Chor Bazaar (1954)

There were various reasons for my wanting to see this film. One was that it’s a historical (okay, faux historical, considering it’s set in some undefined supposedly Middle Eastern land named Sherqand). The other was that its music was scored by Sardar Malik, one of—in my opinion—Hindi cinema’s very underrated music directors. The main reason, however, was Shammi Kapoor. Though still in his moustached pre-Tumsa Nahin Dekha days, he is one of my favourite actors. So just about anything starring Shammi Kapoor is, for me, worth watching at least once.

Shammi Kapoor in Chor BazaarChor Bazaar begins in the appropriate setting: a chor bazaar (which the film interprets as a market where thieves abound, as opposed to the more usual concept of a chor bazaar: a market where stolen goods are sold). Here, we are introduced to the chief thief, Yusuf Ustad (Om Prakash), who boasts about how skillful he is at his work. His fame has obviously spread far and wide, for shortly after the start of the story, Yusuf Ustad is approached by a powerful nobleman, Amir Abukaan (Munshi Munakka) and charged with a secret mission…

Yusuf is given a commission
…which is to murder the infant prince, the Shahzada Murad. [Why it is presumed that an adept thief will also make an efficient murderer is beyond me, but Yusuf doesn’t think it strange, so who am I to disagree?] Yusuf is offered a mouthwatering sum—10,000 dinars—for the job, and readily agrees to it.

While Yusuf is gearing up to carry out this mission, we are given a behind-the-scenes peek at who has actually commissioned him. Abukaan reports to Mustafa (WM Khan), the regent of Sherqand and from their conversation we discover that:
(a) Arsalan, the ruler of Sherqand and Murad’s father, has died six months earlier
(b) … leaving the baby, Murad, as his heir
(c) However, since Murad is so small, Mustafa (Arsalan’s brother) has been appointed regent; and
(d) Mustafa has decided he’s had enough of keeping the throne warm for this baby, and if Murad is conveniently gotten rid of, he can become ruler himself.

Thus Yusuf’s commission.

As they say, however, about the best-laid plans of mice and men: they tend to go adrift. Yusuf, creeping into the baby prince’s chamber that night, lifts his dagger to stab the child, and is dumbstruck by the child’s cuteness [I can think of cuter onscreen babies I’ve seen, but let’s not nitpick].

Little Prince Murad, seeing whom...
He cannot bring himself to kill this baby in cold blood, so he gathers up the child, bundles it up, and makes off with it.

...Yusuf pauses.
Before he leaves, however, Yusuf [being the canny thief he is, and realizing that Mustafa will look for evidence of Murad’s death] cuts himself and lets his blood drip on to Murad’s bed sheets. This, when Abukaan discovers it, causes great joy in the heart of the blackguard, who immediately reports it to the regent. Mustafa, in turn, has it proclaimed that someone has murdered the baby ruler, and therefore Mustafa is now the Baadshah. [It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Mustafa or Abukaan that they should ask Yusuf for the corpse].

The once-regent, now-king immediately orders his accomplice—Abukaan—to have Yusuf killed. The na rahega baans, na bajegi baansuri principle.

Mustafa and Abukaan exult
Little do they know that Yusuf, while not smart enough to have wondered what he’ll say if a corpse is demanded, is smart enough to have realized that it’s stupid to hang around in Sherqand with such a bloodthirsty monarch on the throne. He has therefore gathered up his little family—two daughters named Shakila and Jamila, and little Murad [whom Yusuf names Salim—with Shakila immediately shortening this bhaalo naam to an idiotic-sounding Sheemu; strains of a Bengali heritage, what?]—and has fled Sherqand.

Yusuf with Shakila and 'Sheemu'
A little aside: while introducing Shakila and Jamila to the little prince, Yusuf discovers that the child has, on his upper arm, a tattoo depicting the coat of arms of Sherqand. [The tattoo looks metallic, by the way: rather like a stick-on].

The tattoo on the baby's arm
This, if spotted, can prove fatal, he realizes; and Shakila, who is a canny kid, quickly finds a solution. She points out that Jamila and little Murad/Sheemu are the spitting image of each other [they aren’t, but anyhow]: Yusuf can easily pass off Sheemu as his own son.

Jamila, supposedly looking very much like Murad/Sheemu
And—Shakila removes a broad armband from Jamila’s arm, and transfers it onto Sheemu’s, thus covering up his tattoo—nobody will even be able to see the evidence of Sheemu’s royal birth.

