Millennial Review: ‘Jewel Thief’ - The Spy Thriller Done Right
Dev Anand, in his portrayal of a spy, eschews aggressive masculinity in ‘Jewel Thief.’
Full disclosure: Jewel Thief is, till date, my first and only Dev Anand film. It might seem perverse to enter into Anand fandom through a spy thriller rather than the romances he is beloved for but it’s a gamble that paid off.
Anand plays Vinay, a gem enthusiast who also happens to be the son of Mumbai’s police commissioner. Kicked out of his house for seemingly being a do-nothing, Vinay sets out to seek gainful employment with one of the most renowned jewellers in town. This being the late 60s in Bollywoodland™, Vinay doesn’t have to deal with pesky necessities like CVs and HR appointments and can walk straight into Sethjis’s office with a very definite idea of what his salary should be (Rs. 5000). Unsurprisingly, he’s promptly shown the door.
Undaunted, he sets out to charm his way into the job by throwing himself in front of the car of Seth Nath’s daughter and informing her that she grossly overpaid for her earrings. The next day, an impressed Sethji seeks Vinay out to offer him the post; he even doubles the salary! Things seem to be falling into place and there’s even a budding romance in the works with the boss’ daughter Anju, played by an effervescent Tanuja, until something strange starts happening.
A jewel thief begins terrorising the city and random strangers start approaching Vinay and calling him Amar or Prince Amar. Vinay is able to brush these incidents off as bizarre misunderstandings until a young woman called Shalini comes forward insisting that he is Amar, her fiancé. Vinay is able to prove to her and her brother that he is indeed who he claims he is. He then decides to unravel the mystery and hunt down this elusive Amar – only to find himself embroiled in a devious scheme – that robs him of his sanity, makes him lose his memory, identity, and makes him a target of every policeman in India.
The Name is Anand, Dev Anand
Dev Anand, celebrated as the lover boy of our parents’ generation, might seem like an odd choice for the role of desi Bond. His slight build, unconventional looks, and that curious way he has of seeming to vibrate all over as he delivers his dialogues all mark him out as the anti-action hero.
Anand, in his portrayal of a spy, eschews aggressive masculinity to bring something much more admirable to the table: sprezzatura. Sprezzatura is “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”
Anand’s Vinay inhabits this languid, luxuriating ease throughout the film, whether he is smooth-talking his way into a job, getting roughed up by goons or faux-dribbling alcohol down his shirt. The assured looseness of his mien and movements is set off to perfection by the tight score that ratchets up tension at a moment’s notice.
Anand’s Vinay inhabits this languid, luxuriating ease throughout the film, whether he is smooth-talking his way into a job, getting roughed up by goons or faux-dribbling alcohol down his shirt.
This also translates into a certain courtly gentleness where his interactions with women are concerned. While he does conduct dalliances with a bevy of beautiful women in the tradition of Bond, the distasteful quality of misogynistic use-and-throw that taints the 007 movies is absent from Jewel Thief.
Jewel Thief really wins the casting game where the women are concerned and it is heartening to see the female actors outnumber their male counterpart 5 to 1. Before you go yassss queen, however, be warned that three of these women have miniscule Bond girl-esque roles while two play the love interest.
Tanuja as the boss’ bubbly daughter Anju is a revelation and a delight. Her playful banter with Vinay lights up the screen and must have provided our female forbearers with a much-needed model for pre-Tinder flirting. Her shining moment is, of course, the Raat Akeli Hai song where she is simultaneously adorable and seductive while trying to get Vinay drunk on Coca Cola.
Vyjayanthimala as THE female romantic lead is relatively subdued and doe-eyed until she absolutely destroys the dance floor during Hothon Pe Aisi Baat. She is also the proud wearer of a sari that is just begging you to ask WTF, costume department?
*insert photo of cloud/cotton balls-sari*
Helen, playing herself, continues her streak of being a boss ass bombshell despite being handed outfits whose atrociousness is rivalled only by the choreography.
Long before Ek Tha Tiger and Tiger Zinda Hai and Schrodinger’s Tiger (?), the Hindi film industry got the spy thriller right. Please watch Jewel Thief ASAP.
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