I’ve been exceptionally busy over the past few weeks, and even had to give up the idea of publishing a post last week—simply because I didn’t have the time. But today is the birthday of my favourite Hindi film star, Shammi Kapoor—how could I not post a tribute?
So, even though it’s meant doing some crazy juggling of schedules, here we go. A Shammi Kapoor film that, while it’s not classic Shammi, is at least fairly entertaining. And has the distinction of being the earliest Hindi film I’ve seen which was actually filmed abroad, not just set abroad.
Singapore was an Indo-Malayan production, and the story begins in Singapore itself. In a club, Ramesh (Gautam Mukherjee) and his girlfriend Shobha (Shashikala) meet up, totally unaware that some pretty shady characters (including Chang—Madan Puri, looking a clone of his China Town self) are keeping an eye on them.
Even the lampshade on the table where Ramesh and Shobha sit has a bugging device. This enables Shobha’s father Shivdas (K N Singh), who’s sitting in an upstairs room (and obviously owns this joint) to listen in on the conversation between his daughter and Ramesh.
Ramesh has been living and working in Singapore on behalf of his childhood friend-cum-boss, Shyam, who lives in India. Shyam has inherited a large rubber estate here, and Ramesh’s job is to now sell it off.
Shobha is worried that once the rubber estate deal is done, Ramesh will return to India, leaving her all alone. Ramesh cheers her up now by telling her that’s not the case; in fact, he’s realised the rubber estate shouldn’t be sold at all…
…an opinion he repeats when he phones Shyam (Shammi Kapoor) later that evening. Ramesh informs Shyam that he’s discovered a map which indicates the existence of a treasure on the estate; Shyam would be well-advised to find and appropriate the treasure before he sells the estate.
All very well, but in the midst of this conversation, Ramesh realises there’s somebody lurking around in the room next to his office. When he gets up to investigate [having first, prudently, hidden the map], he’s attacked and lugged off by two men. Another [who seems to be blessed with the deliciously unbelievable name of Lo Mein] enters, and places the phone receiver back on the hook.
Shyam is, not surprisingly, puzzled. So he books a seat on the next flight to Singapore—and meets, on the plane, a stylish Malay woman who introduces herself as Maria (Maria Menado, one of the hottest Malay filmstars of the period, and also the first Malay woman to become a film producer). They get acquainted during the flight.
[When did Air India stop dressing their air hostesses this way?]
When they disembark, Shyam is greeted by Cha Chu (Agha), who works at Shyam’s Singapore office. He’s come to receive Shyam and give him the sad news that Ramesh has still not turned up. After giving Maria a lift to wherever she’s headed, Cha Chu takes Shyam to the office, where he’s introduced to the rest of the staff, including Cha Chu’s girlfriend, the steno-typist Chin Chin Choo (Lilian).
After some preliminary ‘seeing the sights’ [and, this being a Shammi Kapoor film, singing to a bevy of lovely ladies in the process], Shyam and Cha Chu get down to work. They report Ramesh’s disappearance to the police, and then come back to their own office for a chat. In the course of this conversation, Cha Chu mentions that Ramesh was in love with Shivdas’s daughter, Shobha. We also learn that Shivdas, like Shyam, owns a rubber estate. Cha Chu suggests that Shobha may know where Ramesh is, and tells Shyam where to find Shobha: she dances at the New India Club.
Shyam, arriving at the New India Club, doesn’t realise that the girl who’s dancing here isn’t Shobha but her cousin, Lata (Padmini). When he introduces himself after the show, Lata (who’d been told, by Shobha, about Ramesh’s old pal), is friendly and welcoming—and even invites Shyam to come home and meet her uncle and cousin.
It takes a while before the misunderstanding is cleared and Shyam discovers that the lady who seems so callously unconcerned about Ramesh is actually not Ramesh’s fiancée after all. Shobha herself is suitably worried about the disappearance of her sweetheart, and admits that she has no idea where he’s vanished.
Shyam’s evening at the Shivdas residence is quite eventful, especially as the two cousins leave him to his own devices at periodic intervals. During one of these intervals, he’s lighting a cigarette when he sees a woman walk by in the corridor beyond, and slip out of the house. Shyam recognises her: it’s his steno, Chin Chin Choo!
He isn’t able to investigate that further, because Shivdas arrives just then, as does Lata, who introduces the two men to each other.
The next day, at his office, however, Shyam questions Chin Chin Choo. She denies it; it wasn’t her at Shivdas’s home.
And, another lady resurfaces: Shyam receives a phone call from Maria, the Malay woman he’d met on the Bombay-Singapore flight. Maria wants to show Shyam the sights [in essence, hit on him], so he agrees to meet her.
They cavort around in some gardens, and Maria makes it pretty obvious that she’s attracted to Shyam. She tries to persuade him to sell off the rubber estate; at least that, and the problems it entails, won’t prey on his mind any longer. [Hmm. Something fishy].
When Shyam doesn’t really listen, Maria invites him to come over to her home—and, while he’s there, someone (through a window that’s been conveniently left open) takes a pot shot at him. Shyam escapes unhurt, but Maria is quite distraught, and takes a bit of calming down.
Shyam is mystified: why would anybody want to kill him? He’s just arrived in Singapore; nobody even knows him.
As it happens, on his way back from Maria’s home, Shyam sees Shivdas and Chin Chin Choo together in Shivdas’s car, but they speed off. Shyam is now definitely suspicious. What is going on?
