A car slithers away on tortuous roads at night. You are already in with the mood. You are worried about the driver / passengers in the car. It stops near a building a lady runs out of the car and into the building. Surely, she is in some kind of danger. What / who is she running away from? Is she running towards someone? Slowly the camera pans to show her climbing the stairs. She keeps running till we realize she is on the Third Floor. And then she drops dead from the top of the Third Floor or the titular “Teesri Manzil”.
Get it? I know, right?
Cut to 1967 and another movie. Opening credits roll and we see a jewelry store and then, a pair of gloved hands picking or shall we say stealing whatever they fancy. If that wasn’t enough we cut to newspaper headlines all over the country screaming about a notorious “Jewel Thief”. Elementary, my dear Watson.
Welcome to the thrillers of Vijay Anand. Usually shot in exotic locations, they had spies, CID agents, spy-gadgetry, Hitchcockian tropes, criminals, evil masterminds, and sometimes all of the above, together. They were often punctuated by some of the greatest songs in the history of Indian cinema and orchestrated by the grooviest background scores. What separates these movies from just being Hitchcock clones is the stellar music – Rock, Jazz, Blues, Funk – Vijay Anand’s thrillers had it all. In a period of five years, from 1966-1970, Vijay Anand gave us three masterful musical thrillers in ‘Teesri Manzil’, ‘Jewel Thief’ and ‘Johny Mera Naam’, which are closer to being a thematic trilogy than all other of his thrillers.
Anatomy of a thriller
‘Teesri Manzil’ and ‘Jewel Thief’ follow the narrative structure of classic Hitchcock films. We start with the setup even as the credit rolls and are sucked into the action instantly. Whether it is the identity of murderer in ‘Teesri Manzil’ or it is the mistaken / dual identity of Dev Anand in ‘Jewel Thief’, the riveting plot keeps you on the edge of your seat. In the third act, we eventually get the reveal and witness the climactic fight. ‘Teesri Manzil’ even has the classic Hitchcock cliffhanger moment (‘Saboteur’ to ‘North by Northwest’) with the villain hanging for his life from a rooftop. Even the mistaken identity for Dev Anand, whether he is Amar / Prince / Vinay, is closer home to ‘North By Northwest’ (Roger O. Thornhill or George Kaplan) and Hitchcock’s classic trope of playing with the ‘wrong man at the wrong place’ theme.
While ‘Teesri Manzil’ and ‘Jewel Thief’ are in the mould of classic whodunits, Johny Mera Naam is a slight deviation from the formula and comes off as a genre transcending blockbuster. A lost-and-found story within a Hitchcock_meets_Bond set-up, which allows Anand to explore the usual thriller tropes. Post the success of Waqt (1965), we can see Vijay Anand also exploring the genre which later Manmohan Desai will make his own. There is the dramatic disruption and then distribution of the pivotal nuclear family and later an even more dramatic reunion. By now, the James Bond franchise was hugely popular across the globe and we can find the Bond influences in ‘Johny Mera Naam’ as well. These include the gadgets – a cigarette lighter which is a camera and a transponder-receiver which also functions as a radio transistor and Iftekhar who is Q, M and Moneypenny all rolled into one.
One thing to bind them all
All three movies have a connection with jewels in some way or the other. In Jewel Thief and Johny Mera Naam, jewels are stolen or smuggled whereas a jewel encrusted button is the key to the identity of the murderer in Teesri Manzil. The action unfolds and builds up to a climax usually in an exotic location in all the three movies – Gangtok, Mussorie and Kathmandu.
The music in all the three movies, for lack of a better word, is outstanding. Kalyanji-Anandji with their spectacular funk influenced score in ‘Johny Mera Naam’ also find time to squeeze in a timely Bhajan as well as the raunchy “Husn ke laakhon rang”. The musical background score along with the movie were an inspiration for Sriram Raghavan’s 2007 neo-noir ‘Johnny Gaddar’, which liberally uses plot elements and some of its background score from ‘Johny Mera Naam’.
‘Jewel Thief’ and ‘Teesri Manzil’ have R.D. Burman as the common factor with S.D. Burman taking the credit as the lead composer in the former. One can clearly see the R.D. Burman influences, however, in the background score of ‘Jewel Thief’, which is a pulsating mix of trumpet, guitar, drums and a plethora of other western instruments. ‘Teesri Manzil’ was a milestone album in Hindi film music which ushered the era of R.D. Burman. From the rock ‘n’ roll of “Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera” to the melody of “Tumne mujhe dekha”, the film was a showcase of Panchamda’s repertoire.
(We had to share this super cool promotional poster for the Jewel Thief)
A man for all seasons
Vijay Anand kept exploring the thriller genre and later made ‘Chhupa Rustam’ and ‘Black Mail’. While the former involved the quest for a golden temple in Tibet, the latter had an eccentric scientist who discovers the technology to process electricity from sun light, but they don’t match up to the 1966-70 period of Vijay Anand. He even directed and acted as a detective in ‘Tehkikaat’, which he made for Doordarshan (DD).
Vijay Anand belongs to the pantheon of Hindi film directors for the singular achievement of Guide, if not for anything else. However, he should also be remembered as someone who made spectacular musical thrillers and gave us some of the most jaw-dropping moments of Indian Cinema.
- Pran delivers and gets away with a sexist “Rekha tum kaam mein bahut hosiyaar ho magar aurat ho” in ‘Johny Mera Naam’!
- Bombay Prohibition Act 1949 gets its moment under the sun as the Cops arrest Heera (Jeevan) for drinking without a ‘Liquor Permit’.
- The choice of Kathmandu as a location in ‘Jewel Thief’ helps in getting a Casino for some more Bond tropes. Choice of our debonair Bond is however, way better – “Scotch aur Soda”.
- There are some supreme man-hugs in the movie. <Spoiler Alert>The Pran-Dev Anand man-hug after they “find” each other is exactly what man-hugs should be.
- An angry Ashok Kumar mouthing “You Dirty Rat” to Dev Anand in ‘Jewel Thief’ is priceless. I am sure the Censor Board had no problem with that.
- Both ‘Jewel Thief’ and ‘Johny Mera Naam’ show that a lot of elaborate planning goes to execute the perfect heist. “Che mahine ki tayaari”, is how they do it in both the movies.
- There is a very neat reference to Dev Anand’s ‘Teen Deviyan’ (1965) in ‘Jewel Thief’ when he asks Ashok Kumar to sit – “Aap yahaan baithiye. In Teen deviyon ke beech mein”.
- Apart from the literal ‘Teesri Manzil’ there is a figurative description of it when Shammi Kapoor’s character talks about the pehli (first), doosri (second) and ‘Teesri Manzil’ of love. Well done, Sir.