Right now, I’m on a five-day visit to my parents. They’re not Beiges, but I’d probably label them Greys—the salt far surpasses the pepper in their hair. We’ve been spending quality time together, eating the best chhola bhaturas in town, catching up on the latest gossip, and watching films. We started with Living it Up and Bells are Ringing, and then my father (who generally prefers Bollywood to Hollywood, unless it’s the Marx Brothers-Laurel and Hardy-Chaplin brands of comedy) put his foot down. Let’s see something Hindi, he said. So we settled on this one, because my father likes its music a lot, and Mummy and I like Shammi Kapoor a lot.
Of course, with Papa having seen Mujrim way back in 1958, we’re subjected to frequent comments in the course of the film. He starts off by giving us the background. In 1958, Papa, then 20, used to live in the Pusa Institute in Delhi with two of his brothers, an elder one, Johhny, who was then 23; and Vernie Uncle, 26, recently married, and a guitarist. Vernie Uncle had done a brief stint in Bollywood—he’d played the guitar in the beautiful Aayega aanewaala from Mahal—and had then returned to Delhi for a while.
Along with a small orchestra, Vernie Uncle would perform at functions and concerts; and for these performances, he’d be on the lookout for the latest Hindi film songs. The scouts he used were Papa and Johnny Uncle. They’d be given 1 anna each (a one-way bus fare to the cinema hall in Daryaganj) and Rs 1.25 each (the cost of a cinema ticket) to go, watch a new film, listen carefully to the songs, and recommend songs good enough to be included in the little orchestra’s repertoire. If Vernie Uncle thought their recommendations sounded good, he’d see the film for himself, and if he really did like a song, he’d buy a 78 rpm record so the orchestra could begin practising.
Mujrim was one of the films Papa and Johnny Uncle saw at the Delite Cinema in Daryaganj. And they liked a lot of the songs.
So here goes, including comments from the parents and yours sincerely.
Mujrim begins the way a good film should: with Shammi Kapoor (Me: “Mmmmm!”). He’s Shankar, a thief, clad in dark trousers and a leather jacket zipped up to the throat, running helter-skelter through deserted streets at night. A policeman (Kamal Kapoor) is hot on his heels, but catches up only long enough to catch a glimpse of Shankar’s face.
Shankar stumbles through the door of a theatre where a dancer, Uma (Ragini) is performing (Papa: “Ragini had a very individual style of dancing. See? She jumps about like a skittish horse”). Shankar hides in Uma’s green room, and is there when the performance ends and she comes offstage.
Outside the green room, Uma meets the Sethji (S N Bannerjee) who owns the Balam Theatrical Company, and his secretary Pyarelal (Johnny Walker). Sethji is inclined to denigrate Uma’s performance—his way of trying to avoid giving her a raise—though Pyarelal, who’s infatuated with her, tries to buck her up.
Shankar, eavesdropping on the conversation, overhears Sethji say he’d been expecting a dramatist, Anand, to arrive that evening. Anand’s been employed to write plays for the theatre, but is mysteriously absent.
This piece of information comes in use when Uma enters her green room to find Shankar there: he tells her he’s Anand and has come looking for Sethji. Uma is welcoming and arranges for him to spend the night in the guest room above the theatre. As they leave the green room, neither Uma nor Shankar notice that he’s dropped a ring—part of the loot stashed away in his jacket—in her green room.
The next morning, Uma brings Sethji and Pyarelal to meet Shankar. Sethji is surprised when he sees ‘Anand’—not because this man’s a total stranger, but because he isn’t wearing the kurta-pyjama and isn’t sporting the unshaven look Sethji had last seen him with. Weird, but Shankar says something about changing with the times and everybody laughs it off. Just then, a letter arrives for the Sethji from Anand in Poona. Uma is invited to read it out, and they discover that Anand had written to say he’s too ill to come to Bombay as promised.
Shankar says he’d decided employment was more important than his health and so came away after he’d written the letter. He pockets the letter, and having assured Sethji that he’ll report at the theatre the next day, takes himself off.
The next morning, Shankar discovers that his fence has been caught by the police. He therefore goes to the hospital to meet a wild-haired associate with his leg in a cast (Me: “Who’s this actor?” Mummy: “I wonder.” Papa: Silence).
This turns out to be a thief who ‘adopted’ Shankar when an orphaned Shankar was toddling the streets trying to keep body and soul together. He’s the one who sent Shankar on this latest job—to steal a double handful of jewellery from a wealthy seth. Shankar informs him that the fence is now in police custody, and that this was Shankar’s last theft; he’s going to be a good man now. In a poignant moment of pity for his long-ago child self, Shankar laments the fact that the only person who sheltered him back then was a thief; all the so-called ‘good people’ shunned the orphan.
Shankar’s criminal foster father tries to persuade him to perform one last job: steal a bundle of money from a safe visible in the room opposite the hospital room.
