An Evening in Paris

Directed by Shakti Samanta
Music: Shankar-Jaikishan
Year: 1967
Running Time: 2 hours 40 minutes

The first time you see Shammi Kapoor in a film you may likely wonder if this fellow has just wandered in accidentally and nobody noticed. This is the leading romantic man of the film? His stomach slightly hanging over his belt, his often disheveled hair lying like an unkempt birds nest upon his head and a fleshy unformed face that at first glance has the look and personality of a clump of dough. Then you may notice his light blue eyes that can change expression like the weather on a London spring day – from moody to mischievous to soulful – and that his pitter patter is rapid, playful and runs circles around everyone else. Slowly his doughy face begins to take on life and pizzazz – oodles of it in fact.

Then you notice how surprisingly light on his feet he is – almost constantly in motion he sways, swerves, twists and dances  - and always with a smooth grace that belies his soft underbelly. In the 1960’s Shammi was a huge star – part of the famous Kapoor acting family – and though it took him a number of years to find his acting rhythm he eventually created an image and presence that was unlike any Indian actor before him. Often termed the Indian “Elvis Presley” for his rock and roll sensibilities and moves; his casual nonchalance, easygoing attitude, sense of fun and fashionable natty attire reminds me more of an Astaire or a Cary Grant. On a few occasions he also brings Danny Kaye to mind with his comic gestures and facial expressions. Somehow it all works and by the end of this film it is difficult not to be totally charmed by the fellow. In some ways he is like a playful shaggy puppy that has followed you home and you have no choice but to invite him in.
Here, he is afoot and romantically inclined on the boulevards of Paris like an Indian Maurice Chevalier with a jaunty hat and a word of flirtation for every pretty woman. When he discovers that his French flatmate has gotten a date with an Indian woman who has come to Paris to get away from Indian men who know nothing of love and romance, he takes this as a challenge and pretends to be a Frenchman fluent in Hindi and is soon in headlong pursuit of the magnificent Sharmila Tagore. Our first glance of Sharmila is aboard the airplane – her fine sharp profile, cascading mounds of black hair, dark deep eyes made up like an Egyptian princess, eyelashes shaped like sharp, elegant daggers pointed at your heart and an impish smile that slyly creeps up on her face and lies there like a purring cat. Sharmila began in the Bengali film industry at the early age of fourteen and was cast in a few of legendary director Satyajit Ray’s films before she tried the Hindi film industry in Bombay. She quickly became a smashing success with her mix of class and youthful sexuality and shocked audiences by appearing in a bikini in a magazine and as an alluringly dressed cabaret dancer in this one. She is simply delightful.
Sharmila plays coy and uninterested in our Shammi and flits off to Switzerland and Beirut with Shammi chasing after her like a love struck gentle stalker – he charms and sings his way into her heart from motorcycles, ski lifts, speedboats and finally while being hung outside of a helicopter. Of course as in any good Indian film the romance is just one facet of the film. Pran plays a male gold digger in hock to some nasty gangsters and sees Sharmila’s family money (she is extremely wealthy but of course) as his escape – and he oozes his way into her presence with his oily charm, hair the color of orange rust and foul deeds – he forces her to drink champagne! This is something of course that no “good” Indian girl would do.
Sharmila gets to play both good and bad here as it turns out that she has a double that is an immoral (she both smokes and drinks!) lewdly dressed cabaret dancer in a Parisian nightclub. This is “wow” territory as the bad Sharmila gets all smoky and sexy and romps through two gaudy and giddy musical numbers. Nefarious plans are set afoot to make off with Sharmila or her money that end up taking us to the edge of Niagara Falls. Why Niagara Falls – because it’s there I guess. It is all quite fun and innocuous with musical numbers showing up consistently throughout. It reminded me a bit of all those Hollywood 60’s films of young girls going to Europe for adventure and fun ala Three Coins in a Fountain with great production values, a sense of style and a background of every tourist trap in sight. The second love interests - the maid and the chauffer are played by Sarita Singh and the famous comedian Rajendranath.
The film is filled to the brim with catchy up tempo pop songs that often are sung from moving vehicles of one kind or another – one great one on a motorcycle – or while strolling the streets of Paris – often to the obvious bemusement of onlookers. The two major high points are Sharmila’s cabaret number Leeja Leeja that is a multicolored pop in the eye as she opens with a slurry growl ”My name is Suzy” and then Shammi’s helicopter ode to love “From the skies I descend, to teach you lessons in love” to which a water skiing Sharmila responds with a playful “cha cha cha”.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Song 1

Song 2