This is one of those films that have a very interesting—and unexpected—twist that can come totally as a bolt out of the blue if you’re watching it for the first time. Subsequent watchings, no matter how far apart, tend to dilute the suspense a good deal because (unless you have a really frightful memory) you know what’s coming. And somehow, unlike films like Teesri Manzil or Mera Saaya or Woh Kaun Thi?, Jewel Thief lacks other elements that could encourage repeated viewings.
But more on that later. To begin with, a synopsis of what this is all about. The film gets off to a running start, with a series of newspaper headlines proclaiming the activities of a jewel thief who’s been wreaking havoc all across India, driving the police batty and making the Home Minister promise that the government is doing its best to apprehend this mysterious thief.
At an important meeting, the Police Commissioner of Bombay (Nasir Hussain) pledges to catch the jewel thief by January 26.
The scene then shifts briefly to Gangtok, where Shalini (Vyjyantimala) is being awarded a prize for acting and dance by a Sikkimese queen, who makes Shalini promise that she will come and dance at the palace someday. A little boy (Master Sachin) in the audience is especially excited about Shalini’s achievement. His ill luck, as it turns out—returning all alone along a mountain path after the function, he is kidnapped by two ruffians who bundle him into a jeep and drive off.
Back to Bombay, where Vinay (Dev Anand) is trying to get a job. Vinay happens to be the son of the Police Commissioner, who has a very low opinion of Vinay and has turned him out of the house. Vinay has flunked repeatedly all through school and college, but has one redeeming quality: he’s a connoisseur of gems. Now, he goes to the shop of a leading jeweller Vishamberdas (D K Sapru) and offers his services, to find himself summarily dismissed. Vishamberdas has no time for upstarts who think they’re experts.
Vinay is nothing if not enterprising. With the help of a song and some flirting with Vishamberdas’s pretty daughter Anjali (Tanuja), he soon convinces Vishamberdas that he, Vinay, is actually worth a salary of Rs 10,000. Vishamberdas is soon singing Vinay’s praises and admiring his skill at assessing gemstones.
Anjali, who treats Vinay as a boyfriend cum general dogsbody cum best buddy, is also spending plenty of time with him—a task made easier by the fact that Vinay lives next door to Vishamberdas and Anjali.
One day at the shop, something strange happens: a man (Jagdish Raj) accosts Vinay, calling him Amar. It takes a bit of doing before he’s convinced that Vinay is Vinay, not Amar.
And one evening, another man (Thapa) also calls Vinay Amar and tries to return some money he says he’d borrowed from Amar.
This is all very peculiar, but the climax comes at Anjali’s birthday party. Vishamberdas’s old friend (Ashok Kumar) has arrived in town with his sister Shalu (remember Shalini, the superb dancer in faraway Gangtok? The same). They’re staying with Vishamberdas and are there at the party when Vinay arrives—and Shalu immediately comes to him, calling him Amar, her fiancé.
This is too much for Vinay, and he tells Shalu off. There’s a bit of a tiff, with Shalu tearing off her engagement ring and weeping buckets of humiliation and sorrow…
…while her brother fumes and even picks up the cake knife to disembowel Vinay. Finally, the brother recalls one means of identification that can conclusively prove that this man is Amar: Amar has six toes on his right foot.
And Shalu and her brother have to eat humble pie. It seems Vinay and Amar are look-alikes. Many apologies follow. Vinay is gracious enough to accept them, and even more gracious enough to become (as time goes by) Shalu’s friend and confidant. A romance begins to blossom. It runs into some heavy weather when Shalu gifts Vinay a set of clothes exactly like the ones the mysterious Amar used to wear, but Vinay forgives her and life goes on.
Meanwhile, other important events have been happening. A man who’d been present at Anjali’s birthday party and had seen the engagement ring Shalu had flung in Vinay’s face, comes to meet Commissioner Sahib, with astounding news. That ring’s a distinctive one, and the man assures the commissioner that this was the very same ring that was stolen from his house a while back. He even accompanies the commissioner to Vishamberdas’s home to meet Shalu and to positively identify the ring. Amar, it seems, is a thief…?
Vishamberdas’s trust in Vinay at least is growing daily. One day, he takes Vinay down into the basement of his shop, which is stuffed with uncut gemstones that master jewellers work on during the night. His cutters are on leave right now, so Vishamberdas has decided to assign this task to Vinay. He makes an appointment with Vinay for the following night: they’ll meet at 9 PM and Vishamberdas will show Vinay how to go about the job.
