ajay remembers the girl he’d left behind at home. He rushes back, with Inspector Rai in tow, to find she’s vanished without a trace, overturned jeep and all. Inspector Rai is inclined to treat it all as a figment of Ajay’s imagination. (This is farfetched in the extreme; the jeep crashed into a tree, for heavens’ sakes. Didn’t it leave any scars on the tree? No broken twigs? Not even tire tracks in the wet earth? Really.)

The mystery of the missing jeep

After the inspector’s gone, Ajay discovers a clue: a stub of ash from a cigar, lying in the room where he’d put the girl down. He picks it up, but doesn’t hand it over to the police. (Why, I wonder? Has Ajay lost his faith in the police after Rai’s scoffing at his tale of the mystery girl?)
Two weeks later, Ajay goes to meet Naresh’s lawyer to follow up about the will. The lawyer invites Ajay to come along with him to a charity show. Guess who’s the lead dancer there?

The mystery girl appears at a charity show

The lawyer tells Ajay the girl’s Kiran, daughter of the retired police commissioner Mr Sharma (Rehman). Ajay follows Kiran home after the show and confronts her—but she denies everything. She wasn’t in any jeep on the night in question; she has no idea what he’s talking about. Mr Sharma too comes by and tells Ajay he’s talking through his hat. He says there’s probably a girl around who’s Kiran’s lookalike.

Mr Sharma and Kiran deny the entire affair

Ajay, confused, lands up at the police station the next day and confides in Rai. He’s sure Kiran had something to do with Naresh’s death; why, otherwise, is she denying it all? Rai tells Ajay he’s barking up the wrong tree; Kiran was at the Police Club Ball the night Naresh was murdered; there are photographs to prove it, too.
Ajay borrows one of the photos from Rai and mails it to Kiran, with a covering note, asking her to meet Ajay Singh if she wants to know who her lookalike is.

Kiran gets a letter from Ajay Singh

Kiran has no idea who Ajay Singh is—he hadn’t introduced himself the night he came to the Sharmas’—so she goes to meet him. Ajay confesses this was a ploy to find out if Kiran is guilty (he feels she’d never have come if she had been guilty). All’s forgiven, Ajay and Kiran become friends, and before you know it, they’re in love.

Ajay and Kiran fall in love

Meanwhile, a certain Ranbir Singh `Robbie’ (Manmohan) arrives at the Timli Estate office. Ajay recalls that Naresh had mentioned this guy wanted to stay at the estate for a month and spend his time hunting. The contract’s prepared and Ajay leaves it with Veera, who gives it to Robbie to sign. Robbie, it transpires, is well acquainted with Veera; in Ajay’s absence, he starts bullying her and trying to force her to give him a specimen of Naresh’s signature which he can forge onto a fake will.

Robbie begins bullying Veera

At the police station, Inspector Rai has been doing some thinking. He’s recalled the muddy handkerchief they’d found outside Naresh’s house, and now (a little late in the day, in my opinion) he decides to clean it up and examine it more closely. Rai discovers it’s embroidered with a V. There’s only one V he can think of, and armed with a search warrant, he goes off to turn Veera’s house upside down. The cops don’t find a thing, and Veera flirts outrageously with Rai, mocking him so much that he finally carts her off to the police station.

Inspector Rai finds Veera distinctly uncooperative

Now there’s another unexpected turn: an old lady called Vimla Devi (Mridula Rani), newly arrived from Africa, comes to the police station and confesses to the crime. In her suitcase—fetched from her hotel—the police find more V-embroidered handkerchiefs. Vimla Devi says she killed Naresh because he’d `ruined’ her niece; but she’s not willing to say who the niece is. Veera, faced with the old lady, disclaims all knowledge of who she is. Rai, despite the evidence and the confession, is inclined to think Vimla Devi is innocent and is simply trying to protect her niece, who must be the real culprit.

Vimla Devi confesses to the crime

Much more happens: Ajay finds Veera fighting with Robbie (though Ajay doesn’t know the reason: Robbie’s stolen a paper signed by Naresh, and is now getting ready to forge a will bequeathing all Naresh’s wealth to Veera. Veera, clever girl that she is, realises this will almost certainly land her in jail). And Ajay’s servant Tejbahadur `Teju’ (Johnny Walker) in a chat session with his tribal girlfriend Mahua (Bela Bose) discovers that Mahua’s found a stylish gold handbag, with a letter in it—addressed to Naresh, signed Veera.

