Convoluted and illogical as the synopsis might read, Jewel Thief, in fact, unfolds like a Hitchcockian thriller through an absolutely brilliant screenplay by Vijay 'Goldie' Anand that keeps the audience on tenterhooks throughout. After establishing the series of heists through a montage at the very beginning of the film, the director introduces the character of Vinay in a manner so as to raise the doubts in the minds of the audience that he could be the man behind all the robberies. Why does he come to Seth Bishwambar to sell a precious stone and hides behind a pillar when he sees a cop (who is later revealed to be his father)? The audience's doubts are further underlined when sundry characters point out that he is Amar, which he vehemently denies. When Shalini lands up in Bombay and claims at a party that he is her fiance and shows the ring that he had gifted her, we are sure Vinay has something up his sleeve. Things head to a climax in the scene when Shalini's brother challenges him to take off his shoes and reveal his fingers because Amar had six fingers on his right foot. The suspense builds up. Under pressure, Vinay slowly takes off his shoe, peels down his sock and reveals his right foot: it has five fingers!
Jewel Thief is like a jigsaw puzzle and falls into the tradition of films like The Sixth Sense (1999) that has to be viewed for the second time to realize the novelty in which the screenplay has been weaved. Who could guess in Jewel Thief that all the characters barring the Bombay Police Commissioner, Vinay and Anjali, are all 'actors' in a well wrought out play schemed by Ashok Kumar to hoodwink the Indian police force? It needs a second viewing to appreciate the intricacies of the film's plotting. It is not only the character of Vinay who is taken for a ride but the audience too! True, on second viewing the viewer does have an advantage over the protagonist now that it knows the route, but the greatness of the script lies in its ability to still hold the audience in its tight grip.
Jewel Thief employs all those devices that have come to be associated with mainstream/ commercial Hindi cinema and have been misused or overused over the years through their repetition, sometime bordering on the ridiculous. But here, they appear to be so natural because they are so tightly woven into the plot. It has secret chambers where the press of a switch opens a series of cupboards hoarding jewelry as if in Alladin's cave; it has revolving doors and fake walls that slide open to reveal a well stocked bar; it has dungeons where important characters are held captive and dark tunnels that lead to openings in cliffs through which the same characters can escape; the villain has access to concealed switches that can be pressed to emit smoke which makes the protagonist unconscious; it employs electric shocks to brainwash its protagonist into believing that he is somebody else; it uses the ring as a device of recognition, a purely classical element; and it resorts to the age-old technique of gaining entry into some high profile strictly-by-invitation kind of a congregation by disguising as dancers and singers, a device that can be traced to the gigantic wooden horse in the Greek mythology Iliad where soldiers hide inside its stomach to gain entry inside a fort to rescue the legendary Helen of Troy. The film unabashedly makes use of the above devices and even after 40 years since the film was made we don't bat an eyelid, but remain glued to the mystery as it unfolds in a series of clever plot twists and reversals of fortune till its reaches its climax inside the villain's private aircraft. Vijay Anand is an acknowledged and revered craftsman in the annals of Hindi cinema and his hold over story telling had never been in doubt. In Jewel Thief, his craftsmanship comes out in full steam, not only in the screenplay but also the way he has shot his scenes and of course, his incredible song picturisations.
There are 7 songs in the film and each of them forms an integral link in the main plot. Through Yeh Dil Na Hota Bechara, Dev Anand not only sows the seed of love in Tanuja but also uses her earrings to gain entry into her father's employment. (This song, originally composed for Baharein Phir Bhi Aayengi (1966) when SD Burman was its original music director, was rejected by Guru Dutt, but became a superhit through this film.) Rula Ke Gaya Sapna Mera picturised on Vyjayanthimala as she rows a boat in the middle of the night succeeds in planting in Vinay's minds that there indeed is a character called Amar with whom she was in love; he falls into the trap and it serves as the beginning of their fake romance that becomes serious as the film progresses. Tanuja's seduction of Vinay through Raat Akeli Hai is another highlight of the film. The build up to the song as Dev Anand waits alone in the huge drawing room for her to appear reveals the director's mastery over building up moods that act as precursor to something delightful. Lights are switched off at one corner of the room and are switched on at another part; huge curtains are suddenly lighted up in parts and pulled away slowly till a svelte Tanuja in a sexy sleeveless gown whirls into the room with arms akimbo and breaks out into the mesmerizing song. The end of the song acts as the first major turning point of the film when Tanuja's father enters the room and expresses surprise in seeing Vinay; if Vinay has been here with his daughter then who was the man he was working with for the last two hours inside his jewelry shop and who claimed to be Vinay? My god! All of them rush to the shop and discover that it has been looted! The existence of 'Amar' is confirmed. The brilliantly choreographed and picturised Hothon Mein Aisi Baat is used as a crucial plot device to gain entry into the coronation ceremony where the final heist is supposed to happen and 'Amar' killed. The grandeur of the setting and the extensive use of circular tracks as the camera follows Vyjayanthimala as she dances away anxiously but in full bloom, interspersed with dynamic angles and cuts that gradually become shorter and shorter and reach a crescendo towards the end prepare us for the showdown that could spell disaster to the characters that we root for. The tension is palpable: What is going to happen immediately after the song ends?
Music director SD Burman is in his element as usual and the effect of RD Burman who was an assistant to his father at this time is felt in the arrangement of all the songs. One song in particular, the pacy Baithe Hai Kya Uskey Paas, which introduces Helen, has the distinct RD touch in the way the two female voices harmonize, yodel and change scales. This song is another brilliant example of Vijay Anand's mastery over song picturisations in the way he cuts between the two female characters by holding one on the foreground and the other in the background as the camera follows them in a circular track; then it immediately switches to reverse angle and maintains the same circular motion.
Jewel Thief is a successful amalgamation of talents that complement each other with Vijay Anand ably holding the spurs. The casting of Ashok Kumar as the villain of the piece is a brilliant piece of directorial stroke. Nobody was prepared for such a role by an actor who always came across as somebody who was responsible and dependable in most of the films that he acted in. Tanuja's supple figure and perky character is contrasted well with the voluptuous figure and anguished character of Vyjayanthimala. The two female leads are well balanced out against each other while the roles played by Helen, Faryal and Anju Mahendra not only serve as necessary eye candies but contribute towards the plot. But of course it is the quintessential Dev Anand with his quintessential mannerisms and dress codes that carry the film on his bent shoulders as he romances the two heroines, flirts with the secondary female characters and fights the bad guys with his awkward punches.
Hats off to the Anand brothers, Dev and Goldie for giving us such an unadulterated and enjoyable ride!