‘Teesri Manzil’ review: The Fall and the Rise


{This review was first published in the inaugural issue of Pancham Times, a publication conceptualized and crystallized into nostalgic reality by the panchammagic group based out of Pune, India. To know more about this group, visit http://panchammagic.org/. You can also follow them on Facebook @panchammagic and on Twitter at @panchammagic.}

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The fall is as horrifying as an opening as one has seen in Hindi cinema. And director Vijay Anand, along with writer-producer-dialog writer Nasir Husain, helms also one of the most gripping title credits sequence in the same lineage for Teesri Manzil (Third Floor). All you know is, a girl has jumped to her death from the third floor of an establishment, and that an as-horrified-as-you Rocky (Shammi Kapoor) and a cold-as-ice Ruby (Helen) seem to know what’s happened.

Director Anand then takes you through a scene of familial ties with the dead girl Roopa (Sabina), a year later, as her sister Sunita (Asha Parekh) plans a trip to Dehradun to extract revenge on Rocky, who jilted Roopa, causing her to take the fatal step. You’re also introduced to Roopa’s betrothed, Ramesh (Prem Chopra), who now wants to marry Sunita. Sunita’s father, played by Raj Mehra, is a tad hesitant about this proposal, but promises to ask Sunita after she returns from her trip.

There’s an extremely fun, fox-trotty introduction between Sunita and Rocky at the railway station’s booking office queue. And leading that line is a corpulent man, played with a dash of lovable and laughable cuteness by Ram Avtar. Between the trio, there’s loads of fun in the queue and in the train coach, and it’s only when they land up at the station that Rocky realizes who Sunita really is. And of course, to add to the drama, she arrives at the same hotel where Rocky plays the drums and from where her sister had fallen to her death.

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Asha Parekh isn’t amused by the hero’s train tactics

Director Anand keeps the fun and romance going for the first half of Teesri Manzil, with Rocky, now slowly falling for Sunita, donning the name of Anil Kumar Sona, begins to rope her in with his charms, also claiming he’s the nephew of the local royalty, Kunwar Saab (Premnath). This also obviously means there’s a scene where Kunwar Saab has to meet up Sunita’s family posing as Anil’s uncle. Anil also makes his friend, Salim (Salim Khan) pose as Rocky, just so that he’s in the clear with Sunita. All this is also good drama, as Anil realizes that at some point, he’s got to come clean about his involvement in Roopa’s death. And then, without warning, the director peels off the layer of romance and reveals a gripping mystery, as you realize that there’s murder, a killer on the loose, and something very mysterious afoot in the hotel.  Very ingeniously, writer Nasir Husain also weaves in a reference to three storeys of romantic progression in a dialogue with Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh – a classic writing punch, that.

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Helen and Shammi Kapoor share a mysterious relationship

Teesri Manzil works on three levels as a movie, and it is to the combination of Vijay Anand-Nasir Husain’s credit that they keep you engrossed and engaged right until the very end, the two levels of romance-comedy and suspense spinning their own web that lure you into the cinema screen and keep you there. The director displays his suspenseful artificer side with some extremely strikingly designed shots – note the scene where Kapoor and Salim are talking inside the former’s hotel room, and he suspects somebody’s at the door, tip-toes, and opens the door. In a beautifully constructed noir atmosphere, the hero steps out and there’s no one there – except a plume of smoke hanging in the air, the terrifying clue of him being stalked. There’s more, and each touch adds a dash of shiver to the suspense. How can you miss the cigar-smoking Iftekhar following Anil/Rocky everywhere? Or the ambiguously muddy role that Rocky himself has in Roopa’s death? And in classic Agatha Christie style, Vijay Anand begins introducing red herrings in the plot, making you wonder who’s on who’s side, and who the mastermind actually is. And of course, when he does make the big reveal, he does it in low-key lighting, the killer’s identity taking time to sink into your button-sized cinematic eyes.

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Shammi Kapoor is in deep trouble, and Premnath tries to scotch his problems

The third level on which Teesri Manzil works, sparkles, and becomes the ideal candidate for a repeat show is Rahul Dev Burman’s music. The composer breaks new ground in Indian cinema with his brass-tactics and sheen of magnificent orchestration, all layered over compositions that are a new template for shaking up the very concept of vinyl burnt LPs and background scores. Take O Haseena Zulfon Waali, where, in the company of Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle, Rahul Dev adds drama and zing to Vijay Anand’s vision – Shammi serenading Asha Parekh, her flaming eyes on the supposed Rocky – Salim – while the composer brasses his way through the drama, using triangles to introduce what is fast becoming one of the most keenly awaited orchestral pauses in film music. Or take Aaja Aaja, where Rahul Dev’s use of surf guitar adds that extra tremulous note to Rafi-Asha’s shivering Aa aaja, aa aaja.  There’s the sweetly irresistible O Mere Sona, where the director uses a handbag and its broken strap as a superb prop, and also makes Shammi measure the length of the strap in sync with the singing and the beat. What an amazing touch that is. Or, the mad, crackpot, Dekhiye Sahibon, where the director, composer, and lyricist (Majrooh Sultanpuri) work in snazzy tandem to create choreographed madness. And of course, the lilting Tumne Mujhe Dekha, where Rahul Dev and Rafi fog your musical vision with a melody steeped in romantic mist, yearning, and hope. The composer also creates a title music track that kick-starts your nervous system into high gear, and note how beautifully the director blinds you with headlights to announce Nasir Hussain Films, while Rahul Dev uses shivering keyboards to prophesize ominous happenings in the near future. Or, note the leitmotif score for Iftekhar’s smoking appearance from the title music track; or, the big reveal score, also from the title track, that begins with the niggling guitar, and then bumps into the brass piece. It’s interesting to note the smart credit roll in the beginning – Rahul Dev Burman’s credits are followed by the lead actors’ names, and not the other way around.

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Asha Parekh’s teasing is pure melodic gold, even as Shammi Kapoor purses his anger

And who can ignore Shammi Kapoor’s absolutely high-octane, superb performance that lends credence to so much madness and fun, something no other actor could have pulled off? He’s marvellous as the hunter and the hunted, shaking and twisting right into your hearts. Asha Parekh is absolutely adorable as the sister who’s out to get revenge to the lover who falls heads over heels, to the lover who discovers the true identity of her heartthrob in a melodic twist. And there’s Iftekhar, ever spiffy and alert, delivering full justice – to his role and the victims. Helen is tops as Ruby, her chameleon-like turn a nice addition to her impeccable dances, choreographed by Herman Benjamin. And there’s the suave Premnath, who is cool as a cucumber, lending complete support to Shammi Kapoor’s doomed story. Note how, in Asha Parekh’s house, he gets up from his sofa, and in a swift, lithe move, pats Kapoor’s cheek – as the latter pleads him to tell the truth about Rocky and Roopa – and whispers, Baad mein (“Later”.) It’s done so naturally, you want to see Premnath again and again.

Teesri Manzil, then, is a must-watch for all noir and music lovers, as it sets a path-breaking trail of innovative directorial and musical techniques. Truly, one of those rare times a fall pulls you down and then rises high into the cinematic sky of towering achievement.

Teesri Manzil is rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition). There’s just too much fun, romance, gripping suspense, and rollicking music.

Teesri Manzil

Director Vijay Anand Running Time 2h 55 min

Writer Nasir Hussain

Stars Shammi Kapoor, Asha Parekh, Helen, Premnath, Iftekhar, Prem Chopra, Salim Khan

Genres Comedy, Musical, Mystery, Romance, Thriller

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