Jewel Thief ★★★½

Reading Neepa Majumdar's chapter on the disembodied voice in Bollywood cinema activated a crucial understanding in something I kept active attention to during Jewel Thief: the body, or the lack of one in musical numbers. In the 1950s Hollywood musical, the body is everything. Kelly and Astaire are giants because of the way they move, often depending on long takes and long shots to make sure their bodies are in full action. The spectacle itself is seeing how they move, and as performers, there movements are leg by their legs. The arms are extensions of the legs for these actors, much more than independent actors making their own movements.

This bring me to how Jewel Thief stages its musical numbers. More than in Awara, Jewel Thief often places its numbers outside any reality of the plot: the traveling fisherman song is on some nondescript highway, Shalu's longing song is on a magical river, and the love songs take place in forests away from the action. The only two songs to enter the diegesis are Helen's luscious vamp song/dance, and the final number that becomes part of the plot. This follows Majumdar's point that these songs have a "disregard for continuities of place and time in the editing...producing for the spectacle an idealized setting that does not really exist within the diegesis."

But one thing to note is how much these musical numbers have a short average shot length and more editing with less regard for continuity. Some of this is part of global transitions of all cinemas—editing became more frequent, as spatial continuity became less of a virtue for both New Wave cinemas. But also if the Anand are less interested in the star than the voice, than this more flashy, rapid style of editing makes more sense, as it highlights the beauty of the face, with the camera often responding through visual jokes using breaks in spatial continuity (especially in Neena's playful seduction song, which most recalls both Richard Allen's Audrey Hepburn comparison and Hollywood Technicolor)* that aren't as dominated toward full dance choreography.

However, we do have one big dance sequence near the end, which brings me full circle to my point about legs. I've noticed both here and in Awara a bigger emphasis on hand movement as part of Indian dance. If you watch that final sequence, while there are some long shots, the editing is still quicker, and often focuses less on the full body than the mid-shot, where we can focus on Vyjayantimala's face and arms. This is the center of her dancing beauty, and thus focusing on her whole body is considered less necessary by the camera, and thus the medium shot becomes the primary use shot, with long shots used for capturing the movement of the larger group. The filmmaking becomes an extension of capturing what is essential in a Bollywood number—first the voice, and then the face.

*I must pause here, however, to stake some claim against Richard Allen's comparison to Hitchcock, which despite some plot similarities, I found often reaching. He seems to use Hitchcock as simply representation of all Hollywood in the 1950s, where comparisons to Frank Tashlin's more self-aware parody films with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would have been more apt at times, especially regarding the characterization of Dev Annad in the film. While there are some similarities, I found Jewel Thief much more indebted to the James Bond films he also mentions, which tonally fit better. Obviously this was written for the Hitchcock Annual, but it seems to me some academic writers feel it necessary to compare every film to Hitchcock.