Teju and Mahua find an intriguing letter

While Robbie bribes Naresh’s crooked lawyer into agreeing to file the fake will, Veera invites Inspector Rai home for a meeting. What follows is a seductive little number (Haai mere paas toh aa), which has little significance as far as the story is concerned.
Veera does, however, manage to pass on to Rai the long-forgotten envelope that she’d tucked into the book at the office library. (I haven’t yet figured out why she needed to flirt and dance around Rai to do that. But then, there’s not much point having Helen in the film if she doesn’t dance, is there? And Sanjeev Kumar is certainly worth dancing to!)

Veera indulges in some hardcore flirting

But the crux of the matter is that Rai, back at the police station, examines the envelope and finds that Naresh’s address is written in a familiar handwriting: Mr Sharma’s.

Rai makes a discovery

What on earth is happening? Is Vimla Devi the murderess? Or is it her niece? And anyway, who is the niece? What does Mr Sharma have to do with all of this? And—before one forgets—who’s Kiran’s lookalike, the girl who vanished so utterly on the fatal night?

Lots of questions, and lots of twists and turns in the plot to follow.

What I liked about this film:
Sanjeev Kumar. The cast as a whole is very good, but Sanjeev Kumar sizzles (he won a Filmfare award for Best Supporting Actor, by the way). Rai is an interesting character: one of the few policemen I’ve come across in 50’s and 60’s Hindi cinema who’s neither the stuffed shirt, nor the caricature of a highly principled cop, nor (as is so common) a moron who’s outwitted by the hero at every turn. He’s likeable, a man and not just a uniform, and Sanjeev Kumar plays him very well. And he looks so good, too!

Sanjeev Kumar and Helen in Shikar
Johnny Walker. Qazi Sahib is superb in just about every film, but he’s scintillating in this one as Ajay’s part-dumb, part-street smart servant. The comic side plot, by the way, is beautifully restrained: it’s brief and it fits in with the story.

What I didn’t like:
The gaping holes in the plot. The bit about the vanishing jeep is one of the worst, but there are others too, which I won’t divulge here. The story isn’t a bad one; there’s loads of suspense and the twists in the plot are intriguing—but I got the feeling the writer got carried away when it came to putting in red herrings. There are too many clues that complicate matters, and that end up being forgotten in the course of the film. A simpler story would’ve been way more effective and would have had fewer holes.
The scenes with the animals in the forest. There are a couple of these; Timli Forest Estate apparently has its share of wild animals, elephants and tigers included—which makes me wonder why all the ladies traipse through the woods in their diaphanous clothing and high heels with such gay abandon. One of the scenes in particular has people being chased through the woods by animals, and it’s so obviously staged, it isn’t funny. Painful. And so unnecessary, to my mind.

Still, good time pass, as they say. Highly entertaining, and I for one couldn’t guess till the end who killed Naresh and why.

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42 thoughts on “Shikar (1968)

  1. Shikar was known to me only through the famous song: “Parde me rehne do” Didn’t know that it was a thriller.
    you are right Sanjeev Kumar looks so handsome, though he is turning portly. And he had such a charm!
    What about our Garam Dharam? Totally over clouded by Sanjeev Kumar?

    Two handsome heroes in one film!
    And Asha Parekh and Helen! Wow!

  2. Before I bought the VCD, I too only knew about Parde mein rehne do – didn’t realise it was a thriller. So, happy surprise!
    Sanjeev Kumar actually occupies just about as much screen time as Dharmendra does, and frankly speaking (though I am a Dharmendra fan), I really looked forward to the scenes which featured Sanjeev Kumar! He’s such a great actor, and he looked so awesome too – particularly in that Helen song. Fabulous!

  3. I too know only Parde mein rehne do and thought it would be one of those romantic dramas like Aaya Saawan Jhoom Ke. Didnt even know Sanjeev Kumar was in it. And in the screen-caps you’ve selected Sanjeev Kumar actually looks a lot better than Dharmendra – and I thought that was impossible! Outshine the “Greek God” (as Jaya Bachchan calls him!) – well Sanjeev Kumar is full of surprises.

    Love Dharmendra’s 60s thrillers (I’ve just acquired Aankhen for the nth re-watch!) and this one sounds like a LOT of fun. Darn! More DVD buying, just when I’d decreed a stop on all movie-spending.

