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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Dev Anand-Vyjanthimala’s Jewel Thief remains one of Hindi cinema’s tautest thrillers, even 55 years after it was made

On Vijay Anand's birth anniversary, revisiting the 1967 film Jewel Thief, which is often overshadowed by his more successful film Guide.

Written by Sampada Sharma | New Delhi |
Updated: January 23, 2022 9:42:16 am
dev anandRevisiting Vijay Anand's Jewel Thief on his birth anniversary.

Filmmaker Vijay Anand gave Hindi cinema one of its most revered classics in the form of the 1965 film Guide. The Waheeda Rehman-Dev Anand film has been analysed as feminist cinema and is celebrated as one of the best works of Waheeda Rehman. And while Guide deserves all the applause, Vijay’s other works are often overshadowed by it and one of the most significant works that deserves all the limelight it can get is the 1967 film Jewel Thief. Starring Dev Anand, Vyjanthimala and Ashok Kumar, Jewel Thief is one of the most taut thrillers that Hindi cinema has ever delivered. That might sound like an exaggeration to a Hindi film audience in 2022, but rewatching the 1967 classic recently was a reminder of how a well crafted thriller does not lose its appeal even though you know exactly how it is going to end.

Jewel Thief, as the name suggests, is about notorious thief who has been robbing jewels from all over the country. Right from the opening, even before any of the characters has a chance to say any dialogue, you know the premise of the story via the helpful newspaper cuttings that introduce you to the universe of this film in just a few frames. Every visual that you see here has meaning, and Vijay establishes right from the start that nothing exists just for the sake of it, not even the seemingly frivolous songs. You meet Vinay, played by Dev Anand, but random strangers keep identifying him as Amar. He brushes it off as an accident but the frequency just keeps increasing until the pivotal scene of the first act.

jewel thief Jewel Thief starts off as a case of mistaken identity.

Here, Ashok Kumar’s character is certain that the man claiming to be Vinay is, in fact, Amar, his sister’s fiance. The only thing that can tell them apart is that Amar has six fingers on his right foot. Vijay has Dev laughing off the accusation and amusing the onlookers until he finally takes the seat and proves his identity like it wasn’t even a question. The execution at display here acts almost like a model for the rest of the film, and soon after this sequence, you are hooked.

Jewel Thief is a suspense thriller, which leaves you utterly shocked when you first watch it. But the impressive feat that is achieved by the writer and director here is that even after multiple viewings, you can’t seem to find any point in the screenplay where you were misdirected just for the sake of it. Everything holds up, even the character that you saw in the first five minutes of the film that looked quite insignificant at the time. Watching red herrings that don’t really add up when you revisit the film is infuriating, and in that department, Jewel Thief aces the test. In very Hitchcockian-style, the clues planted along the way lead the audience to the final mystery and while they could have missed it in the first viewing, the repeat viewings make you appreciate the genius of the filmmaker.

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When the film completed 50 years, Andhadhun director Sriram Raghavan wrote that Jewel Thief still gives him goosebumps and he cited it as one of his inspirations. “Doppelgangers, innocent on the run, mistaken identity and brainwashing are themes from the darkest of noir capers. But there is nothing noir in Jewel Thief, which is full of splashy colours, costumes, grand sets and songs,” he wrote in Hindustan Times at the time.

By the time the film is inching towards its climax, the stakes are bigger and Vijay sets it against a song that perfectly captures the tension of the screenplay. Hotho Pe Aisi Baat is not just a distraction so the robbers can steal the jewels, the lyrics here hint at what’s coming next. As the song reaches its crescendo, the length of the shots keeps getting shorter, building up the suspense of the ‘jewel thief’. Even the glances exchanged between tertiary characters are significant here. Vijay Anand, who was fondly known as Goldie, made this film like he was an audience member watching a thriller. As the suspense starts to unfold and the audience starts to piece the puzzle together, it feels like the filmmaker can anticipate every question that’s on your mind and answers them one by one.

Vijay Anand’s Jewel Thief was one of the big hits of 1967, and in the years since the film has received praise from those who have discovered it. So if you are looking to watch a film that has the ability to not let you stare at your phone screen, look no further.

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