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29 November 2013

Dilli ka Thug (1958)

I had watched New Delhi and loved it. So I actually dug through my to-watch pile to grab another Kishore Kumar film, Dilli ka Thug. Unlike New Delhi, I had grown up listening to the songs of this film, and I especially loved the absolutely frivolous C-A-T, Cat maane billi, the manic Hum toh mohabath karega and the softly romantic Ye raatein ye mausam. Besides, it had Nutan; beautiful, glowing, light-up-the-screen Nutan in a comic role - I was ill, and a comedy had to be good medicine, right? 
I can only be thankful that I watched New Delhi before I watched Dilli ka Thug. If not, I think I would have pushed every single Kishore Kumar film I hadn't yet watched to the bottom of the pile of unwatched DVDs and tried to forget they ever existed! Yes, it was that bad. And no, the last 45 minutes of rather decent suspense did not compensate for the sheer misery of two-thirds of the movie that I had to endure to get to that part. 

Not the songs, not Nutan, not even a rather decent(-ish) scene where Kishore pretends to be two people at once - nothing will ever compensate for my moans of misery. This is one film that should have come with its own statutory warning - Watch at your own risk! It is almost as if the director was AWOL for most of the film, or in coma, and then suddenly recovered to salvage the final parts. I had once poached the phrase 'the curse of the second half'  from fellow blogger bollyviewer's blog.  Well, this was the reverse. 

Before I get to what exactly was wrong (perhaps it is better I don't get started!), the plot(?) - what there is of it - careens madly across the screen, not bothering overmuch with things like sense, or coherence. Not even Kishore's manic energy can stop it from behaving like a runaway race horse. 

Shortly, then...
Adulterated medicines have been the cause of many deaths across the country, and the government is hellbent on tracking down the unscrupulous perpetrators who get rich off others' misery. Kishore (Kishore Kumar) is an unemployed reporter, whose journalist father has been murdered by the people behind the business. (A-hem.This is something you are only told later; the way the film opens, you would think Kishore's dad also died of the adulterated medicines. So you are left wondering why the heck Kishore is talking about revenge.

His father's untimely death and the subsequent poverty heave the responsibility of the little family comprising his widowed mother (Protima Devi) and younger sister (Ratna) on Kishore's shoulders. Unable to get a job, Kishore spends his time conning rich men of their wealth - by gambling; in disguise, if you please.
It does not endear him to them, or to his mother, who fears that talk of his 'bad behaviour' will put his sister's engagement to a boy from a 'respectable' family at risk. After all, Kishore's engagement was broken off by his fiancĂ©e's uncle immediately after his father died. Kishore is unrepentant when she finds out about his ill-gotten gains. Where were they, he scoffs, these respectable people, when his father died and the creditors were at the door? 
Where were they when the creditors refused to give them any leeway to pay off the debt, and instead, took away their home, his father's savings, and his mother's and sister's jewellery? His mother doesn't care much for his rhetoric. What he is doing is wrong, and she will not have a son like him. She boots him out of the house. 

In one of his many adventures escaping from the rich men who have lost to him at the gambling table, Kishore manages to run into Asha (Nutan), now all grown up. (That gives us a chance to see Nutan in a swimsuit. She is a swimming champ.) 
In order to win a bet with his friend, Jaggu (Kumud Tripathi), Kishore pretends to be a journalist come to interview Asha. She, of course, doesn't recognise him, not having seen him since they were children. His clowning makes her grin, and things are going swimmingly when... the real reporter turns up. 

But since he was at her house when Jaggu calls, he's won the bet! Only, Jaggu is broke. Of course, that matters little when you are a pickpocket. Jaggu promptly goes out and picks the pocket of a man who is passing by the little restaurant and brings his wallet back to Kishore, telling him to take his winnings out of the wallet, and he will keep the rest. The wallet has the owner's name etched into the leather - Sohan Lal. Kishore chides Jaggu for stealing from a friend, and takes the wallet so he can return it. 

What Kishore doesn't know (then) is that Sohan Lal is the local distributor for a Mr. Anantram, the kingpin behind the adulterated drugs. Sohan Lal wants to quit the business because he is beginning to feel guilty. Bihari (Madan Puri), Anantram's associate, tells him he can quit if he brings back a letter in his possession - a letter that incriminates Anantram. 
Sohan Lal, having left the letter at home, promises to return in the evening with the letter, in return for his freedom to quit the profession. Alas, it is far easier to enter the world of crime than it is to leave... 

It is on his way to return the letter that Jaggu pockets Sohan Lal's wallet - with its incriminating letter. That signs Sohan Lal's death warrant. Anantram does not want any incriminating evidence left behind - not the letter, not the man who has the letter. 
Knowing that his days are numbered, Sohan Lal decides to turn informer. He gives the police enough information about Anantram to whet the inspector's interest - he tells him Anantram is not dead as was generally accepted; he had just shifted his operations to Bombay. Inspector Dilip Singh (Iftekhar) is intrigued and asks him to come to the police station, but Sohan Lal now fears for his life. He begs the inspector to come to his house instead.

