I picked up Singapore tonight, and it was even better than I expected. When I posted a couple of clips earlier, I had no idea that I’d get to watch the movie so soon and I’d enjoy every minute of it. Of course, I knew I would adore Padmini’s starring performance in this (and maybe I should just turn this blog completely into a Padmini fan blog – if it hasn’t become one already), but I didn’t realize how great Shammi Kapoor’s performance would be too (albeit with a little help from playback singer Mohammed Rafi). Now I can see why he was considered the Elvis of Hindi movies!
I must admit that this movie reminded me a bit of Howrah Bridge. I guess that is not surprising since they were both directed by Shakti Samanta, but all the same there really are some odd similarities:
First of all, the chief evil gangster is from an exotic East Asian country (that is, exotic in the context of this movie and its primary audience – since the East Asian characters would seem no more exotic than the South Asian ones to some of the rest of us). In Singapore, though, she happens to be a woman! Which was a fun twist – and she knows how to be ruthless too.
In fact, one might even consider this villain’s whole role in Singapore to be strangely feminist, as she can hold her own against any man for the most part. For instance, there is the scene in the movie, during a succession of battles on a boat, where the Shammi character, Shyam, thinks he has ended her game (not quite yet) and he makes some comment to that effect, sarcastically calling her “darling” (or a Hindi equivalent), and she clobbers him in the head with an anchor…
Though on the other hand, I would hesitate to say that the entire movie a feminist statement… There isn’t much feminism to be found, for example, near the beginning, as Shammi dances around singing about how Singapore is simply filled with beauties – and nearly drools over every woman he runs into. (Even if it is true that the movie is just filled with delectable beauties, from different parts of the Asian continent…)
But both movies really start with the same serious kind of business, involving the hero arriving in the city because of trouble that another character got into because of some gangsters’ desire to acquire some treasure/jewels.
Singapore, like Howrah Bridge, also has some fairly noir elements, though I would consider Howrah Bridge to be more of a noir movie and this one to drift far more often into hilarious comedy. (This is one place where the Hindi comedy elements work for me.)
And Singapore even has a character named Chin Chin Chu. I guess I should add that the screenplay for Singapore was written by Qamar Jalalabadi, the guy who wrote the lyrics for “Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu” (he was obviously having just as much fun here as Samanti). Although Chin Chin Chu is not played by Helen; Helen appears much later than Chin Chin Chu, as a girl in a local village who performs a wild dance with Shammi Kapoor that is supposed to make him less conspicuous while the gangsters are searching for him. (See the clips in my earlier post on this movie, and you’ll notice – as other people have also – why that is such a silly idea. Would this really be a way to hide from someone? But it is fun, and the villagers seem to think so too, because they are cracking up through all of it.)
Shammi dons a more effective disguise later, when he masquerades as an assassin-for-hire from Kabul in order to infiltrate the gang, but to say much more would be to give too much away in a plot that is full of satisfying twists. (Though I could add that now he is counting on some help from the police, who had originally arrested him when the villains framed him for a murder – yet another similarity with HB.)
I think that Howrah Bridge might have a more impressive ending, while the last scenes in this one might be a little less credible in some places. It does strain credulity to see Shammi hanging by one hand from a helicopter – though I guess there were other Bollywood movies made, especially in later decades, that had far more spectacular feats performed by the hero. Nonetheless, I don’t think that Singapore compares unfavorably at all with Howrah Bridge, and I personally find Padmini much more irresistible to watch than Madhubala. (OK, I know a few people would disagree with me on that point, but never mind.)
And since I have turned this blog post completely into a comparison between the two movies, let me add that both have some terrifically swinging soundtracks. O.P. Nayyar rocks and rolls more in Howrah Bridge, but some of these Shankar Jaikishan numbers in Singapore can also inspire wild dancing – as, of course, they do.
Incidentally, Lata Mangeshkar does some fine singing in Singapore for Padmini’s character, a singer-dancer who happens to be named Lata.
In so many ways, this movie is just a blast – I think I’ll have to watch it again sometime soon. Maybe I’ll even put it on a double bill with Howrah Bridge, and then I’ll write a review of Howrah Bridge that turns out to be half about Singapore.