  4. I’ve seen Aankhen too, I don’t know how many times: good fun! And if you like Ankhen or films like Teesri Manzil, CID and Saajan, you’ll almost certainly like Shikar. Despite the holes in the plot (and which Hindi thriller doesn’t have at least one?), it’s a good, satisfying watch.

    And yes, Sanjeev Kumar does outshine the `Greek God’! As you can see, I’ve finally succumbed to temptation and added one last screen cap in which I think Sanjeev Kumar looks absolutely yum ;-).

  5. Hehehe :-)) I generally adore Dharmendra too – but this one was the exception. Oh, Dharmendra was drool-worthy enough, but Sanjeev Kumar was mmmm too ;-). Probably a result of me not having seen too many Sanjeev Kumar films where he looks so gorgeous; most of his early films are B-grade fantasy/historical ones where he’s wearing earrings, moustache and weird costumes, or (as in Anokhi Raat) he’s a villager and then a bearded bandit – neither of which really does much for his looks. And by the time he was a well-known actor, he’d put on loads of weight. So Shikar, with a young and handsome Sanjeev Kumar, in uniform or a suit, is perfect!

    Oh lord, this has become a real paean, hasn’t it? Maybe I should do an `eye candy’ post someday, with just screen caps ;-)

  6. Ah, that would be interesting! Mine would definitely feature Sanjeev Kumar… and Rossano Brazzi… and Robert Mitchum… and I think I’d better begin taking screen caps. Am looking forward to your list ;-)

  7. I’m looking forward to both of your lists!
    Even when Sanjeev Kumar had put loads of weight, his smile was still sexy and the way he lowered his voice, that was simply seductive.
    Remember those lovely early marriage scenes from Aandhi.
    dusted off: would it be too much if I ask for separate eye candy lists for english and hindi films? =-(

  8. Done, harvey! ;-). Four lists in all, I think: one English, men; one Hindi, men; one English, women; and one Hindi, women. Will happen, soon. I’m actually rather looking forward to this, I must admit :-)

    memsaab: Lovely to see you in cyberspace again on my blog! Yes, isn’t the cast so absolutely soothing to the eyes? And nice songs too, which was why I found it in myself to forgive all the other lapses in plot etc.

  9. harvey: Absolutely! I am counting on my readers to say yea and nay ;-)

    bollyviewer: Ah, you know me so well. I’ve begun taking screen caps, and guess whose was the first? Hudson himself. Mmmm, that man was so gorgeous!

  10. Saw this over the weekend as a pick me up and boy did i love the songs and the film itself, i was so entertained that i forgot about the Jeep till you mentioned it, i guess that’s the best way to watch these films, plus Asha was fab loved her outfits and style in this. Are there actually people in India who dress up like the tribals shown in the movie or is it all made up for the screen

  11. Yes, you’d be surprised, but I have seen tribals dressing that way in some parts of India – and I know for a fact from my parents that it was fairly common (till well into the 60’s and 70’s) in the more farflung areas, deep in the forests, to see people dressed like that. Now, of course, one’s more likely to see them wearing jeans and T-shirts, but if you venture deep enough into the countryside away from urban areas, you may just find some of the older people still dressing in more traditional garments.

  12. Ya great, just watched parde main rehne do on tv , i have it in my collection, i will watch it tommorow yipppppppppppppeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.dharmendra is my fav and i love 50’s and 60’s movies.cool. Bye Bye.

    • They’re together in Aaye Din Bahaar Ke also, and in Aaya Saawan Jhoomke, but I do prefer Shikar to both those films, probably because I am extremely fond of suspense thrillers.

        • Yes, it is a precursor to Sholay – too many similarities between the two films to make it a mere coincidence! Frankly, Vinod Khanna makes a gorgeous daaku than Amjad Khan. ;-) It’s a good film, and has some good music.

    • It’s a treat, and for once, the cop has a fairly major role to play, he’s not just a stupid fellow in a uniform who turns up only in time to arrest the villain. The suspense is pretty good, too.

  13. I just thought of a reason: I created WP account, maybe, it takes time to activate – or it’s treating my comment as a first-time post?

  14. Dear Madhu!

    This review may be long forgotten or confined to the deepest corridors of your memory – but let me bring it back, with your permission. I know it’s been written a while ago – but I actually stumbled upon it just the other day while searching for some information about SHIKAR (in regards to Sanjeev Kumar, of course).

    Well, I don’t need to tell you that I loved your review – you surely can guess that much, you clever girl. You connected all the dots for me, filled the holes (some of them were quite big – even after I saw this movie a couple of times, with subs!), and so on – thank you for that! Your review was as delightful to read as the film was to watch – and I second all your conclusions and your deductions.

