Mujrim was very much a delight to see, though I’m not sure if the story itself had much to do with that. In terms of basic plot, it was nothing all that special. It was another of these crime dramas in which an anti-hero is influenced by his love for a woman to become a good man and renounce his bad past. And like quite a few such dramas, there is a social message about society’s role, through neglect, etc., in turning a poor and orphaned boy into a thief. (Which message was conveyed rather well, I should add, though not really well until the very end.) And there is the very familiar theme of someone assuming someone else’s identity and then getting into a love affair based on that identity and wanting terribly not to lose that love in the event that the true identity is discovered. (Though once again, as with other very familiar themes that I’ve noticed, I’m thinking that maybe this wasn’t all that old an idea back in the late ’50s.)
You can also find many of the usual stark elements of Indian film noir right from the beginning of the movie, though some of that is done in a funnier way than in most of these movies.
But then there are some things that are very different…
One, being the anti-hero and the way that he is played. Personally, I may have seen a few too many of those Dev Anand movies in which the anti-hero has some degree of coolness and cockiness and, at least when in the middle of his criminal activities, he’s basically required not to show too much emotion, especially not anxiety.
But Shammi Kapoor plays it entirely differently. First of all, at the very beginning, when he’s on the run from the police, he is obviously a nervous wreck. Then all throughout the movie, when he’s anxious, he shows it to a great extent. When he’s in love, he shows that rather strongly, too. His face is the complete opposite of that cool sort of poker face the the anti-hero is often expected to keep. And that’s very refreshing, often funny, and also moving sometimes. (In fact, sometimes Shammi is emotionally moving while being quite funny at the same time.)
Then there’s the matter of the heroine…and another thing that separates this movie from a lot of the old Hindi crime dramas that I have seen. In many of those dramas, there’s lots of good dancing, but it doesn’t really come from the heroine. The heroine might have some scenes in which she is singing and dancing, and she might be very beautiful in such scenes, but the real, intense dancers are found elsewhere. But here it’s different because this heroine really knows how to dance!
In the scene above, our thief on-the-run, named Shankar, hides out in a theater while the soon-to-be heroine, Uma Devi (played by Ragini, in case you haven’t guessed/noticed by now), is in the middle of one her fabulous performances (with music by O.P. Nayyar, of course). By some stroke of luck, the theater is also expecting a writer by the (curious) name of Anand to show up, and when Shankar discovers this, he assumes the identity of Anand. Fairly soon afterwards, he finds out that the real Anand has been out sick and he goes to the real Anand’s house to find out more. He discovers that the real Anand is very sick, indeed, and also that he and the real Anand look an awful lot alike. Then Anand dies in front of Shankar, and Shankar retains his disguise as Anand while telling the world that Shankar has died. But the plan doesn’t go so smoothly as a few complications follow, such as the aforementioned love affair, not to mention that the police aren’t all that stupid in this film. (They’re not great heroes either; they actually seem quite nasty – but they’re not dummies, and we know pretty soon that Shankar’s days as Anand are going to be numbered because of them.)
That’s the suspense plot in a nutshell…which wasn’t all that suspenseful as far as I was concerned.
I did feel a lot of anticipation at certain points in this film, but it wasn’t anticipation related to wondering what was going to happen to Shankar; it was anticipation about when I might see the next great dance scene, what it would be like, and what surprises it might have in store.
Though sometimes, I couldn’t even see it coming… Such as with this
very lively and also quite funny cabaret number featuring Geeta Dutt on Geeta Bali:
(By the way, it’s funny how this song kind of mimics or parodies “Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu.” That’s a typical example of O.P. Nayyar borrowing from himself. But what’s even funnier, which I realized pretty quickly, is that it borrows a lot from an American rock ‘n’ roll classic from 1956 called “Green Door.” Oh, tell me, O.P. Nayyar, who taught you how to steal?)
And after that, the dances in the movie just keep getting better and better…
Reiterating what I said before, I think it’s telling that as the suspense plot approached its climax, I was looking forward more than ever to a great dance. The cops were closing in on Shankar, with lots of police cars rolling out with their sirens were wailing, and I kept thinking, “Pretty soon now we’re going to see a really fine dance!”
And sure enough there was one, the best in the movie, with a bigger surprise than we’d ever get from the suspense scenes, because… There, seemingly coming out of nowhere, dancing with Ragini in this fine Punjabi number, was Padmini wearing a mustache!
(Incidentally, you can also add that to the list of very good Geeta/Asha duets.)
That dance was the real peak of the whole film, at least for me. On the other hand, the parts following it were fairly decent. There’s a good courtroom scene with Shankar/Shammi delivering the aforementioned defense about the ills of society (which was also very reminiscent of a couple of Dev Anand movies) and at the very end, after a nice dramatic reunion between Shankar and Uma, there’s a decent surprise closing comic scene with Johnny Walker and Tun Tun.
Actually, the comedy routines between those two were pretty good throughout… Maybe there were a few too many fat jokes, but otherwise, they amounted to a good deal of fun…
Though the comedians weren’t the only ones who were funny here. This film was good for quite a few laughs along the way. It might even be considered a comedy (even though Ragini got to cry a bunch) in addition to being a dance film and a romance. (As well as…oh yeah, lest we forget…a suspense film.)