I have to admit that I watched this film against all advice. Anu had watched it a couple of years back (and had written up a review of it); but I—remembering a long-ago viewing of Hum Sab Chor Hain, which I’d enjoyed immensely—decided to give it a try anyway.
And, it seems the version I got to watch, while as incoherent in the second half as the one that Anu saw, at least had some more parts intact. The main problem, from what I could see, was that—possibly in transferring the film from celluloid to digital—the reels got mixed up, with one of the reels that should’ve come early in the film ending up later, thus making things very confusing. Despite that (and despite some shameful editing in the last half-hour by the video production company), this evoked one reaction in me: If only this could’ve been available in the original version. Because, if you try to fit the pieces together and imagine what might have been in the bits so summarily chopped off, you can see the outline of what must have been a pretty funny and entertaining film.
But, to get on with the story. Hum Sab Chor Hain opens to the sight of Sukhram (IS Johar) and Budhram (Majnun), pretending to be oh-so-virtuous social servants, who live for the welfare of their fellow human beings. In private, though, these two gloat over all their gains from the day’s work: watches, wallets, jewellery and other valuables spill out of their bags and pockets, along with scissors. Sukhram steals a portion of chicken from a neighbouring restaurant (by the simple—if improbable, given that the restaurant has a roof—method of using a fishing rod and line).
The two are settling down to eat when an old acquaintance turns up. This is a detective, who makes a living out of tracking down missing people. Sukhram and Budhram assure him that they are on the straight and narrow now, no going back to their crooked ways of the past. Satisfied [what sort of detective is this, to be so easily taken in?], the man asks them about their erstwhile partner, Bimla. Oh, they tell him, she’s in jail. She was caught by the police for stealing.
We are shown Bimla (Nalini Jaywant), who is, sure enough, in jail. Looking very sorry for herself in a jailbird outfit, Bimla is busy crying—in a metaphorical sense—on the shoulder of a sympathetic jailor. She was not guilty, she asserts; she was more gullible than anything else. The two men she had been seen with, had convinced her that they were sadhus. Good men, so good that the chief God man even refused to touch any of the wealth that the pious wanted to donate; he made Bimla gather all of it in her aanchal instead…
… which is the reason she was chased by the police, while the two ‘sadhus’ made their escape.
Bimla goes on to explain what happened next. Still chased by the police [but, presumably giving them the slip], Bimla ends up meeting a theatre artiste-and-owner named Nath (Shammi Kapoor). Nath’s somewhat gruff kindness—giving her a big meal to eat, letting her sleep on the couch in his home, even defending her against the disapproval of his mother—completely bowls Bimla over.
So much, in fact, that Bimla outright confesses to a bewildered Nath that she’s fallen for him [now if that isn’t impulsive, I don’t know what is. But Bimla doesn’t conform to most expectations of how a Hindi film heroine is supposed to behave]. Nath, not your usual Hindi film hero, doesn’t welcome these advances and very bluntly tells Bimla so. She, stoically enough, lets it go. Will he get her a job at the theatre instead? She is in sore need of a job. And she knows English, as she points out.
But an English-speaking leading lady is already in place at Nath’s theatre. This is the haughty, bossy Madam Fifi (Ameeta), who thinks Western song-and-dance is what makes the theatre popular. She’s constantly clearing her throat and getting it sprayed by the theatre’s two general assistants (one of whom is played by Rajendranath).
Madam Fifi makes it very clear very early on that she thinks Bimla is detestable. Bimla, not to be outdone, returns the favour, and Nath finds himself stuck between the two. Not, in a refreshing departure from the norm, in a romantic way, but in a purely business-social-professional way: neither he nor Madam Fifi have any romantic interest in each other, and Nath feels nothing for the waif he’s saddled himself with.
Sadly, this is where Bimla’s cheery reminiscences about her shortlived time at the theatre come to an end, because the police caught up with her soon after, arrested her, and bunged her in jail.
