Shikar is blessed with a compelling story, a glamorous cast, and a fantastic look. It's one of those films where the orchestration of camera, lighting, and art direction gels perfectly into a striking visual expression of mood. It actually reminded me a lot of the later Faraar for how it drives home its themes of deception and intrigue by frequently featuring shots of its cast members partially hidden behind lattice work, gauzy curtains and other expressionistic set elements.
The similarity was so great that I was a little surprised to find that Shikar's cinematographer, V.K Murthy, and Art Director, Souren Sen, had no involvement in Faraar. I guess that this was just a popular visual technique during the period.
And the cast! Dharmendra, Asha Parekh, Helen, Sanjeev Kumar, and the fabulous Bela Bose, here quite confusingly playing a part that seems like it was written for Tun Tun. (Granted, the whole "amorous fat girl" shtick is both unfunny and offensive, but it's impossible to see what the hoped for response might have been here to the spectacle of Johnny Walker's hapless dimwit character being ardently pursued by as exquisite a specimen as Ms. Bose -- other than palm-gnawing envy on the part of the guys, of course.) Adding to the enjoyment that comes from simply seeing all of these stars sharing the screen is the fact that Shikar captures all of them in their late Sixties prime, looking thoroughly iconic and hot.
Plus, we're even treated to a brief dance-off between Helen and Bela, such an explosive aggregation of item girl awesomeness that, had it gone on any longer, I might not have survived.
And comes complete, as any bachelorette pad should, with it's own light-up disco floor -- an appointment that almost raises Helen's digs to "lair" status.
Here Dharmendra plays Ajay, the manager of a jungle estate owned by Naresh (Ramesh Deo). On the same night that Naresh is murdered by an unknown assailant, a jeep crashes outside of Ajay's house, and a beautiful young woman is ejected from the wreck. Ajay brings the unconscious woman inside, but, upon returning after discovering Naresh's body, finds that she has vanished. He later encounters Kiran (Parekh), the daughter of the retired police commissioner, who is a ringer for the mysterious girl but also has an airtight alibi for the evening in question. Suspecting that Kiran's apparent double had some involvement in Naresh's murder, Ajay becomes obsessed with finding her.
However, there are plenty of other suspects to go around, including Veera (Helen), Naresh's slinky secretary, who is obviously up to something with Robbie (Manmohan), an accomplice of hers who has come to the estate posing as a big game hunter. The murder scene also holds no shortage of telltale clues -- including a red rose, a mysterious envelope, and a monogrammed handkerchief -- any of which could lead Ajay and Police Inspector Rai (Kumar) to the murderer's true identity. Things are further complicated when an old woman shows up and confesses to the crime, saying that she was protecting the honor of her niece, who, for similar reasons, she refuses to identify.
I found Shikar to be uncharacteristically well-constructed for a Bollywood mystery, given that such films typically seem more concerned with appropriating a mystery movie atmosphere than they are with taking the trouble to make the mysteries at their center capable of holding up to even the most casual scrutiny. It resists the temptation to cheat, has a solution that isn't naggingly obvious, features some interesting twists, and, most importantly, manages to tie up most of its loose ends in a logical -- if not entirely plausible -- manner. I was surprised to find myself being drawn into the film's who-dunnit aspects, but the way in which all of the suspects and clues are so neatly laid out for us invites that kind of involvement, and gives the entire proceedings the feeling of a particularly lurid and toe-tapping game of Clue. I especially liked how some of the aforementioned twists seemed to depend on our expectations of what a typical Bollywood movie would do as a kind of misdirection, leading us down a familiar path only to surprise us all the more when the truth of the situation is revealed to be less dictated by convention than we would have thought.
Shikar came down the pike as part of my recent steady diet of Bollywood jungle adventures -- which has also included the similarly titled Shikari and the Zimbo movies -- and, while it definitely leans more toward the mystery end of the spectrum, it still has its share of wild animal attacks and embarrassing, spear-chucking minstrelsy. One thing these Bollywood jungle flicks have all over their Hollywood counterparts from the period is that, because Indian filmmakers had easier access to actual wild animals in their natural habitat, you see a lot less of those scenes of people pointing at stock footage. Here, when you see Dharmendra and Asha Parekh running away from a stampeding herd of elephants, it's the real deal, which may be why they look so authentically scared.
So there you have it, people: My proverbial two cents regarding Shikari. It's a great looking, fun movie that I'd recommend to anyone with eyes. And with that effort out of the way, I'm off to take a nap. So exhausting...