18 years pass [and, wonder of wonders, not in seeing Sheemu grow from toddler to man while running]. Yusuf decides the time is ripe for Sheemu to come back to Sherqand and claim his heritage; so the family—Yusuf, his daughters, and Sheemu (now Shammi Kapoor, and looking very dashing indeed) relocates to Sherqand. Sheemu has been brought up to be a thief, though [and this is surprising for a Hindi film] Yusuf has also told him, well and proper, who he really is: Shahzada Murad, rightful heir to the throne of Sherqand.

Sheemu, all grown up
When we first see the grown-up Sheemu, he is slinking –through an underwater passage—into the royal treasury. While he manages to slip through the very narrow grille and even creates a diversion by alarming a flock of geese down in the tunnels [no, the geese aren’t there to provide meals for peckish guards, but to act as sort-of watchdogs, sounding the alarm], Sheemu’s attempt to loot the treasury falls flat. He is seen and races out of the treasury, chased by a bunch of guards.

Sheemu tries to break into the royal treasury
En route, trying to hide from the guards, Sheemu climbs up onto a balcony—and finds himself looking into the private chamber of the princess, Shahzaadi Gulnar (Sumitra Devi). Gulnar is surrounded by some sickeningly sycophantic maids who go on and on about how beautiful she is [and Gulnar seems to concur]. Sheemu, looking on, is quite smitten.

The Princess Gulnar
When he gets back home, the first thing Sheemu does is to ask Yusuf if—since Gulnar, being the daughter of the king, Sheemu’s uncle—it is permissible by law and religion for him to marry his cousin. Yusuf agrees that it is, but warns Sheemu: Gulnar is the daughter of his enemy! Her father had tried to have Sheemu killed as a baby. Remember?!

Yusuf’s younger daughter, Jamila (Kammo) is equally against a Sheemu-Gulnar romance. This, because [horrors! Is this a Hindi film or what?] – even though she’s grown up with him, she doesn’t regard him as a brother: quite the opposite; she has her eye on him. Sheemu too flirts with Jamila, even after admitting that he is besotted by Gulnar.

Sheemu flirts with Jamila
Little does Sheemu know that Gulnar’s marriage has already been fixed. Her prospective bridegroom is Shahzada Hyder (Wasti) of Marakash [Marrakesh?]. The shahzada has come to meet his bride-to-be for the first time, to finalise the match, and has brought, as a token of his agreement to the betrothal, a large pearl.

Shahzada Hyder comes to meet Gulnar...
This, he says, gifting it to a simpering Gulnar, is traditionally given to the bride of the ruler of Marakash by the ruler. And she, in turn, passes it on to her firstborn son. Instead of asking him what happens if the woman never has a son, Gulnar thanks him and shows all the signs of being quite content with the match…

... and is accepted with simpering
…even going so far as to sleep with the precious pearl in an open box on her bedside table [Just the most obvious thing to do when given a priceless treasure].
And, sure enough, in the middle of the night, a thief, a lithe young woman named Cheeku (Chitra) creeps in, steals the pearl, and makes off with it.

Cheeku steals the pearl
The princess wakes up right after and raises a hue and cry. There’s a furor in the palace and the city; the Kotwal (Ram Avtar) is told to get his men looking for the pearl; and—worst of all—Gulnar’s betrothed, Shahzada Hyder, flies into a rage. He raves and rants about how matchless that pearl was, and vows that if—within a month—the pearl hasn’t been found and restored to him, his armies will attack Sherqand and raze it to the ground.

Hyder threatens Mustafa with dire consequences
This, of course, gets everybody very worried, and the king announces a huge reward for anybody who can find the lost pearl.

Yusuf and Sheemu have a great idea [they think it’s great; I think it’s iffy, but it works, so that’s what counts]; they decide to lure the thief by suspending a large piece of glass in a bag over a water channel. They announce loud and clear to everybody that this is a valuable diamond, and whoever wants it may feel free to try to get it.

Yusuf and Sheemu set up a trick to lure Cheeku
Sheemu hides nearby, and sure enough, Cheeku [who’s really pretty dumb to fall for a trick like that] soon comes along and tries to steal the ‘diamond’. She’s quickly caught and overpowered by Sheemu and Yusuf (with Shakila and Jamila also having to pitch in because Cheeku puts up such a fight and is slippery as an eel).

Cheeku is caught
They soon discover that she’s come all the way from Marakash. She also turns out to be a rather silly, childish sort [that was how she struck me; the character, I think, was meant to be impish and energetic and effervescent].

