Teesri Manzil remains the romantic-comdey-whodunit to beat in Hindi Cinema. An effective plot, energetic performances, a happening musical score and above all brilliant song picturization and direction make the film a must see. Though admittedly the plot seems borrowed from the Hollywood films I Wake Up Screaming (1941) and A Kiss Before Dying (1956) (the heroine searching for the killer of her sister and falling in love with the hero who is a suspect), Teesri Manzil is 'Indianized' perfectly and is commercial Hindi Cinema at its best.
On the surface the film has all the elements one finds in a Nasir Hussain film - lively romance, witty dialogue and repartee and of course fabulous music. What is extremely interesting about Hussain's films is that he practically re-made the same film over and over again but the new product always found flavour with the audience. In fact he even had a set of 'items' that were repeated in film after film albeit in different combinations and permutations. For eg, the clash in the train sequence between Shammi Kapoor and Ameeta in Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957) was repeated here in Teesri Manzil with Shammi Kapoor again and Asha Parekh and beating up the drummer Rocky from Dil Deke Dekho (1959) starring Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh was repeated here again with the same actor and actress! But what makes Teesri Manzil rise above all Nasir Hussain films, popular though they were, is the sure directorial hand of Vijay 'Goldie' Anand at the helm of the film.
Vijay Anand was without doubt one of the greatest directors that Hindi cinema has seen. Here was a filmmaker who could make intellectually stimulating films that could be profitable money earners as well! And while his films shone with their technical virtuosity and marvelous sense of storytelling, his incredible talent as a filmmaker comes through even more forcefully in his picturisation of songs. Teesri Manzil is no exception seeing the Director at his creative best bringing in the technical panache that Hussain's film lacked and raising it sevral notches. Anand deftly combines the various elements of romance, comedy and mystery into a cohesive unit. The mystery part is particularly well handled keeping the audiences on their toes. The red herrings like Helen, Prem Chopra and Rashid Khan are intelligently used as one tries to guess the identity of the true killer. It can be safely said that Teesri Manzil, along with Don (1978), is the closest Hindi Cinema has come to making a good Hitchcockian thriller!
And then there are the performances. Shammi Kapoor, doing his fourth film with Nasir Hussain, was at his peak when Teesri Manzil was made. Post Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957), he was perhaps Hindi Cinema's first consistent attempt to address a westernized teenage audience. In fact the western influence was marked in Shammi's acting and deportment - it was the first time someone had shown such refinement in clothes. He wore leather jackets and tee shirts at a time when tee shirts were not part of Bollywood's vocabulary. His preference for casual collars instead of fuddy-duddy shirts all added up to the image of a star who was making a statement with lots of exclamation marks to it! He responds with a typical, uninhibited, energetic Shammi Kapoor performance. Asha Parekh, a Nasir Hussain regular, shows a lot of spunk in matching him scene for scene. Helen sizzles in the O Hasina Zulfon Wali number and makes the most of an extended talking part to vamp it up deliciously. Strong, strong support comes from Rashid Khan, Iftikhar, Lakshmi Chhaya and especially Premnath. Interestingly, in a bit role, the actor who takes Rocky's place as the drummer is writer Salim Khan of Salim-Javed fame.
The film also scores highly in the Music Department. It was the big breakthrough for RD Burman. Initially Shammi was unhappy over RD's choice as the Music Director and preferred the older tried and tested pair Shankar-Jaikishen who had given music for most of his films. However once Shammi heard RD's jazzy compositions he had no further misgivings. He knew they had a winner on their hands. The songs by Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle like O Haseena Zulfon Wali, Aaja Aaja Main Hoon Pyaar Tera, O Mere Sona Re Sona Re, Deewana Mujhsa Nahin, Tumne Mujhe Dekha were unlike anything audiences had heard till then and the 'new sound' music of Teesri Manzil was hummed across the nation. RD formed a formidable team with Nasir Hussain scoring music in all his films thereafter. Add to that Goldie's incredible song picturization lifting the film several notches particularly O Hasina Zulfon Wali in a Dali like set including the sculpture of the drummers name and a model of a huge human eye. Besides this the other standout picturization is the rock n roll club number Aaja Aaja including a shot taken from 'inside' a guitar!
On the flip side, there is the odd hole in the mystery element of the film. Iftikhar shows Shammi Kapoor a button found at the murder site the previous year. He says there just a few people in India who could afford the button. Shouldn't those people have been investigated then rather then him keeping silent about it all year?! The final twist, while somewhat successful, works its way into the plot a bit too late. At times, the murder mystery is conveniently forgotten as boy chases girl and vice-versa before suddenly being brought back into the film to push the film forward. There is also a rare technical glitch in the Tumne Mujhe Dekha song - the tracks can be seen in the shot. But to his credit, the highs far outweigh the lows as Vijay Anand keeps the film moving at a brisk pace and these are thoughts that come to you once the film is over and not while watching it which could have been fatal for the film and the credibility of the plot.
Post Teesri Manzil, Vijay Anand went on to direct another two fine thrillers, Jewel Thief (1967) and Johny Mera Naam (1970).