Vijay Anand directs a well-rounded thriller, in which Nasir Husain puts his money. And, they laugh their way to the bank. For, the film rocks from the first scene itself. As the camera follows Rupa's car to Park Hotel, Mussourie, we sit up for what's in the offing. Rupa's shadow scurries to the third floor, from where she flings herself flat on the ground, with blood oozing out of her temples and shocked faces hovering over her lifeless body. The bloodcurdling background score ensues and the screen flashes, Teesri Manzil. Spine-chillingly Hitchcockian! Immediately, Rocky, the disturbed drummer, hastily walks out of the hotel but is stopped short by the sultry Ruby, "Rocky tumhe waha nahin jana chahiye." The lens narrows down on Rocky's nervous visage. And, we are left to ponder...
If Husain writes a gripping story, Anand, works magic with his scissors and execution. This edge-of-the-seat murder mystery is one-of-its-kind in the history of Bollywood. A film hasn't been replicated yet. Such was it's taut plot, its sleek direction, its stylish look and its flamboyant performances. There is nothing redundant in the script. The seriousness, the tension is balanced with rollicking romance and superb comedy. Kudos to RD Burman for giving us the chartbusting O haseena zulfonwali, Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera, Deewana mujhsa nahin, O mere sona re, Dekhiye sahibon and Tumne mujhey dekha. Six songs, six wonders. Burman composed six delights, the likes of which never had been heard before!!! While O Haseena and Aaja aaja were feet-tapping dance tracks with traces of rock and roll, Deewana mujhsa and O mere sona were buoyantly romantic. If Dekhiye sahibon was playfully naughty, Tumney mukjhey was soulful. Excruciating melody, beautiful lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri and stylish picturisation made sure these songs became gilded classics. And boy, need I mention the magic of Shammi Kapoor, Asha Parekh and Helen, in these delightful melodies???
Vijay Anand's editing is crushingly tight. An example is the scene where Inspector Das shows Anil Kumar the exquisite button, which is the sole evidence of Rupa's murder. The very next scene opens with the focus on the bejewelled buttons of Ramesh (a wicked Prem Chopra) thus rooting him as a prime suspect! Fabulous!
Right from the way Mussourie's beauty is depicted to Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh's first scene together, the cinematography is top notch. The leads meet in a cool fashion. While Sunita (chic in a lavender figure-hugging suit) teeters on her sexy stilletoes towards the rail ticket counter, Anil Kumar traipses in his shiny leather boots towards the same. They bombard (a definitive foreplay to two and a half hours of cinematic pleasure). Anil Kumar arches his eyebrows, stares at Sunita and allows her to stand in front and then embarks on a teasing journey to woo her with elan. He says, "My, my, too many things for a little girl like you!" Just rollicking!!! The obese man is a tool for Anil to further his flirtatious pursuits!! Super, super fun!
Asha Parekh, I'm afraid, may not have been the best looking leading lady of the 60s (her frame was attractive though), but who's bothered. She is perfect as Sunita, hell bent to avenge her sister's death. She nurses hatred for Rocky and plots a hitback. But, Rocky's flamboyance is too hot for her to handle. (Are we reminded of something similar in Dil Deke Dekho, Parekh's debut?) What I love is how effortless she is. She slips smoothly into this smart and sassy role, looking charming and twisting sexily. Initially suspicious of Anil's overtures, she wastes no time to fall blindly in love when assured of his large-heartedness and his true love!! She feels cheated after learning the truth, and is equally grief-stricken at news of her innocent lover's death. Though her lisp is irritating, her immaculate expressions will floor you!! Great going girl!
Then there's Helen, as the stunning vamp, Ruby. This cabaret queen loves Rocky and can play really dirty to win him over. I'm smitten by the husky seductiveness of her voice. She woes with a slurring charm and attracts with her deadly looks and her lithe body. She moves like a deer on the dancing stage and shimmies like a nimble ballerina!! Resplendant in her black, pink and orange attires respectively, Helen makes O Haseena a sizzling extravaganza! In fact, in Aaja aaja too, Sunita grooves with aplomb (wearing a snazzy magenta top and black leggings) with the hip beats of the song! Who's better then? Tough choice, huh???
Okay I've evaded this long enough! Now, there's no shying away from it. Shammi Kapoor is God in Teesri Manzil! As the glibtalking Anil Kumar Sona, the dashing drummer Rocky, the passionately romantic Anil and the disturbed and hassled suspect in the later reels!! He's smooth, saucy, flashy, natty, funny and adorable. His expressions change with the speed of light! His dances have attitude! Kapoor looks oh-so-handsome in his orange-lapeled silver jacket in O Haseena. Every time he clicks the glass with the spoon, blows in the sax and does an impromptu gig, my knees turn into jelly. Everytime he twists in Aaja aaja my heart melts, everytime he utters Memsaab with style, I roll my tongue! In O mere Sona, he displays mock anger (of course, his pride is stung) and secretly relishes Sunita's attention. How on earth could he be so fabulous, so charming, so smashing, so exemplary??? One observation here... Shammi Kapoor almost always played the hero who had to toil to win over his sweetheart. May be, that's why there's a greater sense of elation when he succeeds!!
Teesri Manzil is enjoyment guaranteed: With suspense, drama, thrills, romance and comedy neatly packed in. And, I feel lucky to have seen the unedited version. Sad, that recent DVDs have truncated the film (the introducing scene of Rajasaheb is deleted), leaving it with an abrupt jumpcut.
Mohd Rafi and Asha Bhonsle sizzle in Teesri Manzil. Their mellifluous performance is par excellence. Every song is a chart-topper.
But, the trophy goes to Shammi Kapoor. Apparently, Geeta Bali, the actor's first wife succumbed to small pox during the making of the film. Struggling with a heavy heart and nursing enormous pain, Kapoor went on to make Anil Kumar a lovable and memorable entity. No wonder, for me, this swashbuckling actor is the God of entertainment...