Shyam, therefore, has a chat with Cha Chu in the office, and even Cha Chu is bewildered. They sit at the desk (which is the same one from which Ramesh had phoned Shyam the last time they talked). And, in the course of discussing what could have happened to Ramesh and why anybody would want to kill Shyam—they discover a quirky cigarette case that Ramesh kept in the drawer…
Even more interestingly, they find, tucked away among the cigarettes, the map. Ah! Finally. Something to go on. Shyam and Cha Chu peruse the map, and Shyam thinks it over.
The next day, the newspaper carries an advertisement inserted by Shyam, regarding the mysterious map: if anyone knows what it’s about, they’re welcome to it. Shyam’s theory is that Ramesh was abducted because of the map, so he’s hoping his pal will be released in exchange for the map.
[He takes the precaution of making a copy of the map and keeping the original back in the cigarette case. Smart cookie, our Shyam].
Shivdas, having seen the ad, phones, and Shyam explains his logic. Shivdas agrees; yes, that might help get Ramesh back. He also informs Shyam that he (Shivdas), along with Lata and Shobha, are off to their rubber estate for the day. Why doesn’t Shyam come along? They’ll have a picnic.
Shyam accepts the invitation, and makes a big show of taking along the map (actually, the copy he made)—he places it in a file and tells Shivdas that on the way back, he’d like to stop over at the police station and show it to the cops.
On the rubber estate (which abuts Shyam’s own estate), Shyam and Lata are soon left to themselves by both Shivdas and Shobha. The two lovebirds go off to sing and dance and cootchy-coo a bit…
…while Shivdas sneaks back to the car and retrieves the map from the file which Shyam had left there. He sets off into the rubber estate (presumably making his way into Shyam’s estate as he does so), following the map.
As it happens, Shobha, looking out of the window just then, sees her father walking purposefully [suspiciously?] off, and decides to follow him.
En route, two ruffians abduct Shobha, without her father’s even realising it.
When Shyam, back at the estate house after romancing Lata, discovers that both Shivdas and Shobha have gone off into the estate, he heads out after them. He sees Shivdas soon enough, and calls out to the man to stop. Shivdas doesn’t—
—until some unknown, unseen sniper shoots him and Shivdas falls to the ground, clutching his chest and gasping for water. [Does being shot cause a sudden uncontrollable thirst?] Shyam dutifully rushes off to find some water for the injured man, but when he returns, Shivdas has disappeared. Oops.
If you think this is getting convoluted, wait on, as Shivdas’s body resurfaces—this time in Shyam’s bathroom, and that too at an uncomfortable time when the police (who suspect Shyam of having had a hand in the disappearance of Shobha and Shivdas) have come visiting. Lata is also around, so at one fell swoop, poor Shyam finds himself:
(a) being spurned by his girlfriend, who’s convinced he’s a murderer and kidnapper; and
(b) arrested by the cops
Who killed Shivdas? Why? Is there really a treasure? And who is Chang’s mysterious boss [considering this boss is masked, obviously pretty curvy despite the bulky trench coat, and speaks with a very familiar accent, it’s not hard to guess]?
What I liked about this film:
Shammi Kapoor. He’s at his debonair, suave best here—and very funny too in his disguise as a Pathan named Khan Gulab Khan.
Some of the songs. The music of Singapore isn’t, in my opinion, one of Shankar-Jaikishan’s best scores for a Shammi Kapoor film. Even more disappointing, my favourite song from the film—Rasa sayang re—turns out (thanks for telling me this, Bombaynoir) a pretty faithful lift from a traditional Malay song. Dhokha khaayegi na yaaron ki nazar is a delightful song, though, and Shammi is in his element.
Edwina Lyons! This is one film where she’s quite visible, both in Dhokha khaayegi na yaaron ki nazar and Rasa sayang re, as well as in a scene set at a gambling table where she rakes in the moolah, and even gets to cry out “Don’t fight!” to Shammi Kapoor and another actor.
What I didn’t like:
Oh, the sheer ineptness of the script. There’s a little suspense building up in the first half-hour or so of the film, but it falls flat as a bad soufflé after that, because it becomes fairly obvious who the baddies are and why they’re hounding Ramesh and Shyam. And the plot holes are among the most gaping I’ve seen: for example, Maria’s being on the same Bombay-Singapore flight as Shyam, and sitting next to him too, turns out later to not be a coincidence—but how did she manage it?
How, for example, can a man whose corpse has been found by the police—and, one assumes, autopsied, or at least checked for being actually dead—turn up again alive? And, anyway, why go through all that drama? (since it eventually doesn’t seem to serve much purpose)
I have a feeling that Singapore was something of a run-up to China Town for Shakti Samanta. There are similarities between the films. For instance, besides Shammi Kapoor, both films also feature Helen, Madan Puri, and the actor who plays the role of Inspector Chung in Singapore (does anybody know who this is)?
Other than that, there’s a definitely Oriental feel to both films: the settings, of course; but also the music [and the font of the title credits!] More than that, there’s the fact that the suspense angle dominates in both Singapore as well as China Town. China Town wins hands down—the script is more taut and suspenseful, and Shammi Kapoor’s role(s) are much meatier, plus his chemistry with both Helen and Shakila is better than with Padmini.
But, if you haven’t seen China Town, and get a chance to see Singapore, do watch: it’s fair ‘time-pass’. It’s not a bad film, and Shammi Kapoor is—as always—so wonderfully watchable.