Fortunately, Bimla is now released, after two and a half years of imprisonment. She gets out of jail, and immediately runs into the detective [see above; the man who asked Sukhram and Budhram about Bimla]. He is struck by her face and mumbles to himself something about her looking exactly like someone else. He follows this up by telling Bimla he’s a PI, and then informs her that a certain Kamla Devi has been looking for her [Bimla is suspicious: who Kamla Devi? She doesn’t know any Kamla Devi]. The man foists a card with Kamla Devi’s name, and an address (The Great Hotel) on Bimla, and tells her to go meet the lady in question.
While Bimla puzzles over this, the detective phones Kamla Devi (Nalini Jaywant again, but a soft-spoken, sari-clad version, the stereotypical Bharatiya naari). Kamla is ecstatic to receive the news. Her twin sister! Found, after so many years of being apart! In her brief conversation with the detective, Kamla also lets drop the fact that her husband, Deepak, is not at all the quiet gentleman she had taken him to be: he’s a villain of the first order, and a gambler to boot. If it wasn’t for their baby…
The conversation over, Deepak (Pran, who else?) arrives, right on cue and begins to demand Kamla’s jewels, to sell or pawn to pay off gambling debts. A quarrel erupts between husband and wife; Deepak tries to snatch the baby from Kamla, and in the tussle that ensues, Deepak is left holding the baby while Kamla pitches over backwards into the sea.
She is rescued shortly after by a passing ship. When she comes to, Dr Ram (Kanu Roy), who had first spotted her in the water, tries asking her who she is and where she should be taken, but Kamla has lost her memory. Yay!
In the meantime, Bimla arrives at The Great Hotel, where—in the lobby—she bumps into Deepak, who is holding his baby. She asks him if he knows of a Kamla Devi, and Deepak (on whom, of course, this stranger’s startling resemblance to his supposedly dead wife has not gone unnoticed) says yes. He asks Bimla to hold the baby briefly, while he takes her upstairs to meet Kamla. Bimla, a little surprised [I would be, too, if a random stranger handed me their baby], nevertheless complies happily.
This happiness is marred by some confusion: as they cross the lobby and go up the stairs, several people greet the two of them, and refer to Bimla as Mrs Deepak. This man is drunk, Deepak tells Bimla, when she expresses puzzlement. And that one is mad. So, too, is that one.
When they reach Kamla’s room, Deepak makes Bimla sit down—still with the baby in her arms—and tells her that he’ll go and fetch Kamla. Instead, he sneaks downstairs and tells everybody he can find that his wife has flipped her lid. She is prone to this, he explains; now and then, Kamla has a fit of madness in which she starts denying that she’s Kamla, and that she’s married to Deepak. Naturally, when Bimla—sick of sitting around, with no Kamla putting in an appearance—comes downstairs soon after, she’s regarded with suspicion by all and sundry. When addressed as ‘Mr Deepak’s wife, Kamla’, she hotly denies that she’s anything of the sort.
Poof. The next thing we know, poor Bimla is being hauled off, yelling denial all through, to the lunatic asylum.
Fortunately for us (and herself), this heroine is an enterprising one—and this lunatic asylum seems to feature on the tourist itinerary of Bombay. A group of burqa-clad women is being shown around the premises by a staff member [Look at this paagal here. Isn’t she odd? Shudders all around]. Bimla, seeing some black shawls/sheets/burqas/whatever hanging up to dry, surreptitiously pulls them down, drapes them around herself, and scurries off in the wake of the tourists as they leave the paagal khana.
Bimla soon manages to make her way back to Nath [who, in commendably un-hero-like behaviour, isn’t keen on having her back, because he’d rather focus on theatre and suchlike than romance a nutcase like Bimla]. Right now, Nath and his colleague Dayaram (Ram Avtar) are preparing to meet a financier, Seth Dheerajmal Shantidas Crorepati [Badriprasad; the ‘Crorepati’ tacked on to his name is used pretty frequently, rather in the style of ‘so-and-so, BA’ or Jolly, LLB].