The fates are against him. A horrifyingly scarred man kills Sohan Lal and, hearing Kishore at the door (he has come to return the wallet), flees. Kishore gives chase, but loses the trail in the undergrowth. 
He returns to find the police at Sohan Lal's door, and we see the scarred man come out of the undergrowth - only, he is not scarred any more. In fact, he is Prof. Amarnath, Asha's uncle.

Kishore tells the police what he knows, which is precious little. But the inspector gives Kishore some valuable information - Anantram is alive, and in Bombay. He is also the man who was responsible for Kishore's father's murder. (A-ha!

The next day, when Kishore and Jaggu find that they need to eat, Kishore comes up with the plan of turning into the Raja of Sangampur so they can scrounge some dinner. It also allows him to court Asha. 
While there, he informs Prof. Amarnath that his erstwhile secretary Kishore needs a job; Amarnath's ears perk up when he hears the name 'Kishore'; he tells the Raja to send Kishore to him in Bombay. 

Kishore's job secured, he promptly goes back home and informs his mother that he is going to Bombay, and will soon send for her and his sister once he has settled down. He plans to stay with a friend and his family.

He is warmly welcomed by the friend and his wife, and their little son dotes on this new chacha.  Kishore, of course, goes off to present his card to Prof. Amarnath, pretending to be sent by the Raja of Sangampur. While there, he runs into Asha again. She is not very charmed. (That was refreshing! Usually, the heroine is simpering by now.
But the professor comes in, and soon Kishore is telling him everything. How his father was murdered because his articles had been responsible for breaking up Anantram's flourishing business in adulterated drugs, how he had found out that Anantram was still alive, how it was Anantram who had killed his friend Sohan Lal... (Hasn't the man learnt the value of keeping his mouth shut? I mean, who babbles all this information to a complete stranger?) The professor keeps his cool, gives Kishore a note, and sends him off to Sevakram, a pharmacist who peddles the adulterated drugs for the group. 

Kishore gets the job, and informs the inspector who has managed to convince his superiors that Anantram is alive and hence has been sent to Bombay to crack the case. 
So now we have all the dramatis personae in one city, the chief villain is a few steps ahead of our hero, the heroine is not as namby-pamby as most heroines and still hasn't fallen for our hero, there is chaos galore as no one seems to be able to make any sense of the plot, not even the director... 

As the film progresses, we learn that Anantram/Prof. Amarnath is not even Asha's real uncle, that latex masks that look uncannily like a dead person can be made even if the said dead person expired in an airplane crash, that Kishore will soon be indicted for the murder of a child, that his mother will disown him once again (she seemed to spend the entire movie disowning her son), that the director will suddenly wake up and take hold of the reins and get the suspense moving just when the audience is getting ready to walk out... 

No, don't ask me the plot. I have no clue where the grand canyon begins and ends. What made it watchable was the fact that in Nutan, we got a heroine who actually is her hero's superior - she is not only better educated than him and the owner of a pharmaceutical company and a champion swimmer, she gets the better of him most times they meet...
She also rescues him from drowning, and she gets to kill the villain... Plus, I love the scene where she imitates Smriti Mishra.

Kishore is good - very, very good - in parts. Like the time when he cons three investors by pretending to be Kishore, the Raja of Sangampur and his Rani, all at the same time...
...or in the song Ye raatein ye mausam, when his expression changes from his usual clowning antics to being really, really sweet and sincere... or in the climax when he actually looks like a man on the edge of panic, being made to do something that he has no clue how to... the rest of the time, he set my teeth on edge. 

The villain is slightly more sophisticated than the usual crop. He doesn't leave anything to chance, he does his killings himself, he ensures that he traps Kishore by getting him to write his own suicide note... 
 ...and when he takes on another man's identity, he does so with a vim and a verve. This must be the first film where the villain pulls off  his mask when he is about to commit a crime.

The police, as represented by Iftekhar, are actually very intelligent, and arrive at the crime scene on time. They are also smart enough to put two and two together and make the requisite four. 
Inspector Dilip Singh is also smart enough to set traps, and to warn Kishore what to expect.

The songs are a mixed bag. The three songs I mentioned loving? They are great. The others (there are four more), are so-so in the 'great' department, and what is more, they are inserted rather gratuitously into the narrative, leading to many WTH moments. It's as if they signed Meenu Mumtaz and Smriti Biswas and then didn't know what to do with them.

The last 45 minutes was like watching an entirely different film from the one I had been watching until then. Suddenly, the action is quick, the suspense is thrilling, and the denouement, when it comes, is very, very satisfying. This, even though we as the audience know who the villain is. 