Cheeku
Sheemu and Yusuf are able to retrieve the pearl from Cheeku. Seeing her skill as a thief, they realize she can be of great assistance to them in their endeavour to break into the treasury (which, as Yusuf says, is necessary for Sheemu to muster an army, mount a campaign, and regain his kingdom).

Sheemu points out that Cheeku is also much slimmer than him and so should have no problem sliding through the narrow grille and into the royal treasury to let Yusuf and Sheemu in. [For some odd reason, Sheemu has told Yusuf that the grille was too narrow for him to enter the treasury, although the earlier scene in the film does show him having crossed a too-narrow grille. Some gaps there, in editing].

Yusuf and Sheemu realise how useful Cheeku can be
Cheeku, who hasn’t been told yet who Sheemu really is, has, in the meantime, gone and fallen in love with this handsome thief. She’s quite an unprepossessing creature, impulsive and wild (she admits quite readily that she hasn’t bathed for the past six months, and throws a tantrum when Shakila and Jamila try to bathe her). After much coaxing and wheedling, however, she agrees to help Sheemu and Yusuf break into the treasury—provided they buy her whatever she wants…

Cheeku sets about binge-shopping off Sheemu's money
…which turns out to be about half the wares in the marketplace. And more. Sheemu. Cheeku is no shrinking violet; she’s decided she loves Sheemu, so why shouldn’t she have him?

Which, of course, is a bit of a problem, since Sheemu is in love with Gulnar (who, mind you, hasn’t even met him yet).

Gulnar, Sheemu's love
What will happen? Will Sheemu be able to claim his throne? [of course he will; a long-lost child with a distinctive tattoo doesn’t have that tattoo for nothing] And how? How will Sheemu balance his love for Gulnar with his enmity against her evil father? And what of Cheeku? [What, also, of Jamila, who is left pretty much high and dry by this point in the film]?

What I liked about this film:

Shammi Kapoor. Having praised him so much in my introduction to this post, I must add a disclaimer: most of the early Shammi Kapoor films I’ve seen—Shama Parwana, Rail ka Dibba, Rangeen Raatein, etc—are fairly forgettable, and invariably have him playing characters far removed from the sort of charismatic, slightly loony but charming heroes of his films Tumsa Nahin Dekha onwards.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise to find Shammi Kapoor’s role in Chor Bazaar somewhat like a sneak preview of later films: Sheemu/Murad is the attractive, swashbuckling hero who is a thief of sorts, flirts left, right and centre, yet has his heart in the right place. A likable character, and definitely one of the best of Mr Kapoor’s characters from his early films that I’ve seen.

Shammi Kapoor in Chor Bazaar
The end. While the end of the political thread of the story was pretty much what I’d expected, the romantic thread took a turn that caught me a little bit by surprise—but made me smile too.

And, lastly, the music by Sardar Malik (who, for those who aren’t familiar with him, was the father of music director Anu Malik). Even though the songs of Chor Bazaar aren’t very well-known, there are some lovely tunes here. My favourites include the melodious Chalta rahe yeh kaarvaan; the very peppy Yeh duniya ke mele magar hum akele; and Hui yeh humse naadaani, teri mehfil mein aa baithe.

What I didn’t like:

The two female leads, and their respective characters. Neither Sumitra Devi nor Chitra are among my favourites, and the women they play in Chor Bazaar do nothing to boost my appreciation of these actresses. Sumitra Devi’s Gulnar is wishy-washy and assumes a fragile sort of air which is just too artificial for words. Chitra’s Cheeku is the exact opposite: too high-pitched and hot-tempered and impulsive to be believable.

The scripting. While the storyline itself is fairly interesting—presumed dead prince tries to regain his throne with the help of thieves—the scripting is clumsy, and some of the motives of characters extremely puzzling.

Still, if you’re a Shammi Kapoor fan, you might want to watch this one. It’s not the best historical out there, but it’s fun, nevertheless.

Note: Chor Bazaar is available for viewing on Youtube, on various channels. Narjis Vintage Movies have it here, Lehren has it here, and there’s even a Biscoot Talkies version, here.

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31 thoughts on “Chor Bazaar (1954)

  1. After having read this hilarious review, who would like to watch the film, if one (like me) is not a big Shammi Kapoor fan!
    Had great fun reading the review!
    Thank you, Madhu!