    But I wouldn’t be honest with your if I didn’t tell you that the reason I am writing was the praise and the accolades you’ve given to Sanjeev Kumar (although, I get a strong feeling you’ve guessed THAT, too). And I found out what prompted you to create that now famous EYE CANDY list that brought us together :)

    Being a relative newcomer to films, especially, compared to Dharmendra, it amazes me how confident and professional he is (same confidence left me in awe in SUNGHURSH in all his confrontational scenes with Dillip Kumar). As you rightly pointed out, he completely stole this film from Dharam – and not just on outstanding acting merit; indeed, he looks absolutely and breathtakingly handsome (I am weary of the word SEXY – but I can’t find a suitable substitute, so, yes, he’s sexy as heck!). Dharam is, obviously, still in pretty good shape here – but for whatever reason, he’s just not my cup of chai.

    Sanjeev easily projects not only confidence but intellect and dignity – and those are the qualities that win me over every time! To put it simply, he never loses his cool, he’s never pitiful or, worse, dumb. Whether he plays a hero or a character role (like he once said, he’s offered those roles because directors feel he’d be able to play “a character”), he’s always engaging, interesting, entertaining, unpredictable – and then some. I realize I may be (more than) a little bias – but I hope I am being reasonably objective in assessing his talent and his looks (both incomparable!).

    Thank you, again, for such a wonderful review!

    • Thank you so much, Alisa! Yes, I reviewed this film a long time back, but I still remember what (who, I should say) I liked the most in Shikar. I am a fan of Dharmendra’s – I simply love him in films like Anupama, Khamoshi, Chupke-Chupke and Aankhen: so handsome, and actually such a versatile actor (interestingly, in an interview, Dharmendra once said that when he failed to receive the Filmfare Best Actor Award for Anupama or Satyakam, he gave up really acting)… but in Shikar, it wasn’t Dharmendra I was looking at, it was Sanjeev Kumar. He really ruled each scene he was in. So good. And that song with Helen…ooohh! :-D

      • I know I praise Sanjeev a lot; in all sincerity I can not find anyone who comes close – and that may have given you the impression I don’t like anybody else :) But I do!

        In fact, I used to like Dharmendra even before SK – perhaps, due to the fact that I knew him a little better from the films that were shown on Soviet television some 25-30 years back. Even now, I do appreciate him as an actor – he’s quite good and, indeed, versatile. It’s a shame he never won a Filmfare award (some articles I came across speculated that it was due to his good looks that his talent was much overlooked – plausible, I suppose, but arguable). His role and his acting in SATYAKAM were very good – and he did look quite handsome (I can admit that – I strive to be objective :) – I never said he wasn’t good-looking).

        As you already know, I am quite fond of Raj Kapoor’s early films – and recently I’ve discovered what a great actor Balraj Sahni was (all the praise is so deserved!). Indeed, there are quite a few very respectful and talented actors from old era that I enjoy watching.

        That being said, I now come full circle back to my initial statement: having given due credit and praise to all others, I am still convinced that Sanjeev Kumar is in the league of his own, and in all honesty, I can not find anyone who would give me as much satisfaction and joy by watching them on screen – not to mention leave me in awe of their talent and, last but not by any means least, their looks. :)

        • I know what you mean. :-)

          Talking of Balraj Sahni, by the way… yes, a very fine actor. He ended up doing a very varied set of roles (including some pretty awful ones), but films like Do Bigha Zameen or Kabuliwala are truly memorable.

          • Dear Madhu!

            I will take note of your recommendation for Balraj Sahni films – I don’t think I thanked you properly yet for recommending Shammi’s movies to me which I enjoyed tremendously. And I may even give those Dharmendra favorites of yours a try :)

            • Thank you so much, Alisa! Be warned: some of Balraj Sahni’s best films are very unlike the ‘usual’ Hindi film; he was more a character actor than your typical leading man. So, while he did do fairly run-of-the-mill roles like in Black Cat, his more nuanced roles are the better ones.

          • I actually ended up watching CHUPKE CHUPKE and ANUPAMA tonight. :)

            Wow, completely different emotions! Drastically different roles for Dharam – and he did excel in both. I have to say, even though I quite enjoyed CHUPKE, I liked ANUPAMA more – for both Dharam and Sharmila.