But despite all that, I really would like to get rid of my DVD of Dilli ka Thug. It's not worth the headache. Your mileage may vary, however, and if you like Kishore Kumar enough to watch his antics, go right ahead. But don't say I didn't warn you!


  1. Somehow, I couldn't remember you ever having reviewed a film you didn't like, so I assumed all the reviews I'd find on this blog would be of films you recommended. So, a major "huh?" moment when I saw this. I wondered... but, of course, reading this solved that. :-) Yes, Dilli ka Thug is a ghastly film, no? I've seen it twice, and still can't remember anything of it except a couple of the songs (of which I simply hate C-A-T cat and adore O babu o lala - so we disagree on that, at least). Such a convoluted and utterly forgettable film.

    By the way, who is Smriti Mishra?

  2. Yeah, reviews of films I don't like are few and far between - I think Naulakha Haar and Aa Gale Lag Jaa were the only films I disliked for which I actually posted reviews. I would have given this a miss as well, only, so many people told me what a great comedy this was, and what an entertaining film it was and... I just had to post how much I disliked it! :(

    I meant Smriti Biswas! I know, I know, I wrote Smriti Mishra at first, and only after I published it did I realise my mistake. I like O babu o lala too - do you know, I completely blanked that song out by the time the film ended? 'Ghastly film' doesn't even begin to describe the film, Madhu! A pox on everyone who recommended it to me!

  3. Gee wiz, what makes you think a sparrow maketh the summer? Kishore Kumar, he is my all time favourite singer, is pretty much insufferable as an actor when one is of sane disposition. Maybe your recuperative process is still on (Remember reading you were ill while watching New Delhi, hope all is well now) and that is why you decided to watch this one. To be honest, I couldn't finish watching Padosan, let alone try to go back in time. So you have my commiserations, and thank you for the warning. Not going anywhere near the film.

    But the songs; ah well, they're to die for! So let us be thankful the director made this one, else where would the songs have come from?! -

  4. Wrong muhavara but I know what you mean. :) Yeah, I held that opinion for a long time, but I have seen him in decent roles, even comic ones, like in Miss Mary for instance. And so many people recommended Dilli ka Thug to me as a great entertainer. :( Besides, he was pretty good in New Delhi and I like Nutan, and I like the songs... Anyway, I'll stick to the songs from now on.

    Padosan? I hated that with a vim and a verve.

  5. Ah, okay. :-)

    By the way, have you seen Naughty Boy? Kishore again, and an equally horrid film. I wanted to throw something at the laptop (fortunately I hadn't bought the VCD/DVD - was watching it off Youtube). Simply horrible.

  6. 'Ye raatein ye mausam and Cat maane billi are my favorite songs from Dilli ka Thug. Nutan indded was ahead of her times as she donned the swim suit (but carried it gracefully) and that would have led to quite a number of people to raise their eyebrows at that time.Like dustedoff I was also puzzled abuot 'Smriti Mishra' and thought that she may be a relative of Leela Mishra :p .
    As I gather from your review,this film is not worth a watch.So I might well stay away from it.

  7. Nope, and I will stay away from it, based on your reaction. :)

  8. Just goes to show you how much this film addled my brains!! Seriously, it was ghastly.

  9. Oh what a coincidence, you had decided to review it, I actually have no memory of the film, I just love the songs, and yes I remembered the end. I had seen films like Airport, and there was a another Charlton Heston, film where the heroine, who is an air hostess, has to fly the plane (I have forgotten the name of the film), a few years before I saw Dilli Ka Thug on TV and needless to mention I was impressed, after all this film was a lot older than the those films.

  10. Yes, isn't it? :)

    The last half an hour to 45 minutes was rather decent, I thought, but gosh, sitting through the rest of it was painful. I have already shelved the other Kishore Kumar films I have; I don't have the energy to watch them just now.

  11. BTW there was a hungama of sorts I was told when the film had released, why? Nutan in a swimsuit! that's why. Laughable when you see that swimsuit in this day and age it looks more like a dress, isn't it?

  12. I can imagine. I remember reading about the furore when An Evening in Paris released and there was Sharmila in a bikini! It is hilarious now, actually, since the heroines are routinely dressed in itsy-bitsy costumes.

  13. Exactly a year later, I am reading this review, wish I had read it when it was published and would have been warned to stay away :( saw it just for the song "ye raaten, ye mausam"... Should have been satisfied with the video on you tube but nooooo, I had to see the movie, my finger was constantly on fast forward. This as I remember was one of those movies where they can find or know just the right person based on just the first name. E.g. Miss Asha participating in swimming contest, has to be THE Asha that Kishore Kumar's character knows !

  14. Yup, it was a horrible film, that strayed all over the place and then, finally, went nowhere. Yes, you should have read my review before watching it. I think the next time you get the urge to watch a movie because of a song, you should just look at mine, Madhu's and Bollyviewer's indexes to see if we have reviewed it, and warned people away. :)


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