An unabashed Shammi Kapoor star vehicle, Junglee ("savage", "wild") is mostly uncomplicated by usual masala elements such as babies switched at birth, long-lost relatives, and the like. Instead, it is a rather simplistic but entertaining story about the power of love, with a message of populism tossed in for good measure.
Shekhar (Shammi Kapoor), a very serious young man, returns from studies abroad to take over his family business. His mother (Lalita Pawar) is even more stern than he. She raised him in the shadow of his deceased father, forbidding laughter and merriment of any kind from their household. She intends for Shekhar to marry a princess (Azra) to whom he was betrothed as a boy, though unbeknownst to Shekhar's mother, the princess's family has become destitute and turned to cons and ruses to get by. Shekhar's sister Mala (Shashikala), a lively girl who chafes against the household strictures imposed by their mother, is secretly married to one of Shekhar's employees, Jeevan (Anoop Kumar). While they don't know of the marriage, Shekhar and his mother know that something is up with Mala. To set her right, they send her on a jaunt to Kashmir under Shekhar's watchful eye. In Kashmir, Mala gets some startling news - and Shekhar finds his tense heartstrings finally loosened when he falls in love with a local girl (Saira Banu) who happens to be named Rajkumari (meaning "princess" - misunderstandings naturally ensue). Now all Shekhar has to do is convince his mother that his new-found love and joy is more important than her stale, ancient, and joyless family principles.
Wild gyrations and mad physical antics mark Shammi Kapoor's performances through the 1960s. Yet Junglee is the only movie I can think of where these are actually explained by the plot. In the movie's first half, Shekhar is mean and unsmiling, but he is anything but stiff. His face and body contort in rage as he berates his terrified employees or scolds his sister. He seems a caricature of his father Prithviraj Kapoor at his most constipated, as in Awara. There is undeniable cleverness in using a character's pathological absence of humor for comic effect, and it works - the physical comedy of the first half of Junglee delivers plenty of laughs. And when Shekhar finally cuts loose with a wild "Yahoooo!" during the film's jubilant title song, the manic excess almost makes sense - after all, it's the first time in his life he's felt or expressed joy.
Saira Banu is surprisingly appealing as well, here in her debut role. I've seen a couple of her later films (such as Padosan) and never found much to like about her, but here she brings a good balance of charm to the table, and is playful and clever without too much dimple-poking ingenuity. (If Rajkumari had been played by Sharmila Tagore, Junglee might be one of my favorite films - but fortunately I've got Kashmir ki kali.) The movie wrings a few touching moments out of young Rajkumari teetering on the brink of womanhood. Her song on the subject, "Ja ja ja mere bachpan," is sweet despite being overloaded with thin dupatta-flinging symbolism. The song follows what might be my favorite moment of the film; it is a lovely brief scene that perfectly captures Rajkumari's transitional child-woman nature - she takes a long, serious look at herself in a mirror, before sticking out her tongue and running away.
The rest of the characters are fairly well-rendered as well. Shashikala is very charming as the beleaguered sister trying to make a life for herself despite being trapped in the house of unmirth. Anoop Kumar's star may not have soared a fraction as high as that of either of his brothers, but I think he's a cuteypie. And Lalita Pawar is appropriately over-the-top as Shekhar's elitist, joyless mother. She is almost unbearably stern; it is difficult not to roll your eyes when she delivers a literal "over my dead body" speech when Shekhar announces his intent to marry Rajkumari. The burden of the film's anti-classism message falls squarely on her shoulders - her obsession with not being common is the driving force of the plot, and she is the one who must be convinced of the film's two messages. The first is that regular folk can be honorable, while well-bred folk can be crooks and schemers. The second, of course, is that love and laughter must always win the day. That's a lot of substantive resolution for a broad caricature to carry, but Lalita Pawar has ample presence to pull it off.
In short, Junglee offers a better-than-average masala sort of story, delivered by an appealing cast, with the attention to visual style that make so many movies of the 1960s satisfying on multiple levels. (For example, one shot draws your attention to a fabulous wall clock in the shape of a sunny-side egg.) As if that's not enough, there is a vaguely Flamenco-inspired Helen song on a magnificent set, a giant artist's palate with a Van Gogh backdrop. It's hard to ask much more from an afternoon with a movie.