  2. I am a Shammi Kapoor fan like millions of others, scattered around the world. I would love to see the pre-Tumsa Nahin Dekha movies. There is one in particular entitled ‘Sipah Salar’, which was the first Indian cowboy movie. However, it is very difficult to find. Any help?

    • I had no idea that Sipah Salar was a cowboy movie; now I want to see it even more! I’ve heard of it, but have no idea where to look for it. You could keep an eye out on Youtube – recently, channels like Biscoot Talkies and Lehren have been putting up a lot of little-known old movies. I watched Rangeen Raatein and College Girl off Youtube.

      Talking of Shammi Kapoor’s pre-1957 films, there seem to be sadly very few available. I would, for instance, love to see the films he acted in opposite Geeta Bali – I’d be interested to see their onscreen chemistry.

  3. I just watched it last night. Found your review as much fun as I did the film. :-)
    As you say, yes Shammi looked rakish and handsome and very likeable considering it was his mustachioed pre tumsa nahin dekha days.
    Chitra was annoying with her screechy voice but looked fine when not screeching. The shehzadi was, oh so insipid. I preferred Chitra with her screechy voice.
    The end was really a surprise :-)

    I was thrilled to find a raja rani film all fairytailish with baghdad ka chor/marhabba atmosphere around it.
    I don’t know if I was in a great mood or what but I was totally lost in this fairy tail and found it so enjoyable.
    So many quaint lines naya chand nikalne tak no boring old, agle mahine ki — tareekh tak :-D
    hoore aasmani
    hamara insaaf aaftab ki tarah roshan hai
    My funny bone got tickled by a lot of funny lines too;
    The king after committing the heinous crime of ordering the true heir to the throne killed was rather benign and easy. Said quite a few funny things like when he chastised his commander shehzada hum par hamle ki tayyari kar raha hai aur tum abhi tak chor aur badmashon ki giriftari mein lage hue ho? or when he meets Shammi for the first time yeh naujawan kya yusuf ka beta ho sakta hai? zaroor apni maa pe gaya hoga Of course the context added to the humour.

    Well, since I watched it some hours ago these lines are fresh in my memory.
    Thanks for the enjoyable review

    • I too love the three songs you’ve listed DO. The best being hui yeh humse and the song yeh duniya ke mele magar hum akele reminded me of chakuwala chhuriwala chakuwala :-/

      There’s a scene where Shammi is summoned by the shehzadi and he’s thrilled. The typical reaction when getting ready to face one you admire is you straighten your jacket, pass a hand over your hair to settle any stray strands – and here Shammi did the same. When he lifted his hand towards his head (he was wearing a turban) I thought what? I’m sure he too forgot he was wearing a turban, but his presence of mind, he flicks the tail of his turban over his shoulder. I went *snort* at this :-D hehe

      • Oh, yes! When I heard Yeh duniya ke mele, I too was reminded of Chaakuwaala chhuriwaala. Quite a similarity.

        Your reminding me of that has now made me want to see Al Hilal – I should try looking for it again. Wasn’t there on Youtube the last time I looked.

        I must see that turban scene again! Had forgotten that little detail. Good presence of mind! :-)

    • This is such a coincidence! I’d had Chor Bazaar bookmarked for a long time, and had been meaning to watch it sometime these past months. It was quite an enjoyable fairy tale, I agree! I just wish the editing had been a little better, and the scripting could have been more taut. But no serious complaints, really. And I agree about the dialogues! That agla chaand nikalne tak struck me, too – it was so much more, well, period.

      And yes, Chitra, as long as she kept her mouth shut, was fine. The princess, in contrast, was utterly colourless and silly. Made me wonder why Shemmu would fall for her!

  4. You do not like Sumitra Devi….hmmm… well, I guess we can’t be agreeing on everything, can we? I quite like her, though I haven’t seen any of her films, except Jagte Raho. I like these old films that have this typical fairy tale kind of a story, if I had the time I wouldn’t mind seeing the film, oh yes I quite liked your review with your interesting comments.
    Did I mention it before? Sumitra Mukherjee was married to actor Gautam Mukherjee’s brother who was also an actor.

    • Have you seen Alladin aur Jaadui Chirag, starring a very young and sweet Meena Kumari, I remember seeing it long ago on Doordarshan, I quite enjoyed it. I noticed it is there on You Tube.

      • Oh, I must see that! I have heard about it, but haven’t seen it. Should be fun. :-) I have seen Ali Baba aur Chaalees Chor (starring Shakila) and really liked that quite a bit – especially as Shakila’s character was a really smart woman.

