Every other frame of this film contained some element of which I said: “I want that!” like a small spoiled child.
It’s an Arabian Nights-meets-Zorro fantasy complete with lush sets, fabulous costumes and beautiful horses, but the highlights are the fantastic songs by Usha Khanna (who also has a beautiful singing voice). The only real drawback is the leading man: Mehmood’s antics grow quickly tiresome. He is actually good as the serious Zingaro, and occasionally very amusing as Zingaro’s effeminate alter ego—I just wish he’d been allowed (or required) to tone his act down a bit. Helen has a good role as the brains behind the villain (Jeevan), and the other cast members all acquit themselves well. The story is credible and absorbing; altogether, this movie is a lot of fun.
Kalifa Haroon (Sheikh Mukhtar) owns a little cafe/bar, where his daughter Shabnam (Vijaylaxmi) dances wearing a mask. She’s tired of the mask, but he insists that she wear it because she is a dead ringer for the Princess of the kingdom. The army commander-in-chief, Jabar (Jeevan), has just usurped the throne after kidnapping the Sultan and blaming neighboring enemies, whom he claims are demanding a ransom. Jabar is using the “ransom” claim to rob everyone in the kingdom of their valuables. Haroon is afraid of what might happen to Shabnam if Jabar comes to know about the resemblance. I really want those camel candlelabras.
Right away we are treated to one of my new favorite songs: “Har Nazar Mein Sau Afsaane.” I don’t know if this Vijaylaxmi is the same one as the star from South Indian cinema, but she can really dance! Here’s the song for you to listen to as you read the rest of this—it provides the perfect ambiance!
I also love Haroon’s club: I want the lamps, the carafes, the hookahs, and the tables. (I already have a rhinestone-encrusted fez.)
The entertainment is interrupted by Jabar’s men, who have come—of course—to collect ransom money. Kalifa Haroon refuses and tells them to get out, and a fight breaks out. Haroon is aided by a mysteriously veiled man, who wields a mean sword and arrives in the nick of time. Mukri is one of Haroon’s sidekicks. He makes me laugh; he is so cute, especially after he puts a little table on his head for protection.
After chasing the soldiers away, the mysterious veiled man proceeds on to the palace, where he meets one of the Sultan’s loyal ministers—who embraces him on recognizing him as Khan Mustafa (Mehmood), the son of an old friend (and colleague, I presume). Khan Mustafa has been betrothed to the Princess since childhood, and he asks why she doesn’t speak up about Jabar’s atrocities. I want the glass candelabra and the small table on the right. I imagine that the lamps are cranberry red (but later discover that they are blue).
Jabar is planning to marry the Princess himself, as a means to obtaining the throne “legitimately.” The minister warns Mustafa that he won’t be able to defeat Jabar alone, and reminds him about the time years ago when Mustafa’s father disguised himself as “Zingaro” in the same kind of situation. Jabar enters the scene just as Khan Mustafa leaves.
When the minister refuses to tell him anything, Jabar kills him. Outside in the stormy rain and wind, Khan Mustafa transforms himself into Zingaro!
News of the Princess’s fiance’s impending arrival has reached Jabar, and he plots to have Khan Mustafa killed on his way. Jabar’s smarter half, Saba (Helen), persuades him to let Mustafa be—she points out that he is likely to be similar to most men of his high social status:
Sure enough, when Mustafa arrives he poses as an effeminate buffoon of a man, pinching snuff and wielding a feather instead of a sword (a feather that squirts water, in a scene that goes on too long). The Princess is disappointed—she may be fooled by Jabar, but she’s a pretty feisty girl otherwise. Jabar, as planned, falls for the drama.
The Princess gives Jabar a jewelry set (necklace and earrings) as her offering towards her father’s ransom. Soon thereafter Zingaro manages to make off with all the jewelry and valuables that Jabar has collected, to Jabar’s rage. Zingaro comes to the Princess’s room one night and returns the necklace to her—but keeps the earrings as a “memento,” giving her a brooch belonging to him instead.
When Jabar sees the necklace on the Princess’s neck, he is furious. She tells him that Zingaro returned it to her but kept her earrings—and it’s obvious that she is now suspicious of Jabar herself. Jabar sends out an annoucement demanding that Zingaro return the Princess’s earrings by coming to the court in broad daylight.
Time for Helen! She sings an awesome song which is mysteriously filmed in color (as is her other song later, and the climax of the film—in between we go back to black and white). Maybe some Helen admirer donated money to the budget so she could be picturized in color. I want her outfit and her jewelry (and also to look like her in that outfit and jewelry).
Zingaro shows up halfway at the end of her song, and returns the Princess’s earrings in style!
After which, he quickly escapes on his beautiful white horse (which I want). The Princess by now is pretty smitten by Zingaro, although Khan Mustafa woos her with a pretty song too.
In any case, over at Haroon’s place Shabnam is still chafing under her father’s restrictions. One of Haroon’s men, Omar, is in love with Shabnam and she with him. Omar decides that if he disfigures the Princess’s face, then Shabnam won’t be hidden any more, so he goes to the palace and tries to throw acid on her. She is saved by Mustafa, but Jabar is puzzled as to why Omar would have wanted to disfigure the Princess. Clever Saba puts two and two together (with reports she has heard of Haroon being seen with a Princess lookalike).
Omar is saved from Jabar’s men by Zingaro, and he tells Zingaro about Shabnam looking exactly like the Princess.
Jabar’s men kidnap Shabnam and bring her to the palace. He instructs them to next kill the Princess—instructions which are overheard by Saba. Jabar has been stringing her along with promises of marriage, and now she understands his true intentions. This causes her to turn into Mary Tyler Moore from the “Dick Van Dyke Show.” No, just kidding! but look:
Khan Mustafa overhears as well, and Zingaro saves the Princess. Unfortunately the silly girl goes right back home—where Zabar imprisons her.
In the meantime, Haroon has found out from Omar that Zingaro knows their secret and he thinks Zingaro has kidnapped Shabnam. He confronts Zingaro with the fact that “Haroon is feared by all”:
Will Mustafa/Zingaro be able to convince the gigantic Haroon that he hasn’t kidnapped Shabnam? Will he be able to rescue her from Jabar’s clutches? And free the real Princess? Is her father the Sultan still alive? Watch Shabnam to find out, and for a Helen-Vijaylaxmi dance-off in color!
It’s oodles of fun! As I said, all songs are fabulous; there’s even a qawwali which extols the awesomeness of money. And maybe there’s a warehouse out there waiting for me to discover the props that I so covet from this bit of filmi fluff.