The following night, though, something unexpected crops up. Vinay is just about to leave Shalu (with whom he’s been chatting) when a stranger arrives with a note, purportedly from Amar. Shalu goes out onto the road (where, according to the note, Amar is waiting for her) and is immediately pounced upon by a bunch of goons. They twist off her engagement ring and then race off in a waiting jeep, leaving her by the side of the road, where Vinay finds her.
By the time Vinay and her brother have calmed Shalu down, it’s long past 9. Vinay rushes off to the shop, only to find it closed—and when he goes to Vishamberdas’s home, the only one around is Anjali. She gives him (literally) a song and dance, which is interrupted by the arrival of Vishamberdas. Vishamberdas is surprised when Vinay apologises for having stood him up: “But you’ve spent the last two hours with me in the shop!” Vishamberdas insists.
There is something rotten here. …So they rush back to the shop, only to find that that jewel-filled basement is now a woefully empty basement. Amar, passing himself off as Vinay, has cleaned it out.
Vishamberdas has a nervous breakdown of sorts. The police arrive, but find no clues.
Vinay, hero that he is, outsmarts the police by apprehending an eavesdropper—a skinny little runt whom he threatens to throttle unless all is revealed. The man confesses that he was paid to listen in. And paid by whom? A dancer called Helen (Helen, who else?) who is Amar’s girlfriend and dances at the Roman Nights nightclub.
Vinay, therefore, goes off to meet Helen—who doesn’t suspect he’s anyone other than Amar—and accompanies her home. There’s much billing and cooing, and guess what Helen’s wearing on her finger?
Mystery upon mystery, surprise upon surprise, and this is nowhere close to the end of it all. There’s much more to come, with the action shifting from Bombay to Poona to Calcutta to Gangtok with swiftness. Who is Amar? How is he related to Vinay? Where does that ring feature in all of this? And who was that little boy in the beginning of the film who got abducted?
Very good for one watch.
What I liked about this film:
The music. S D Burman, and very, very good. Raat akeli hai, Yeh dil na hota bechara and Hothon mein aisi baat are my favourites, but there are other lovely ones too, including the beautiful Rulaake gaya sapna mera (the only song in this film written by Shailendra; all the others were written by Majrooh Sultanpuri) and Dil pukaare aare aare.
The suspense. The first time I saw Jewel Thief, I couldn’t figure out who Amar was and where the film was leading—and then, pow!!—a sudden, completely unforeseen twist, and everything fell into place. Vijay Anand, who directed the film too, did a fine job of writing the script for this one, at least if you look at it from a suspense point of view.
What I didn’t like:
The bits that fit around the suspense angle. Unlike, say, Teesri Manzil (also directed by Vijay Anand), which had a well-scripted romance and very plausible red herrings to round it off, Jewel Thief falls a bit flat on supporting plot elements. The motive’s a little weak. Vinay’s romance with Shalu is insipid and unconvincing (it mainly consists of songs). And the characterisations—especially Vinay’s—are sadly lacking. Vinay, for instance, is a somewhat ambiguous character who seems to spend all his time either peering at gems or flirting with anything in a dress (or without).
And that brings me to the second thing I didn’t like about Jewel Thief: the women, except for Vyjyantimala’s Shalu. There were some fine actresses here (including some of my favourites): Tanuja, Helen, Faryal, Anju Mahendru. But they’re wasted; all they do is prance around in slinky dresses and sit in Dev Anand’s lap or flirt with him. Other than contributing to the notion that Amar was a die-hard womaniser (or that Vinay is pretty much the same), they don’t do a thing. Was this an attempt to do a Hindi James Bond, I wonder?
The problem with Jewel Thief is that it hinges on a very important climax, which (no matter how hard I try!) I can’t forget. That is, of course, a huge plus for the screenplay—and though there are some holes in the plot, the suspense is on the whole pretty good. But if you remember what the twist in the tale is, subsequent rewatchings can become a bit tedious; other than the songs, there’s not enough to hold your attention if you know where all of this is leading up to.
And oh, this. Who on earth thought a sari with balls of cottonwool stuck all over it would look pretty? Please.
Still, a must-watch for at least once.