I’ve wanted to watch Mujrim, ever since I read the review over at Dustedoff’s. Since I’m trying to keep to my resolution of curbing my DVD-buying sprees, I decided to settle for it’s remake that I already own – this film! From the synopsis, this appears to be a very faithful copy, and left me just as dissatisfied as the original seems to have left it’s viewers! Why is it that some movies do not quite live up to the promise of their plots? It’s one of the great unsolved mysteries of our times. Sadly, while this film belongs to this mysterious category, it does nothing to help solve the mystery! It begins well enough, the story warms up pretty nicely and even gets along at a good pace – yet it all dissolves into some silly plot-twists and unnecessary melodrama at the end.
We join Shyamu (Amitabh Bachchan) just as his attempt to burgle a safe is frustrated by an inconvenient alarm. He manages to get away with his accomplice (Madan Puri), but in the flight, Madan injures himself. When Shyamu expresses disgust for this hide-n-seek lifestyle of theirs, Madan testily points out that he brought up the orphaned Shyamu as his own child, so is it too much to expect filial devotion from him? Shyamu tightens his lips and says nothing.
Madan’s injury lands him in hospital, so Shyamu goes alone on his next assignment. He accomplishes the burglary successfully, but the alarm is given before he can make a clean get-away. He makes a run for it, with Inspector Kumar (Ajit) hot on his trail. Kumar manages to catch up with Shyamu and take a brief look at his face. But in a last burst of energy, Shyamu makes his escape. He enters the first door ahead of him and finds himself inside a theatre. He hides in a make-up room, while a performance takes place on-stage.
From his hiding place, Shyamu overhears a conversation. The theatre owner (Asit Sen) is telling the theatre’s leading lady, Mala (Mumtaz), and the manager, Pritam (O. P. Ralhan), that he is expecting the arrival of writer Deepak from Pune. A bit later, Mala catches Shyamu sneaking out of her make-up room. When she demands an explanation of his presence, he blurts out that he is writer Deepak! Mala is immediately friendly and helpful. She asks him what he’s written for their theatre and when he randomly comes up with Chand Aur Chor (moon and thief), wonders why writers are more interested in thieves than in good men! When Shyamu makes a half-hearted attempt to defend thieves, citing difficult circumstances driving some to dishonesty, she tells him flat out that a good person is one who remains good even in difficult circumstances. This makes a big impression on Shyamu, and he decides to turn over a new leaf.
But before he turns over a new leaf, Shyamu needs to get rid of Kumar who is still on his trail! Mala solves that problem by inviting him to use the theatre’s guest room for the night. The next day, Shyamu’s imposture is nearly exposed by a letter from the real Deepak, explaining that illness prevents him from coming to Bombay. Shyamu promptly pockets the letter, explaining that he decided to come in spite of his illness, because he thought that work was more important.
Shyamu leaves the theatre with the firm idea of turning to an honest life. But when Madan hears this, he laughs it off, claiming that "honest" people are more crooked than common criminals like them! He then urges Shyamu to help burgle a safe in a room next door. When Shyamu refuses, Madan decides to commit the burglary himself and dies in the attempt. Shyamu gets to the hospital in time to see Madan’s dead body being carried away, and decides that the last of his ties with the criminal Shyamu are over. Little does he know that he’s left a tiny but significant part of his loot behind in Mala’s make-up room – a distinctive ring that Mala has carefully put away to return to him.
Now that he is safe from his criminal past, he wants to go see Mala again (it’s her honesty and principles that attract him, no doubt!). But what if the real Deepak has turned up by now? He has Deepak’s address, so he decides to check up on him before he renews his acquaintance with Mala. Shyamu finds that Deepak is a very ill man, in sore need of tender-loving-care. While he is providing some of that, a flash of lightening shows him Deepak’s face and he discovers that Deepak is his look-alike! Shyamu isn’t slow to take advantage of this situation. He’s soon changed clothes (and stolen jewels) with the unconscious Deepak, and is all ready to strangle him, when his conscience stops him. After some argument between his better and worse selves, Shyamu decides to be the Good Samaritan, and fetches a doctor. His good deed is instantly rewarded, because Deepak breathes his last in the presence of the doctor. Thereafter, it’s just a matter of telling the doctor a cock-and-bull story about the dead man being Shyamu, complete with stolen jewels, and Shyamu is now writer Deepak!
Shyamu’s first act as "Deepak" is to pack bags and move to Bombay and the theatre where Mala works. He even takes the precaution of burning all specimens of Deepak’s hand-writing, replacing all manuscripts with his own hand-written copies. So now Shyamu is all set to take the world (and Mala) by storm. To his great good fortune, he runs into Mala the moment he steps out of the train. She’s come to receive her cousin Kavita (Tun Tun) with her Mom, and invites Shyamu to stay the night at their house. Shyamu happily agrees, and quickly declares his love to Mala’s portrait that helpfully adorns the walls of the guest bedroom (for the convenience of all love-sick guests?). Mala hears his declaration and makes it clear that she thoroughly approves of his sentiments.
So now Shyamu has a place in honest society and the love of a good woman. You’d think that he’s all set for a good life. You’d be wrong! Inspector Kumar sees him on a visit to the theatre, and is instantly suspicious. But the worse is yet to come! One of Deepak’s fans - Rajni (Kumud Chugani), turns up, out of the blue. She had never met Deepak, but the two had carried out a romantic correspondence and she has every expectation of claiming Deepak’s romantic attentions. She is furious to see "Deepak" getting up-close and personal with Mala, and throws a scene. Once she mentions Deepak’s letters, Shyamu immediately hurries out with her, leaving Mala convinced that she is being taken for a ride by a womaniser!
Shyamu spends some time with Rajni, trying to find out how much of a threat she poses to his new-found identity. Once he realises that she has letters written to her by the real Deepak, he knows he must get to them before they can reveal his imposture. So he plays along with Rajni’s romantic wishes, trying to keep Mala’s suspicions at bay and staying one step ahead of Inspector Kumar’s investigations. But that isn’t the sum of his troubles. Rajni was betrothed to her father’s friend’s son Ranjeet (Ranjeet) who swears that he will fix this or any Deepak who comes between him and Rajni’s wealth. Shyamu does seem to have more than his fair share of perils. Here’s wishing him success, and confusion to his enemies!
The film has the potential to be a good thriller but it squanders it in favour of giving us a morality lesson about good vs bad! But that isn’t it’s worst crime. It sets up Shyamu’s perils very nicely, showing him getting deeper and deeper into a quagmire of deception. But then, instead of using some intelligent plot-twists to get him out of it, the film then goes overboard with silly capers and emotional attyachar! The result is a film that starts out as a fast-paced thriller but lands up being nothing much at all. Such a waste of a good plot and a great cast (no OP Ralhan, that does NOT refer to you!).
Of course, with so much wrong in it, talking about the plot-holes is quite superfluous. But there was one plot-hole that was so big and so annoying that I just have to mention it. Is handwriting the only way to confirm an identity? This was the 1970s, not the 1870s! Didn’t O P Ralhan (he wrote and produced the film) ever hear of fingerprints? Considering how Shyamu went around burgling safes without gloves, wouldn't it have been easier to just check fingerprints? To end on a more positive note, I must admit that I was surprised to find a police-officer who can penetrate masala disguises as well as you and I can. Such touches of reality are so rare in Bollywood that the film-makers ought to get a medal for it!