Sethji, we discover (from a chat between two of the clerks who work in his office) is not just a hard taskmaster, but a nasty, impatient, and rude man, too. He was not always like this, says one of the older clerks. There was a time when Dheerajmal Shantidas had both dheeraj (patience) and shanti (tranquility, peace): when he was a happy man, a husband and father. But, fifteen years ago, his wife and twin daughters—then five years old—had been in a boating accident. The wife’s body was found, but nothing is known of the two girls, though Sethji has been trying assiduously all these years to track them down.
That, then, is the setup. Bimla, Kamla, Sethji. The evil Deepak, the handsome (if somewhat superfluous, except in the way of love interest) Nath. And, very importantly, the two crooks, Sukhram/Budhram or whatever they call themselves at any given point of time in the film. Of course you know everything will work out fine, and the father will be united with his daughters and whatnot, but how will they achieve that?
Hum Sab Chor Hain was one of the earlier films to be directed by IS Johar (he had already directed Nastik and Shrimatiji, among others), and it’s easy to see why IS Johar—and Majnun, his long-time chum and onscreen partner—got along so well with Roop Shorey: Hum Sab Chor Hain has pretty much the same sort of Hollywood screwball comedy-like feel to it of Shorey’s films. It has a message too, but at its core, it’s a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
What I liked about this film:
The entertainment value. This isn’t as outright farcical as (say) Dekh Kabira Roya or Pyaar Kiye Jaa, but it’s got great pace, lots of twists and turns, and a heroine who is an absolute delight. Nalini Jaywant as Bimla is spunky, witty, unafraid of speaking her mind or of duping people (though not in a criminal way) when the situation demands it. And yet, she isn’t the tomboyish, hard-as-nails shrew who must be tamed. (Interestingly, the other major female role in the film—Ameeta’s Madam Fifi—is an unusual one too. Madam Fifi is not the stereotypical vamp; she’s not chasing after Nath, for one; for another, she isn’t really villainous, just selfish, bossy, and too full of herself).
Also, a mention of the bad guys. Pran, while he is the villain, gets relatively little screen time, and Deepak is outright evil: a gambler, a lecher, a man who has no qualms about using people. The characters played by IS Johar and Majnun, on the other hand, are petty crooks. Disguises (everything from Tam-Brahms to Goan gentlemen, from sadhus to lawyers to two women—these men play them all); picking pockets; conning people into parting with money—they do all of this, and more. But, deep down, these bad guys are good guys, their hearts in the right place. And while we do see them brought to justice, it’s with the suspicion that they will probably, on their emergence from jail, go back to being as crooked as before—and that one really can’t stop liking them despite that.
The music, by OP Nayyar. While Hum Sab Chor Hain may not be among his top scores, it has its share of good songs. My favourite (which I was glad to see was included in this version) is Woh baat jispe ke dhadke jiya, with O Mr Banjo ishaara toh samjho a close second, and Gudiya tere raaj mein baaje baaja and Humko hanste dekh zamaana jalta hai also worth mentioning.
And yes, Hum Sab Chor Hain gave me a chance to see an early version of the sort of thing Mere saamne waali khidki mein exemplified: the hero lip-syncing to a ‘playback singer’: Tere aage bolna dushvaar ho gaya has Nath lip-syncing to Dayaram’s singing in an effort to woo a girl (“Because you can successfully woo a girl only by singing. Don’t all the Hindi films show that?” asks Dayaram).
What I didn’t like:
The butchery of the last half-hour or so of the film is (I am sure) to be laid at the door of whichever video company produced this DVD or VCD, so I won’t touch on the seeming incoherence of that section.
That said, this was a fun watch, and there was little there that irritated me enough to make me swear off a rewatch. Yes, Sukhram/Budhram and their disguises get a little tedious, and the courtroom scenes are, predictably, far removed from reality. Neither of those, however, was too bad.
On the whole, a film worth hoping will be released sometime soon in its correct, intact form.