Rahul Dev Burman and his music have often been touted as 'Teesri Manzil's greatest contribution to Indian cinema. Pancham, as he was fondly referred to as, had prior to the film assisted his father, the maestro Sachin Dev Burman in many memorable movies.
'Teesri Manzil' was his independent project and marked the beginning of his collaboration with Nasir Hussain. But beyond the unforgettable 'Aaja Aaja' and 'Oh Mere Sona Re', the musical thriller, as termed by Wikipedia pages, 'Teesri Manzil' was a tribute to what Shamsher Raj Kapoor -- aka Shammi Kapoor -- could do as the dancing romantic hero -- a first-of-its-kind.
Not many know that the debonair Shammi Kapoor was not the original choice to play the male protagonist in the crime noir -- which would go on to become a sole propriety of Vijay Anand's.
Vijay 'Goldie' Anand had for the first time ventured out of Navketan, the family banner (he was Dev Anand's younger brother). TBH the project did look promising when Nasir Hussain invited Dev and Vijay for a collaboration on a crime noir.
Goldie had, by then, directed Guide, starring Dev Anand.
But Hussain and Dev Anand had a fallout, leaving 'Teesri Manzil' in doldrums. It was then when Shammi Kapoor was welcomed onboard.
Kapoor intially wanted Shankar Jaikishan to give the music for the movie -- he himself was a trained classical singer and had a penchant for good music. But he gave in to RD Burman when he heard his rendition of the dance numbers in the movie.
The basic premise of Teesri Manzil is what a quintessential crime noir of the 60s was made of -- a young girl found dead in a pool of blood outside a hotel and the girl’s kin setting out to avenge the "murder" -- in whatever way he/she can. In this film, it was Asha Parekh's Sunita, the deceased girl's sister, who wanted to get Anil 'Rocky' Kumar -- who for the most part of the movie is Sona (that's why the song -- Oh Mere Sona Re) beaten up black and blue.
What Shammi Kapoor brought to the table (read: the movie) was his histrionics as an actor -- exuberant dance, mischievous romance, urbane style and an unmistakable machismo. This was quite in contrast with his elder brother Raj Kapoor who had made a career out of desi characters.
In 'Teesri Manzil', Shammi Kapoor was a pandora box -- where you could keep picking out different cubes, each representing a different sentiment, a distinct emotion.
In the early railway station and train sequence with Asha Parekh, he’s a compulsive flirter to the point of being creepy. He then turns into a lover boy, an angry young man and a brooding aashiq -- all with phenomenal ease. That was, perhaps, Shammi Kapoor's advantage -- he was, and still remains, incomparable when it comes to shifting moods and genres -- much like a shapeshifting actor (wow, that's a new term!).
The movie has its moments of intrigue -- when the camera surveys lanky shadows gawking at every move of Rocky's. One somehow gets sucked into believing that Rocky might have grey shades to his character. But as the film progresses, Rocky's righteousness motivates him into confessing the "truth" to Sunita -- only to be schemed into getting insulted by her.
A major issue with crime noirs, worldwide, is the repeat value -- once you solve the mystery of a whodunnit, you cannot watch it again, especially not anymore with the same curiosity. But 'Teesri Manzil', with its music and Shammi Kapoor's undying charm, is an exception. Also because, Shammi Kapoor accentuated the impact of the music.
An anecdote goes explaining how 'Tumne Mujhe Dekha' was picturised: Shammi Kapoor had slipped into depression when his wife Geeta Dutt died. Almost three months after her death, he messaged Anand asking him to resume the shoot.
'Tumne Mujhe Dekha', beautifully sung by Mohd Rafi (who had earned the distinction of being referred to as his voice) was the first song he shot, and probably that's why the love, pain and emotion in his eyes felt so real.
Or, would 'Yahoo' from 'Junglee' sound the same had there been any other actor mouthing it? Or 'Aaja Aaja' from this movie?
On a second thought, Shammi Kapoor made every song and every film his so own that one cannot picture any other actor doing it -- as debonair and urbane he might be.
A special mention for the scene where Helen's Ruby dies in 'Teesri Manzil'. Shammi Kapoor gives the sequence his all -- his expression doing the talking while he sits in shock.
'Teesri Manzil' went on to become one of the biggest hits of the year 1966 -- when nobody had even cared for its release. Not only did it launch RD Burman as the ultimate modern-day music composer, it catapulted Vijay Anand into the big league of directors.
'Teesri Manzil' also gave to the cinegoers the charm of Shammi Kapoor that oozed out of every frame he was in.
India TV Recommends 'Teesri Manzil' for its music, Shammi Kapoor's charm, Mohd Rafi's soulful voice, and just the pleasure of Indian cinema's original crime noir.