    • Oh, it’s not Sumitra Devi I dislike (other than Jaagte Raho – in which she was fine – this is the only film of hers I remember watching, so it would be unfair of me to form an opinion based solely on these two films). The problem was the role of the princess and Sumitra Devi’s rendition of it. The princess is – as pacifist so aptly puts it – really insipid, and her role didn’t require much more than simpering. All it needed was a pretty face, and that was it.

      I hadn’t known about Sumitra Mukherjee being married to Gautam Mukherjee’s brother… now which films can I see Gautam Mukherjee in?

  5. Why haven’t I come across this delightful film before, Madhu? :) Shall look around for it as soon as I get back home.

    Loved your asides as usual – especially [horrors! Is this a Hindi film or what?]. *grin* I was grinning my way through your review.

    Who does he end up with, in the end? Please tell me he has the sense to fall for Jamila. Both the princess and the thief sound horrible. (I go by your description: She also turns out to be a rather silly, childish sort [that was how she struck me; the character, I think, was meant to be impish and energetic and effervescent].

    It occurs to me that when they go about making grown women simper and act coy and/or ebullient on screen to show how chulbuli they are, it makes me want to strangle said women. (Does that make me misogynistic>)

    • Whom does he end up with? Ah, well…

      Spoiler ahead:

      No, not with the princess (thank heavens! She was quite unbearably wishy-washy). Also, not with Jamila (Kammo? She was basically there only to be the star attraction in Yeh duniya ke mele magar hum akele). So, it is Cheeku, though that’s not so much of a tragedy – at least, I didn’t think so. Firstly, because Cheeku in the latter half of the film is a slightly more likeable character, and secondly because the way the end played out – how Sheemu ended up with Cheeku – was nicely done.

      Spoiler ends

      I agree totally re: the chulbuli females of Hindi cinema. God preserve us from them. I might even go so far as to say I’d rather a melodramatic one than a chulbuli one.

  6. It was fun Indeed. Enjoyable if ignore the shortcomings and accept the film as a fantasy.
    Enjoyed your review much more than the movie. BTW I do like watching Shammi Kapoor movies.

    • “BTW I do like watching Shammi Kapoor movies.

      Oh, good! Welcome to the gang, Venkataramanji! :-) I like watching Shammi Kapoor films because they’re almost always so very entertaining. Plus, most of them had good music.

  7. Excellent review! Makes me eager watch this review(inspite of the spoiler in comments section :) ).Your asides are so hilarious :) .It is nice to watch a film without the usual tropes and a different ending(marrying the princess) .Thanks for the links above :)
    A must watch for a Shammi Kapoor fan like me!

    • Yes, coolone160! You were one of the people I was thinking would enjoy this film, since you like Shammi Kapoor. Do watch it, it’s quite a lot of good old-fashioned raja-rani fun. :-)

      Glad you enjoyed the review! And yes, it’s unusual to have a film that steers clear of many of Hindi cinema’s favourite tropes. If I recall correctly, there’s a Tony Curtis-Piper Laurie film which is very similar to this. The name escapes me right now, but otherwise it was very much along the same lines. Let me see if I can find it and watch it again; who knows, we may discover that Chor Bazaar borrowed heavily from a Hollywood film!

  8. I had the exact same take on Chor Bazaar as you, Madhu. As you said it’s one of the better early-Shammi films and a fun watch thanks to Shammi, the lovely songs and a fairly engaging plot. I agree with you about the female leads being a let down as well. I think Cheeku would have been a fabulous character had she been portrayed by a better actress, say like Shyama. Would have made the resolution of the romantic triangle all the more sweeter.

    • ” I think Cheeku would have been a fabulous character had she been portrayed by a better actress, say like Shyama.

      Great idea, Shalini! I agree with you totally. Shyama was very good at portraying the chulbuli heroine or the feisty one without going over the top – which is basically what Chitra does. A Shyama, or even a Shakila (I’m thinking of Ali Baba Aur Chaalees Chor, which had a similar setting as this, and a very sassy and smart heroine) would’ve made this romance a much more palatable one. It’s not bad, but it could’ve been better.

  9. Yes! It does sound very similar to the Tony Curtis/Piper Laurie film “The Prince Who Was a Thief” (1951). Nice that so many old films are available on youtube. Thank you always for your work!

    • Thank you, kenjn60! I’ve been so busy this past week, I actually even forgot to look up Tony Curtis’s filmography to see which film that was. Thanks for reminding me. :-)

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