Shankar refuses and leaves the hospital. The crook, who’s greedy as they come, decides he might as well pull off the job himself. In the middle of the night, he slings a rope across the intervening space, uses it to pull himself across (yes, broken leg and all!), and gets into the room. He opens the safe and extracts the money (Papa: “See those large notes? Those were the old thousand-rupee notes.” Enlightenment here: I didn’t know thousand-rupee notes used to be in circulation back then).
Anyway, to cut a long story short: on his way back to the hospital room, the thief loses his balance and falls to his death, leaving Shankar—who watches his body being removed the next morning—on his own in the world.
Standing by the roadside and silently rejoicing that fate has rid him of the old villain, Shankar decides to go meet Uma (whom he’s fallen for). He then realises the real Anand might already have reached the theatre—then remembers that Anand was too ill to come to Bombay. After some deliberation, Shankar decides to go see Anand for himself. He goes to Poona, to the address written on the letter sent to Sethji. There, he finds Anand too ill to even get out of bed. And he doesn’t have a single soul in the world to care for him.
Anand’s piteous pleading for water works on Shankar’s conscience, and he moves closer to give the invalid a sip from a glass—only to get a closer look at Anand’s face.
Woo-hoo! So this is why Sethji wasn’t perturbed about the features of the ‘Anand’ he was introduced to!
Unfortunately for the pathetic Anand, the sight of his face immediately douses any sparks of conscience in Shankar. His immediate thought is to switch identities with the dramatist before killing him off. He doesn’t spend ages mulling over it, either: the next thing we know, he’s in a kurta and pyjama, zipping up the leather jacket on Anand, who’s still lying half-dead on the bed. Shankar shoves the stolen jewellery into the jacket too and is getting ready to strangle Anand when his conscience finally kicks in and admonishes him for graduating from thief to murderer.
After much squabbling between his better self and his not-so-nice self, Shankar calls the doctor, who gives Anand an injection. Anand recovers long enough to thank Shankar for being so good to him…
…before copping it. Shankar gives the doctor a cock-and-bull story about how the dead man was the dreaded daaku Shankar, who burst into his (Anand’s) house, on his last legs and with his jacket stuffed with stolen jewels.
Call the police, says the doctor; they’ll attend to that, and I’ll prepare the death certificate.
That’s what Shankar does, and now he can rest happy. The jewellery’s back with its owner, and ‘Shankar’ is officially dead, and since the real Anand is dead, Shankar can now take his place as dramatist with the theatre company. (Why anybody would want to work for a curmudgeon like Sethji is beyond me, but maybe the presence of Uma has something to do with the decision. Frankly, though, I don’t even see Uma as a major attraction).
Just as Shankar is packing up all of Anand’s manuscripts (clever idea if you’re planning to impersonate a writer), he notices a letter addressed to Anand, from a certain Shobha (Shubha Khote), a fan who’s enclosed a photograph of hers and has invited him to a party at a hotel.
Shankar goes along to the party—he doesn’t want to skip it and arouse anyone’s suspicions—and meets Shobha:
…watches a dancer (Mummy and me, in unison: “Oo! Wasn’t Geeta Bali cute?!”):
And is noticed by the same police officer who’d seen him on that fateful night.
Will the policeman recognise him? Will Shankar be allowed to live as an honest man? Or will his criminal past catch up with him?
Watch. There are some interesting twists in the plot, even though the end is fairly predictable.
What I liked about this film:
Shammi Kapoor. Though he’s a little hammy in a couple of scenes, he’s generally a good enough actor. And he looks so absolutely delectable, I can forgive the occasional lapse.
The music, by O P Nayyar. Papa will vouch for this too—he and Johnny Uncle recommended several songs from Mujrim: Jaaye na pakad kahin roz-roz ki chori, Jaan-e-jigar yoon hi agar and Sun Madras ki chhori among them. Vernie Uncle finally chose Jaan-e-jigar yoon hi agar (which is also my favourite song from the film) for his orchestra to perform. Another song I love is the delightful Zulf ke phande phans gayi jaan, picturised on Johnny Walker.
What I didn’t like:
There are holes in the plot. For instance, the fact that ‘Shankar’ died (and was given a death certificate by the doctor) in ‘Anand’s’ house in Poona is left unresolved. Shouldn’t this have worried any cop who was wondering whether ‘Anand’ was actually Shankar? But no; they look for other clues. Nobody thinks of pointing out that there seems something distinctly fishy about this.
The final speech. I won’t say whom this is by—but it’s a monologue, a long, appallingly melodramatic and thoroughly unprofessional one that made me squirm.
And yes, Ragini’s accent: it’s awful.
Overall, not a superb film by my usual ‘Shammi Kapoor film’ standards (which translates into ‘out-and-out entertaining’), but a good watch nevertheless. The supporting cast—with Mumtaz Begum as Uma’s matronly mother and Tuntun as Uma’s spinster cousin Laajo, who falls for Pyarelal—is good, and though there are gaps here and there (which I’m not putting past Shemaroo), it’s a fun enough film.
Certainly worth taking a bus from Pusa to Daryaganj for.