Hum Sab Chor Hain (1956)

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.

Ram Avtar, Shammi Kapoor, Nalini Jaywant, Rajendranath in Hum Sab Chor Hain

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).

Sukhram and Budhram steal a chicken

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.

A detective comes visiting

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…

Bimla recounts her tale of the fake sadhus

… 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.

Nath stands up for Bimla

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.

At the theatre

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.

The detective meets Bimla

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…

Kamla hears from the detective

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.

Deepak bullies Kamla

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.

Deepak passes off an unaware Bimla as Kamla

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.

The guests at The Great Hotel are convinced of Bimla/Kamla's lunacy

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.

At the lunatic asylum

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.

Seth Dheerajmal Shantidas with a photo of his lost family

Aha.

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).

Ameeta as Madam Fifi, in Hum Sab Chor Hain

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 two crooks: IS Johar and Majnun in Hum Sab Chor Hain

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.

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32 thoughts on “Hum Sab Chor Hain (1956)

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed the review, Madhu! And it’s such a pity, really, the way DVD companies mangle things. Lukochuri, among my favourite Bangla movies, has suffered a similar fate. Saw a DVD recently. To my horror, some of the best scenes I remember from the video cassette we had years ago had been trimmed completely mindlessly. Robbed the movie of some of its finest comic timing, was the upshot.

    • Ack! And just yesterday I’d been thinking I should watch Lukochuri someday soon, because so many Bengali friends and readers have recommended it. What a shame.

      I am thoroughly pissed with a lot of these VCD/DVD manufacturers – the way they arbitrarily mutilate films is criminal. I remember watching Gumnaam, for instance, only to find that the one song retained in its entirety was Hum kaale hain toh kya hua (and no, that is absolutely not my favourite from the film). Or Lala Rookh, which had the climax – the part when the princess finally realizes who the man she’s in love with is, really – had been snipped neatly out of the film.

      Prime qualifications for a job at Friends and its like probably include utter idiocy and a complete lack of appreciation of cinema.

  2. The song beimaan balma man bhi jaa, alone made me want to watch the film. Ava had kindly sent me the VCD to watch some two years ago and it is the version, which Anu has and it is awful. The reels all jumbled up and cut so mericlessly, that the film lasted barely an hour or so, which is impossible for a HIndi film of the 50s. I’d have loved to see the filmin its entirety
    Hope the entire, original long-version exists somewhere and that some kind soul would restore it. Or maybe somebody has a VCD of the original and transfers it DVD.
    What little I could understand and see of the film, gave me a feeling, that though it might not be a classic, it would still offer some good entertainment. I. S. Johar’s heroines and other characters are refreshingly different than that from other films.

    • This version, which is also chopped up and put together badly in the second half, clocks in at just about two hours, so it’s not quite so bad:

      And it’s actually only about the last half hour which becomes really bewildering. I had to, once I’d finished watching, sit back and think over it to try and piece together what had really happened.

      I do hope somebody (MM Video?) has an original, complete copy of this film. The Indian versions seem to have hacked it brutally in whatever way possible.

  3. Madhu, thank you for filling in some of the blanks. I see that the film is not as incoherent as it seemed when I watched it, and that, unlike me, you didn’t have to resort to pulling out your hair, one strand at a time.

    Like you, the one thought (after wondering why Harvey hated me so much) was, ‘What an entertaining masala film this could have been.’ Followed by, ‘I wonder if I can find an original copy somewhere!’

  4. Wonderful review Madhu didi! It was as witty as the movie itself.. :)
    I was really amazed by how intricate the plot if the movie was didi. Most movies of this era always had this feeling of being a bit disjointed but this one seemed brilliantly coherent and structured. Thank you for reviewing such a rare movie didi!
    And I believe that in real life IS Johar was supposed to be very frank in his views about sex and all…which was pretty rare for an actor of that time I think didi… Though Shammi Kapoor was flamboyant by nature and had also directed a movie called Manoranjan which, for the first time, took the issue of call girls in a light hearted manner, he never spoke openly about it I think.

