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Sunday, 20 June 2010

The original don (China Town)

So you thought Amitabh Bachchan was the original Indian don? Rubbish. Shammi Kapoor started it all. In Shakti Samanta's gangster flick, China Town, Kapoor essayed twin roles of the stylish smuggler Mike, as well as his lookalike, the smart undercover agent, Shekhar. The difference? Unlike the later film starring Bachchan, where the two men were not related to each other, in this 1962 thriller, the two men are shown to be identical twins. A more plausible script, therefore.
Shammi Kapoor, I have always maintained, was a stylish man. His clothes, attitude, hairstyle, mannerisms, everything screamed of panache.
So, when he was slotted to play Mike, it is but natural that you get an introducing scene as scintillating as this. When Wong rushes Mike to hurry up and go for his latest deal, Mike, a cigarette dangling from his lips says, "Mike time ka nahin, time Mike ke hisaab se chalta hain." Relaxing in a bathtub, Mike, all macho, shrugs Wong off with one swift swish of his hand. This move comes often, and takes my breath away...
When Mike is nabbed, courtesy a horrible accident, when the top crook is abconding after a heist, the police try their best to uncork him about his gang's secret whereabouts in China Town (a restaurant and club hub of Kolkata populated by the Chinese population). But, Mike has too much villainous integrity, to reveal all. He keeps mum and exasperates the law. This is where Shekhar steps in.
A club singer in Darjeeling, Shekhar is the adorable romantic. Though initially a little goofy with his silly wig (and the thin but irritating moustache), Shekhar metamorphoses into the slick spy with utmost ease and precision. In gelled hair and the black suit, he looks a killer. But before that, he dances and swings in a club singing Bar bar dekho, teling the whole world about his beautiful sweetheart, Rita. Yes, Shakila does look very pretty in China Town. Especially in the song Yeh rang na chhutega, ulfat ki nishani hain. This ghazal is much better than Hum se na puchho hum kahaan chaley, a playful romantic ditty. Ravi scores a veritable range of beautiful songs here. While the ghazal is lilting and soulful, Bar bar dekho is an apt club number, giving enough scope to Kapoor to shake a leg and strum that guitar with style.
The film opens with Range baharon se hain gulzar China Town, a melodious number thats sets the mood for the film with highlights of Chinese notes. And, Helen is lovely. She is made to look like a young Chinese club singer (the makeup man tweaks her eyebrows to attain the effect) and sports form-fitting gorgeous dresses that accentuate her curvaceous frame. Playing Susie, this girl is hopelessly in love with Mike, who treats her a bit too rudely.
Anyway, back to Shekhar, our man! Rita's father, Rai Bahadur Digambar Prasad Rai (SN Banerji), does not approve of Shekhar and incessantly threatens to shoot him. In order to fend him off, Rai Bahadur decides to take Rita way to Calcutta from Darjeeling. Shekhar follws suit. He dresses up like a sadhu and gets into the same compartment with Rita and her father. Fooling the old man with his lofty words about God, he breaks into a bhajan Dekhoji ek bala jogi. Wearing a sadhu's saffron, a false beard, Kapoor is hilarious here. His expressions are funny and his moves guarantee splits!!!
Shekhar shifts base to Calcutta to be near Rita. But, Rai Bahadur will have none of it and takes him to the police. It's here that Shekhar's luck favours. The inspector sees his striking resemblance to Mike, who is under legal captivity, and tells Shekhar about the clever plan. Shekhar sees this as an opportunity for a guaranteed job that is honourable and well paying and agrees to monitor Mike's behaviour so that he can master the charade and enter the villain's den.
Shekhar, as Mike, is spot on. He convinces Wong and floors Susie. He even takes his first drag of opium and breaks into the uncontrollable Yamma yamma. He has the chutzpah to sing a qawali, China chin chin chu, with a courtesan. Superb. But, suspicion grips Ching Li, Mike's shoemaker (played by Shetty), who runs a shoe shop.
Now Shekhar has to act fast. For, he has to assist the police nail the criminals and save his brother, Mike. Yes, Shekhar's mother reveals a dark secret. That Mike is Shekhar's long lost brother, Shankar. But Mike is too hostile to the idea and shrugs all dear ones away...
The rest of the film deals with how Shekhar is successful in his endeavours; hunting the baddies, uniting with Shankar and winning back Rita...
While Shakti Samanta used the twin-brother formula in China Town , Chandra Barot tweaked the script a bit in the 1978 film Don. But, the references remain. For instance, the inspector using the goon's lookalike to find out about the hidden dens of the criminals and the good guy originally being a simpleton and a singer. In China Town though, the leading lady did not have to avenge her brother's death. And, Helen, gets to have one full Mike all to herself. Also, there is ample space for both Shekhar and Shankar to be alive and kicking...
That means two Kapoors in two stellar roles!! Sounds super to me...


  1. "That means two Kapoors in two stellar roles!! "

    I wish Shammi Kapoor had done more double roles! The only other one I remember seeing is in Mujrim, but one of the two roles is just too brief to be of any point.

  2. @Dustedoff: Oh is that so??? Then I have to see Mujrim soon...How is it??? I wish Kapoor would have done all the films those days. Then all of them would be superhits man!!!

  3. He is the best thing about Mujrim! Very yum. :-)
    I wrote a review of it, here:

  4. Passionate review of what sounds like a great film. Shammi Kapoor in a double role, i can guess, would be just two much!

  5. @Dustedoff: Thank you so much. I'm off to read it. Hope to watch the film soon too.

  6. @Netdhaba: Yes, he is definitely a epitomy of style and panache. My feelings for this great performer is simply passionate. I try giving very open and candid comments on these films :)

  7. Awwww....Shammi Kapoor in a double role! Never knew that. Though it's aired pretty often on Zee Classic, I haven't got to see this yet. And I just realized that I've been missing 2 Shammi Kapoors all this while :-(
    I had read Mujrim's review by Madhu couple of months back and I had seen Chhote Sarkaar...didn't know he had double roles in other movies as well.

  8. Btw, "Mike time ka nahin, time Mike ke hisaab se chalta hain." reminds me of Rajnikath :P
    I was doing Rajnikanth special series on facebook few weeks back and one of the quotes said : Rajnikanth doesnt wear a watch, HE decides what time it is. :P

  9. @Sunheriyaadein: Ha ha Archana. I guess Rajnikanth just got inspired by the master Shammi Kapoor. And, yes, this film is really enjoyable. Watch it when you have time. Two Shammis, definitely worth it :)