It is a movie that has at the centre of its very plot a totally tough task or a completely undoable job which is thrown up as a challenge. It has thrills of mind blowing proportions and can have an element of mystery too. This is typically broken up into a pattern of 2 to 3 interludes. The narration style may dictate their order of appearance in a movie though. The first part around the task by detailing its complexity, followed by the buildup of the characters. The preparation by the characters for the task may be a part of this interlude. The second part is made up of the execution of the caper and is the thrill ride. The third part which may be clubbed into the second would be the wrap up. Here the mystery if any would be unraveled and all is clear about the result.The twist in the tale would be straightened.
Classic Caper Films
Hollywood cinematic history is rich with caper films. Early on classics like “The Great Train Robbery”, “The Sting””To Catch a Thief” and some in the last decades like “Reservoir Dogs” “Heat” “Entrapment” to the current times when Oceans Eleven has been extended into the Ocean Trilogy. Even the Tom Cruise MI-1, MI-II movies ride the middle road between a Bond (Secret Agent) film &the caper genre.
Super fun to watch again and again the caper film sadly had little takers in the Indian cinematic context where the focus has always been on drama or melo melo melodrama if you would have it. Attempts have been made to make films in this genre in Hindi but few have succeeded. Jewel Thief (1967)- with Dev Anand and Jugnu (1973) with Dharamendra were the only successful films of this category. In fact the other capers have been amongst the biggest flops in Indian cinematic history. Case in point : “Shalimar (1978)” and “Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja (1993)”. The latter was quite bad though it had at its behest the best in technology & budgets (the caper sequence in it was executed quite well but the rest of the movie just didn’t match up and was far too long) The former flopped because it was un-Indian in its execution and casting.
I just love Krishna Shah’s - Shalimar and even before people here had heard of international casting this movie pitted the best of them against India's best. Sir Rex Harrison versus Dharamendra. This eclectic casting of stars from the world added to its edge. Dharamendra was one of the handsomest men to grace the silver screen of all time and accompanying him was the sensual Zeenat Aman. The sizzle factor in this pairing topped anything that Hindi cinema would see in a long time.Dharam and Zeenat were at their peak, and then there was Shammi Kapoor, Sylvia Miles as countess Rassmussen, John Saxon , O P Ralhan and a host of other characters.
Anand Bakshi and Sapan Chakraborty penned the lyrics with R D Burman giving the music. R D Burman was in such sterling form that though the movie flopped his songs live on forever. Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar lent their voices. Who can forget the soulful “Hum Bewafaa..Hurgiz na the” rendered by Kishore , the sense of an acute want, to turn time back & wipe the slate clean by Dharam and Zeenat is palapable. When Lata sings “ Aaina wohi kehta” the haunting strain captures the mood of love grasped, felt for a while as the lovers see it slither out just as easily. Usha Uthup in "One Two Cha Cha Cha" adds a zestful spark. The plot is adorable in its simplicity and the thrill is in the manner of its approach. The motive of a world class Jewel thief to pit his wits against the best thieves in the world by challenging them to steal the Shalimar is bold. Sir Rex Harrison is a cool customer and handles the scenes with sagacity unparalleled.His Hindi voice though is Kader Khan lest one thinks Sir Rex learnt the language.
Some part of Krishna Shah’s vision though remained locked up in his script. When it was published as a book, it was then that one realised how sharply elegant it was in its flow and clarity. Despite saying this, Shalimar the movie can be watched again and again. Had it been released in times of today it would have set the screens on fire. The title song captures this rapacious avarice of the players in the tempo that is uniquely R D Burman. I realise that when I hum along “Mera pyar Shalimar” (as it plays in the background on my system) it is my salute to not only this movie but also to the remarkable genre not seen on Indian screens as often.