            Sharmila is a very good actress but, frankly, I don’t think comedy is really her forte :( Her performance looked a bit forced – but she looked lovely and sweet throughout. Dharam, I have to say, was the best part of CHUPKE for me. I had a bit of trouble believing in him as a Professor – but he surely nailed the shauffer and the chowkiddar parts :) Very enjoyable, indeed! Bachchan was awkward and miscast, in my view – even Jaya didn’t seem like the right choice there.

            ANUPAMA was very moving – when I am in a right mood, it’s just my kind of movie. Sharmila was much more in her depth here – and Dharam was quite impressive. He looked soulful and sensitive (for some reason, I can’t see him being as such in real life – so I attribute this to his acting skills). He didn’t seem too confident yet but his performance was very solid. I don’t know if he’s done many roles like this but I think he could have had a different image had he continued with those types of roles. I always liked Deven Verma but didn’t realized he was so cute and adorable when he was young :) Another actor I have a lot of respect for – Tarun Bose. So good!

            I hope I wasn’t too harsh and didn’t misinterpret the meaning of those movies (CHUPKE had subs but ANUPAMA didn’t, alas). Thank you, Madhu, for your recommendations – I am always open to widening my horizons in regards to movies :) Watching films of other actors actually helps me assess my admiration for Sanjeev a bit more objectively – meaning I can now compare his performance with other actors’ with more knowledge. Quite predictably, however, I am still convinced that he’s the best!

            Now, off to watching Balraj Sahni movies…

            • I’m glad you liked Chupke-Chupke and Anupama, Alisa. Yes, they’re both great movies, and good examples of actually how versatile Dharmendra could be before he got slotted into those ‘typical’ roles. I can’t choose between his roles in both films – for me, he’s equally impressive as a comedian and as the sensitive poet of Anupama.

              Your comment about Amitabh and Jaya being miscast in Chupke-Chupke is very interesting, because I don’t think I’ve ever come across a single Indian who has seen the film (and it was hugely popular, so most Hindi-speaking Indians have seen it) who thinks so. Almost everybody I’ve met (and I myself) tend to think that it’s a great example of how funny – in an earnest, not-intending-to-be-funny way Amitabh’s character ends up being. Jaya doesn’t have very much to do, so I suppose she’s adequate (perhaps Hrishikesh Mukherjee decided to cast her because her love interest was to be Amitabh? Who knows?)

              But it’s always fun to look at things from another perspective. :-)

              • See, that’s why I was worried I may have misinterpreted the film :( But that was my impression of Bachchan – and I had to say it. I am not his fan by any means but if I had to chose, I’d prefer him in dramas (TRISHUL and SHOLAY so far were his best that I’ve seen; KHUD DAAR was’t too bad, either).

                I also think that if Dharam continued with roles like in SATYAKAM and ANUPAMA, he may have gotten more recognition as an actor, not just the he-man macho testosterone-driven hero :) From the few interviews and articles that I’ve read, it looks like it mattered to him to be recognized not for looks but for talent. But that, probably, meant settling for more character roles than main leads or heroes (I actually think, in CHUPKE he showed his talent at playing “a character”).

                You know, there’s often a discussion in regards to Sanjeev as being more of a character actor than a hero – and I think, it’s futile. He was a great actor who excelled any role he played – but to be fair, his most interesting work was in character roles (because those usually offer more challenge and depth). And that’s where the issue is, in my view. I’ve seen such discussions often reduced to a very simple point: if the actor plays heroes, he’s more popular – but the character actors are thought of as having more versatility and talent. It may be somewhat true but I don’t think it has to be mutually exclusive: if the actor has skills, he would be equally good playing whatever role he gets.

                Obviously, Sanjeev is the absolute authority for me – but I feel that Dharam could’ve done more interesting work had he chosen more character roles to show his versatility and skills. Of course, I don’t know his filmography well enough to speculate about it but that’s the impression I get from the articles and discussions that I’ve come across.

                • I agree completely; if Dharmendra had persevered and opted for roles that allowed him more ‘acting’, he would probably have been able to show off his versatility as an actor rather better. I do appreciate the fact, though, that he was one of the few leading men of the 60s who had the courage to take on roles in women-centric films. In Dharmendra’s case, Anupama is an example; so are Bandini and Majhli Didi, both very good films too (I have a particular fondness for Majhli Didi – such a wonderful little film.

  15. Shikar did have excellent songs apart from the famous Parde mein rehne do. May be that was one of the reasons for its big success.

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