    • Yes, this is one of those films that is pretty complicated, but manages to keep it all in control and not lose track of the plot. IS Johar wrote several plots along the same lines, and all of them are good movies. What I especially like is that the women in several of his films are refreshingly different from the usual Hindi film heroine of the 50s and 60s: much more spunky, more willing to take the initiative in a relationship, and just generally more likeable than the run of the mill heroine.

      Oh, yes. Is Johar was far ahead of his times when it came to sex. His (1974, was it?) film Five Rifles had this unbelievable (even by today’s standards) shot of five topless actresses bearing rifles. Haven’t seen the film so can’t say how good or bad it was, but just saying.

      • Yes didi… Have you read Stars from Another Sky by Saadat Hasan Manto didi? Its about the film world of the 1940’s…and the events he describe make it sound like it is about cine world today.. Even worse!

  5. Wonderful review. I too have suffered the torture of watching the mangled version of this film available on YouTube, and cursed whoever it was who butchered it. I hunted it down primarily for Beimaan baalama maan bhi jaa, but found that it was a delightful little piece of fluff, well worth watching for its own sake.

    Nalini Jaywant is always a treat to watch, whether in light, comedy films like this one & Munimjee, or serious ones like Anokha Pyaar, where she more than held her own against Nargis, Shikast and Kaala Paani. For another heroine to be noticed at all in a film starring Madhubala is an achievement in itself. Yet Nalini, in her role as a courtesan, all but stole Kaala Paani from under her nose. (Dev Anand doesn’t count. Even Rajendranath and Sundar could steal scenes from him.) She deservedly won Filmfare’s Best Supporting Actress award that year.

    Johar and Majnu’s roles in this film are essentially reprises of their roles in Ek Thi Ladki. No surprises there, since Johar wrote that film too.

    Like everyone else here, I live in hope that, one day, a decent copy of this film will be available.

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed this review. It’s such a shame that the film’s been butchered the way it has.

      Nalini Jaywant was certainly very versatile, and a great actress. And just as you point out, I think she completely stole the show from Madhubala in Kaala Paani (though I must admit that part of the credit for that also goes to the writer, who gave her a very interesting character. Madhubala, gorgeous as she is, does play a fairly predictable sort of female role).

      Agree about Johar and Majnun’s roles being a copy of their roles in Ek Thi Ladki. Sidharth Bhatia pointed out (on Facebook) to me that this film was a copy of that one, but I disagree – there are several major points of dissimilarity, though the theme of a naive but feisty heroine being conned by two petty crooks remains the same.

  6. I have fond memories of “Hum Sab Chor Hain” which I watched ages ago on a VHS tape. You’re absolutely right, Madhu – the version I watched was a fun, entertaining and yes, coherent (if a tad too long in it’s depiction of the Sukhram and Bhudram’s antics) film. I remember being particularly appreciative of it’s lightly feminist tone. What a pity that only mangled versions of it remain. Makes me wish, I had kept my videotape of the movie.

    • Sukhram and Budhram’s antics do get a bit much, even in this chopped-up version of the film. I only wish I remembered more of the version I’d seen on Doordarshan all those years ago, because I do remember it as being a lot of fun.

      I do wish you’d retained your videotape of the film, Shalini. But I can understand; these things begin to pile up. Many. many Christmases ago, my sister and I had taped a hilarious two-episode parody of Cinderella, called The Shoe Must Go On. So good that we ended up rewatching it so many times that we actually learnt most of the dialogues (Evil stepsister to her sister, passing snide remark about the ‘mysterious princess’ at the ball: “Yes, she’s got a gorgeous figure. And a lovely face. And beautiful hair. But take away all of that, and what do you have?” Reply from fellow stepsister: “You, dear”).

      Sadly, for many years that wasn’t watched, and it deteriorated so much that after a while it couldn’t be watched, and couldn’t even be digitized. My sister, on one of her visits to the UK, even set out to find the film production company that made it, in the hope that they’d have DVDs for sale. It had shut down. Such a shame!

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