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How the regal Pradeep Kumar became a magician


A closer examination of the stylish actor's foray into the world of magic with Detective in 1958, on his 92nd birth anniversary.

Sonal Pandya

An early crime film from producer-director Shakti Samanta, Detective (1958) paired Pradeep Kumar and Mala Sinha in leading roles. The film's title is a bit of a misnomer as Pradeep Kumar plays Raja, who travels the world with the young Master (played by child artiste Daisy Irani) as a father-son magician duo.

On the ship to Calcutta, Raja and Master encounter Ma Shin Loon Pe, played by Mala Sinha, who is tagging along on her father Inspector Loon Pe's assignment to uncover a drug-smuggling ring operating from Singapore to Calcutta. Immediately, sparks fly between the two.

They all reconvene at Hotel Marino where nefarious activities continue under the guise of regular hotel life. Gonsalves, played by KN Singh, is the shadowy head of hotel operations. He succeeds in planting the head of the smuggling ring, Sukhdeo, in place of Mr Lall, a prominent Calcutta businessman.

Moni Chatterjee, who plays Inspector Loon Pe, is about to take his findings back to Singapore when he is fatally shot. It is now up to his daughter Ma Shin and Raja to make sure his task is completed and the vital information is delivered into the right hands.

The highlight of the film is the magic act during which Loon Pe is assassinated. Raja and Master put on a show for the guests of Hotel Marino, where, at one point, Raja hypnotizes and then saws Master in half. The magic show was choreographed for the film by AC Sorcer, forefather of the Sorcar family of magicians. The role of a travelling magician was a bit of a departure for Pradeep Kumar who usually found himself in period dramas and historicals.

Kumar was just at ease in a suit in Detective as he was in a kurta. In the late 1950s, he appeared in several crime thrillers besides Detective, like Hill Station (1957) and Taxi No 555 (1958). Despite trying his hand at contemporary films, however, Kumar is best remembered for his historical film roles like Emperor Shahjahan in Taj Mahal (1963).